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My visit to comic nirvana
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84 posts in this topic

One morning this past summer, just before San Diego time, I was grousing on these very boards, recounting a conversation with local boardie and fellow art collector My Name is Legion about how big a hassle it has become to try to get to SDCC. There's certainly no shortage of cons in our region (South Central), but major art dealers never show up to those, and comic and genre art is pretty much the only thing I collect these days. It's easy now for a collector to feed the madness by shopping online, but there's still nothing like physically thumbing through portfolios and searching through bins of art.


Well, I returned from lunch that day to find my public pouting provoked a pair of PMs. The first was from the great and powerful Bill Ponsetti, urging me to get my geek arse to San Diego, and accompanied by a lead for both lodging and a pass. It was a tempting offer, though the timing would not have worked this year. Sometime in the near future, though…


The second PM was from my old friend, mysterious boardie Adam Strange, suggesting I come up northeast for the September Comic Art Con. I could stay with him, drool over funnybooks, and we'd drive into Jersey on Sunday for the con. That could work. Far out enough to clear my schedule and to get (relatively) inexpensive plane tickets. My wife and daughter were going on a spa trip without me (Not my cup of tea… I don't golf, I don't spa. The one time I went there with her before, I spent the whole time driving around Phoenix, going to book and comic stores), so I felt like I could do that without feeling guilty. I talked to Sean (Legion) about going too, but events conspired to make that undoable for him.


But me, I was set.


To sweeten the pot, Adam Strange teased the possibility of going to visit legendary collector Jon Berk on Saturday. Not that I needed extra motivation to make the trip, but the thought of seeing the Planet 1 cover and the other amazing items in JB's collection was dizzying.


Flew up the Friday before the show. The downside of going cheap on the airfare was going from San Antonio to Hartford though Orlando with a three-hour layover, but who am I to complain? Adam picked me up at the airport, and we went back to his place and almost immediately began looking at comics. Full disclosure -- I decided a few years back that I collected too many things and totally divested myself of all my comics (except Platinum Age.) That doesn't lessen my appreciation for amazing comics in amazing condition, it just tamps down the urge to try to buy them.

Viewing comics with Adam Strange is a singularly unique experience. There are special lights that make the colors jump off the covers. Sometimes you get to page through a comic which is carefully nested in a coverstock folder. These are always copies of which you never have seen, nor ever will see a nicer example.





I gazed at these four-color marvels, plucked via time machine from spinner racks over half a century ago, well into the night, and eventually shuffled off wearily to the guest room.


Saturday morning we looked over more comics and art and waited for Jon to call. He phoned around noon and we went to pick him up and headed immediately to lunch at a nice local cafe.


Following lunch, we headed back to Jon's. We looked at some art in a couple of rooms before heading to the comic book sanctum. I took some pictures… Adam Strange took some pictures… I should have taken more, but I was very much in the moment of looking at this amazing collection.


Here are just a few of the pieces in portfolios that caught my eye. I really liked that Mars splash page from Planet comics. My first ever piece of original art was a Murphy Anderson Planet comics page, so I've always had a fondness for that era of Fiction House art.









Below is a promotional piece done by Edgar Church trying to sell a character.





In addition to art, Jon pulled out some pretty amazing comics by anyone's standards. Imagine holding an entire high grade run (mostly, if not all, Church copies) of Fantastic, or Science, or Mystery Men, or Wonderworld.


Or junk like this.





Jon offered to take the Action 1 out of the mylar so I could thumb through it. Beset with visions of simultaneously sneezing, sweating and bleeding from the palms of my hand all over it, I politely declined. Not that I'm prone to spontaneous stigmata, but if it was ever going to happen, it probably would have happened then.


Found this thing out of order in a pile of Wonderworlds.





Back to art… an actual Timely Captain America page.





Lou Fine Fantastic 3 cover recreation by the late, great Murphy Anderson.





