Papercutz The Cake!
(Or How To Celebrate Jim Salicrup's 50th Birthday AND Attend A Museum Opening At The Exact Same Time!!..)
(posted June 10th, 2007)
Lemme tell ya, Saturday June 2nd 2007 was one crazy day!

It was SAT exam day for daughter Julie, a dreaded event that commenced at 8 o'clock in the AM, and lasted until--well, we weren't sure exactly just how long it was gonna last, to be perfectly honest. And because of this uncertainty, any plans to make the trip down to NYC to attend a 50th birthday celebration at the Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art--MoCCA--for my long time buddy, Jim Salicrup, were, at best, tentative. I wasn't sure quite how the train schedule stacked up with Julie's testing hours, and it wasn't until the proverbial eleventh hour neared that Lynn came up with a winning solution by simply suggesting--

"Why don't we just DRIVE into Manhattan for the party?..."

Gee, what a GREAT idea--at least, as long as I wasn't the one doing the driving!! But Lynn knew full well what she was volunteering for--and besides, I promised her that if she got us down into the Big Apple, I'd get us out. After all, how much traffic could there be in New York on a Saturday night anyway?...

Famous last words? Almost, but later for that...

Julie returned home earlier than anticipated, which allowed her a modicum of time to relax between one test of endurance and another (I'm referring to the DRIVE, not the party, folks...).

MapQuest informed us our trip would take roughly 90 minutes, so we set out just before 6, hoping to arrive in time for the 7:30 kick-off. Someone should clue MapQuest into a little something called TRAFFIC. Still, despite a short rain shower, and then finding the nearby parking garage full up, we immediately lucked into a free curbside space for our car, pulled in, and headed on over to MoCCA, arriving (ahem) fashionably late, roundabouts 7:50...

The joint was jumping! The Guest of Honor--who was also the subject of the Museum's latest exhibit--was surrounded by friends and family. As soon as there was brief break in the adoring crush of well-wishers surrounding The Man of the Hour, we hastily made our way over to Jim to pay our respects--AND to introduce wife Lynn to Jim, who, amazingly, in all these years had never actually met him! As always, Mr. S was very gracious, and soon after, while I was engaged in conversation with the likes of my long-time pal, Peter Sanderson, took around the missus and l'il Hembeck Junior (who, after last year's two NYC visits with Senor Salicrup, considers herself an old buddy), introducing them to various folks.

Meanwhile, besides catching up with my fellow Quick Stop Entertainment columnist, I got the chance to chat amiably--if all too briefly--with such noted MoCCA men as Lawrence Klein (and his dad), Ken Wong, and Matt. Murray. "Nuff Said's Ken Gale was on hand, albeit minus his mic. Cartoonist Mike Lynch and I took each other's picture--taking each others picture! I met Papercutz publisher Terry Nantier and fellow MARVEL AGE alumnus, Dwight Zimmerman.

l also had the opportunity to meet Stefan Petrucha for the first time. Among other notable accomplishments, Stefan writes NANCY DREW for Papercutz, but to me, he'll always be the man who bankrupted First Comics by insisting that they print his two creations, SQUALOR and META 4, on slick, heavily coated stock!! At least, that's the rumor, and no matter HOW much Stefan denies it, that's what I'm always gonna believe!! (Actually, he's a very nice guy, and has apparently known Jim for years and years--and then some.)

And then, right in the midst of my conversation with Stefan, this other guy comes along and interrupts us.

"Fred, you probably don't recognize me--"

I didn't.

"Scott Lobdell."

Omighod, Scott Lobdell! I hadn't seen Scott in, well, photographic evidence would later prove that gap to measure at least a decade and a half! Scott, y'see, usta live in the Hudson Valley region, and I knew him back in the days when he made his initial inroads into the comics biz. Fact is, some of his very earliest work was done in association with yours truly! When Marvel briefly published an 80 page magazine called MARVEL SUPER HEROES, Scott wrote a Brother Voodoo eight-pager that I drew, straight (which in turn was pretty much RE-drawn by "inker" Dell Barras). We later worked together on a second shortie starring Nova--only to have it shelved for all time as the Powers That Were decided to give ol' Bullethead another shot at his own book shortly after we turned in our efforts, taking the character in a totally different direction. Blue Blazes indeed...

