The first time I met Fred Hembeck in person I was disappointed: no squiggles on his knees. The first time I met Free Hembeck in person, I was relieved: his head doesn't REALLY look like pair of butt cheeks. Oh, but I kid.
Actually, the first time I met "Fred Hembeck", the guy pictured above, was in the pages of the old Comics Buyers' Guide, where Fred and "Fred" had a regular column.
In 1979, I was in New York City, at a comic book store at the West 4th Street subway stop (Greenwich Village) when I saw a blue-covered book with familiar artwork. It was Best of Dateline @#$%! , published by Eclipse, and while I was by then frequenting a comic store I would later work at, FantaCo, I had never seen the book there. So I bought it.
The first time I met the REAL Fred Hembeck was in February of 1980, when he was doing a signing of his second collection, Hembeck 1980. This was at FantaCo, who published it. I don't particularly remember it, but in my journal, I eferred to him as Mr. Hembeck.
Even then, he was just Fred. I saw him often for a while, when he came into the store. We saw each other outside the store, too. He wrote to me last year: "Remember that time you took us to your friend's party in that trailer park, and the redneckish neighbors shot off rifles at midnight, and then stopped by the party? Whoa! SOME fun! NOW, that's a memory - the Deliverence-styled moment faced by us erstwhilke hippies!"
But he and Lynn moved away, I left FantaCo and eventually got out of comic collecting, and we lost touch. These things happen.
Then, in October 2004, I run into a mutual friend, Rocco Nigro, who said, "You know Fred has a website?" Why no, I didn't, and I went to it and liked it a lot. I e-mailed Fred and told him so. We've been regular correspondents ever since, exchanging mixed CDs, even Andy Williams, and opinions of the world.
Subsequently, I read pretty much everything on the site, even the posts from the previous year and three-quarters. I even found myself mentioned in one or two of his columns: (see May 14, e.g.)
I started "helping" my old buddy, trying to explain the difference between it's and its, and pointing out some broken links.
Eventually, I even started appearing in his column (January 17, 18, 23, March 28, 29, 31 and April 2, 2005). I think it was after the last two pieces (Herb Alpert and link to spoof LP covers that I thought about actually doing something like this myself. And a month to the day later, May 2, I did.
Of course, I kept harassing Fred about this and that.
Then last summer, we actually met in person for the first time in a LONG time - you can read about this, Rashomon-style, here at August 9 and 17 and here. It was great!
So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRED! Glad we're back in each other's lives, and we've been able to renew our friendship.
But always remember, and never forget, I'm younger than you are for the next five weeks.
(Oh, yeah, his real middle name is George, but when I send him stuff, I always change it something else starting with a G, just because.)