THE TIME DAN MET STAN

 

Look at that cover! Total gateway to a lifetime of comic book addiction.

I’ve been reading comic books since 1987. My first comic was purchased off of a spinner rack (way to ruin your books, guys) in Brainerd, MN. The cover for WEST COAST AVENGERS #1 blew my thirteen-year-old mind: all black, with a group of heroes running out of an explosion. I didn’t know whom they were, or what the hell was going on, but I knew I needed this book. If I remember correctly, the first page was a splash page showing Hawkeye and Mockingbird making out. I didn’t like that part much. Hey, I was only thirteen. But I do remember this- at the top of the page; it said “Stan Lee Presents…” I didn’t know whom Stan Lee was, but I was going to find out.

As I made my way through the Marvel catalogue of titles, I saw that every book had that “Stan Lee Presents” tag on the title page and each book had a “Marvel Bullpen” page, too. This was the page that told you what books came out that month, told you about upcoming MEGA CROSSOVER EVENTS. And it also had Stan’s Soapbox. The Soapbox was cool because it was fun, lighthearted, and always seemed to be written just for me. Sure, it was corny as all get-out, but the “missives” from the “Merry Marvel Marching Society” that were sent out to the “Marvel Zombies” were just plain fun. They made it seem like you were doing more than just reading comics. They made you feel like you were part of a larger community. You were IN THE KNOW. And that was a special thing.

Fast-forward a bunch of years. I’m still reading comics, but now not just Marvel. Stan’s name isn’t on the title page anymore. And a whole new generation only knows him through his guest appearances on Big Bang Theory and the Marvel movies. Kate and I have been attending the Minnesota comic cons for a handful of years. Fun shows, but they are small shows and have a decidedly local flavor. I made the off-hand comment that “If we’re ever going to meet Stan Lee, we gotta start hitting a bigger show.” Ha-ha.

In a round-about way, this lead to the now (in) famous Crimespree Wrecking Crew’s Annual Assault on C2E2 in Chicago.

<Disclaimer: no one has ever, nor ever will, call it this>

At the start of this year’s convention season, Stan’s name was listed not only on the C2E2 guest list (wha?!), but also on the list for the inaugural Wizard World Minneapolis convention (huh?!) Stan Lee is coming to our regular show, and the kick-off con for the show in MY OWN TOWN? REALLY?!

Listen. Stan “The Man” Lee ain’t young. I know this. He’s been canceling appearances the last couple years. This is just what happens when you hit your 90’s. But here I’m thinking I’ve just doubled my chancing of meeting one of the men who’ve impacted my life. This is big stuff, but I tried my best to temper my expectations. Again, The Man is in his mid-90’s, and as it turned out, this was a good plan. He did end up canceling his Minnesota appearance.

But I still had Chicago…

Time went by, I kept checking the website for Stan Updates. Not only was he still coming, they had released the prices for Stan Stuff. $60 for autographs. $100 for pictures with him. I don’t recall how much they were charging to wash his car, but I’m sure it was a real bargain. Again, I tried to temper my expectations.

Me: “Gee… $60 is a lot for a signature.”

Kate: “I was expecting a lot more. Do it.”

Fast forward to this past Saturday (April 27th, 2014.) We had hit C2E2 on Friday, with the game plan to get as many of the other autographs and sketches for my sketch book taken care of as we could. Fridays at shows are the best for this: many con-goers don’t go until Saturday, so the lines are much shorter. There’s a much more subdued feel to the shows, and you can usually spend more time talking to the talent. That being said don’t listen to this advice. I don’t want you guys horning in on our Friday action.

That brings us to Saturday. Stan “The Man” Day. The Crimespree Wrecking Crew descended once more upon the McCormick Center in Chicago’s South Side. Jon and Ruth split one way. Kate, Erica, and I split the other way. Waving our press passes like Wayne and Garth, we bypass what I foolishly thought was the Lee Line.

Me: “This is never going to work. Just look at the line!”

Kate: “Hurry up, dummy!”

Erica: “Look at that weirdo. What the hell is wrong with these dorks?”

We arrive at the cattle line at the back of the hall and surprise, surprise! It doesn’t wrap around the circumference of the Earth 12 times over. It’s actually… kinda short.

