'Twas the day before Hallowe'en '86, and I'd finally finished what was to be my first comic book art assignment and was on the way to deliver the pages to the printer. The girlfriend and I were in my trusty Camaro, speeding along the NY State Thruway toward the printer in Gloversville with the bundle o' funnybook art nestled in the back seat whilst bad 80's tunes (then again, was there any other kind of 80's tune?) blared from the in-dash Delco. It was pretty darned cold that afternoon, but I kept the heater off to keep me uncomfortable and maintain what little edge I had left as the last thing I needed was to fall asleep at the wheel - I'd been up so long that I was ready to drop and I still had miles to go before sleep.
We alternated between exhausted whimsy and dead silence as we drove on, the whole project had been electrifying yet draining and once we'd completed what we assumed to be the final stretch, we were eager for a return to normalcy, never guessing that all things normal were no longer an option in the life I'd chosen. We hopped off of the Thruway and hit the county roads, passing fields, barns, silos, livestock and some beautiful old farmhouses, the kind of which I had always held a grudging yen for, then, suddenly, it came to me - the entire area looked like the farm town in that awful "Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch" where they manufactured the possessed fright masks. Now maybe it was just a combination of exhaustion, the season and the late night cable reruns that had kept me company at my drawing board talking, but the fact that the town not only looked so similar and was virtually deserted gave me a major case of the creeps (much like many of the editors I would later work with!)
We plodded on, finally pulling up to the printing company - a very basic, nondescript brick and block building that also functioned as a newspaper office - the freelance printing had been a secondary income, utilizing and minimizing the down times between editions, but turning a nice and not-so-little profit for the company as I was later told. We were welcomed by the manager/editor/traffic manager who whisked us inside and gave us the tour of the place, as I'd earlier inferred, it WAS very basic, yet it was also quite impressive in the volume and quality of work produced there. Skulan really had found a true diamond in the rough for his printing needs. We laid out the pages on a composing table and went over everything, stressing certain things we needed and doing a couple of last, last minute corrections that even Tom and Raj hadn't caught and took in the almost erotic experience of viewing my...very...first...printed...COVER WORK. Since we'd missed the initial, scheduled print run, the company had run all of the covers to avoid idle presses and a few of them were sitting around on desks, in boxes and trashcans. To this day, I regret that I didn't grab some of the "rough cuts" that were gracing the previously mentioned wastepaper baskets as even flawed, those covers would have looked so cool pinned up all over the walls in my studio and rooms, but, c'est la vie. I wanted to eat and answer the more and more desperate call of Morpheus which I was finding more and more difficult to ignore.
We thanked the manager and left, stopping at a Burger King and filling up on cholesterol for the long drive home. As we ate, I stared across the road at what must have been the world's smallest Pontiac dealership - basically the size of a gas station, with only 4 or 5 new cars splayed about their meager lot. I respected the quaint, bygone era nature of the area, but decided then and there that "Mayberry" probably wasn't for me and that when the time came, I'd probably be NYC bound. The girlfriend and I talked about it as we jumped into the Camaro and headed back east, alternating between moments of giddiness at the prospects of being a real, honest-to-goodness working commercial artist, possibly living in the city, and then shifting back to melancholy at the less positive prospects it conjured.
The relationship had been increasingly more strained since I'd taken on the project, especially in the last couple of weeks when we'd bearded the dreaded deadline doom and now, for the first time, as I drove on I really began to wonder where we were going and if it might end up being "me" rather than "we". She had another year of school left to complete, we'd all heard the stories and seen the effects of separation on relationships. I know what I was running over and over during those awkward silent moments on the interstate that day, and I think she must've been thinking about the same thing- either that or she was just visualizing a cow and pig wearing ballroom attire and dancing to "Turkey in The Straw", it was so hard to read her.
We made it back to Albany, I said my goodbyes as I dropped her at her house, promising to call later on after some much needed shuteye and headed back toward Stately Hebert Manor with the window open and the stereo cranked to keep me awake and prevent me from thinking too much(it almost made me agree with a couple of Reagan's policies...for a minute) as dusk began to settle. 10 minutes after swinging into my driveway, I had the blinds drawn and was profoundly out cold, having left a wakeup call for 1988 and grinning at the possibilities my future might hold as I dropped off.