Handcolored Claw page from Silver Streak. Don Rico, I believe.





Lookin' at art on the wall.





Mystery Men and Wonderworld cover recreations by Murphy Anderson.





Early Wolverton (from Circus, I believe)





An iconic Schomburg cover.





A freaking' Lou Fine Black Condor page! Forgive the glare, but take my word for it, the detail on this is absolutely insane!





A Gil Fox Police Comics cover!





And possibly my favorite piece in the batch (or at least top 20) - Jack Burnley Starman from All Star Comics.





Last but hardly least, the Planet Comics 1 cover. At this point my brain was saturated, and Jon could have pulled out Dali's prelims from Persistence of Memory and it wouldn't have fazed me.





A bonus shot of the Planet cover with the pale bald guy replaced by a Lou Fine splash page. Just because.





One of the amazing things about Jon's collection is the number of recreations he had by golden age artists or their contemporaries. In some cases, as I understand, he actually sought them out, only to discover they had no idea anybody remembered who they were. By reconnecting these artists to the world of modern comic fandom, he's created a bridge to the past, and provided a service to those who would study and chronicle the early days of comic books. I encourage anyone who wants to see a tiny portion of this amazing collection to check out Jon's CAF gallery.


By the time we left, I was glassy-eyed. Fortunately, I'm resilient and I recovered by the time Jon came over to Adam Strange's and joined us for a tasty supper of homemade lasagna, and more lookin' at comics and art.


Sunday morning, Adam and I hit the road early for the 2+ hour drive to New Jersey. After getting lost a minimal number of times and driving in circles trying to find the off-site parking for the con, we arrived just after the show opened.


It was overwhelming and, of course, I took no pictures. (Cue Debby Downer bassoon riff, here.)


It seems like most of the major dealers were there. Burkey, Albert, Bechara, a Donnely, Anthony, Comic Connect, Peter Koch, Scott Eder. I met a few boardies.


Some observations (as good as photographs if you close your eyes while you read them):


• Prices are nuts. (generally)


• I was surprised to find that Gene Park does not look like Michael Douglas.


• I didn't realize, initially, the the Donnely booth was the Donnely booth. Their portfolios were just crammed haphazardly with random stuff. Nice stuff, in some cases, but bent, and jammed together. These are pieces of history… where's the respect?


• In Mike Burkey's stock, I found a George Perez Avengers Annual half splash that I bought in the late 70s for $15. I sold it in the early 80s for $40. It was priced at $4000. I had to pull it out and tell at least two strangers and Mike. It still had a $15 price sticker on the back.


• I wanted to look through Anthony's stock, but it was kind of an intimidating mess. The folks working for him were eager and helpful, though.


• Nobody has any Ryan Sook Kamandi pages. Ever.


• Looked at the Comic Connect's Justice League 21, page 3, just for grins. I own page 2, but there's no chance on earth I'm going to try to complete the book,. It was fun to see, nonetheless.


• Somebody had a beautiful Mike Ploog Frankenstein cover, but they didn't know how much they wanted for it. That saved me the trouble of realizing it was way too expensive for me anyhow.


• There was a table set up that looked like it was mostly those "printer transparencies." I've been in the printing business for over thirty years, so, while I realize that film positives were used by some foreign printers, most of these have nothing to do with making a comic. I don't have a darkroom anymore, but when I did, I could have made these all day long… and that's real photo-based transparencies and overlay proofs. Most of what is sold right now as printer production transparencies and color overlay proofs are just printed off a nice inkjet printer. I would encourage as many people as possible to buy these as it keeps that money from competing with me for real art.


• I went with the expressed intent of buying a Kirby 3rd world page, preferably Mr. Miracle, not inked by Colletta. Found some. Bought something completely different. So much for intentions.


