Monday, February 05, 2007

83. MAD-LY GETTING PIN-UPS

ORLDANDO MEGA-CON, February 24-26th, 2006

The exciting, funnest part of the weekend for me was my experience with Al Feldstein. I assumed he would only have occasional scheduled signings, for an hour here and an hour there, and that would be it. I was surprised to see he didn't have mobs of fans five people deep all around him. No lines. No nothin'. He had a premium, spacious booth, right by the entrance, and was just sitting there all weekend.

I introduced myself and showed him my humongous treasury and asked him about commissions. He gave the same reply I'd gotten from his representative who mans his website: He's only doing landscape paintings, which he frames up really nice and charges thousands of dollars for. I pressed by asking about pen-and-ink commissions. He said he hasn't done comics work in fifty years. I had known all this coming into the conversation, and didn't expect any other answer. I was just excited to have some time to speak with him, so I visited some more. He talked about living through the McCarthy hearings, but feeling our current political climate is worse, because now the politicians are trying to change the constitution. I made one last inquiry before leaving, about if he might have time to do a sketch since it was kind of quiet today. He said, so how much do you pay all these other guys? He suggested a price which I found very fair, considering he was giving me permission to publish it. He told me he'd need paper.

WOW! I was surprised and ecstatic! I ran back to the artists alley, and timidly asked my neighbor there for some paper. Rushed it back to Al. When I checked back later, he had drawn a great pencil sketch of "RIP, EC," with a corpse coming out of a grave. I went back to Elizabeth, beaming. I said, you know, I'm going to ask him for another. I went back, and he said, What like a space ship, maybe? I thought that was great.

I went back to my table and told Elizabeth it was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and maybe he wouldn't be interested, but I felt like I was hitting it off with him, and I was considering actually asking Al to dinner. Not long afterwards, he walked by (on the way to the bathroom. My most effective way of meeting people at cons, it seems!) I stopped him, introduced him to Elizabeth, and asked if he'd like to join us for dinner, and he agreed!

When we met him at his booth at the end of the day, he had started my second sketch, and it looked just like an EC sci-fi cover, with a planetary landscape, a spaceship, and some astronauts. But no giant monster. I asked him about it, and he said, “No, no giant monsters. He asked if I knew what they used to call monsters in the EC Comics. BEMs. Bug-eyed monsters. He'd already gotten the composition lain out, so my sketch wouldn't have any BEMs.

That night, there was a party at a local comics shop. We decided to check it out, because it had food, and then maybe go to dinner after, if we still needed to eat.

We walked in, and Al spotted some EC reprints on the shelves, and picked them up and flipped through them, and showed Elizabeth some of his covers. We visited with the owners of the store, who rushed up and introduced themselves. He talked about back when these classic comics were being published, the post office would give shipping discounts if books met a certain set of rules, including a limited number of ads, and a guaranteed two pages of text, which explained the two-page text stories in each issue. He was making fun of them. He didn't care much about them, because he knew no one would read them anyways, so he said they were all garbage, just for obligatorily written by who-knows-who for the discount.

He talked about not seeing any royalties for his EC books, because on the back of each page, acceptance of his paycheck meant giving all rights for the art, as well as the art itself, to the publisher. But he said for him, the money he initially made on the book was worth more than the fortune in royalties the publisher later got, because it allowed him to pay his rent. He spoke a little about getting called to make a statement for the McCarthy hearings, I assume because his works were "causing the delinquency of minors."

We went to the back of the shop and sat down. I asked him about why he quit drawing and did all the writing, and if he missed doing the art when he switched over. He said he did. He said originally, he was one of the few writers in the EC stable who wrote his own stories, and Bill Gaines liked what he had been doing. So Gaines asked if Al could write other artists' stories. Al told him he couldn't afford to, because writers got a lesser pay than the artists. He needed some of the artist pay to supplement, so Gaines said he'd give him editorial duties as well. Bill also said he'd help him come up with stories.

