Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Dinner With Andre...Err, Mike Zeck (Florida January 2011 Part IV)

While continuing with one theme, I'm switching gears on another. We shall continue with the travelogue, but we're going to switch back to Florida from New York. When the Florida trip of January 2011 was last discussed, I had gone with my uncle to Tampa to take in a Lightning game (which means I now have another excuse to post this picture...whoo-hoo!). Picking up from there...

We stayed overnight at a hotel in Lakeland, so we could get up early the next
morning and make our way over to Epcot Center. My uncle and his wife are big fans of Disneyland and all the parks therein, so much so that they have season passes, or annual passes, or whatever they're called. Arriving early enough for opening, after loading up on the way with another terrific breakfast at a Cracker Barrel location, we met up with his wife after making our way in. We then spent several hours wandering thru Epcot, taking in a couple of rides (I particularly enjoyed Soarin', as it simulates a hang-gliding experience thru the beautiful Northern California scenery...I've taken a couple of driving vacations thru Northern California, and truly enjoy the area), several exhibits, and just enjoying the meticulously landscaped grounds. There is a wonderful array of colors surrounding you at all times, not just from the random Disney characters that will appear here and there, but mainly from the beautiful flora and fauna that is seemingly ever-present. You'd be hard-pressed to find an area of the grounds that does not at least afford a view of some colorful flowers somewhere. Many areas are devoted pretty much specifically towards beautiful arrangements of flowers, plants, and trees. Although I love living in the desert, the predominant color is brown, or some shade of it. So it's nice to be able to get to places that want to show off their vibrant colors.

After spending the morning and much of the early afternoon in Epcot, and having a nice large snack/small lunch in the French section of the international area, we headed off in separate directions. My uncle and his wife were heading back to their house, where I would be joining them later that evening. But I had another item on my agenda this day that was going to be rather interesting as well.

I've been a fan of comic books as an art form for over 25 years now. I really enjoy the medium as a form for telling stories, and it's also nice that many of the creators
in the field are accessible at either conventions or, in later years, thru the internet either thru their own personal webistes, or Twitter, or things like that. Over the years, I've been fortunate to make a connection with many of the artists and writers whose work I really admire and enjoy. The walls of my home are covered with prints, posters, original pages, and commissions from many different people whose work has meant something to me on one level or another. In attending many conventions in New York when I was younger, I was able to make such a good connection with a couple of people that I managed to conduct interviews with Paul Chadwick, the creator of Concrete, and Mike Mignola, who would go on to be the creator of Hellboy, which eventually became the subject of 2 terrific films directed by Guillermo Del Toro and starring Ron Perlman as the title character. These interviews were done back in 1991 and 1992, when I would have been all of 19 and 20 years old. Yes, there will eventually be full blogs detailing the events of those days, but let's get back to Florida for now...

In going to those NYC conventions when I was a mere lad, I used to make it a point to see Mike Zeck at every one of them. This was an artist whose work I really enjoyed. Among his many accomplishments at the time, the ones that really stood out were his 3 year run on the monthly Captain America comic, and an incredible 6 issue run on one of the better Spider-Man stories of all time called Fearful Symmetry: Kraven's Last Hunt. Both of those books were done in conjunction with a terrific writer (and fellow blogspot blogger) J. M. DeMatteis, an excellent and prolific writer who I've also been fortunate enough to meet and talk with. The genesis behind the Kraven story is as interesting as the story itself, as DeMatteis detailed in his blog.

Perhaps the character Zeck is most identified with however, was from a mini-series in 1985 starring The Punisher. That series took an almost throw-away character that was used sparingly in guest shots in books here and there and brought him to the forefront of the Marvel Universe. The popularity of the mini-series generated enough interest in the character to grant him his own regular series soon after, which then spawned another regular series, then another, plus numerous gratuitous shots in other big books, specials, one shots, team-ups, etc. The character eventually became so big that 3 Hollywood movies have been based on him (although none have really been able to do it right...). But it basically all started with that mini-series from 1985 that Zeck drew (most of), written by Steven Grant.

These are books that I first read when I was in my late teens, so needless to say, they wound up having a profound effect on me. So it was nice to be able to meet the man at shows in NYC, and talk with him a bit, get some books signed, and even get a sketch. At one show he did a Captain America piece for me that hung on my walls for many years. He was a big Miami Dolphins fan, and I remember him wearing a Dolphins jersey at a show one January, as they were playing the New York Jets in the playoffs that day. This is pre-smartphone days, kids, so I remember him asking "What's the score?" more than once...