Then my Mom came home. I'd only been asleep for around a half hour when she knocked on my door and reminded me nicely, yet curtly, that I'd promised to pick up a pumpkin for the front porch. Damn! I'd been so wrapped up in "The Project" that I'd let the usual, banal everyday stuff like a simple pumpkin get away from me. "Okay", I muttered, let's go get one and dragged myself to my feet. Of course, by the time I'd gotten up, gotten dressed, slogged out to the car and made it to the "pumpkin store", they were: a. closing up and b. sold out(ironic) of the damned gourds anyway. I promised to pick one up at a farm store the next morning, then carve it and have the blasted thing lit just in time for the little vandals to wreck and headed for home and my bed once more.
I'd just dosed off when, off in a hazy distance, the phone rang and a unicorn delivered it to my door, announcing that it was Tom from Fantaco. He was very excited and explained that in the "lag time" we'd created by being late with the pages, the printing company had run every other assignment they'd had on "tap" just as they'd done the covers and now, with nothing else scheduled, they were actually going to print the entire run of "SOLD OUT!" #1 overnight, having it ready the very next morning. The girlfriend and I could drive back out to Gloversville the next morning, pick up a few cases of comics, drive back to Albany, and have them available for the inevitable influx of Friday afternoon customers. Wow! That'd be great...if I wasn't A. exhausted, B. pissed off at the world, and C. numb from the shoulders up. Somehow, though, I heard my self agreeing to do it, hanging up, then calling she-who-was not-to-be--ignored and telling her of the great adventure we had in store for us the next morning ( AFTER getting a pumpkin of course!), then I hung up and headed for my bed. Of course, I was now so overtired and yet wired that I couldn't sleep, so I stayed up and cleaned and organized my studio, finally sacking out at around midnight. I'd been up for something like 36 hours at this point and I had another long drive ahead of me.
At around 1 p.m. on Friday, October 31st, 1986, the girlfriend, several cases of my first published work, and a pumpkin, pulled up in front of FantaCo in that very same dark green Chevette that had been a part of the beginning of all of this fiendish plot, somehow coming full circle. We trotted into the store, announced our presence and the FantaCo crew surrounded us, cracking the cases open, diving into the books with joy, satisfaction and relief, just as I when I'd picked them up at the printing plant some 90 minutes before and when I'd stolen more than a few looks at them while driving back and steering with my knees. It had been a job well done, they all agreed and now, it was time to let the general public get a crack at the comics. We opened up a case which Tom personally placed on the floor in front of the main display racks which he always did with whatever was the "hot" book of the week like Miller's "Dark Knight" or one of the never ending array of X-Men titles and the customers descended on them, picking the proverbial bones clean to a politely positive collective response and more than a few requests for signed copies. I'd done good. I was happy.
Roger wanted to take some photos of the auspicious occasion. We agreed, but first decided to slip into our Halloween costumes that we'd secreted away under the cases of comics...and the pumpkin in the car. A few minutes later, there we were, in full "Rowdy Roddy Piper" and "Cyndi Lauper" attire, leaning up against the logo'd front window of FantaCo, capering for Roger's camera and...loving it, even when some Tony Danza-esque lobotomy scar wandered up and asked where we were wrestling that night. I told him it was a costume, he started naming venues, again, almost demanding where I'd be in the ring that night. I politely asked him what day it was. He said "Friday". I asked the date. He said "October something". I said "It's HALLOWEEN!!!" He seemed to finally get it, then told me he hoped I'd win my match and wandered off as did we a few minutes later. Fortunately, I had the legs for the kilt.
That night, after all of the relatives and friends had gone over the comic with fine tooth combs (as had we, like, a thousand times), and the evening meal was done and the stream of annoying trick-or-treaters had died down, the hastily carved pumpkin burned on, casting its eerie, yet inviting light across my front lawn, she-who-must-remain-nameless and I lay on my bed, watching "Transylvania 6-5000" on cable, grinning a thousand, satisfied grins. I had never been able to visualize what my first publishing experience might be like although I'd waited, hoped and dreamed on it for so long, and now it had happened, and it was exhausting, exasperating, trying, stressful, draining, straining and countless other "ings", but, as I dozed off my thoughts trailed off to that quote in "Where The Buffalo Roam" where Bill Murray summed up not only Hunter Thompson's life, but my own now as well, when he uttered the immortal last line "It Never got Weird Enough For Me". I couldn't agree more, even now, on the other, back side of that long lost, sometimes lamented, sometimes not so much, career, but it was ONE HELL OF A RIDE!
Thanks, John. John is living happily ever after with his bride, who is NOT she-who-shall-not-be-named and working on the comic book Captain Action. There was a second issue, the conclusion of Sold Out, but that tale will be told another time.
Carlos Santana turns 70
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