6:45 PM, Saturday day night of the San Diego Comic Con. The exhibit hall was getting ready to shut down and I was wandering aimlessly, trying to figure out my evening plans. Wandering through the booths I saw a table with four men seated behind it and no one standing opposite. A sign on the table read "STERANKO."
I paused. Jim Steranko? I hadn't planned on meeting him. Was he really there? Why wasn't there a line-up? What was this table? What on Earth could I ask him to sign? I moved closer to the table and examined their products, hoping to find something to buy. It was the table of Vanguard publications and as I made my selection (a print of the Shadow slightly larger than a postcard; has there ever been a better Shadow artist than Steranko?), another fan stepped up to have Steranko autograph his Nick Furys.
As I watched Steranko sign the books I saw that he used a black Sharpie and that it was his only autograph pen. The Shadow card had heavy black areas on it. I pulled out my silver Sharpie from my bag, the same Sharpie I'd used to autograph handbooks at my occasional signings.
I should mention that I try not to bring up my status as a Marvel handbook writer when I meet creators. Often, I don't see why they should care unless we've had prior communication. Unless I see an opening to mention it in conversation, it doesn't come up.
When my turn came I offered the silver Sharpie to Steranko. He took it up happily and as he wrote he remarked "it works great." I replied that it was my autograph pen - that I wrote for the Marvel handbooks. I also complimented him on his Nick Fury work.
As Steranko finished up the signature he didn't let the mention of Marvel pass him by. He had a story to tell. By now, another fan had appeared to seek an autograph. He asked the new arrival, "Do you mind hearing a very sad story?" The fan replied, "No, I would love to hear it." A pause. "That came out wrong."
Steranko told me about a conversation he had with Marvel Licensing. He had called them up to see if they would be interested in helping the Jack Kirby Estate. The response? "Who's Jack Kirby?" Then Steranko remembered, "First I told them who I was and they didn't know me. But then they didn't know Kirby either. Now, I'm a minor architect in Marvel's history, but Kirby? They didn't know him."
It was indeed a sad story, but I feared that by identifying myself as a Marvel employee, I may have given him the wrong impression. "Well, that's Marvel Licensing," I replied, "I have nothing to do with the office - I'm just a freelancer."
Steranko began another story. By now, more fans had begun to gather, each hanging on his every word. He pointed out the recent return of Captain America, a character he had drawn in the past in one of the all-time best-regarded Captain America stories. "But no one asked me to be involved."
Steranko wanted to be involved? I wished the editors had known this. "Yes, they had a few past Captain America creators involved - Roger Stern, Mark Waid, Joe Simon --"
"...Yeah, and Joe's a friend of mine. But no one asked me."
All I could voice was an observation: "They must not have realized you wanted to be involved."
He went on. "I have a painting of Captain America which no one has ever seen. It's not finished yet, but it is the most perfect portrait of Captain America. Now, much of my work has been homaged..."
"Delicately put." I interjected.
"...Or, shall I say, ripped off." he continued. "And once this painting gets out, it will be ripped off by everyone because it captures the character perfectly. Now, Michael," he pressed his finger into my chest. "This painting would make you cry. Because it is that beautiful."
I couldn't mouth much more than "I believe you." and expressed a desire to see the painting.
I won't forget this conversation soon. And I certainly do look for the day when the painting is completed and released.