Sunday, February 8, 2009

Retrospective: A Crash Course in Panelology at MoCCA

This past Jan. 15, thanks to a generous offer from longtime friend and HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES! head honcho Mark Arnold, I made my debut as a comics panelist at a get-together feting the ongoing (through Mar. 15) Harvey Comics Art Show at NYC's Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. While I was disappointed that the surviving "Harvey Legends" invited to the panel weren't able to make it, a few of the "young Turks" who worked for Harvey during the final years of its original 1940-1982 incarnation were among the 20-25 or so on hand, and an enjoyable and informative time was had by all. Hopefully, I contributed something of merit to the festivities.

(L-R) Paul Maringelli, CEB, Mark Arnold, Jim Salicrup, Rick Parker, Angelo DeCesare

Jan. 15 was a bitterly-cold, zero-bright day up and down the East Coast. After I fulfilled my teaching duties (8-10 a.m. Stats class), Nicky and I, suitably bundled up, caught a midday train from Baltimore's Penn Station and trekked up to NYC's version of same. We ate lunch with Nicky's older sister Lisa and her little nanny-charge at an Irish-style "oyster pub" across from Lincoln Center and whiled away some time at the giant Barnes & Noble bookstore nearby before heading downtown to MoCCA's unpretentious office-building location on Lower Broadway. There, I found Mark and the MoCCA employees setting up for the panel. While waiting for others to arrive, I had a chance to look around the exhibit, which had enjoyed its original exposure at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. Items on display included original art from Harvey vets Ernie Colon, Sid Couchey, Howie Post, and Warren Kremer, various sorts of character merchandise (including some of the very nice Harvey maquettes produced by Electric Tiki), Harvey calendars distributed to store owners who handled the comics back in the day, and a monitor showing Famous Studios cartoons. I was pleased to see a big stack of Mark's compendium of THFT! columns and features on prominent display at the front desk. But who would be coming to (possibly) make purchases of same? Nicky and I had debated on the way down as to the type of crowd the panel would get. I knew that Mark had e-mailed many folks with the news, but, between the vagaries of the work week, the frigid weather, and the fact that the panel was being held after normal MoCCA operating hours, I didn't figure that the attendance would be that high. To my dismay, I learned soon after arriving that Colon, Post, and former Harvey art director Ken Selig had all had to beg off for various reasons. I knew that Couchey was already a "scratch" because he was visiting his son in (I believe) North Carolina. As things turned out, most of the attendees appeared to be MoCCA "regulars" -- not that there was anything wrong with that, but the general public so badly in need of Harvey "enlightenment" was conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps a sandwich-board sign posted outside the building announcing the panel would have helped?

Mark, Joe Torcivia, and I ducked out for a quick bite before going back upstairs. As the "crowd" trickled in, I got a rare change to have my ego massaged when I signed a copy of Mark's book. Then MoCCA's Jim Salicrup called the panel to order. Two former Harvey staffers -- Paul Maringelli and Angelo DeCesare -- were invited to "come on up" and join me, Mark, Jim, and Rick Parker. This made for a tight squeeze, as Paul was forced to sidle in next to me on the far left of the panel table. (My friend Mark Lungo later commented to me that it was rare for me to be on the far left of anything.) Nicky, who was sitting in back and taking occasional pictures, later told me that the guys filming the panel had a difficult time getting Paul in the frame with the rest of the panelists; usually, all that showed up were his waving hands. Those hands ending up waving quite a bit, as Paul turned out to be the most talkative of the "Harvey hands" regarding the old days at the company. Mark provided the "global" Harvey perspective, while I weighed in with observations from a fan's point of view. That is, when I got chances to speak. I've never been keen about interrupting other people's conversations, so that kind of inhibited me when it came to "breaking in" with a comment. It was all good, though, as I figured the audience would be better served hearing from people who worked for Harvey, as opposed to a guy who'd "merely" been a RICHIE RICH fan since 1975 and a columnist for THFT! since the early 90s. I did manage to point out that the RICHIE stories, in particular, contained more daring material (especially during the "James Bond" era of the 60s) than one might think feasible for a "children's comic." Witness a story like "The Fantastic Weapon," in which a kindly scientist is shot to death and dies on panel. If only Ernie Colon had been there to address the issue.

Yours truly, Mark Arnold, and Joe Torcivia

The panel lasted about 90 minutes. Afterwards, there was a reception, but Nicky and I had to catch a late train so that I could get back for Friday's classes. Joe also had to hit the road and accompanied us on the trip back to Penn.

It was a fun experience. Let's do it again sometime! (Or, at least, put out a sequel to the THFT! compendium volume. Eh, Mark?)

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