Apparently Bill had a weight problem, so he took diet pills to try and lose the weight. These pills back then had these weird sleeplessness side-effects, and kept Gaines up all night, so he would be up all night pacing and reading, and "getting inspiration" (stealing?) from other novels, coming up with these bizarre stories, and writing and writing, all night. And then he and Al would use all these ideas and write all the EC stories.

Al said he didn't create MAD Magazine, but that he edited it for fifty years. He said he created Tales from the Crypt.

He said he enjoyed us asking him about his career and talking about his history, even though he'd given plenty of interviews, and all the info he was sharing with us was in plenty of books. He's trying to get an autobiography coffee table book, with lots of samples of his art. He's had some trouble getting permission to reprint the art. One deal was that he could only use the art if he agrees to let them have rights to edit anything he may have to say. He said he wasn't interested in a deal like this. Supposedly this is the agreement Krigstein made to have his coffee table book released by Fantagraphics.

We had a nice dinner back at the hotel, where once again we saw Allison, Adam, and Howard. As we left I asked Al again about a BEM in the sketch. He said, "I already told you there's no room for it in the picture. Pretend the BEM is behind you." I felt like maybe I was beginning to irritate him, but my book's theme is giant monsters, so why wasn't he putting a giant monster in the sketch?

Next morning, at breakfast, we saw Allison and Adam, Nick Cardy, who said he was still thinking about an idea for the monster pin-up, and Sal Buscema, who I thought was so sweet and friendly.

Al delivered a gorgeous sci-fi pin-up. He asked if I wanted it personalized, and I said, "Well, I was thinking about what you said last night. Could you have a voice bubble for one of the guys, saying, "Behind you! A BEM!" " He turned away and kind of shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Too corny?" I asked. "Yeah." He said, "You really want a BEM, huh? All right, get me another piece of paper."

Al told me he never does convention sketches, but added with a twinkle in his eye that he was finding them so lucrative that he couldn't pass them up. He even told other people that I was basically responsible for his charging so much for pin-ups. But I said then and I'll say it now: He deserves it. He's arguably (in my opinion) one of maybe three of the most important historical figures in the history of comics still living from that era. He deserves it.

Elizabeth picked up this third pin-up from his table. When she came back, she said, "Honey, I think you're going to like this." She brought it face down. I flipped it over. What a BEM! Gorgeous. I went back to Al and told him this last one made me speechless. They were all gorgeous. He said I didn't have to pay for this one if I didn't want to. He said it was for Elizabeth and the baby. I told him I had money in my pocket. "Well, all right, give me the money!" he laughed. He deserved it. Gorgeous!

We shared another cab with Adam and Allison on the second night. I asked Adam how he got into comics. He said he made up his mind he would give comics a try, and if he didn't get into the industry within three years, he would learn a trade. It was a New Year's Resolution, and he found work within three days! It's pretty rare you hear a success story like that. But his talent is pretty rare, too.

Overall, we ended up doing all right sales-wise at this con. The first day was REALLY slow, and I had thought it was going to be our worst convention, to be beat out only by my pathetic bookstore signings. But it wound up in the higher level. I'm telling you, having ten dollar books really makes a difference.

But even if it had been a complete flop with sales, the con was SO great. Getting pin-ups from Sal Buscema and Nick Cardy, and THREE from Al Feldstein! Sharing a cab with Adam Hughes! HAVING DINNER with AL FELDSTEIN! What a FUCKING great trip!

Monday, January 29, 2007

82. GETTING PIN-UPS AT MEGA-CON 2006

The moment we walked into the convention, we had bumped into Martin Nodell. It was great to see him again. He had a long row of stitches going up about a half-inch or so from his brow, and another scab closer to the center of his forehead and higher. He'd fallen out of bed, poor guy. His son Spencer said this may be Martin's last convention, because he's ninety years old, and it's getting harder to get him out to big shows like this. It's a lot of work.

