Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Neal Patterson - 1978

sgNeal Patterson Summer 1978 - By the late 70s, one of those new-fangled comic book stores opened near my house, and it quickly became my favorite hang out.

Not only did the owner carry new and back-issue comics, he also sold second-hand books, feeding my voracious teenage need for reading material. With the shop running successfully, the owner decided to spread his wings and host a three-day comic book convention. Boasting a huge dealers room, the convention would also feature an auction of rare comic-book art and memorabilia, and special guest speaker Neal Adams!

I practically learned how to read with Batman comic books and, in the early 70s, Neal Adams was the Batman artist (he also had a great first name). I desperately wanted to see the man whom I thought was a true god among comic artists. Trouble was, as a 13 year old, I needed transportation to the show, and after dragging my dad to a science-fiction convention a few months earlier, he was not too keen on subjecting himself to another geek fest. After some negotiating, I managed to finagle a ride with a kid from school whose dad was taking him. I didn't particularly like the kid, but at least I could go to the show.

We went on the first day, and I immediately had bad feelings about the event. The dealers room was big with lots of dealers on hand, but the place was noticeably devoid of comic fans. I soon found out that the guy who was put in charge of the money for the event ran off with the cash, leaving nothing with which to promote the show. Not only that, my friend the comic store owner was left holding the bag, with no money to even pay Neal Adams for his appearance. In an amazing act of generosity, however, Mr. Adams agreed to appear without payment provided his travel expenses were covered.

I was relieved that he would appear, until I found out that he was arriving on Sunday as sort of the capper to the show. I had shown up on the wrong day, and the only thing I could do was spend all my money on comic books and hang around with a kid I didn't even like very much. At least I didn't have to fight my way through crowds to look at all the comics.

I had pushed the mediocre experience to the back of my mind when, that Saturday night, I got a call from Al, one of my older comic book friends. He told me that he and I could get into the show for free on Sunday if we watched the table of one of his comic dealer friends. I'd get to see and hear Neal Adams in person after all! I jumped at the chance and went to Al's house early the next morning. We piled into the comic dealer's van, making room for ourselves amid the boxes of comics, and headed for the show.

When we arrived, Al and I unloaded the books and started setting up at the designated table. Soon, however, I noticed Al's friend having a heated argument with one of the show organizers. Turned out, the table was actually bought by another dealer but, because the show had been such a wash out, he had lent the table to Al's friend for the day to sell some of his comics. Since this was only a verbal agreement, the organizer was not aware of it and was telling him to pack up and get out. The argument steadily escalated and threats of physical violence were made.

"Al, I don't want to be in the middle of this," I said, thinking that my plan to see Neal Adams would end with me in the county jail.

Al laughed at me. "These guys know each other from way back. They do this stuff all the time."

Which turned out to be true, since the argument was eventually settled and we were able to use the table for the day. Al, who was always mildly larcenous, disappeared and left me to man the table by myself. I went back to work, digging out stacks of Golden Age comic books from the bottom of large boxes.

"Good morning," said a chipper male voice from behind me.

I looked up from the box and saw a man with a striking shock of black hair looming over me. I immediately recognized the smiling face as Neal Adams! Looking dapper in his khakis and blue blazer, he appeared exactly like his self-portrait used in so many DC publications.

"How are you?" he added.

I babbled something; I'm not sure what. I was in total awe. The man who brought Batman to life for me even more than Adam West was asking how I was. It was only an instant, and he quickly moved on to greet the other dealers, but my spirits were suddenly buoyed. The stress from that ridiculous argument moments earlier had evaporated, and I was now so thrilled that I had come.

Since Al had stuck me with the table while he worked the room, I couldn't go see Neal Adams when he did his Q&A, but his mic was piped into the p.a. system, so I was able to hear him while I watched over the comics no one wanted to buy. In those couple of hours, he talked about his whole career up to that time, from the early years with Archie Comics to his fights with management over ownership of his work to the impetus of changing Batman's personna in the wake of the t.v. show. This was all new to my thirteen-year-old ears, and I developed even more of a respect for the man.

The comic show eventually ended with a sad whimper. The turnout was poor. The dealers were angry. The comic store owner who initiated the event never hosted another one. But I got to see and hear Neal Adams, so to me, it was all worth it. The sad footnote to the whole thing was that, at that point in my collecting life, I didn't own any Neal Adams comics for him to sign. A few months later, however, I got a box of comics from a family friend who was cleaning out her house. Included in the collection were several Neal Adams' Batmans and the Green Lantern/Green Arrow "Speedy on drugs" issue. Life is all about timing, I suppose.


Rick L. Phillips said...

Great post and I am glad you got to meet Neal Adams. I thought you were going to say when you got the box of his comics years later that it was going to include a signed copy of one of his books.

Neal P said...

I wish!!!!!

Swinebread said...

good story