Friday, August 14, 2009

Brushes with Greatness

Recently, my good pal and fellow Doctor Who fanatic, Anita Answer, had a dream come true. She actually got to meet her favorite Doctor, David Tennant. For any fan of the good Doctor, this is the Holy Grail of celebrity encounters. She claims it was the third biggest thrill of her life, following her marriage and the birth of her child. (She's serious, folks.) Anita reports he was as gracious and charming as she had hoped he would be. He was even kind enough to pose for a picture with her.

Anita was very lucky. A lot of people never get to meet the people whose work means so much to us. I have been lucky too. Over the course of my life I have gotten to meet and sometimes work with, a lot of the cartoonists who were and are inspirational to me. Some, like David Tennant, were everything I had hoped they would be. Others were everything I had hoped they wouldn't be.

They say you never forget your first. That is certainly true for me, assuming they are talking about cartoonists, of course. In 1976, I got to meet one of my favorite cartoonists, the legendary Carl Barks!

For those of you who don't know, from about 1943 to 1966, Mr. Barks wrote and drew gazillions of Donald Duck comic books. He is the man responsible for creating Donald's hometown of Duckburg, as well as a bunch of popular supporting characters, such as Uncle Scrooge McDuck. For more about his amazing career, go here. When I was a kid, I loved his stuff (still do, actually). I wasn't alone. Though a bunch of talented folks worked on the Disney comics, to the fans, Barks was known as "The Good Duck Artist".

You can imagine my excitement then, when I found out Carl Barks, THE Carl Barks, was going to be guest of honor at Newcon '76, a big comic convention being held in nearby Boston. I had never been to a comic book convention, and this one was a biggie! In addition to Barks, the guests included: Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Kubert, Jim Steranko, Dick Giordano, Mike Kaluta, Gil Kane, Bob Overstreet, and a bunch more. Even famed Little Lulu artist/writer John Stanley made an appearance, his first and only, I think. Any one of these guests would be a big deal at any comicon nowadays, to have them all under one roof was pretty amazing. At the age of 15, I really didn't appreciate it.

I didn't appreciate it because I was there for one reason: Carl Barks! Since I had never been to a con before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would he be sitting on a pedestal surrounded by security? Speaking from a podium in front of  a packed auditorium? I had no idea. No matter what happened though, in the off chance I met him face to face, I wanted a drawing from him. I knew I didn't really stand a chance of getting one though.

When I arrived at the con, I was overwhelmed. So many geeks just like me, most of them grown men! So much for comics being "kid stuff", as most of my peers told me. Wait till I told them  about this at school! They would sure change their tune. (As you might expect, my tales of the con did not, to put it mildly, change my peers tune one bit, but I digress.)  I asked one of the convention volunteers if Carl Barks had arrived yet. "Yeah", he replied casually, "I just saw him wanderin' around here someplace". I was dumbfounded. THE Carl Barks was just wandering around like a normal person?! I ran off in search of him, and quickly spotted an elderly gent strolling around who I suspected was him. How to be sure, though? I soon discovered a way. The man in question was wearing a big ID tag that said, "Carl Barks".

Carl Barks was right there.

Right in front of me.

I was very shy when I was young, but I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I marched up to him, and my courage faded completely. He turned and looked at me and said, "Yes? Can I help you?" I have no memory what I babbled to him, but it wasn't very loud. Mr. Barks had to explain that he had a hearing problem, so could I please speak up. I did. After I blathered on for a bit about how much I admired him and his work, and how I was planning on a cartoon career, I asked him for a drawing of one of the Duck family. He said he was sorry, but recently the Disney company had revoked his rights to draw the Ducks. He did have some pre-printed cards like the one I show here, that he graciously signed for me. He also signed my program. After a few more inane questions from me, he shook my hand and wished me well on my cartoon career. Then he walked away.

I was on cloud nine for days afterwards. It wasn't so much the autographed picture he gave me, it was that Carl Barks, THE Carl Barks, took the time to talk to me like I was just as important a person as he or anyone else. I hope that other celebrities, especially the "pros" at today's conventions, treat their fans with the same good will and grace that Carl Barks showed me. I ain't holding my breath.

Thanks, Carl. 

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Blogger eeTeeD said...

thanks for sharing that great story.

i never met any of my cartoonist heroes. meeting jack keller was probably my biggest convention thrill.

too bad you didn't get a donald sketch. that's crazy that disney wouldn't let him draw donald and friends. it was like free advertising for them.

i wish i could have met milton stein and told him how much i love his work.

August 16, 2009 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

I assume you mean Jack Keller the artist and not the singer? I always liked his stuff, too. Nothing flashy, just good, solid drawing and storytelling. Please share the story of how you met him, if you will!

To be fair to Disney, later on they let Barks do more Duck artwork. For a hefty piece of the pie, no doubt.

eeTeeD, you and I may be the only people who even know who Milt Stein was! I hope, wherever he is, this makes him happy.

August 17, 2009 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger eeTeeD said...

i enjoy shopping at a farmer's market outside of reading pennsylvania.

i went there one saturday and much to my surprise they were not only having their antiques extravaganza that day, but they were also holding a small comic book convention.

the two guest were jack keller and dan adkins, both residents of reading. the other reading comic book artist, jim steranko was not there. i guess he opted to spend the day at home... getting some one on one time with his ego.

i had recently read an interview with mr keller, and had a great time asking him questions about his career, and the people he worked with. what impressed me about mr. keller was that he was a REAL person. it's hard to describe, but those traits you often find in artists... he wasn't an egotistical jerk... he wasn't a flamboyant kook... he wasn't a quirky recluse... he wasn't a bitter curmudgeon...

he was a regular person. a person who you could feel comfortable talking to. a person who you would like to have as a neighbor, and be proud to call a friend.

despite his large body of work, he had also held regular jobs to support his family. he sold used cars, and he worked in a hobby shop.

i think it was great that he was lucky enough to have careers that were all related to his love of automobile racing.

when i found out that mr. keller lived so close to me, and that he was such a nice person, i hoped that i would be able to see him again, and get to know him better. sadly he died not long after the convention, and i never got to see him again.


as for mr. stein. i recently discovered an animator who worked with and was friends with milton stein. i e-mailed him and asked if he would share some of his memories of the man, but i never got a reply.

i would love to know more about the man behind those incredible cartoons. his suicide haunts, troubles, and saddens me.

it's hard to live in a world where a person with milton stein 's talent is a troubled unknown who commits suicide, and a person with kathy guisewite's talent is a celebrate beloved millionaire.

August 17, 2009 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

Was the article about Mr. Keller from Comic Book Artist #12? If you haven't seen it, it's a great interview. he sounds like he was a happy, satisfied guy, who enjoyed his life. Too bad he was never dragged out to San Diego, to feel a little of the love. I'm sure he would have been touched.

A sad contrast is Milton Stein. What little I know about him indicates he lived a very tragic life. I hope you hear from your contact. It would be great to fill in some of the blanks on his life.

For those of you out there who are unfamiliar with the work of these 2 gents, do a web search for them. You won't find much, but you'll be able to see a glimmer of their talent.

August 17, 2009 at 7:46 PM  
Blogger eeTeeD said...

yes, the article i read was in comic book artist #12.

August 17, 2009 at 8:38 PM  

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