I asked Spencer if Martin is doing any drawings or sketches any more, because I'd sure love to be able to include him for a pin-up in my comic. He said maybe we could dig up something old and give me permission to reproduce it. Similar to Irwin Hasen, Solomon Grundy got brought up. Spencer said we could take an image and maybe touch it up, and retitle it "Swamp Monster" or something. I think that would be really great, to include a classic Martin Nodell monster image.

Elizabeth, as usual, gave me time to walk around and try to talk with everyone. Adam Hughes wasn't there yet, and wouldn't arrive until the end of the first day. I couldn't find George Tuska. I later learned he had to cancel his appearance at the con, because he cut his foot, and then got a staff infection. I was really disappointed knowing I wouldn't have this opportunity to meet him, since he was one of the great excitements for me, coming to this con.

I decided to just poke up to George Perez, Sal Buscema, and Dick Giordano, all of whom had long lines. George Perez was signing tons of books. One guy brought like ten or twenty copies each of maybe five items. We're talking fifty or a hundred signatures. And since it was a bunch of copies of the same items, it was obvious they weren't for his personal collection. He even said they were all for ebay. I think if I were famous, and someone brought a stack like that to me, I would just tell them, look, you're asking me for a free signature, and you're gonna make out on all that. I'll sign one of each of those, but you're just taking advantage.

When I asked him about a pin-up, George said he was under exclusive contract. He was making a ton of great-looking convention sketches. Next up, Sal said to talk to his manager, which I did, and managed to get set up for a pin-up commission. Both Sal and his manager were very sweet, and very supportive of the fact I'm self-publishing.

I gave half my pitch to Dick Giordano, who seemed to be listening, but concentrating on a sketch he was doing, and not looking up at me. Then the woman sitting with him told me he was hard of hearing, and couldn't hear me at all. So I embarrassedly went around to his other side and gave the pitch again, and got his contact info.

I was able to get a sketch of a giant monster from Nick Cardy, which I don't feel I deserved. He said, "Are you a fan of my work?" And I told him, I'm not familiar with what you've done. How embarrassing. I felt so ashamed. He listed some of his books, including Teen Titans and the hundreds of covers he'd done, and handed me a book full of all his work, and then I realized I actually WAS familiar with his work, I just didn't know the name to go with it. I showed him my treasury, and he flipped through it, and I was impressed that he knew so many of the artists, old and new. This was someone from the seventies era who kept up to date on his artists.

When I asked him about the pin-up, he said to come back later, to give him time to think about it. I came back, and he said he was busy, and there were sketches ahead of me that he had to do. Come back later. When I came back again, he was gone.

We bumped into him at breakfast the next day. He said, I'm still thinking about that pin-up. At the convention he said how the scariest things are things you can't really see, except maybe a hint of it creeping out from the darkness or something, and asked me if something like that would be all right. Absolutely. I checked in later, and there were other pin-ups ahead of mine, but he was still thinking about it. He finally whipped out a beauty on Sunday, the final day. I was shocked how similar it was to Ojo.

I have mixed feelings about using convention sketches as pin-ups in my book, because of course the artists don't necessarily use their best tools, and the conditions aren't great for drawing, and most likely they're pounding out a lot of sketches, and not necessarily able to put in the time and quality they might do working in their comfortable, usual working areas with all their comfortable, usual tools. I hope the con sketches reproduce all right, and look nice in my book.

At the end of the day on Friday, we bumped into Allison and Adam Hughes, who'd just gotten into town, and they suggested we share a cab back to the hotel. The hotel was about a ten-fifteen minute bus ride from the convention, and of course everyone at the con was waiting for the bus, and it showed up maybe every ten or so minutes, for some reason, so we piled into a cab together. Adam is real quiet, but we got him talking when I mentioned that I was a bit worried about claiming such huge losses for my taxes this year, a second year in a row. He felt I should just claim everything and not worry about it. He felt I'm too small a fish, and in the worst case, they'd just ask for a little money back and some interest. He knew people who hadn't been audited for eighteen years worth of outrageous "office supply" or "entertainment" claims. Does everyone, including the IRS, just know that no one can make any money in this industry?

