As my friend and event credentials benefactor Russ “Karaoke Fanboy” Kazmierczak and I strolled into the exhibitor’s area of the 2015 Phoenix Comicon, one of the first things we saw was a banner at one of the choicest tables, close to the entryway. On the left side of the banner was the image of the head of a man of indeterminate years, tanned to perfection, with evangelist’s hair and a Gary Player grin. JIM STERANKO was in two lines in italicized caps across the right side.
“Looks like he’s had some work done,” I said to Russ.
“Looks like the BANNER’S had a lot of work done,” Russ replied. And we laughed. Meanwhile, my reaction to the prospect of meeting one of the legends of the comic-book world was setting in.
Jim Steranko, escapist and card sharp, was the writer and penciler of an amazing succession of NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. segments in the late 60’s. It can be argued that if not for the popularity of those ’60s Nick Furys, Samuel L. Jackson would never have had occasion to put on an eyepatch. Certainly Steranko’s innovative comic-book continuity storytelling, which included movie-storyboarded jump-cuts and psychedelic effects, influenced countless artists. Even Neal Adams, himself a titan of the field, did a DEADMAN panel wherein the energy rays coming up from an abyss, if looked at with the paper almost on its edge, formed the phrase “Hey, a Jim Steranko effect.”
Before I could worry about whether the REAL Steranko was going to show, or a mere salesperson of his, THERE HE WAS, magnificent hair, powder-blue retro/leisure suit, and all. He had placed an array of prints of his artwork on his table. One series was of cheesecake pinups girls, in the tastefully nude Alberto Vargas style, in superhero costume. These were going for $5 each. Bargain!
Russ was urging me to say hello to the man Stan Lee called “Jaunty Jim.” I was a combination of too shy and too afraid to act like a gushing fanboy. So Russ, a calm, poised, NONgushing fanboy, chatted Steranko up a bit, first asking if he’d mind signing the posters he was buying. Steranko put a “Lemme put it to you like this” expression on his face and picked up and pointed to the placard that indicated that his signature bumped up the price $10. (Neither of us had the money; in fact, Russ was using his last few dollars to buy a poster for me, since I was totally broke.) Then Russ handed over the money, all singles, and asked if we could have a picture with him. Steranko demurred, saying his only exception to the no-pictures rule was for gorgeous, hot females. We didn’t qualify.
Now comes the REAL story. Russ Kazmierczak is the creator and life-force of AMAZING ARIZONA COMICS. He’s cranked out at least ten issues of a mix of superhero tales and regional satire involving local bigshots, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Governor Jan Brewer. His first superhero, Speed Cameron, has super-speed, somehow by virtue of the fact that his DNA has been commingled with that of a…speed camera. (Ticketing of speeding drivers via automated motion-capture cameras is a local, and controversial, phenomenon.) Russ uses Arizona as the backdrop of his stories, giving his growing but still tragically small fan-base the thrill of recognition of such locales as the Phoenix Melrose district.
Here’s the man himself, perusing He-Man, one of his favorite superheroes when he was growing up.
And here’s the man himself being interviewed by KTAR radio personalities Mike Russell (in Captain Morgan garb) and Pamela Hughes (a STAR WARS storm trooper, with a probably-unnecessarily modified breastplate). If you were lucky enough to be tuned in to 92.3 at 9:12am on Friday, May 29, you heard Russ more than holding his own against these two.
At Phoenix Comicon 2015 Russ shares booth space with “Ali-Kat’s Curiosities.” He’ll be there all day today, May 30, and tomorrow the 31st as well. So if you’re in downtown Phoenix, and strolling by the Convention Center, any time between now and Sunday evening, I urge you to find your way to Russ’s booth/world. You will see people who have gone to extraordinary lengths to look both good and superheroic, like this chap:
You may well see a local legend of incredible longevity, Dave Pratt, making people dance with his radio ways just as he’s done for the last 30 years. You may even see Steranko, who will be happy to sell you something. But what you’ll tell your grandchildren years hence is that you met and talked to the one and only Karaoke Fanboy, Russ Kazmierczak, Jr.