There is always a disconnect that happens when you meet a famous person, especially one you hold in extremely high esteem. There is that moment when you realize that you’re not in the presence of the image/icon that you had in your head, but in the presence of the actual person. You know the old saying, “They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.” Such was the case when I found myself in a multi-passenger van headed to a Hawaiian luau with Stan Lee, John Romita, Sr. and his wife Virginia Romita.
But first … a little background …
In the late eighties and early nineties, there were a good number of comic book distributors from which comic book shops could order their products. Big, small and medium size distributors offered both competition and a little bit of choice. Often the choice of distributor a retailer used had more to do with which one had a warehouse closest to your shop.
As the industry continued its growth through these years, many of these distributors started sponsoring gatherings where publishers (and sometimes creators) and retailers could get together to promote products and work out ways (in theory) to work together better and sell more comics. It was during this time that the San Diego Con actually lasted an entire week for professionals, because Tuesday and Wednesday were dedicated to a trade show.
It was only natural then, that if you had a comic-oriented store in Hawaii that you would use distributor Comics Hawaii as your product supplier. And then, when your distributor decides to have a “get together” for retailers and publishers, you put on your best Zippy the Pinhead t-shirt and head for the hotel holding the shindig.
As the publisher and “mouthpiece” of Malibu Comics, I would routinely travel to about a dozen conventions and/or trade shows between February and September. Or as my wife says about those times, “you really weren’t home that much.” The Comics Hawaii Sales Conference typically kicked off the convention season back in those days, as it was held in February. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it was Comics Hawaii where I first broke the news in person, to retailers, about the Image Comics deal handing out (among other things) some hastily produced florescent orange Spawn t-shirts. I wonder what mine would bring on e-Bay these days.
In the year in question, Ron (the owner of Comics Hawaii) invited me to come to the islands to talk to his retailers about Malibu. When I say “invited,” I mean that he paid for my plane ticket. His hospitality was always top notch and I discovered an invitation for all his “guests” to a genuine Hawaiian luau.
At the appointed time, in the late afternoon, I arrived in the hotel lobby to catch the provided transportation. Among a small number of other guests waiting in the lobby were John Romita Sr., his wife Virginia and Marvel Publisher Emeritus Stan Lee. We made our introductions and made some small talk. Mostly I just kept quiet, happy to just listen to these legends of comics talk.
Soon, we were in the van and making the hour-long drive to the luau. Stan’s big news at the time was his discussions with emerging movie star Wesley Snipes about the possibility of playing T’Challa in a Black Panther movie. (This was long before anyone had thought of making a Blade movie and before the MCU had dominated the cineplex.) As we got closer to the luau’s beach location, it was getting darker and a strong wind was blowing in off the ocean.
I don’t know if you could call where we went a “traditional” luau, it was a business set up to provide “luau-style” entertainment for tourists. That said, the facility was lovely, the food was good and the lovely Hawaiian drinks came with both pineapples and little umbrellas. We enjoyed our meal and refreshments surrounded by Polynesian decorations, terrific music and a beautiful sunset.
Okay, a quick reminder, we’re in the northern Hemisphere, it is February and we’re in the path of a strong wind blowing in off the ocean. As we finished our food, the sun had given away to darkness, the surroundings lit only by a few stage lights and a large number of tiki torches. And the wind had turned ICY cold.
There were only two choices, warm yourself by ordering more umbrella drinks or buying one of the bright red sweatshirts that the luau company had suddenly begun to sell from tables placed around the edges of the dining area. It was clear that even if the tourists hadn’t thought to dress appropriately (most of us hadn’t), that the luau company had done this before and knew exactly what we would need to be comfortable. I’m told the place made more money from sweatshirt sales that night than they did from alcohol sales.
John and Virginia Romita opted for sweatshirts. Stan Lee and I opted for pineapple drinks. The irony of the chilly evening was not lost on any of us. Having flown in from Los Angeles, Stan and I hadn’t expected this “island paradise” to be so cold. At one point, Stan turned to me and said, “I flew all the way to Hawaii to freeze my ass off?”
It was at this moment (and it only lasted a little while) that I was able to see past “Stan the Man” to see Stan, the man. And I liked him all the more for his humanity, his lack of icon aura, and his open irritation at not being warned to dress appropriately in Hawaii for a freezing cold wind. It is a night and a lesson that I would never forget.
FANATIC MISCELLANEA THAT JUST CAN’T WAIT
ITEM ONE: We have a second string winner, Zatanna. This magical female hero from the DC Universe has won round one of our fanatic goal to create a 2nd String Character Hall of Fame. In the next few days, we’ll have a new round of nominees, so keep your fanatic eyes peeled and vote when the new ones arrive. Now would be a good time to post a comment on the 2nd String page if you have any particularly favorite 2nd Stringers you’d like to see nominated.
ITEM TWO: Blatant fanatic friend plug. Top-five fanatic (and former Malibu partner) Tom Mason has posted a terrific interview with Wonder Woman artist Aaron Lopresti over at Comics 411. Ultraverse fanatics will know Lopresti as the artist who launched SLUDGE, who has gone on to be an incredibly talented and popular artist at both DC and Marvel Comics. Check out the interview HERE.
ITEM THREE: This may be too “inside” for many fanatic readers, but over at the product store for Hogan’s Alley (a former magazine turned website dedicated to the best of classic newspaper strips) editor Tom Heintjes has created a tribute t-shirt to yours truly. You see, he is responsible for the nickname I’ve lived with since 1985. And just to set the record straight, Mr. Heintjes objects to calling me “the DWO” preferring simply “DWO.”
BECAUSE I CAN … A GREAT JOHN ROMITA SR. COVER
— Dave Olbrich (DWO) Wed. Jan. 7, 2008