Next day at his table, I asked, since he'd had to drive six hours to the con, if he'd had an opportunity to take advantage of his driving time with audio books. Oh yeah, he replied. He listened to a Star Wars book on his way up. I told him how my first audio book experience was with Raymond Chandler, and I loved it so much, I've been doing the audio book thing ever since. That's how I learned of Adam's appreciation of crime novels, and that got us both talking for awhile. He said he recommended reading Chandler's published diary, which would have depressing admissions of his alcohol problem, followed by lucid critiques of famous works of fiction. Adam asked if I'd read Charles Bukowski's "Pulp," which I had. It was Bukowski's last novel, an odd parody of old crime novels. So this was my first nice conversation with Adam Hughes, where I felt like he felt comfortable visiting with me.

Monday, January 22, 2007

81. MEGACON, ORLANDO, FLORIDA, FEB 24-26, 2006

This was an interesting con. It was a three-day con, so I assumed it must be pretty big. I hadn't had very good luck at Baltimore, getting myself a table in the cheapest area. But I had been told by a fellow self-publisher that MegaCon gets so much foot traffic, I would do fine in the cheap artists alley section, so that's what we signed up for.

We got up at six am, had a two-hour layover in Chicago, and with the three hour time difference, it was nine pm that we got checked into our hotel. What a hell of a long-feeling day.

I saw Adam Hughes' girlfriend, Allison checking in behind us, but didn't say hi, because I assumed she wouldn't remember some unknown, approached-her-once comics nerd. Elizabeth and I went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner, and just as we were seated, Allison came in. Since the restaurant was empty except for the three of us, we invited her to join us at our table, and she consented.

She told us Adam wasn't there yet. He was supposed to fly in with her, but DC asked if he had any sketches lying around that they could use for a cover, and he said he did. Of course he didn't, so rather than fly in, he stayed home to draw something for them, and he would drive in the next day. They lived in Atlanta, which I learned was about a six hour drive. We had a very nice dinner with Allison.

She told us that she's real good with people one-on-one, but has a tough time with huge crowds. Adam, on the other hand, can say very interesting things when he's in a panel discussion in front of a huge crowd. But when people come and tell them how much his work means to them, he doesn't really know how to react. He has trouble with strangers one-on-one like that. She even said that his fans have told her they thought he was kind of a jerk. But it's not that he's actually a jerk, they just sometimes perceive him that way, because of his uncomfortableness in the situations. I could relate, visualizing my first encounter with him. He was so sweaty, so frazzled, not real talkative, and I mistakenly assumed he was just stressed and seeming to just try and push people through the line. Again, which is justifiable, since he creates such enormous lines of fans.

Next morning, we saw Allison again, this time eating with Howard Chaykin. By the time we were finished eating, Allison had left, and Howard was reading. We must have caught his eye, because as we were leaving, he said good morning to us. That was our excuse to go visit, and he was really friendly and talkative. I told him we'd met in Baltimore and he'd looked at all the monster pin-ups in my comic, and he remembered, "That's right!" Then I told him how he snubbed me at Wondercon. How I'd called him over to visit, and then he saw Ryan Sook and said he'd be right back. Before I got to the punchline he howled, "And I never came back!" and laughed out loud. He was very friendly with us the rest of the con, whenever we bumped into him.

We got to the convention and realized this would be another con with me tucked away against a back wall. But this time it was figurative instead of literal. Everyone around me was a "hack nobody," who'd never done any professional comics work, who was just just trying to make their way, same as me. All of us losers were tucked away together in the back of the convention hall, where no one needed to feel bothered by us.

I always think to myself, how dare they put me amidst a bunch of people at the same struggling level as myself, when I'd prefer to be mixed in with superstars!

Most of these ones, I learned, as the convention went on, and as far as I could tell, didn't even have any self-published work. Instead, they all had sketches of Wolverine or Hulk, or Female comics characters in the nude.

