Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hello, Old Friend

[originally published at]

The postcard comes from the good people at Howard Johnson, and yes, the reservation number still works. The sketch of Michelangelo and the signature are courtesy of Peter Laird, co-creator of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The nerve to ask Mr. Laird for his signature and a sketch -- for free -- derives from a quality most twelve-year-old boys hold in surplus, ignorance. I know I did.

Until my pilgrimage to TCAF this past year, I had been to exactly one other gathering of my tribe. The show was in Boston at (yep, you guessed it) a Howard Johnson's hotel. I would put the show around 1985 or '86 about the time my turtle-mania was almost at pique. At the time I thought of 'the Turtles' as a New England 'La Cosa Nostra,' this thing of ours. The Turtles were local. Sure they were created in a different part of my 'neck of the woods' (New Hampshire). I had at least ridden through that state which for a kid caught in the tight Ouroboros-like circle of family, school and church was a damn sight closer (and therefore more real) than anything from New York City, where, so I thought, all comics came from.

When someone mentions 'the Turtles,' I think of Mirage studios, that's my permutation and those are 'my turtles.' When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #5 is released Mirage switches from printing in the oversized format to more standard comic book dimensions. Those oversized early editions (even #3 and #4) were always hard to come by back then so I must have bought them at the show. This allows me to (somewhat) carbon date meeting Laird and Kevin Eastman because they signed the inside front cover of issues #4 and #6, but not #5. Why? When I met Eastman and Laird they were a phenomenon, but not yet the franchise they would soon become. For me, seeing these two men and getting their autographs was personal. As far as I was concerned an author, artist and athlete was as mysterious and as intangible as God. So this was word made flesh. 

My father took me to the show. If I had to I'd guess there were as many vendors selling baseball cards as comics that day. I could be wrong. There was no cosplay -- seeing a woman dressed as Dagger would have set my pubescent brain to tilt for forever -- no artist's alley and as for advertising there might have been an ad in a local paper on in the back of the N.E.C. newsletter.

From what I can remember Eastman and Laird were set up at a banquet table in a hallway (maybe an atrium?) apart from the main room where the show was being held. Their appearance was a total surprise (which will come back to bite me in the ass, read on). Besides their signatures on TMNT #4 and #6 and Eastman's signature on Raphael -- why I didn't get Laird to sign it as well is lost to the mists of time -- and the postcard I have little else to tether my fractured memories. I do remember it took Laird less than a minute to draw Michelangelo. I (try to) copy those same quick motions I saw him use when I draw any of the Turtles, even today; they've been sketched on my brain and under my fingernails.

Here's where my good fortune falls apart (somewhat). When I get home I tell my cousin to come over. When I show him 'my haul' he immediately runs home, in tears. I had no idea what had happened. My aunt calls about five minutes later and bitches me out good. My cousin was claiming he had asked me to get him something if anyone 'cool' shows up. I can't remember if he did or didn't ask and either way my aunt wasn't buying it. I'd like to think I made good and gave him something of my spoils as penance for my sin of omission. Maybe that's why my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #5 isn't signed? Maybe I gave it to my cousin and bought another one to replace it. C'est la vie.   

I would continue on for a few more years as a youth in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles army. The last issue I have is #12 which came out in September 1987. So by the time the 'Turtle Power' becomes an international slogan I get my first taste of the sneering privilege that comes from saying 'yeah man, I knew them when it was all about the music … err comics' and by then I was on to something else. I don't think my cousin really cared about not getting an autograph. I think he was pissed he didn't get to meet Eastman and Laird. Maybe it was karma for the time he used a brick as the trash compactor and smashed my C-3PO. I sold most of my comics that were worth anything -- Amazing Spider-Man #129 -- to finance buying concert tickets and fancy CD box sets. I did keep my Turtles comics and the postcard.   

So what? Why was Peter Laird so nice to me, so gracious? What am I supposed to do thirty years later?

One of my (many) regrets from TCAF is I kept missing Ross Campbell. I had heard him talk on Kelly Thompson's '3 Chicks Review Comics' podcast about his love of the Turtles and how getting to draw them for IDW was a dream come true. I wanted to ask him if he had met Laird (or Eastman) and tell him about the postcard. I was too impatient to wait in line and too preoccupied with other goings-on. So, I missed my chance.

When I recently reviewed Campbell's work on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #29 I felt the nostalgia, that 'turtle power.' I don't know which turtles are Campbell's turtles and it doesn't matter. His aim is true, his love apparent. When talent meets opportunity the result isn't some slavish pastiche, it's the best kind of creative act, it's inspirational and a revelation. Campbell does what every artist aspires to do with a franchise: find the joy, the charm and the creative energy of the original and make it personal. Campbell's art on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles makes the personal personal and that is grace. 

I've wanted to write about 'the postcard' for some time and Campbell's work put it in perspective. For me, the postcard signifies the decency in people and how acts of charity should resonate beyond the mere beneficiary. The 'why' is unimportant, it's the act itself that's sacred. What Peter Laird did for that thin-as-a-whip, oblivious boy with the postcard was to give him a gift; to show him (me) kindness and thoughtfulness. I called it luck, but good fortune is a better way to describe it. Now, almost thirty years later I see it for what it is: grace.

Many people have shown me such kindnesses in my life and in my time writing for Comics Bulletin, Jason Sacks chief among them. Grace is a two-way street and so I hope I have done and continue to do the same for others in 2014. The work goes on.

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