Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where's Wein?

Once upon a time, there was Fantasy Kingdom, a little comic book store in a town called East Meadow, NY. It was run by a jolly old soul named Keith Mallow. It was my main source of comics when I was a student at Hofstra University. It was there that I got one of the more unusual items in my collection.

Fantasy Kingdom was a frequent host of book signing events. One bright, sunny day in 1980, the guests of honor were DC Comics writers Marv Wolfman, Bob Rozakis, and Len Wein, and artist Alex Saviuk. It was a fun afternoon. My most vivid memory of it is Marv tossing a pen in the air with an exasperated look on his face when I mentioned that Ultra the Multi-Alien was one of my favorite superheroes.

As a regular customer, I got a special souvenir of that day, which I am sharing with you. Keith had Alex illustrate the event on a ditto master. (Remember dittos? If you were a student before 1980, before bulk photocopying was affordable, then you ought to recall their weird purple ink and intoxicating alcoholic scent.) He ran off several copies, and the next week gave them out to people who had been there. After thirty years, my copy is a bit faded and yellowed, but I cleaned it up to show it to you here. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

The store window didn't really say "Free -- Cheap -- Easy" and the guy at the register wasn't napping, but other than that, most of the scene is as I remember it. There were several customers who showed up in costume, including a skinny Superman (who did resemble a young Christopher Reeve), a senior Lone Ranger, a pretty cute Storm, Moon Knight, and a guy in a gorilla suit. I don't remember if there were any extraterrestrials there, or if they were a product of Alex's imagination.

I don't remember seeing Plastic Man, but there was a minor debate over who was the better character, him or the Elongated Man. Marv settled the issue by declaring that the two aren't really comparable. Elongated Man only stretches, while Plas is primarily a shape-changer.

Len Wein arrived late, so Alex squeezed him in under the table between Marv and Bob, anticipating the "Where's Waldo?" books by seven years. In the real world, they found him a chair.

The bearded chap in the dark suit on the left is Keith Mallow himself. Keith was probably dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, but Bob and Alex had recently used him as the model for a character named "Mallo, Keeper of the Cosmic Balance" in a two-part Atom story in Action Comics #515 and DC Comics Presents #30, so Alex drew him as Mallo here. He looks a bit like Abel from House of Secrets.

Like many other comic shops of the 1980s, Fantasy Kingdom is long gone. There's now a hair salon in its old location. But it was a fun place to hang out while it lasted.


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