All the big name artists were at the entrance and into the center of the convention hall. I began to think maybe this is why I tended to do better at Wondercon, where the convention runners very kindly put celebrities and nobodies like me all mixed together. It gives me the chance to accidentally be noticed by people looking for something else. The set-up at this (and most other) convention, you can see what you're getting into when you get near these aisles, so that they're easy to avoid.

All these unpublished sketchers told me throughout the weekend how well they were doing, and how many sketches of Wolverine or Hulk they were selling, and making thirty bucks a pop or something. We saw guys selling seven cent Kinkos 8 ½" x 11" black and white copies for $10 each. We saw people walking around with all this "art," and said, "Oh, that's very nice. Who drew it?" And the people who bought them didn't even know or care who the artists were.

I wondered if Florida just wasn't interested in the kind of work I was doing. I mentioned this odd phenomenon to Allison, and she said this is less of a comics convention, and more of an anime or gaming con. It's a completely different crowd. This crowd sees one artist selling sketches for $100 or so, and they think, well that artist is selling his for $30, and I like the picture he drew of Wolverine, so to them it's a deal. They could care less who draws it. They don't understand about different artists. It was a really strange vibe. It felt like people just walked by us without even glancing at what I had, day after day. They weren't interested in it. They were all there to dress like their favorite Manga character, not to buy comics.

This convention, I was approached by an artist who really liked my work, and asked if he could commission me to do a pin-up of a giant monster for his book. I looked at his comic, and got a kick out of the first page. The second page had a bizarre twist that I enjoyed, and the third page had such an odd sequence of events I really enjoyed it. His story is way out there, maybe more than I like. His art looks pretty good overall. I agreed to do a pin-up for the first time. Unless you count Caveman Robot, which I did for free, since they're friends, and I enjoyed them and their character, Cavey. You can look for the comic, "She's a Superfreak #2" by Andrew Gregory.

It's a strange feeling, not being really any better than all these other self-publishers, but having them begin to give me attention, as if I am somebody, or heading in the right direction to someday become somebody. I hope it's a good sign. I hope they don't just think that since I've gotten all these pin-ups from all my own personal favorite artists, that I must be a somebody. Because I'm really just the same as them, struggling and wondering if any of this is worth it, and losing money every issue I put out, and feeling like, what the hell's the use, if no one has even heard of me, or has any interest to stop by my table and buy my book.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

80. SETTING UP FOR MEGA-CON, Orlando FL, Feb 24-26, 2006

Or, More of Chris's Gripes

Funny (PATHETIC) story about us setting up this convention. I was online about a year and a half ago, and stumbled onto one of those "Winner! Call immediately to claim your free vacation!" prizes. It had a counter, clicking down my two minutes that I had left to call. It was a vacation package for four trips, including a stay in Orlando and a cruise out of Orlando. It would only cost $600, and the cruise would be an additional $600, to cover "port fees and taxes." Elizabeth has always really wanted to travel, and this looked like a good cheap way to do it. Of course I saw right through their attempts to bill this as "winning a vacation," and I knew the way they made their money was by people not ever taking their vacations. But they gave us a year and a half to claim the trips, and I saw two of these trips were in locations we could go to comic conventions, which made this package deal a business expense. Right before I hit the final stage, I realized it didn't include air fare. But it still sounded like a good deal, and we've never done a cruise, so I signed up anyways.

Of course, we put things off for over a year, but we saw Megacon in Florida, and thought that would be nice to write off our plane tickets, and then do the Florida vacation and cruise in one shot. I set up the hotels and cruise. The travel company said we'd have to pay more for the cruise, because it was the busy season, even though they only asked for a month's notice, and I booked three months in advance. Then we set up our convention table fees and flights.

I was really excited to see Michael Lark, our new friend from Baltimore, was listed for this Con. I hoped we would have time to hang out together. It turned out he had to cancel last minute. I found out a week before, and got a nice email from him, saying he's really busy, but I'm first on his list of commissions.

I also couldn't wait to meet George Tuska and Al Feldstein. I knew George must be getting on in his years, because I heard he'd bwwn doing comics since the 1940's, and I really wanted to see him. I suspected he didn't get out to many conventions, although I noticed he was at MegaCon the year before. Naturally I hoped I might be able to get contact info from him, and set up a monster pin-up.

