Very rarely to do people get to meet their heroes. Nine times out of ten they are a sports star, famous musician, or other such celebrity whose world you don’t have access to. If you do meet them it’s usually a short “Nice to meet you. I’m a big fan.” sort or thing. Having a real conversation almost never happens. But sometimes, just sometimes it does…
In the fall of 1997 I was in my junior year of art school. I was enjoying the experience overall but it was rough going at times. You see, I wanted to draw comic books. That wasn’t what most people at school planned on doing when they got their BFA. There were only a small group of us in the illustration department who were interested in graphic novels (high brow code for comics). In my class I think it was two. My instruction in the ways of comics was pretty much non-existent. I was learning how to be an illustrator. How to make paintings for corporate or commercial clients and how to get them done on time. While this stuff was definitely helping me become a better artist it didn’t feel like I was any closer to drawing comics. Then towards the end of the semester we were told we could sign up for a spring internship. I read through the list and immediately saw the one I wanted: Dynamic Forces – producer of limited edition and collectors comics. I was floored. Finally something to do with comics. It even called them comics!
I applied for the position just before Christmas break. The entire time I was home I was calling the teacher in charge of interships to make sure everything is going according to plan. It had been a long time since I was that excited. I remember talking to my friend, Dave, saying that this is where it would all begin.
When it actually began it wasn’t exactly glamourous. The building was an old warehouse on a strip of highway that was mostly populated by strip clubs. Shower stages seemed to be the newest stripper technology. I didn’t care. I was working in the world of comics. My assignments were mostly clerical stuff but every now and then get a cool assignment like writing copy for ad time we had bought on the Howard Stern Show. The real payoff (and reason why my supervisor there thought I would benefit from the internship) was the signings. Artists would be flown in to sign copies of whatever comics they worked on. I would work at these signings by passing the comics from one artist to the next, bagging the books, opening new boxes, and essentially hanging out and chatting it up with actual comic pros. It was awesome! Quickly I met Al Williamson (who I later had lunch with at his Honesdale studio) and Clayburn Moore. I even got to keep the slightly damaged stuff. If something wasn’tcompletely perfect it couldn’t be sold and I would have the opportunity to get it for free (which is how I got my Willow figure and started collecting Buffy figures). But the best was yet to come. My hero Alex Ross was coming to sign copies of Earth X. I was and still am a huge Alex Ross fan. I thought Kingdom Come was not only brilliantly written but drop dead gorgeous. I didn’t normally read mainstream comics but for some reason (I think it was the advice of my local comic dealer) I picked this up. It was hard to put down. Instantly Ross became an inspiration. He painted heroes with beauty and a humanity that couldn’t be matched.
When the day came I was probably the most excited I had ever been. I stood there passing comics from one member of the Earth X crew to the next. Occasionally bringing out more boxes of unsigned comics. As the day wore on I got more brave and tried to talk to the guys and even be a part of their conversations, the best of which was one between Alex and Jim Krueger. I don’t remember exactly how it started but Alex was talking about characters he liked and the two were soon plotting out a mini-series about the original Human Torch. If I’m remembering correctly it involved vampires and possibly even Namor becoming a vampire. The Human Torch was to be the hero and would be assisted by a woman (I can’t remember if she was a girlfriend, or just a female Torch) named, Toro. I remember thinking how cheesy I though the name Toro sounded so like one of the guys I said, “Toro. Alex does that sound like a bull fighter or something.” He looked at me and I could see the lightbulb go off in his head. “We’ll make her hispanic,” he said excitedly. I almost shit. I just helped Alex Ross
L to R: Alex Ross, John Paul Leon, Bill Reinhold, Jim Krueger, and Me
with a character (sorta). The two got more and more involved plotting of the whole series. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Alex even sketched out a rough cover for an issue with a sharpie and had me run it up to someone in one of the offices (I thought about photo-coping it but for some reason didn’t. I think the copier was on the fritz). Soon all the Earth X stuff was signed and Alex wasfinishing up signing a box of Batman comics. When he was all done he sat back in his chair and let out a sigh of relief. “If you could just sign one more, Alex.” I requested. “One more box!” “No, just one more comic.” I pulled out my copy of the first issue of Kingdom Come. Everyone let out a little laugh and he was more then gracious about signing it. Of course I brought my camera and Alex had the president of Dynamic Forces take a picture of me with the Earth X crew. It was a near perfect day.
About a year later Phil, and I went to the Warner Bros. Store in NYC to see Alex and Paul Dini who were signing copies of a Batman comic they did together. Original artwork would be on display and they would be signing comics. When I got up to Alex I introduced myself and he actually remembered me. I asked about the Human Torch series and he replied that Marvel didn’t go ahead with it. They didn’t think the original Torch could carry a whole series. Phil stood next to me awkwardly starring at Paul Dini and getting uncomfortable as the line began to back up. I said my goodbyes, made some comment that we would have to work together someday, and left. On the way home Phil said watching me talk to Alex was like watching Jason Lee and Stan Lee converse in Mallrats.
This story had become one of my favorites over the years and I always wondered if Alex would ever get to do the book he wanted. A few months ago I received this email from a friend:
Remember telling me about how you met Alex Ross & he and some colleagues were brainstorming a HUGE crossover event that involved Namor, the original Human Torch, and a Hispanic girlfriend for one of the characters named “Toro?” Well, I picked up a promotional brochure for the upcoming Avengers vs Invaders limited series (for which Ross is artistic director) yesterday and I thought of you. It will feature Namor (both the Golden Age version and the contemporary version) and the original Human Torch … AND a sidekick named “Toro.” Coincidence??
I couldn’t believe it. Was it true? After a quick search on the Marvel website I found this article, which had this quote from Jim Krueger:
“Nick [Barrucci, Publisher for Dynamite Entertainment and President of Dynamic Forces], Alex and I have been talking together for a long time—about a lot of stuff,” Krueger continues. “Anyhow, this was one of those things that just sort of organically began a number of years ago when Alex and I were signing copies of EARTH X at Dynamic Forces and talking about doing something with the [Human] Torch. Anyhow, a number of years later, Alex and I are working on Justice and we each got a call from [Nick]. [Dynamite] had just pitched an idea to Marvel of an Avengers/Invaders team-up with Alex and I attached. In my mind, I went back to the Torch and Alex’s and my love for not only that character, but the entire Invaders mythology. So, we all started talking to Marvel and the ball just kept rolling.”
It was really happening and I had been there when it started.