Neal Adams is a nice guy. At least, he was nice to a friend and me at a convention in New York, and that's enough for me. Let me tell you my harrowing tale. Like many folks, I have a sketchbook that I take along to conventions.  It’s nothing special or pretentious, it’s mainly just for me to hopefully snag a quick convention-style sketch.  The quicker and sloppier (which also generally equates to the free-er) they are, the better. 

Art is Messy

To me, art is messy.  It should convey not only emotion but motion as well.  Rough sketches have always seemed more interesting.  They’re real.  They’re visceral.  I love to look at a sketch and see the artist’s mood on full display. 

Even in the fine art world, Jean-Michel Basquiat has always been much more compelling than any one of his contemporaries.  So, generally, that is my convention goal.  Get a quick sketch from someone that I admire without paying a dime for it.

Let me take you there

The place…The Javits Center, New York City.  The event…The Big Apple Con.  The mark…Neal Frickin’ Adams.  I had seen Mr. Adams in action at other cons and heard of his reputation for being a bit surly.  The kind of guy you feel a little intimidated to meet and makes you feel like George Costanza approaching The Soup Nazi for a medium crab bisque. 

He was selling prints, comics, and I assume autographs.  But the first thing I noticed about his table was the enormous sign that read, “NO SKETCHES!”  The letters were big, bold, and a clear message that a man would have to be crazy to even entertain the thought of getting a sketch on that day.  But my friend, Chris, and I had gumption. Dare I say we had moxie, and just the right combination of chutzpah and leftover indigestion from that grease-soaked convention hot dog to make us believe that we had lightning in a bottle that day and were about to inflict it with the crashing of a thousand waves.

“I said no sketches!”

We waited for the opportune time like a boxer looking for an opening to stick a jab.  We saunter up and put into action a ploy that I have used when talking to celebrities for years, talk about anything other than the reason they are there. 

Does Neal Adams want to talk about comics? Hell no, he doesn’t.  I learned this accidentally when I wore a Montreal Expos hat to an Eric Lindros autograph signing in a mall.  He noticed my hat and he gave me more time than anybody else that wanted to tell him that he was a great hockey player.  Do they honestly think he didn’t know that? He was happy to talk about anything other than hockey, and it didn’t hurt that it was about something Canadian.  It works every time. 

I talked to Cal Ripken, Jr. about his recent David Letterman appearance.  I talked to Hugh Jackman about a Mad Magazine cover that had recently come out.  And in this case, we got Neal talking about New Yorkers.  He was funny, he was profane, and was the edgy badass that we wanted him to be.  After a few minutes of perceived camaraderie, I boldly quipped that we had hoped to get quick sketches but knew from his sign that you could see from space that it wasn’t going to happen.  He peeked left, peeked right, and with a smirk said, “Alright motherf***ers, give me your damn sketchbooks.” 

We subtly rejoiced, as not to attract attention, and he hastily sketched Batman with a speech bubble saying, “I said no sketches!”  He handed them back and flashed his charming smile as he said, “Get the f*ck out of here.” 

We respectfully thanked him and walked away knowing that we didn’t just have a sketch, we had an experience that is much more intrinsically valuable. 

Collect the memories

It’s an inside joke between a legend and two idiots.  It’s worth nothing to anyone else, but priceless to me.  And that is really what collecting art or whatever it is you fancy should be.