I didn't know if Al Feldstein made it to many conventions. I hadn't noticed his name very often. I had stumbled onto a website where he was doing commissions, but it stated in no vague terms that he was only doing commissions for painted re-creations of his EC covers. I actually contacted his representative, who it turned out was also representing Dick Ayers (which is how I stumbled onto his site). The representative had told me Al was not doing any pen and ink work. The paintings were all thousands of dollars, and I knew I couldn't afford the cost, and reproductions would have copyrights that I certainly couldn't publish in my own book. I assumed at the convention I might not have the opportunity to meet him. I assumed he would be a much-demanded legend, who didn't come out much, so when he did, he would get swamped with hour-long lines that I couldn't afford to wait in. I assumed I would be too intimidated to even mention a pin-up, since I'd already gotten an answer from the rep, and I didn't want to pester him for the only two seconds I would get before I was hurried out of line for the next fan.

Back to the vacation package scheduling. We had been stressed about fitting this vacation package into our busy, and still-in-debt schedules. It was a relief to have two of the four vacations now taken care of. We received our official confirmation letter, which stated we would have to pick up our hotel vouchers at a "welcoming center." Then they called and told us the cruise we had chosen had been chartered, and we couldn't do it on that date after all. We could reschedule a cruise any time over the next six months. I told them I was coming from California. This was an expensive trip for us to come out. We couldn't back out of this trip, because we had our plane tickets and a convention scheduled now, based on the confirmation that had originally told us. I told them, if this cruise doesn't work, they should refund our money. She said she'd call back to see about other cruises during this week. Of course they weren't available either. She said they could give my cruise money back, but there would be a service charge. I'd receive the check in a couple months.

Over the next few days, I waited to speak with her manager, who was coincidentally out of town. Now I wanted not just the cruise payment but the vacation package money back. I told her I understand her position, that we're only canceling the cruise, and that if she wanted, we could still take the other vacations, but that I should receive back the cruise portion of the money. She lied, saying I paid for the vacations, and that the cruise was thrown in free. I called her on her lie, and she replied, "Oh, was it?" I asked about the "welcoming center," and was finally able to get from her that it was at the location of a time-share presentation.

While waiting for her manager to "get back in town," I called the Better Business Bureau and Seller of Travel. Sure enough, this company had twenty or thirty complaints in the year and a half since the company opened. I contacted my credit card, which thank God I had used to pay for the vacation. They said that it may not be easy to dispute the charges for this vacation package, because I had purchased it over a year ago. But I could try if they did not represent the product I paid for. I read all the fine print of all the brochures they gave me, and tried to rack my brain about this. I felt they may have had me with the cruise, because the small print stated they weren't responsible for "acts of God," or events beyond their control. I hoped the fact that they scheduled a charter meant it was within their control. But I realized my only hope was that I hadn't been informed about the time-share presentation. I submitted my dispute to the credit card and sent a formal letter to the vacation people that I wanted all my money back. They immediately called and said they'd be happy to make sure I got my full money back for the cruise, and would extend my vacation package. I told them I'd wait to hear what my credit card company thought, and never heard from the vacation people again.

A couple weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from the credit card, saying the entire amount had been credited back. What a relief. But it said the travel people could dispute my dispute, and I'd better keep the money available for forty-five days. I called, and they said an amount this big, the company would definitely dispute. But they never did. What a relief.

Don't sign up for these vacation packages, fans! Anytime you've "won" something, you're gonna regret the hell they put you through. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I was SO lucky I came out unscathed, unlike so many of my damaged friends who have fallen prey to other schemes.

