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I first met Fred Hembeck in person two years ago at Albany Comic Con. But the man’s influence on my life goes back decades, and made me part of who I am to this day.
As a young comic reader in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was introduced to Fred’s work through The Daily Planet, the one-page “newspaper” usually found at the end of the most DC Comics at the time. Set up like a newspaper front page, it’s job was to promote upcoming issues of comics.
But somewhere along the line, someone got the brilliant idea to make it actually seem like a newspaper and include a little comic strip on the page. It wouldn’t have much room, and might not be able to have any sort of continuity, so whoever got the job would have to be able to create something small, be self-contained, and would have to have an impact that would make it memorable.
Enter Fred Hembeck.
Every month, I would turn to that back page to read his strip with glee. Seeing the unique and oddball situations he would put my favorite DC Characters into gave me a unique insight into how to develop my sense of humor at a very early age. His tongue in cheek jokes, and self-effacing style of artwork made each strip a pure delight to read and absorb. To this day several of those punchlines are still burned into my memory, and I chuckle whenever they pop into my head. Heh “The Bat-mobile”. LOL “Turn On Green Arrow”. Pure comedy gold.
Being able to meet him a while back at A.C.C. was great, and I got a wonderful Captain Marvel sketch on my wall to treasure the time. Plus he signed my copy of Fred Hembeck Destroys The Marvel Universe, which now sits in the “special box” of comics. You know the one. Every comic book fan has one or two (or three in my case) boxes in his collection that they would never sell in a million years, because it contains those books they treasure beyond the mere dollar value. The ones that are filled with the books that define them as a comic reader.
Fred and I became Facebook friends, and I would leave the odd comment now and then on his posts. It would also let me know when he posts new items for sale on eBay. Recently, he threw two items up there, a Captain America sketch card and a copy of his 912-page opus, THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS!
Seeing that the bids were surprisingly low, and worried that somebody might try to lowball the auction and deprive Fred of much-deserved compensation for his hard work, I jumped in and posted a bid on both. Yes, I admit it, I resorted to the very same behavior I mock Dave Hester on “Storage Wars” of doing. I’ll send away for my douchebag membership kit later. But I wasn’t even really looking to win the auctions in question. I figured if I wanted those items badly enough, I’d just wait until I saw him at Albany again and get my copy then.
So imagine my surprise when I won. I tried to feel bad for the other bidders, but when looking at the treasure of comic comedy that was coming my way, that feeling didn’t last long.
Now, the Omnibus description had this to say: “I offer a signed edition of this tome, along with a BONUS 3×5 card with a hand drawn cartoon headshot of myself that you can use as a bookmark!
Besides the 3×5 bookmark card, I’m now offering an original drawing on the opening page–a quick, loosely rendered sharpie illo featuring Cartoon Fred and up to three classic Marvel and/or DC characters (we’ll take your suggestions, but would prefer you limit your choices from amongst the likes of the original JLA, Avengers, FF, and X-Men rosters–Jack of Hearts and Judge Dredd need NOT apply). “
Anybody who knows my love of the comics from my childhood knows I am a huge Invaders fan. The Roy Thomas-created Marvel Comic of Captain America, The Human Torch and Namor, The Sub-Mariner fighting in World War Two was one of the first “super group” comics I collected regularly. So with Fred offering to do up to three Marvel characters standing with him, I sent him a message asking if it could be them circa Giant-Size Invaders Issue 1. He said he’d see what he could do.
Yesterday, my book and sketch cards arrived. I was thrilled at the Cap card, being a thirty-five year fan.
But my heart truly skipped a beat and my breath suddenly ran out the emergency exit of my lungs when I opened the book and saw the sketch!
What’s the old adage? You should never meet your childhood heroes? So not true in this instance. What Fred did for me in that sketch truly stunned me with his generosity and the care he has for his fans.
Those who know me know that “screwball” is a word that pretty much defines my sense of humor, and has my whole life. Well, Fred Hembeck is a man who showed me very early on that screwball comedy is a gift in itself as well. In many ways, his sense of humor reminds me of Dad’s. I remember as a kid telling some of the jokes found in Hembeck’s strips to him, and making him chuckle. I think if Dad were still around and able to meet Fred, those two would have been thick as thieves.
So again, thank you very much for the work you put into your craft, Fred. Not just in that Invaders tribute. In everything you’ve done for the industry that’s entertained me my whole life.