3/26: Back to the Drawing Boardwalk

CliffJCLuzAlRobMAD Magazine mainstay AL JAFFEE (third from left, with Cliff Galbraith, JC Luz and Robert Bruce) gets folded into the action during the bigger ‘n better than ever Asbury Park ComiCon on Saturday, March 30. The genuinely legendary writer/cartoonist will be making a personal appearance at Convention Hall, where he’ll meet the public with what we can only surmise will be a full quiver of Snappy Answers…

It’s the kind of event we could use a lot more of, not just on the battered boards of the Asbury Park beachfront but anywhere along the Sandy-savaged Upper Wet Side of NJ. An event that’s evolved organically from the hard work of some locally based people who truly know and care about what they’re doing…the exact opposite of some carpetbagger carnival that steamrolls into its host city with little regard for the greater homegrown culture.

And…given the recent wrangling between boardwalk redeveloper Madison Marquette and the City by the Sea, this year’s bigger, bolder Asbury Park ComiCon might just stand as one of the biggest (and last) events of an aborted summer season, right there on Saturday, March 30 (see here for revoltin’ developments).

In an interview that appeared here upside the ‘WETside last year, Cliff Galbraith opined that “the problem with inland shows is you get a bunch of vendors, and crickets…to me the best shows are the coastal ones, the ones in destination towns, where you have places to go and see other than a hotel or convention center.” The devilishly bearded creator of Rat Bastard had done hard time at enough crappy highway hotel comix conventions — and, as the guy behind the gift-shop phenom known as ‘Sauruses, a fair share of garment-biz get-togethers as well — to reckon that there had to be a better way.

With a new sequential series to promote (the slice-o’-slacker-sitcom-life Unbearable, co-created with wife and    “occasional fire performer” J.C. Luz), the Red Bank-based Galbraith duo’d up with a fellow denizen of the borough what birthed both (Count) Basie and (Jay and Silent) Bob’s. An all-seeing, all-knowing pontiff of Popculturizm (and proprietor of the much-missed Groove Spot), Robert Bruce parlayed a frequently featured spot on Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men — and countless van-hours logged on the bargain battlefields of Collingwood Flea Market — into a hard-earned rep as an all-seeing, all-knowing renderer of judgments (and capo di tutti collectibles), and a spinoff into his own forthcoming AMC show.

Even as Rob and Cliff staged the first of their modestly scaled ComiCons at Asbury Lanes in May of 2012, the World’s Finest team was in meetings with Madison Marquette toward a projected expansion to Convention Hall and an exponential increase in vendor tables. When the doors creak open at 10am this Saturday, some 100 exhibitors and vendors will be laying out their colorful wares inside ConHall’s concrete bathtub space, during a fan-friendly and creator-cradling extravaganza that got the two Red Bank guys a frankly amazing feature story in the New York Times.

Just ’cause it’s LOCAL don’t make it YOKEL, of course…this is a class act, one well worth traveling for (even if it’s just a couple of blocks in our case), and with a multi-generational guest list of artists, writers and producers (about which more momentarily), in addition to the encore participation of Askewniverse ambassadors Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen, and Clerks leading man Brian O’Halloran. We’ve got a rundown of the very special guests, coming right up at the flip of a pixelated page (just don’t bend ’em!)…

SinnottJaffeeBellmanTrimpreClockwise from top left: Marvel inkmaster Joe Sinnott, Golden Age pioneer Allen Bellman, MAD methuselah Al Jaffee (drawn here by the great Drew Friedman), and Bullpen workhorse Herb Trimpe bring the awesome heft of history and eternal enthusiasm to the floor at the third annual AP ComiCon.

AL JAFFEE: The most monumental of the AP ComiCon guest gets is also the name most likely to resonate with those who couldn’t care less about the distinction between the Matter Eater Lad of Earth-3 and Funky Flashman of Earth-Q. A charter member of MAD Magazine’s genuinely legendary Usual Gang of Idiots, Al Jaffee (who just marked his 92nd birthday on March 13) created the feature known as the Fold-In, and put forth that marvelous technology in nearly issue MAD issue between 1964 and 2008. The author of the equally illustrious Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions remains a trenchant observer of social obnoxion and dumbdown douchebaggery, here in an America whose electoral map suggests that we are all of us living in a gigantic coast-to-coast Fold-In.

JOHN HOLMSTROM: The first guest artist to sign up for the 2013 event is also one of the most exciting gets, as this icon of the 1970s New York underground has never before done a major comix convention appearance…apparently, nobody ever thought to ask. Forever identified with his self-published PUNK Magazine (and the album covers from two of the greatest early platters by the Ramones), John Hölmstrom‘s gleefully knucklehead outerboroughs attitude (and disdain for Warhol/Studio 54 glitz) helped frame beer-bellied, t-shirted proto-punk style long before the London tastemakers sold it back to us with solid gold safety pins. And his mouthy, frustrated, all-elbows-and-knees comic creations were so universal as to find a home in both High Times (which he edited for a decade) and Scholastic’s in-school Bananas magazine.