79. A HARD-EARNED PIN-UP

I first propositioned Mr. Heath for a pin-up at Wondercon, April 25th 2003. I was new at asking, and hadn't streamlined my technique yet. I also hadn't yet built up such an impressive list of cool artists, and I only had a few stories inked by Dick Ayers to share. I timidly said, "I'd be interested in commissioning you for a pin-up, " and he made some mumbling insinuation about how busy he is and who knows how many years he's got left, and he doesn't even know if he'll be alive long enough to finish the ones he's committed to. All that said, he gave me a card with his address and phone number, at which point I told him it would be for a giant monster pin-up, and showed him the stories. He hadn't smiled yet during our entire exchange, but now that he heard and saw the subject matter, he literally rolled his eyes. But he knew it was too late for him. He had doomed himself by giving out his contact info before asking the subject matter.

I had been contacting all the other artists up to that point by email, which felt much easier, more comfortable, and less intrusive. I was a little reticent about bugging him by phone, and I didn't get the impression he particularly wanted to do this at all, so that made it tougher to make the call too. Add to that, I'm always pacing myself asking artists for pin-ups, because I can only afford so many at a time.

Summer's San Diego 2003 rolls around, and I haven't called him yet. I find him and reintroduce myself, and remind him of our meeting a few months before, who I am and what I'm looking for. I ask about his schedule, and he tells me I should call him to set something up right away, because DC was wanting him to do a book, and that would keep him pretty busy.

Of course this time, I contacted him immediately like he asked, after getting home from San Diego.

He didn't sound particularly excited I had called. I re-explained my project, and he listened as if he didn't remember our talking at the previous conventions, and was hearing it all for the first time. He said it would help if I send him a letter with a sketch of what I'd like. Now he gave me his address. So I sent him a letter dated 7/23/03, with ideas and a few sketches for possibilities. I wanted it to be fun for him, and I wanted to give him plenty of options to find a subject he might enjoy. My contact info was in the letter, but I didn't hear from him. I gave it a month or two, to make sure he received the letter, and had time to look it over and think about it.

I called him again, and once again, I explained who I was and what I was calling about, and once again, he listened as if this was all new to him. I asked if he received my letter, and had a chance to flip through it. He vaguely says he thinks he remembered it. I go into greater detail with what exactly I had sent him. Finally, he said, "Yeah, I've got that letter here somewhere." He fumbled around a little, for quite some time. I could hear papers being riffled through. While he searched, he said how things get piled up on his desk. Finally he said, "Oh yeah, here it is." He was quiet for another moment, I assume while he looked over the letter and tried to refresh his memory what it was all about. Then he said, "I'm pretty busy right now. Call me in a month."

So I do, and we go through the same process of him seeming not to remember me, and my explaining the project I have in mind. He says he still busy, and to call him in a few months.

Now, on this next call, after months of going through all the same introductions and reminders of who I am and what I want, he suddenly says, "Yeah, I never really cared for those monster comics. They were really popular, to have the armies go back in time and fight dinosaurs or whatever, but I always thought they were terrible. I never enjoyed doing them."

So I explain, look, you can draw whatever you like. Draw what you love. Draw a tank. Draw a plane. And then just include some hint of a monster. For example, a gigantic hand reaching down. Or a foot stomping down. Or a shadow of a monster falling over the tank. Or an eye peeking through a hole in a wall. Or a creature peeking around rubble. Other artists have done this kind of thing.

So he ask, "Other artists do just hints like that?" Yes. Well could I send him some samples of what other artists have done? I'm thinking, Jesus Christ, how long is this dance going to play?! So I put another package together for him, with copies of other artists' pin-ups. I send that with my contact info, give him some time, and again don't hear back from him.

I call again. I explain the project again. To my amazement and out of the blue, he suddenly gives me a price that he would charge me. I'm shocked. This means, after months of what seemed like pretty hard work wearing him down, I can now send him a check, and he's ready and willing, at last, to take my money and do a pin-up for me. I've finally worn him out and gotten him to commit. I tell him I'll send him a check immediately, and I tack on twenty extra dollars for shipping, which he didn't ask for. The check was dated October 18, 2003. I include a note with the check asking him to give me an idea when the pin-up will be finished, and letting him know there's no hurry.

