Vincent Bartilucci On November 26, 1977, I attended my first comic book convention. The reason I can be so precise regarding that date is because it was one of those Creation Conventions that always took place over Thanksgiving weekend.
Whether my father had heard about the convention before me and had asked if I’d like to go, or I had learned of it first and begged him to take me, I cannot recall. The former is more likely. My dad was a conductor for the Long Island Railroad so he probably became aware of the upcoming Creation Con during one of his daily runs into Penn Station. These daily runs into NYC also meant he had access to the newsstands in and around Penn, a fact that allowed me to score the two biggest "gotta get that one" comics of my youth. Oh, but that’s another story.
This story is about that Saturday in November all those years ago when my father and I took the train into New York City for my first convention. As I mentioned, my dad was employed by the LIRR so, naturally, he introduced me to the men working the train that day. It was weird seeing my father in the context of 'co-worker' and it made me proud to observe how well regarded he was by the other men on the job.
If I recall correctly, the convention was held at a hotel directly across the street from Penn Station. I don't remember waiting on a line to get into the show although I'm positive we did. In fact, I was so excited about the whole experience I bet there's a whole heap of stuff that didn't register, even at the time.
Now, almost exactly thirty years later, only three experiences associated with the convention remain crisp and clear in my mind. I remember, for example, that I was able to plug the holes in my Adventure Comics/Aquaman run and that I also picked up Aquaman #54 with that creepy "evil Aquaman coming out of the mirror" cover. I've always considered Aquaman #54 my first "real" back issue. The Adventure Comics, after all, were books I had been looking for at the newsstands but had missed. Aquaman #54, on the other hand, had been published way back in 1970! That was an old comic! Or, at least, it seemed so at the time.
I also remember that my dad and I sat in for a few minutes at a presentation on Superman: The Movie, which was still a little over a year away from its release date. At one point a large slide showing a picture of Christopher Reeve in full Superman regalia was projected on a big white screen. The sight of Reeve on that rooftop in his super-suit was breathtaking, even for this comic fan who has always been fairly apathetic regarding the Man of Steel. Yes, it was a wonderful sight...but something was just a little off. The emcee of the presentation asked the audience what was wrong with the image and we all roared back, "Superman doesn’t have an 'S' on his belt!" Sure enough, some over-eager costume designer had slapped the Superman "S" shield on Reeve’s belt buckle! The emcee assured us that that error had been straightened out and a completely accurate Superman would appear on the nation’s movie screens in '78. Oh, for the days when moviemakers strived for that sort of accuracy. Bat nipples, indeed!
We wandered out of that presentation and took another trip around the dealer's room before calling it a day. There is a part of me that is very glad that I cannot recall any comic book creators who may have been in attendance at the show. At the time, the draw of the convention for me was the dealer's room and all those long boxes filled with four color treasures. If I discovered now the comic pros I passed on meeting back then, I'd probably break down in tears!
The final "crisp and clear" memory of the day occurred on the ride home. Now, I didn't dare pull out my new comics on the train; I might leave one behind! So, I passed the time by looking over all the giveaways I had picked up at the con--one-sheet ads for stores I'd never visit, pin-back buttons announcing movies I'd never see, and photocopied reviews of books I'd never read. My father was unusually quiet as I inspected my haul of freebees. About halfway thru our hour-long trek home, he interrupted my inspection. "You know this stuff isn’t real, right?" he asked, indicating the comics sitting safely in their plastic bags on the seat between us. There was just a hint of concern in his voice. It took me a moment to understand what he was asking me, so surprised was I by both the question and his tone.
I'm not sure now what my reply was but I guess I said something like, I'm not a little kid anymore and that I just thought comics were fun to read. Whatever my response, it seemed to reassure my dad. "Okay, as long as you know," he said and I returned to my giveaways.
Later that weekend, my father explained to me that during the Superman: The Movie presentation a man in his late 30's had engaged him in conversation about the origins of the Man of Steel. According to my dad, who has always been a fair judge of character, the man was more than just a passionate fan rattling off obscure bits of comic book lore. No, this guy was talking about Clark Kent like they sat next to each other in 8th grade English Class! For almost the entire time my attention was focused on the presentation, my father was involved in a dialogue with a crazy person who was having lunch with Superman that afternoon!
The encounter had unsettled him to such a degree that he felt compelled to bring it up. The whole experience prompted a great "grown-up" discussion between my dad and I about what's really important in life and about keeping things in perspective. He let me know that if I wanted to collect comics all my life, that'd be fine. And I let him know that I wasn't going to try to fly out my bedroom window anytime soon.
Over the next few years, my father and I went to a few more conventions together. I remember one con when it took me three hours to convince him to let me spend a whopping $6.50 on one back issue--Giant-Size X-Men #1! I remember another con when I walked away from a number of Marvel Team-Ups I wanted only to have my father pull me back to the seller's table. Apparently, the guy was willing to cut a deal for the issues I wanted; my dad had picked up on the "make me an offer" vibe but I hadn't. I remember all those father/son times together fondly. In a way, the comic book conventions were our ballgames or camping trips.
I don't go to many conventions anymore, maybe one every 3 years or so. It's hard to find the time. Even when they’re announced months in advance, it seems like I still can't free up my schedule. And there are so many other things I should be spending my money on, right? So, con-going isn't really on my radar at this stage in my life. But I've never been to the San Diego comic-con and I'd really like to go. Maybe one of these years my schedule and finances will align perfectly and I'll make the trip out to the Big One. If I ever do though, I'd like to bring my father along.
That'd freak him out!