Not too long afterwards, Scott wised up and realized that working with Fred Hembeck on the likes of Brother Voodoo wasn't quite as prestigious as collaborating with Jim Lee on stuff like The Uncanny X-Men, and the rest is, as they say, history (including his current stint writing THE HARDY BOYS under Jim's aegis)! But it was delightful to see my erstwhile partner again after far too long--and the first thing I did was pass along regards from Bruce down at the Wappingers Falls Staples, who still fondly recalls Scott from his stand-up comic days at the local Bananas comedy club!!

Julie and Lynn eventually wandered over, and while Scott remembered meeting Lynn, he didn't think he'd encountered our daughter before. Turns out he was wrong--after getting back home, we dug out an old photo album, and sure enough, Julie was in attendance along with Scott at the wedding of our mutual friends, Jane Bloodgood and Paul Abrams. Of course, Julie looked to all of two at the time--if that--so the pair can be forgiven if their first meeting had long since slipped their minds...

Scott's lost none of his stand-up timing, and when he later found out that Julie was a committed vegan (meaning, no cake for you!), he continually offered her, as a running gag, a bite of cake perched on his fork, all the while mock-seriously probing the reasoning behind her dietary choice. It made for an entertaining and lively debate, one that had us all laughing frequently. (And then there were the photographs. Julie took most of them, and while a majority were posed shots, Julie snapped a handful of candid ones too. At one point, speaking, while again with Stefan, my daughter began giggling uncontrollably as she focused on her dad, leading me to seriously wonder if my fly was unzipped! I never did figure out what the source of her chuckles were--until I got home and reviewed the evening's pics! You'll see for yourself below, and trust me--I had NO idea...)

Eventually, the time came for the spotlight to shine brightly on the evening's star attraction, Mr. Jim ("I usta be known as James") Salicrup. After some heartfelt words on behalf of MoCCA from Matt. Murray, the aforementioned Scott Lobdell stood before the crowd, noting that while a very special guest couldn't attend in person, he'd sent along this taped message--cue the DVD, boys!

Yup, Stan Lee was there in spirit! After a little pre-recorded comedy shtick with Scott ("I'm sorry--WHO is this Salicrup you speak of?..."), Stan got (mildly) serious, and began singing (to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" ) a very special poem he'd written especially for the occasion!! Gang, it was a true show-stopper--ESPECIALLY when the sound went AWOL, and all we were left with was the visage of Stan silently flapping his lips!! Hardly missing a beat, our guest of honor took the bull by the horns, utilizing that uncanny Stan Lee impression of his (or is it Gilbert Gottfried?...) and began supplying the dialog for his long-time mentor and friend. Stuff like, "That Salicrup sure is one brilliant fellow" and "I could've never gotten where I am today without his help, that's for sure"! The crowd ate it up, laughing uproariously! It's just too bad we were denied the balance of the sibilant strains of Stan's sweet sounds, though...

After saying a few short words himself--and proudly displaying his newly minted AARP card--Jim was the recipient of several more gifts, including a very special one masterminded by my old pal, Gary Dunaier. Y'see, months ago, Gary--a MoCCA volunteer, long-time pen pal, and rabid NY Mets fan--had the notion to write up a comic strip to commemorate the day, commissioning yours truly to draw it. Well, once I heard it was for Jim, I waived my usual exorbitant fee, and gladly did it gratis. Gary very proudly presented the piece to Jim (which you can see by following this link), and later, I myself gave Jim the original art to the only episode of my MARVEL AGE feature to include a caricature of him in it (Cartoon Fred and Stan Lee also appear!), and you can see the full color version of that if you go here.

Then came the absolute highlight of the night--

The Cake!!

Mmm-MMM--never has a sliver of a Crypt tasted so good! Of course, Julie and Lynn both passed, but even though I've maintained a quasi-vegan diet for the last several weeks (which, along with an stepped-up exercise regimen, has helped me loose about 25 pounds since the beginning of May), I happily succumbed to its creamy goodness! Once more for emphasis: Mmm-MMM!!..

After about two and half hours of this fun, with the party still raging, we decided it was best that we leave, as we still had a bit of a drive ahead of us (and with Julie "starving", a visit to a nearby natural foods restaurant was hastily added to the night's agenda), so we bid our adieus to friends both old and new, and especially to Jim, who certainly merited not only the artfully assembled exhibit (which, if I somehow failed to mention it, was fascinating to peruse), but also the tribute afforded him just for being a great guy! Thanks for the invite, fella!

