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Comicbooks Across the Ages – “Is A Good Thing”

Comicbooks Across the Ages – “Is A Good Thing”

By Dave Price

It was Father’s Day in Washington D.C. and the line of fans, some young, some old, many of them dressed as their favorite comicbook or screen heroes, stretched over more than half of the huge main exhibit hall at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

They were all waiting to spend less than a minute with their real-life idol Stan Lee and have a professional photographer snap their picture with him. Each photo would cost $120. It would cost another $120 to collect an autograph.

It was fitting that Lee was making an appearance on Father’s Day since you can rightfully claim he is responsible for creating more than 50 children of his own, some of them good, some of them very bad. In fact, even if you don’t recognize Lee’s name, you’ve probably heard of at least some of his creations. There’s Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, The Thing, Ant-Man, the cute Groot, all the X-Men, and at least 40 more.

Still vigorously active at age 94, Lee is clearly the reigning king of comic creators.

If there was any doubt, the three-day Awesome Con here in DC clearly dispelled it. His photos cost at least $40 more than British actor David Tenant (a favorite former Dr. Who); Edgar Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead and the just released action thriller Baby Driver; Will Wheaton of Star Trek and The Big Bang fame; Khary Payton who portrays King Ezekiel on The Walking Dead; and professional wrestler Charlotte Flair, the daughter of wrestling icon Rick Flair.

Lee’s merchandise table was by far the largest at the exhibition site. He was responsible for the most expensive items available at the event – two separate comics that were selling for $3,000 each. Of course, if that was a bit too expensive, you could pick up other collector’s editions for $80 to $2,500. And, if you still needed more Stan Lee, you could visit the mobile museum parked inside the convention center.

Since Lee launched his illustrious career with the debut the Fantastic Four in 1961, the crowd included many graying Baby Boomers, most accompanied by their sons, grandsons, wives, daughters, and granddaughters.

But not all fans here to see and meet Lee were oldsters accompanied by their youngsters.

“I’ve always liked comicbooks and they let me reconnect with my childhood,” said 32-year-old Kevin Spillane of Maryland, who was standing in line with his friend Brian Truesdale, 37, of Virginia. “I’m here to see as much as I can, but I’m looking forward the most to Stan Lee. He created all the classic archetypes and made these creations into people who we would want to know and hang out with. We want to emulate his heroes. They are good just for the sake of being good.”

Don Jimenez, 42, and his 41-year-old wife Sarah Shafer, were one of the many couples who decided to spend a family Father’s Day at Awesome Con. They were accompanied by their twin 14-year-old sons Dedrick and Tre, who were identically dressed in the black uniforms associated with the dark side of The Force in Star Wars.

Shafer said except for some minor help from mom, the boys made their realistic, carefully detailed costumes themselves. She said the boys are extremely creative despite suffering from autism. For example, she said the two brothers often work together for hours to create complete short action films using Lego pieces and other props.

“We make it so they have to live in our real world for the better part of the day,” Shafer said. “But we let them be in their world for part of the time.”

Supporting Schafer’s contention, Jimenez said the boys could decide almost all of what they wanted to do and see at the convention, which annually attracts thousands of visitors during each of its three days. However, there was one exception.  They would be getting their picture taken with Lee. “Stan Lee meant a lot to me as a kid and now that they’ve got the chance, I want them to meet him,” Jimenez said.

One of the most popular words at the convention was Cos-Play, which is short for costume play. In Cos-Play, participants dress up as a character from a comic, movie, TV show, book, or video game. Some of those in costumes (about a third of the crowd) actually performed in such events as Sci-Fi speed dating or the annual Awesome Con costume contest.

In addition, many of those in costumes spent time posing for requested pictures from other convention goers. One of the most photographed groups was a father-son duo who were joined by a friend to portray the Indiana Jones family.

Michael Salerno, 54, spot-on captured the Sean Connery character of the movie series, while his 18-year-old son Patrick portrayed the young Indiana as a scout explorer. Salerno’s 49-year-old friend Clark Oliver represented the middle-aged, whip-holding, hat-wearing Indiana.

“My whole life I’ve been a nerd,” Salerno said with a sly grin. “It’s something I shared with all our kids. Patrick latched on to it most. It’s something we’ve been able to share for a long time.”

Salerno said he and his son, who will be starting college next fall, decided to drive from New York to DC to do something special together for Father’s Day 2017.

Patrick said that their uncanny representation of the Jones family actually represented far more than just a single day of togetherness. “It’s a lot more than just today. We had all the planning and making. We really got to work together. It’s a lot better than just going out to dinner.”

So with the current continuing growth of superhero movies and TV shows, is high school now a more friendly place for the self-proclaimed nerds and geeks than it was back in the early Baby Boom years when jocks and cheerleaders ruled?

Patrick said he believes that is true, at least at the high school he attended. “We’re still not the popular or the cool kids. We don’t drink or go to the wild parties. But we have our own space. We get to be ourselves,” he said.

What about when Patrick has kids?  Will he want to continue the father-son bonding that cos- play has brought to him and his father? “There’s a lot of value in it,” Patrick said. “It would be a great thing to do. But we’ll only do it if they enjoy it. I would just want them to go explore their world and have fun.”

And if that day ever comes, it’s doubtful that Stan Lee will be there to meet and greet the next generation of comicbook fans. But you can be fairly sure that Spider-Man and Iron Man and many of the rest of Lee’s gang will still be around.

For as Lee told the Washington Post in 2010: “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comicbook writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize – entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”

“If Shakespeare and Michelangelo were alive today, and if they decided to collaborate on a comic, Shakespeare would write the script and Michelangelo would draw it. How could anybody say that this wouldn’t be as worthwhile an art form as anything on earth?”

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Dave Price operates a freelance writing/speaking/consulting/tour guiding practice in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on 3 topics – the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock, and issues on aging, especially those affecting men. A former journalist and educator, Price is researching 2 books, one on the status of classic rock music and its songs, performers, and fans today and the other a DC guidebook designed especially for Baby Boomers.