My best friend Louis and I met Rob Liefeld, comic book artist and one time Levi’s jeans spokesperson, sometime early in the summer of 1991. We’d been going to comic book conventions together for a while now and each one restored my battered soul in a dark period in my life known as “middle school.” Liefeld was an ascending comic book rock star at the time due to turning around Marvel’s flagging The New Mutants book with his splashy art style that I’d equate to punk music: kids loved it, it prized cool and bombast over technical prowess, and made a generation of kids think they could draw comics too. He also co-created soon-to-be iconic characters like Cable and Domino, and the one character even your mom knows, Deadpool, who first appeared in issue 98.
Conventions in 1991 weren’t what they are today. They were small events housed in a hotel ballroom in a working class or industrial part of town. All of us who attended these events were outcasts. We were the kids who aced the test on Friday and captured Carmen Sandiego every time. I’d even see some of the cool kids who pretended to have more socially acceptable interests while secretly harboring a deep love of Spider-Man and anime. A quiet nod of acknowledgement as we passed was all that needed to be said. We were outlaws; fighting back the pressures of adulthood with no knowledge that in 20 years time we’d rule pop culture so overwhelmingly that even Martin Scorsese felt threatened. I wouldn’t even call conventions at this time friendly places but they were ours.
We got in line to meet Liefeld after browsing the floor. We each had New Mutants 98, purchased on the convention floor, and a few other recent books for him to sign.
Louis and I had already met other creators over the last year but meeting Rob Liefeld was different. He was not much older than us at just 24 years-old and he exuded California cool. Liefeld embodied the celebrity comic book artist better than anyone before or since so it felt like meeting the version of yourself that you hoped you’d be in addition to meeting a famous hero.
When we finally reached his table, I was too shy to say much. I only asked him to sign the book on the inside.
He was perplexed and asked me why.
I could have taken refuge by saying that the other artists we’d met had signed on the inside but I was, and continue to be, incapable of dodging embarrassment. I instead repeated something I overheard in a previous convention: that signing it on the cover was akin to defacing the book.
“That’s a new one,” he said with a snicker.
The unexplained crunch you heard echoing through the atmosphere 30 years ago was my soul getting crushed. He informed us that dealers like for books to be signed on the outside cover because it makes them easy to display and sell. He still signed our books on the inside though, including New Mutants 98, but we never lived down getting lectured by Rob Liefeld.
We’re thirty years on and Louis and I still think about that encounter. I’ve wanted to meet Liefeld again just to have a more positive experience and hopefully share a laugh about a moment he surely doesn’t remember but, as much fun as it would be to have him sign it right this time, I no longer have any of the books from that day. I ended up dumping my entire collection in a big lot on eBay somewhere around 1999 or 2000. Those early-90’s books weren’t worth much of anything thanks to a lack of rarity (they printed millions of those books) and the near collapse of the comic book industry. I don’t even think I separated out New Mutants 98. I probably made around a hundred bucks and I congratulated myself for my resourcefulness.
Twenty years and several best selling runs in the comics, along with two blockbuster Deadpool movies starring Ryan Reynolds later, New Mutants #98 is worth anything from a few hundred dollars to five-figures. Mine being signed by the creator would’ve made it even more valuable. So to whoever bought that lot of mine back then, you’re welcome.
Louis sold his too in the intervening years and we both lament our lack of foresight during introspective moments over cured meats or tasty bowls of ramen and charcoal-grilled chicken skins. We live in different cities now and have turned into respectable adults but we still go to conventions every year. At least when a global pandemic doesn’t interfere. While I miss the rejuvenating positive energy of conventions, the real loss is that there are no new shared memories with my friend.
I’ve often lamented not being able to travel or do any number of mundane things during the last year but that’s not what I really miss. The stuff that comes and goes in life doesn’t matter; whether it be jobs, our favorite shirt, or a signed comic book worth as much as a car. There will always be new things to own but memories are more elusive. We can lose them as we age or, far worse, we lose the people that helped make them.
I can’t wait to go back to a convention, maybe even meet Rob Liefeld again. I know many of us are looking forward to returning to some familiar activities as we get vaccinated and pursue new memories safely. Take comfort in knowing that even your worst moments will feel smart if you keep the right company.
Just don’t sell valuable comic books for nothing. That’s just stupid.
Louis blogs about food and reviews restaurants, mostly in the Orlando, FL area, at The Saboscrivner. Please check him out.