Friday, June 12, 2009

Marvel Comics Reunion - June 6, 2009

I keep telling people that Facebook has changed the world. One thing that people are always saying to one another is “Let’s keep in touch” -- but no matter how sincerely we mean to do so, the fact is that we seldom do. With the advent of Facebook, it’s actually happening. Not only are people getting back in touch, and keeping in touch, but people are planning reunions and flying all over the place to be there. One such phenomena was the recent reunion of Marvel Comics staffers and freelancers recently in New York.

Flashback to my 20s. My parents had both passed away when I was 20, and I had married right after turning 21. A few years later, I am 25, my marriage is troubled, and I have this quirky dream about being a writer and working in New York -- and I had become fascinated with the comic industry, particularly Marvel. I had been following a little column in Marvel Comics known as Mark’s Remarks, written by the legendary editor/writer Mark Gruenwald, where he was giving advice to those who wanted to break into the industry. I studied this, followed his advice, and (to make a long story a little bit less long) it worked. I had taken a job in a publishing company in L.A., attended the San Diego Comic-Con each year and met several professionals (one of which was Richard Starkings, an editor/writer/letterer from the U.K. offices of Marvel who was staying in New York), and was entertaining the notion of moving to New York -- all advice from Mark. Following his advice, I had created a sort of “perfect storm” that enabled me to migrate to New York and get a job at Marvel -- something that many dream of, but only few achieve. I became the assistant editor for Bobbie Chase, working on titles such as The Incredible Hulk, Ghost Rider and G.I. Joe.

So there I was, a 25-year-old kid, first time ever completely on my own, all the way from L.A. to New York and didn’t know anyone -- except Richard (just barely). And Richard, as it happened, was leaving New York within a couple of weeks of my arrival. I was all alone, a stranger in a strange city. But my new batch of quirky co-workers would throw me a lifeline. Turned out all those mean New Yorker stereotypes you always hear about… well, that’s just about the furthest thing from the truth. Some of the nicest, most sincere people I ever met were working at Marvel Comics. People like Greg Wright, Ken Lopez, Rob Tokar and so many more (some of whom were at the reunion and some of whom were not) taught me how to be a good New Yorker. And I had the adventure of a lifetime. It didn’t last nearly as long as I had hoped, as my troubled personal life called me back to L.A., putting a premature end to my time at Marvel. I would travel back each year for a couple of years, do some freelance work, and occasionally run into a few old New York friends in San Diego. And then the losing touch began.

Now a couple of years ago, many years after Marvel, I am visiting Solvang, California -- a little vacation spot not far north of Santa Barbara. Sitting outside a cafĂ©, I am approached by a man whose face I instantly recognize, but it’s so out of place that it takes me a minute to realize that this is Steve Buccellato, colorist/artist from my days back at Marvel. We talk about how people always mean to stay in touch and never do, and then we exchange numbers -- and never really keep in touch.

This is where Facebook comes in. Within the last year, there has been an epidemic of new Facebookers, and I am overwhelmed by how many old friends from my Marvel days have turned up in there. I can now get an idea of what a normal day is like for people I have not spoken to in nearly 20 years. The format of Facebook allows us all to do what everyone has always wished they could do: keep in touch. And with Facebook, it’s effortless (which is apparently what it takes for this to actually happen).

There’s sort of an odd way in which my story comes full circle. Being on Facebook, it is Steve Buccellato who takes the bull by the horns as it were and organizes a grand reunion of Marvel staffers and freelancers in New York. And part of the reunion is a tribute to the late Mark Gruenwald, who I can point to as largely responsible as my ever having been in New York (and who was not only very cool to me when I was there, but continued to advise, to teach and even to be supportive of me and my efforts on staff).

I don’t fly. But I jumped on a plane for something like this. Weeks beforehand, I began having a series of anxiety dreams that I would get to the reunion, and either no one I knew would be there, or people would have either forgotten me or would not talk to me. (It should probably be noted here that I have -- for several years -- had recurring dreams that I go back to New York and back to work at Marvel.) My fears of being forgotten began to erode when, during a stroll through midtown Manhattan on Saturday afternoon prior to the reunion, my name was called out on the street. Imagine my surprise that a guy who hasn’t been to New York in almost 20 years can literally be spotted and recognized on the street in a big city like that! Almost as random as my encounter with Steve Buccelato in Solvang, here I was face-to-face with Rick Parker, artist/letterer, who had drawn my Pro File image back when I was on staff. It was a warm and welcome meeting.

The event itself can only truly be described as overwhelming. Such a gathering of individuals who, for me, were not only inspirational, but genuinely there for me during a troubled time in my life. And so many! You would be greeting one old friend, and two more would pop up before you had finished saying “hello.” I could not get to spend the time I would have liked with everyone, and did not even get around to everyone I would have liked to spend time with. I tried to keep my camera working, but even that was too much in such a whirlwind of renewed friendships. It was emotional, ranging from joyous to bittersweet, humorous, touching, and a relief that I had not been forgotten, something for which I am grateful and honored.

Or maybe people only remembered me because they’ve seen me on Facebook. Nah. Somehow, I must have left an impression during my brief time in NYC… and, for someone who was just a dumb kid at the time, it feels good to know that. I guess many of us feel like we were just dumb kids in retrospect. But we weren’t dumb… we were just young. And, though we’re not so young now, it doesn’t show so much on many of the faces I saw. Maybe there’s something where having worked in comics ensures that you can hold on to your youthfulness a little bit better.

Anyway, I came away feeling good about keeping in touch with my New York friends. And, hopefully, it won’t always be just on Facebook.