At some point, Adam Strange found me and said we'd better get out of there soon or we were going to get caught in NY Giants football game traffic. Made a quick impulse purchase and we hit the road. Driving back, I realized that that absolute fustercluck of anarchy we were in the middle of that vaguely resembled a bridge was the "Bridgegate" bridge. Felt lucky to get though there alive, but later regretted not taking pictures of it.


Back to Connecticut for some fantastic pizza and more lookin' at comic books. I confess I was nearing my saturation point on ridiculously high grade Golden- and Atomic-Age comics.


Apparently this is what gazing at pristine 4-color artifacts will do to one. I'd had all the color looked out of me.




I've seen things, boys and girls… I've seen things that would make your head explode if I told you about them. (But I'm sworn to secrecy). Just don't ever delude yourself into thinking you have the nicest copy of any comic. Trust me, I've seen it, and it's not yours.


The next day, I flew home. Fortunately, my return flight took me through Baltimore instead of Orlando. Two bad my 3-hour layover wasn't there, or I would've grabbed a cab and hit Timbuktu's for some crab cakes.


Oddly, because it is a very, very tiny world sometimes, in line for my connecting flight from Baltimore to home, I saw the previous owner of the Planet Comics #1 cover waiting a few spots in line behind me. He lives in the same city as me, and I know him in passing, so I said hi. I told him I had just seen his old Planet Cover a few days earlier. He looked wistful, briefly, and said "ahh the things we let get away." Yeah, I get that.


Tons of thanks to my old buddy, Adam Strange, for being the perfect host. I can't think of a nicer, more hospitable, and more knowledgeable person in the entire hobby. Thanks also to the esteemed Jon Berk, who allowed this blithering fanboy to drool all over his amazing collections. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: my favorite aspect of our hobby is the great people you meet and the friends you make. I don't buy old comics for myself any more (except Plats, which nobody counts), and, someday, I'll probably quit collecting art… but I'll always be a comic geek.












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Fantastic report, Roger! Thanks for sharing. Amazing stuff.


• Nobody has any Ryan Sook Kamandi pages. Ever.


Have you tried Alan Bahr? He offered a page or two on CAF not that long ago. He bought the entire story from Sook, so any pages that are out there came from him originally. I know Rich Donnelly has a couple, but he's trying to get more, so he's probably not a seller at this point. The other pages that I know about are in black hole collections.


The pages are HUGE (Valiant scale) and are gorgeous. Hope you get one, good luck!

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Really enjoyed your story, and Jon's "cave" is really cool..except for what looks like water pipes running all the way around just above the...art?!!


My first thoughts:


- Is that a basement?

- God, I hope his sump pump has a good backup battery.

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What an incredible story and wonderful pictures, thanks for sharing. Like you, I sold my GA collection years ago, but I remember all the great GA Forum boardies like you, Adam Strange, Ponseti, GAtor, NearMint, PrimeTime, Surfer, etc..something we all had in common was drooling at Jon's legendary collection. I remember posting my copy of the rare New Comics #8 with that classic Schomburg cover-- which took me 5 years to find-- Jon posted that pic of the cover OA with a simple "Yeah , I like that cover too!". I was like :o x 100. Jon remains one of best guys in the hobby, not just for his knowledge and war stories, but because of his generosity and willingness to share his treasures with others.


These days I'm strictly OA, so I'm looking at you holding Detective freaking 27 (worship) and I'm thinking "wow, that's a nice Kirby Hulk 4 page back there!!!"


Hats off to you, Adam Strange and of course Jon. :applause:


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These days I'm strictly OA, so I'm looking at you holding Detective freaking 27 (worship) and I'm thinking "wow, that's a nice Kirby Hulk 4 page back there!!!"


Hats off to you, Adam Strange and of course Jon. :applause:




lol good eye

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What a great recap of what was an obviously great weekend! I would have had the deer-in-headlights stare looking at all the amazing comics and art. Thanks for sharing a well thought out thread with pics. I have resolved that I will make the trip to NJ some day (my kids schedules have to break up at some point).

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