MICHAEL USLAN: In an interview that appeared right here on the upperWETside in 2011, Michael E. Uslan recalled his days growing up as a comic book uber-fan on the mean streets of Deal as a time when he “would ride the train to New York City from Asbury Park…we got to take a tour of DC Comics; meet some of our favorite writers and artists. We met guys like Joe Simon (and) Stan Lee. It was all just a short trip away.” Present at the creation of the very earliest comic book conventions, the graduate of Ocean Township HS became the professor of the first-ever accredited college course in comics — a gig that not only gained him entree to a mainstream comix writing career, but would eventually cement his reputation as producer of the latter-day Batman film franchise…a role he’s filled from the hard-fought first Keaton adventure right through the close of the Bale chapter. The Emmy winning producer of slam-bang motion pictures and Emmy-winning kids’ TV series  returns to Convention Hall (where he previously hosted a day-long Bat-event centered around his book The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir) — and where Uslan treads, an appearance by the timelessly terrific 1960s-era George Barris Batmobile is sure to follow…

BOB CAMP: The co-founder of the Spümcø studio (and supervising producer of the Ren and Stimpy show following the dismissal of  John Kricfalusi) is also a veteran comics illustrator who’s worked in genres that range from MAD-cap humor to war and sword ‘n sorcery; he adds a further flourish of film-biz seasoning (not too much mind you; this Con is being rightly pitched as an alternative to the Hollywoodification of the San Diego affair) via his status as an in-demand creator of storyboards for multiplex CGI animations.

LynchHolmstromUslanCampClockwise from top left: Underground comix kingpin Jay Lynch, PUNK paragon John Holmstrom, Local Boy Made BATMAN Michel Uslan, and Spumco spearheader Bob Camp display the level of diverse disciplines represented at AP’s salute to the power of the pointed pen.

JAY LYNCH: LIZ AND DICK! DICK AND PAT! PAT AND NARD, read the newspaper headline in a memorable early 1970s issue of CAPT. AMERICA — and even if you happen to know who the first two couples are in that wry in-joke, you might need to be refreshed on Nard ‘n Pat, the guy-and-his-cat strip that brought a classic vaudeville sense of humor (and impeccably precise draftsmanship) to the seminal underground Bijou Funnies back in the day. Connoisseurs know the Jersey-born “Jayzee” Lynch as a regular artist/writer for such timelessly hilarious Topps projects as Wacky Packages, Bazooka Joe and Garbage Pail Kids, and the versatile vet’s resume boasts everything from children’s books to “Fucked Up Funnies.”

JOE SINNOTT: Jack “King” Kirby was a true visionary; a creator of pocket dimensions and universes from human history and household appliances. Stan Lee was The Man who reconciled the fast-morphing Marvel Universe with the even more volatile America of the 1960s; summoning the creator-identified cult-of-personality model into being, and letting young readers know in no uncertain terms the names of those who were redrawing the parameters of the mainstream comic book form, month by quantum-leaping month. It was during that first glorious Marvel Age that this lifelong comics fan first became aware of who Joe Sinnott was — and in the process learned all about the importance of the inker’s art ‘n craft. Kirby’s pencils on his bar-none most brilliant masterworks (Fantastic Four and Thor) never popped with such thrillerama drama, epic sweep and personality as when Joltin’ Joe overlaid his own savvy sense of superhero majesty on them — and the in-demand Sinnott would lend his meticulous mastery to seminal stuff by John Buscema (Silver Surfer), Jim Steranko (whose sometimes unschooled and awkward art on Nick Fury was occasionally enhanced by Sinnott into instantly transformative trailblazers of layout and design) and the Sunday Spider-Man newspaper strip, which the 85 year old Joe continues to ink to this day.

HERB TRIMPE: Another veteran of Marvel’s astonishing House of Ideas (and a Bullpen workhorse who drew nearly 100 issues of The Incredible Hulk — including the storyline that gave the world its first look at Wolverine), Herb Trimpe spans the generations from the seminal 60s through GI Joe, Transformers, Indiana Jones and beyond; a solid purveyor of super action and a friendly presence at many a ComiCon cardtable.

ALLEN BELLMAN: From the 1940s Golden Age of Comics comes 88 year old Allen Bellman, whose involvement with Marvel predates the Marvel brand name itself (and whose many classic art gigs for what was then Timely Comics included two-fisted episodes of Capt. America, Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch and scores more).

DON McGREGOR: While the 60s brought a bevy of old and new artists to the forefront, the 1970s “Bronze Age” of mainstream comics saw the rise of a new envelope-pushing generation of young comic book writers; guys with names like Steve Gerber, Steve Englehart, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench — and Don McGregor, an underrated genius whose solidly sophisticated, bracingly adult work on series like Black Panther and Killraven transformed what otherwise would have been also-ran titles into must-reads for the most discerning fans of the day. He also did some fine work on the Warren magazine titles (Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella) — and all but invented the graphic novel with SABRE!

DorkinIgleDyerBuscemaClockwise from top left: Evan Dorkin, Jamal Igle, Sarah Dyer and Stephanie Buscema grace the March 30 event with a next-gen, new-century sensibility that promises to make Asbury Park a go-to stop on the Con circuit.

EVAN DORKIN and SARAH DYER: Veteran special guests of the very first Asbury Park ComiCon, the dynamically married duo of Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer (creators, both together and solo, of Milk & Cheese, Action Girl, and Supergirl Adventures) return to Asbury town to show ’em how it’s done, in both mainstream and indie contexts.

The Girl of Steel’s formidable presence extends to the participation of DC superspecialist (and fellow Asbury returnee) Jamal Igle, as well as to pedigreed penciler/painter Stephanie Buscema, granddaughter of the late great John Buscema and a stylist whose fun and playful takes on Marvel/DC super characters are infused with a retro-rocking energy.

There’s more where that come from, effendi, and you’ll find a full rundown of the guest list right here — with a detailed schedule of the day’s panel events here, and available tickets (if such things still be) gettable here.