I wait awhile, because I don't want to crowd artists. But now it's into December, and the check hasn't cleared. I once again call and explain who I am and what the project is, and he once again gives the impression he's hearing it all for the first time. He says he doesn't cash checks until a job is finished, and I shouldn't have sent a check so early. As to when he'll get to the project, he says he has to send out Christmas cards or something, and he's going to be busy for a month.

Come January, he tells me he's busy for another month, because he has to get his taxes together.

Come February, he say's he's busy for three months, because he needs to put together some new, nude prints of his girlfriend to have ready, I assume, for Wondercon. So this "call me in a month" variation has gone on for a year now, and I see him at 2004's Wondercon, and presumably his Christmas cards went out okay and he got his taxes squared, and there are finished nude prints of his girlfriend at his table.

I remind him I've been bugging him for a year. He says to just keep calling. So I call again.

Right at this time, I'm getting ready to release my first comic, Tabloia #572. I'm just sending an advertisement/poster to the printer to have sent to shops. Since we had discussed the price and my usual terms (I'd like to keep the piece, I'd like to advertise the pin-up is included in my book, I'd like the payment to be one-time), and since I've sent him a check, I include his name in this ad, and list him at my website as a pin-up contributor. The ad is shipped and visible around May 2004.

Now, on the phone, he has a "breaking the bad news" tone to his voice. DC just hired him to do four prestige-sized (48-page?) comics written by Howard Chaykin, and every time I call he's busy and behind schedule with that, and he can't even guess when it will be finished or when he'll have time for a commission, but maybe he'll be able to squeeze something in, so keep calling.

After a few calls like this, he finally admits the DC book will most likely keep him too busy for a year or more, and so naturally the check I've sent him expires. He was professional enough not to cash it, and even called me one day at my request to tell me he found the check and voided it.

With all these phone calls, I would occasionally ask how the Chaykin book was going. At one point, he said he has to draw a kid growing up, and it's always a challenge to get the proportions right. Because if you make the head too big, it can change the kid's age by ten years.

I continue to see him at conventions, and every time I see him, he says how busy he is, and I just naturally begin to assume I'll never get a pin-uup from him, and this is just his way of blowing people off.

Now I'm just checking in with him out of habit, not because there's any hope of actually getting a pin-up from him. Until San Diego 2005 – over two years after first asking him for a pin-up. Out of nowhere, my hopes are aroused when he confides to me that he just told someone who's been bugging him for two and a half years that he has time for their commission. And I tell him, that's good news for me, because I've been bugging you for two years and three months.

The breakthrough comes Wondercon 2006. I tell him it's our three year anniversary since I first started bugging him. He says (I gasp with surprise) he should have time to do a commission now! Then HE actually comes over to MY table, and brings a commission he did for someone in the old EC style, and tells me that's the closest he's come to doing a giant monster. I introduce him to my wife, Elizabeth. I pop over and buy a couple of his prints. He tells me to call him and we'll work out the details for the commission.

I call him two days after the con and leave a message. He calls me back the next day. I remind him what I have in mind for the pin-up, and check on the price.

Of course there has to be another hitch, because why should something go smoothly trying to get this pin-up?

He says he doesn't know where the numbers I give him came from, but he thinks he should charge about five to eight times more. I ask if he could work smaller, or do less detail. We agree on a plane in the sky, so that there's no background. He ends up charging me slightly less than double the original check I had sent him. Because it's more than I had anticipated, I tell him I'll have the money together in two months.

In a month I get a call from him. It's done. I can't believe it! I remind him I don't have the money yet, but will try and get it earlier than promised. He just says, when he never knows what his schedule will be, he gets the work done whenever he can fit it in.

I had asked at Wondercon if I could pay him then, but he wouldn't take my money at that time. He said, at his age, you never know if he takes the money, if he'll pass away without finishing the piece. He said what he likes to do is, when he gets the check, drop the piece in the mail on his way to the bank. That way both of us are sure to be taken care of.

I sent my payment out last week. I can't wait to see what he's come up with.