For various reasons, the big comic book shows dried up in the New York area by the mid-1990's, and then I moved out to Las Vegas in 2000, and Zeck moved from Connecticut back to Florida in 2003. Also for a variety of reasons, Zeck has been a total non-figure on the convention scene for quite a few years now. But he maintains a website, and also has a presence on the Comic Art Fans website as well. So thru these places, I was able to keep in some sort of contact with him over the years, occasionally buying some pages from him when he had some things up for sale. I bought a certain Batman page from him because of a memory it triggers for me involving my father and I when I was a very young boy. I also bought some pages from him from a book he did called Damned (again with Grant), which was quite an artistic departure for him, stylistically speaking. So due to this occasional contact, I sent him an e-mail a few months before I was going to be in Florida, letting him know of my impending arrival, giving him ample time to make preparations to evacuate. Much to my amazement, he seemed up for a meeting...

...which eventually led to my driving away from Epcot towards Ocoee, Florida, where I wound up having dinner with Zeck at Matthew's Steaks & More. A terrific German steakhouse, it's got a bit of a following among locals, and after eating there, I can understand why. The food was excellent, and the family-run establishment takes as great care of its customers as it takes care of its meals. The steak I had was seasoned with a blend of authentic imported German spices (the family makes a trip back to Germany at least once a year to restock the spice supply) that made for a very unique, and fantastic, flavor on a perfectly done piece of meat. Some fantastic dining, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is in the area.

I had brought along some posters of Zeck's work that adorn the walls of my home for him to sign at dinner (yes, I checked in advance if he was OK with this...), along with a page I'd bought almost a year ago from the Spider-Man Kraven book. The originals from that 6 issue series (which ran thru 2 issues each of the 3 Spider-Man titles that were being published at the time) were sold by Zeck as a unit to a single collector, who hung onto them for a LONG time. Eventually, they were bought by someone else, and then an art dealer bought the pages from that person, although he didn't relinquish the covers (I'm passing along the information I got from Zeck at dinner that evening, which I may not be entirely accurate on...if any corrections need to be made, I'll be e-mailing this blog entry to Zeck). In March 2010 the pages from this book, originally published in 1987, finally surfaced for sale, and were quickly gobbled up by collectors, despite some of the enormous price tags associated with the premium ones. Merely having Peter Parker in costume as Spider-Man on a page from that 6 issue series means a price of around $5,000. Some of the more important splash pages (either a one-panel page, or a page with one panel dominating more than half the page), with either Kraven of Spider-Man on it, were commanding 15 to 30 thousand dollars each...and they seem to all be sold now.

While I enjoy original comic book art, I also enjoy things like eating, and the house I live in, so being able to pay for groceries and the mortgage have a little more importance to me than a piece of artwork. But I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to own SOMETHING from this series. So I found a nice page from the second chapter that featured none of the main characters, but still demonstrated the excellent storytelling and drawing abilities of Zeck, in this instance inked by Bob McLeod. And even with shipping, it managed to come in well under $500, which I was fine with. I got it just in time to go to Anaheim last March when I got to meet DeMatteis, where we chatted theology, philosophy, and, oh yeah, comics.

Zeck and I sat and talked comics, family, sports, art, life, and many other subjects over the course of a couple hours. He was gracious enough to sign all of the posters I'd brought, the page, and a couple books, but my reason for that is pretty simple; so that every time I look at one of those pieces, I'll be reminded of the time I got to have dinner with an artist whose work (and work ethic) I greatly admire.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Metallica (live), The Ramones, Queens Of The Stone Age, Ted Nugent, Fu Manchu, Anthony Jeselnik, Pearl Jam (live), Glenn Danzig, System Of A Down, Iron Maiden, Run DMC (covering Aerosmith...gee, I wonder what song THAT could be?!?), Yawning Man, The White Stripes (live), Spike Jones (sort-of covering Johann Strauss...), Them Crooked Vultures, John Lee Hooker, Vance Gilbert, The Chemical Brothers, Tom Lehrer, Corrosion Of Conformity, The Fratellis, The Black Keys, Les Claypool, Rollins Band, The Misfits, Mike Patton, Sex Pistols, White Zombie, Soundgarden, The English Beat, Soulfly, Infectious Grooves (live), Steve Martin, The Doors (live), Faith No More (live), Judas Priest, The Police (live), Red Hot Chili Peppers, Audioslave, P. J. Harvey, Sugarcubes, Morphine, Clutch (live), Mike Watt, Rollins Band (live), Medeski Martin & Wood, Pantera, Bob Dylan, Madness

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