Me: “What’s the deal? I thought all those other people were in line for Stan?”

Kate: “That’s the line to get in to the show, dummy. The hall just opened. That’s why press passes rule. Now, stand there and have the old man sign yer funny book. Dummy.”

Erica: “Look at that guy! Who dresses like that in public?”

Kate: “You stand there. I’ve got the backpack of comics. Me ‘n Erica are going to leave you standing here sweating, so we can talk about you behind your back. Don’t worry; it’ll all be funny stories that portray you in an unflattering light. Bye!”

So there I stood, clutching my plastic wrapped reprint copy of AMAZING FANTASY #15. Originally printed in 1962, it’s the first appearance of Spider-Man, Stan’s signature character. The perfect book for Stan to sign. Was this really going to happen? Maybe. Being the kind of guy that babbles when he’s nervous, I start blabbing to the other folks in line. Most of them were from the Chicagoland area, others from as far as California. All of them good folks. We talked the whole time we were in line. The great thing? Everyone I met in line was a real fan. No one (admitted) to being there for the collectability aspect of the signing. Everyone shared how special Stan was to them, how much Marvel had impacted their lives. I started referring to our group as the Gang of Seven.

Because I’m a dork.

The convention guy came by to collect our $60 and everyone purchased their ticket. It was happening soon. The guy came by again and said, “Stan is going to start signing early. He signs fast. Have your item to sign ready.” And then the line started to move. Quickly.

Not just step-step-stop, but step-step-step. How the hell could they be moving this fast? I mean, he’s old! I have to put my pen down, flex my fingers, b.s. with people a little bit. This was crazy! My phone was buzzing with Facebook updates and instant messages. As we got closer, we could hear the handlers scolding people who tried to take pictures. Yeah, like that stopped me from trying. My super-secret spy photo makes it appear as if someone had asked Stan to sign an onion. Not framing quality. But I got it.

"Who's the weirdo that brought me an onion?"

“Who’s the weirdo that brought me an onion?”

Step-step-step. Step-step-step.

Gang of Seven #1: We’re getting closer…

Me: …

Gang of Seven #1: What if they cap the line right in front of us? Like, doesn’t an old guy need more bathroom breaks?

Me: I need more bathroom breaks. Like, now would be good.

Gang of Seven #1: Holy crap, I’m up!

The handler took his comic, handed it to Stan “The Man” Lee. Stan picked the appropriate color Sharpie, signed it in silence, and that was it.

As I approached the table, Stan took a breath. Turning to the handler, he said in his New York accent, “As fast as I sign, it’s just not fast enough.” I took this break in the action to say, “Thank you for taking the time, Stan. It really means a lot.”

Stan then signed my comic in silver Sharpie, turned to me and said, “It’s my pleasure.”

Me: “May I shake your hand?”

Stan: ::lifts hand::

Handler #1: “We’re not doing that…”

Stan: ::shakes Dan’s hand::

TOTAL.

FUCKING.

WIN.

The Gang of Seven met up at the end of the line. Everyone cheered and wished each other well.

The Kate and Erica arrived then. Each caught up in the joy of the moment. I opened my mouth to say something witty, but then my voice caught in my throat. This was the part where Malmon Gets Verklempt. This is a thing that sometimes happens to me. To their credit, the ladies gave me space, but man, not to be overly dramatic (too late), but this is more than a Comic-Book-Thing. This is a Multi-Generational-Jewish-Thing.

And Comics.

94 year old Stanley Leiber of New York City, who became a comic book editor at age 19, and went on to create the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and a billion other staples of pop-culture just shook the hand of 39 year old Dan Malmon of Saint Paul, MN. His signature is still strong and flowing. His grip was cool and dry.

I think a little verklempt was ok.

Picture or it didn't happen!

Picture or it didn’t happen!

 

Dan Malmon

 

P.S. Today, we took that signed reprint of AMAZING FANTASY #15 to Michael’s for framing. Kate had a “60% plus an additional 10%” coupon, because she’s awesome. Swear to god, the other customers saw my signed comic, and a couple of them wouldn’t stop talking about Stan appearing on Big Bang Theory, and comic cons that have been in the news lately. Who could possibly have guessed that would happen, when Stan was filling inkwells when he was an assistant at Timely Comics in 1939?