“Call Me Curt”

Mark Allen Haverty writes for Bleeding Cool;

“We need to create a personality for you.”

That’s the email I received from Rich yesterday, in discussing some of the stuff I would be doing here at Bleeding Cool. Funny, I thought I had done an amazingly good job of building hate and scorn online over the last two years, but I guess that’s not the personality he had in mind.

“Write something about yourself. One of your cooler stories. You have plenty!”

Okay, that I can do. So here goes…

After my first year at UVM, the school and I had a mutual parting of the ways – they said I had no money, I agreed. Completely mutual. That said, I refused to simply tuck my tail between my legs, return home to my grandmother’s, and just get a regular job. Instead, with the comic shop that I had worked at off and on closing, I decided to open a shop of my own with the manager of that shop, and we opened Crisis Comics at during the summer of 1993.

{How’d we come up with the name? The other comic shop in the area was called Earth Prime Comics, so we had a little comic geek fun with the name. Sure, it was a prick thing to do, but every other name we came up with sucked.}

We had a couple of high-end customers, and one of them, who just happened to own every single DC superhero comic to date, was also interested in original art, so we began to reach out to comic art dealers to get him some nice pieces, while also putting some food on our table for yet another night. Food of course probably being a loose description there – does ramen count? – but you get the idea.

In doing so, we became friends with the owner of The Artist’s Choice, Spencer Beck. Spencer had a ton of top-notch artists for us to choose from, with one of them being legendary Superman artist Curt Swan.

One night during the summer of ’95, Spencer called us to tell me that he and Curt were looking to do one major deal, selling off the rest of his artwork for $20,000 to pay off his medical bills. That wasn’t exactly going to be an easy sell, but after convincing our customer that it was worth at least checking out, he and I took a road trip down to Connecticut to check out the collection. When we got there, we were told that Curt wanted to meet with us over dinner.

We of course said yes.

We met up with Curt at one restaurant that Spencer had chosen, only to find it closed. Spencer asked Curt if “his” bar was going to be open and if they served dinner too, and Curt said yes. At that point, Spencer decided that he and my friend/customer would drive over together in their car and that I’d ride over with Curt. I nervously agreed with that.

Getting in the car, I was more nervous than I had ever been to that point in my life. Here I was, a 20-year-old comic geek in the car alone with someone responsible for drawing Superman comics my father read. Heck, possibly my grandfather too. I remember little of that conversation other than that I only called him “Sir” the entire time.

When we got to the bar/restaurant, we were greeted with a loud shouting of “Curt!” It was like Cheers, with half the place, and certainly all of the employees, knowing Curt. We were given his usual table, and greeted by a waitress that Curt was very friendly with. Ordering drinks, she asked Curt if he wanted his coffee, which he did.

Curt’s coffee was half-coffee, half-whiskey, and only the whiskey part would be refilled as the night went on.

By this point, I had slightly worked up enough confidence to call Curt “Mr. Swan.” We had a great dinner, parted company for the night, and we returned to Vermont the next morning.

One week later, we had a deal in place, and I went down with another friend to go pick up the artwork. I again had the chance to speak with Curt, and after calling him “Mr. Swan” once again, he chastised me for it.

“Damn it, Mark – call me Curt.”

“Okay… Curt.”

As a thank you for the sale, Curt signed some archives for me, along with the two issues from “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” and the four-issue miniseries Superman: the Secret Years, and he also wanted to do a private commission piece. I refused twice, saying it wasn’t necessary, but that wasn’t an option, so I suggested the following: the three founding Legionnaires standing on a platform, with Superboy and Mon-El holding the platform, and Colossal Boy standing behind them. Oh, and the platform is really Chameleon Boy and has his head on the front of it.

Done.

The piece was huge, and absolutely amazing.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best time to be in the comic industry. Within months, Capital City would go from being our distributor carrying everything we needed, at terms favorable to us, to being an empty shell, with Heroes’ World carrying Marvel, Diamond carrying the rest, and neither giving us terms anywhere near as good as Capital. On top of that, the city we were based in, Winooski, Vermont, was undergoing construction on three different roads into town. Winooski is only one square mile, and there are only three roads into the town, one of them being a bridge over the Winooski River.

Those two factors would be our downfall. Multiple shops in Winooski closed that year, and being in an industry collapsing in upon itself did not help. After a few months of scraping by, rock bottom was reached, and the choice was either sell the commission piece or have no money for rent and the gas bill.

The piece was sold to the friend that purchased the rest of the Swan artwork on the first week of June 1996.

Curt died one week later.

Post-Script: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross came out in 1996, one year after the store closed. It had not even been announced at that point. Smart readers with Google can figure out where I’m going with that, but that’s a story for a later date.

Update (11/07): Courtesy of the message board, here is a version of the original piece, this one inked by Josef Rubinstein.

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