Every so often I think that I posted something in these blogs that, on further research, seems to be a figment of my imagination. For example, it does not appear that I ever talked about WonderCon 2013, or at least my experience of finally, *finally* meeting Jim Steranko and getting his autograph, something I’d been trying to do for years. As a general rule, I don’t like standing in lines, and I’m also reluctant to meet anyone whose work I admire in person, because hey— sometimes they turn out to be assholes. Steranko is one of the few that I felt was worth both the time and the risk.
Alas, it turned out the particular collection of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD stories I had brought for him to sign dredged up some bad blood. It turned out to be something Marvel screwed him on, using a loophole of publishing in Europe so they didn’t have to pay him any royalties. I had no idea. Thankfully, he still signed it for me, but only in exchange for a charity donation. In the case of some others I’d seen interact ahead of me, he asked for five dollars. In my case, he spread his arms wide, grinned and declared, “For you? Ten!”
I paid it, because Steranko. Also because he’d just let me talk his ear off for several minutes while other people were still queued up behind me. It’s entirely possible that as I left him with my signed poster and book in hand, his judgment of me was “What an asshole.”
But hey, he could have turned me away completely. He could have told me to shut the hell up and move along. Instead he sat there spinning me cool anecdotes like how he convinced Stan Lee to run his famous four-page splash illustration of a SHIELD/Hydra battle (“Stan! To be able to see this in its proper form, they’ll have to buy *four* copies!”).
As we talked, people would occasionally come up and snap photos. Steranko would hold up his hand, and sometimes they’d think he was waving, and wave back and scurry off. He wasn’t waving— he was trying to block his face, and grumbling every time he failed. He was taking cash for his posters of Captain America as donations to charity because I think for legal reasons he wasn’t allowed to be selling them for profit. Little aftershocks of an idealism long since sacrificed on the altar of the comics business.
The one time I truly saw him enjoying himself was when a young boy and his dad made their way to the front of the line. Steranko’s face lit up, and however long he talked to me, he talked to that kid longer, even inviting him behind the table to watch while he did a free sketch of the hero the kid wanted. No charge. But eventually, it was back to business and the signings, a lot of which would no doubt be ending up on Ebay.
My poster didn’t end up on Ebay, though, it’s in a nice place on my wall. Look, maybe meeting Steranko wasn’t nirvana, but like I said, I accepted the risk ahead of time. When dealing with potentially grumpy old men, sometimes just some quality time is all you can ask.