All's well that ends well? Well, mostly. After our late night snack, we walked back to our car (still intact, happily), and soon after I got behind the wheel.I discovered something I should've realized earlier--people go out on Saturday nights! LOT'S of people! Geez, I've been married so long, I forgot! So getting out of NYC was not the (you should pardon the expression) piece of cake I had anticipated it to be. Not by a long shot...

It took me long enough to just make my way out into traffic, but picture this: you're on a one-way street, there are four lanes on it, there are cars on either side of you--most of which are yellow cabs--and they're passing you on the left AND the right, weaving in and out mere inches in front of you! And make any small hesitation--cuz heaven help you if you don't know precisely where you're going--and they're honking at you, long and lustily!

And so what else could I do but scream out, "F@*# YOU!!"

Not in mean way, not in an aggressive way, but more in a I'm-just-trying-to-drive-carefully--why-don't-you-people-leave-me-alone?-way.

But they didn't, and after one too many wrong turns, Lynn calmly suggested I pull over, and let her take to steering the ship before I sink us once and for all. Someone with patience was needed at the helm, y'see, and it was blatantly obvious that that someone sure wasn't me. So, Lynn got us safely out of Manhattan, and not long after, I again took the wheel for the balance of the trip home.

Let the record show: I hereby vow never--NEVER!!--to drive in New York City again!

And also make note of this: otherwise, Lynn, Julie, and I all had a delightful evening at MoCCA's Salicrup soiree!

And here are the pictures to prove it...

The cake!! Reproducing four of Jim's most notable covers atop a light creamy filling (too bad the cake wasn't a wee bit larger--then maybe FRED HEMBECK $ELL$ THE MARVEL UNIVERSE woulda made the, uh, cut...)

The exhibit. Forget The Met and The Guggenheim--THIS is where it's at for today's discriminating patron of the arts!...

...Cuz where else can you find the adventures of Marvel Super-Heroes printed on TOILET PAPER? Betcha Picasso never thought of THAT!....

I always liked Jim as an editor because he was so hands off, but well, this being his night and all, I let this little bit of atypical behavior slide...

Kinda looks like that Eagle's fishing for a worm or something in Julie's hair, doesn't it? At least Jim seems to have won some sort of prize from his ol' pal, Spidey...

"Hey Mike, let me take your picture!!"

"No, Fred--let me take YOUR picture!!"

(Visit Mike Lynch's site to witness the OTHER side of this digital snap-off!)

"Okay, Julie--take BOTH our pictures!"

Gary Dunaier just got the good news about Mr. Met being voted into the Mascot's Hall of Fame.

Stefan Petrucha is smiling contentedly because he just KNOWS he'll be getting free tickets to that upcoming "Nancy Drew" flick--while Scott Lobdell is gonna haveta settle for used VHS tapes of the old Shaun Cassidy "Hardy Boys" TV show!

Peter Sanderson, the Man in Red (ish orange), Fred, and a very nice fellow by the name of Frank, whose last name I can't seem to recall--sorry. Next time, I'm taking notes for sure...

MoCCA'S Matt. Murray looks especially dashing in his evening formal wear, wouldn't you agree?...

MoCCA's Ken Wong--the Prez--and me, yukking it up for the camera.

Dwight Zimmerman. Ken Gale (glimpsed over Mr. Z's shoulder), the birthday boy, your humble scribe, and Scott Lobdell, subdued and serious.

Take two: NOT so subdued, not so serious!

(...and, hey, who's the dude in the hat? Just asking...)

Scott Lobdell, Julie Hembeck, and, lurking quietly in the background, Lynn Moss

..and speaking of lurking...

Honestly, I had absolutely NO idea. And my belated thanks to Stefan P. for avoiding a seemingly unavoidable spit take at the very sight of nasty ol' Count Lobdell.

Salicrup, Dunaier, and Hembeck--together again for the first time ever!!

Y'know, it sure is nice when you can give someone a precious gift, while at the very same time, clean out some of the excess paper in the basement! Enjoy Jim!!

Scott was stunned when he first gazed upon MoCCA member Jared's decorative elbow, and insisted we snap a shot of it for the record. I seem to come up lacking somehow...

Lynn, pondering the knowing words of that noted philosopher, Blake Bell: "I have to LIVE with this guy??"

Worse yet, honey, as you found out not too much later, you had to DRIVE with him too!!

Thank you, MoCCA, and good night! all!

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