Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 43

DC art heist
There was this very young Irish Mike who had come to work for D.C.  out of who knows where. Some Art college, I suppose. Red hair, glasses, blushed cheeks: one would have no idea what lurked in this kid’s soul. Immediately, I became aware of the fact that this guy was a big snoop. Caught him reading memos to Andy Helfer when Andy Helfer wasn’t in his office. And, I immediately knew this was my pipe-line to all of the D.C. dirt. Once befriended, I learned more about D.C. Comics than I really wanted to know. But, once befriended he blathered and gave me copies of documents nobody else was supposed to have.
       I remember the SUPERMAN re-boot at about that time. All of the SUPERMAN writers had been asked to submit their new version of The Man of Steel. Mike passed me a letter from Marv Wolfman to Jennette Kahn, explaining that the assignment should be sent to him. Nothing to plead his case other than, “I’ve always done a great job.”
       I passed that sensitive information along to Cary Bates, also vying for the job, at our usual Friday lunch and with a sly smile he bought me lunch.
       A week or two later, the Great D.C. Art Heist (which one?) took place.       The office was a-buzz with the scandal. The cover to CRISIS #7 had been stolen, along with much SWAMP THING art.
       Sitting  on the black couch, outside of Helfer’s office under next months proofs, Mike sidled up to me and admitted “I took all of that stuff.”
       In my coldest, best lie, I said “I know a guy in Detroit who will take all of it.”
       “How much?”      
“A lot. In fact, get me that stuff and I’ll have $450 up-front money to you.”
       “Okay, Thursday.”
       Now, Thursday was hurricane day in N.Y.C. The only time I’ve ever seen NYC windows taped. Storm threatening.
       He buzzed me, I looked out my 9th story window, and proceeded down the elevator with $450 in my pocket, ready to transfer.
       And we did.
       Next day, I show up at D.C., stolen art in tow. I grabbed Paul Levitz’s ear and explained the whole thing.  He explained back that Mike have been “let go,” and I explained that he told me he still had keys and was intending to steal more artwork over the weekend.
Paul turned surly.
“If you think I’m going to hang out here all weekend waiting for Mike, you’re wrong.”
And you wonder why I never worked much in the Comics?
And sure enough, my Frankenstein broke in again and stole more art. Covers out of Jennette’s office, and Bob Greenberg’s as well.
       About Wednesday, I’m turning in some pages and I find myself walking the long mile with Jeanette. In this typical little-girl delivery, she says “Oooooh, won’t you give me my artwork back.”
       Like I stole it.
       “Can’t. Have no power over the guy who stole it.”

       Monday morning rolls around, and suddenly out of nowhere the art is all back! Mike, still having many listening devices in the place knows he’s been turned, instantly.
The next Saturday, I’m at a Comic con and Bill Sienkiewicz is enjoying great popularity behind his table. Much to his credit he catches my eye and waves me away from his crowd. Pulls me aside and says, “Mike said YOU stole all of that art.”
       “Thank you, Bill that’s all I need.”
       Not sure Billunderstood that, but it was a massive bargaining-chip.
       I immediately called Mike, and warned him of swift retribution. “I’ve got your mother’s phone number, and I’m SO ready to rat you out. I have five things on my list. First, I’ll call your mother and tell her what you’ve been up to. Next, I’ll call your new employer and tell him why you were fired from your last job, I’ll sue you for slander, I’ll tell the fan press all about you, and the last on the list, I’m not even going to tell you about.”
       I guess it shook him to his Irish bones, because we made a drop-off plan for the stolen covers.
Now, my father-in-law was a private dick at the time and I enlisted his services. Time and place. And, as I entered the Barns and Noble at Grand Central Station, at the allotted time, I saw Jack trying hard to look like a casual customer. Game on.
       Mike finally finds me, and points in the direction of the inside-G.C.S. doors. Outside, two Black boys hold a bag and I exit to pick it up. Nervously, they hand it off to me and them quickly melt into the crowd.
       That night was also the night of the annual DC Christmas party and I always liked those. As the sun set, and as the offices cleared-out for the party, I found myself in a very still and evacuated DC. Front glass door still open and I waded through portfolio in hand and made my way to Jennette’s office and found her there, every light out. I unzipped the portfolio with grand gesture,and presented her with her stolen covers.
And in that baby-girl voice, she said “Oooooh, but where are the frames?”
       “I don’t know. Wherever the thief left them. Try the library.”
Her discomfort was delightful.
Then suddenly, her phone rang and I wondered if she had a button under the chair for just such occasions.
She gave me that big, toothy smile, with squinty eyes, swiveled her head back and forth, almost called me a thief and said, as she picked up the phone, “Close the door as you leave.”
       To my shock, Paul Levitz blocked my egress.
       “Well,” he said, “…on behalf of DC, Thank you.”
I gave Levits the report from my father-in-law to back up what happened.
       A couple of days later I recounted my story to the underling help, Karen Berger, and Sal Amandola.
       Sal had the balls to blurt-out, “I heard you stole that art.”
       No good deed goes unpunished.
       “No, I’m not the guy stealing art, I’m returning it.”
       Why did I even get involved?
Shortly after, I got a letter from Levitz indicating that he was uncomfortable with the private detective's involvement. My father-in-law got one as well. "Who is this dick-head?" he quizzed.    
       But, this is not the end of this sad tale. A couple of months later I was at a Comic convention and happened to chance on George Perez. Sketching in  some fan’s book, he became aware of me. I introduced myself and quizzed if D.C. had every given his an explanation for his missing art. “Nope. Just got it back, and that’s good. Because I have a guy who is buying all of the CRISIS cover art, and if he didn’t get #7 I’d have to return the money for the first six.”
       So I explained how it all happened and that I too was glad he got his artwork back.
       Like lots of fans, I was clutching a sketchbook and remarked “I’m hoping to get sketches from my friends.”
       “Good luck,” was his answer as he buried his head back into somebody else’s book.
       At the other end of the room were SWAMP THING creators, Totleben and Bissette, lonely behind a table. I did the same speech as I’d done for Perez, and both sat up in their chairs. “Really? Take anything off of our table you want.”
       A LOT of nice pages, but this wasn’t about published pages.
       “Naw, just do a drawing in my sketchbook.”
       A month later I was much impressed by two returns of a small favor, in the mail.
       From then on, I decided not to get so much into other people’s business.
       Jennette and Sal think I’m a thief?
       Screw you both, to this day.

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