Man-Size (man_size) wrote,

Tears of Dondi

I didn't get to the Big Apple Comicon on Saturday until 3PM. I was supposed to be there @10AM but I was dragging feet. Snow wasn't the factor, hesitation was. I hadn't been to the BIG APPLE COMICON since its ugly days stuck deep in a midtown church basement. Plus, I hadn't made my one page comix quota on Friday, so I was feeling guilty about hopping out to a convention when there was responsibility staring at me from the art table.

The minute I threw my bag down and high-fived dinoblack at our assigned table, I saw 87 year old World War 2 veteran and cartoonist, Irwin Hasen, standing across the room from us all by his lonesome. I could hardly contain my fan appreciation as I skipped over to his table. Hasen drew a bunch of Golden Age DC Comics superheroes and co-created WILDCAT. More importantly, he co-created a daily newspaper strip that I never liked as a kid. It was called DONDI [1955 - 1986], and it featured an immigrant looking kid with billowy black hair and two large black dots for eyes. The male response to LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE? Anyhow, I abhorred the cartoon and, to this day, I don't know why. Nostalgia has a funny way of returning you to the things that stuck in your craw and I've been fascinated by my dislike for DONDI ever since I could remember. So much so, I've felt the need to study the conundrum. I'm obsessed. And, as fate would have it, the man responsible for my childhood quandary was standing before me.

I shook hands with Hasen and told him his work made a great impact upon me. He was kind yet meek. Very old. After all, he was cut from the cloth that kick started this comix form and it must burn a man out. Still, he was there, representing. I asked him if he had any original DONDI strips for sale. He smiled and pulled out a handful from his portfolio. Coming face to face with a childhood horror, I felt at a ease. A calm washed over me as I confronted DONDI in all his glory. I read each strip and broke it down to the three that resonated the most for me. I asked how much they cost and Hasen said "$75." I asked him if he took credit and he said yes. Then he helped me select one, his favorite of the bunch [a strip from 1968] and I agreed. I asked him again if he was sure he accepted credit and he said "Yes." I asked him if he would sign the original strip, perhaps draw me a DONDI. He was already doing it before I finished my request. The man was a pro. He asked my name and wrote "To Dean." It was mine.

I pulled out my credit card and handed it to Hasen. He looked at the plastic and then looked at me. His eyes began to water. He didn't know what to do with my credit card. I asked him if he had a machine to swipe it with so I could be charged. He said "No." The water in his eyes fell. It almost made me cry. I felt terrible. He had signed the DONDI piece to me and his senior moment [decade?] was betraying him. We stood there staring at each other's compromised eyes. Finally, I asked him if I could write and mail him a personal check the minute I got home. He said "Yes" and I sighed relief. I thanked him, shook hands, wished him well, and returned to my table, exhausted. You can't mess with DONDI or DONDI will make you cry.

To learn more about Irwin Hasen, a legendary New York cartoonist, read this wonderful ALTER EGO interview:

I spent the next two hours signing BATMAN ADVENTURES #9 [that dinoblack was handing out, promoting his talents], and sketching superheroes in fan books, which included quick interpretations of THE THING, WOLVERINE, THE SHOCKER, and my very own BILLY DOGMA. We sat next to artist Mike Lilly who drew amazing character sketches for dinoblack's upcoming THE MERCURY CHRONICLES [for Image Comics due this summer]. I caught up with revvoice, cartoonist Danielle Corsetto, and illustrator/painter Fred Harper, whom I hadn't seen since last summer when I attended his life drawing sessions in D.U.M.B.O. I met cartoonist Michael Lark, and BIG APPLE Talent Coordinator, Allan Rosenberg, a swell gentleman who was fond of my work on NIGHT FALLS ON YANCY STREET and AMERICAN SPLENDOR.

Big Apple Comicon was packed with retailers selling classic comix and toys; a true superhero fan show like "back in the day" before the Hollywood hype took over the bigger franchise shows. I had to get back home to the drawing board, but I needed to witness one thing, which was the major reason I hauled ass in the blizzard to scurry over to the Penn Plaza Hotel. I grabbed dinoblack by the mitt and dragged him downstairs with me to find a severely under attended panel featuring Joyce DeWitt and Priscilla Barnes [of THREE'S COMPANY], and Erin Moran [JOANIE LOVES CHACHI] who cried about her HAPPY DAYS. DeWitt was surprisingly articulate and majestic. It seems she went on a 15-year spiritual journey abroad the day THREE'S COMPANY closed their doors and, after all these years, she was back in the public eye to pimp various charities and possibly share her enlightenment someday via books.

Days like these are far and few.

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