He’s Baaaa-aaackkkkk!

The last few weeks have been a tumult of emotions, bad and, thankfully, good as well. My sister suddenly took ill a few months back and I spent some time in Florida. She passed away a week after I left. I’ll be attending her memorial in a few weeks.

On the good side, my wife, Noel, and I just returned from a long vacation that began with me going to Gijon, Spain, for a convention. Len Wein, also a guest, and I boarded our plane here in LA and took off first to New York, then to Madrid and finally to the airport outside Gijon. Travel time was something like 17 hours. I don’t know about Len, but my butt hurt bad. And the movies weren’t all that great, either.

I’ve been to a few conventions in Spain before and for the most part they are not, in any way, run like American conventions. Like my first Spanish convention, the one in Gijon was actually a festival put on through the City itself. This means it’s actually a celebration of the arts with the entire city invited to attend at no cost. Comics, and their creators, are celebrated, not dealers as is in American conventions. In fact, there were absolutely no dealers or dealer tables to be seen anywhere.

Writers and artists were brought to the convention for an entire week if they wanted, with airfare, hotel and food all paid for. All that was expected of any of us was to show up for a one hour “interview,” a few minor press meetings, and the Haxtur Awards dinner the last night of the festival. With those few exceptions we were simply on vacation and didn’t have to attend anything else. Of course we did; it would have been rude not to, besides, we were interested in what was going on, but even the rest of the convention was civilized beyond belief.

The actual festival began at 6PM every evening. We were free until then to do whatever we wanted. Of course, everyone usually got together for a great group lunch. Lunches were at 2PM and usually consisted of Tapas, which is a plate of meats and cheese. After the third or forth day, the unruly Americans in attendance (Len, artist Joe Rubenstein, publisher Deni Lubert, writer-artist oberta Gregory and of course me) begged to have anything green that even partially resembled a salad. We were being fed so well and so much we needed a break. After lunch, we’d usually continue walking around the city until 6PM when we made our way to one of the auditoriums set up for the show.

The rooms were filled with stunning European comic art, art from their guests, of course. The interviews were held in the main room, and if the person being interviewed was either American or British (Bryan Talbot or Sidney Jordan) we usually sat in and listened. Since English speaking people rarely learn other languages, all the questions were asked in English. The person would respond, and then a translator would repeat the answers in Spanish. If the guest was Spanish, there’d be no English translation and therefore no reason for us to attend. We Americans are often foreign language illiterate whereas most Europeans speak 2-5 languages with seeming ease.

After the interviews, the creators signed books for the attendees. I’ve been blessed in Spain because almost all my Marvel and some of my DC work has recently been reprinted in beautifully put together trade paperback sized collection, mostly by Planeta DeAgostini. In fact, the printing on the Tomb of Dracula Spanish collection is far better than Marvel’s just published Dracula Essentials. Eight volumes have already been printed with several more to go. Once they’re done with Tomb of Dracula, they will also be reprinting the Marvel Black and White Dracula stories. Planeta has also reprinted The Man Called Nova in two beautiful volumes as well as my Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Daredevil issues. So there was always plenty of stuff to sign although it was surprising how many of the attendees also had the original American editions. I would have liked to have bought full sets of my stuff, but Gijon was only my first stop and I had no room to carry more than one Dracula volume. I chose volume 2 which is where my stories began. They printed issues 7-14 and also included a Dracula/Spider-Man crossover which came out during that same time period.

Sofia Rodriguez and the other festival organizers arranged a special day where they brought all their guests to the Spanish countryside. We saw cities and churches built long before America was discovered. Talk about being humbled.

One of the things I learned the first time I went to Spain was that convention dinners usually start sometime after 10PM and last until about 1AM in the morning. Afterwards, people usually get together and visit various bars until about 3AM. Few of the Americans, still suffering jetlag, are ever able to make it much past dinner, but near the end of the convention we braved the very late night hours. I’m afraid to say I’m still suffering from the weird time shifts. I usually go to bed about 11PM, so being in the middle of dinner at that time completely turned my system up side down.

Where lunches were Tapas and more Tapas, dinners usually consisted of meat and potatoes, or sometimes potatoes and meat. When we got tired of that theythrew in bread as well. The food was all great, but we Americans really loved the one night when we went to an Italian restaurant.

My wife, Noel, flew to Spain for the last two days of the con. Since I was now the Gijon expert, having been there four whole days, I acted as guide.
The Haxtur awards were on the last night of the con after which we all were driven to a special restaurant that required reservations a year in advance, or so I heard. Here we had both tapas and meat and potatoes. Since none of the fans or convention organizers weighed anything like the untrue but stereotypical overweight American comic book fan, we finally asked our hosts if this is how they usually eat in Spain, and they admitted it was not. They wanted their guests to experience ‘traditional’ Spanish meals hence the Tapas cornucopia.

After visiting Spain for the third time, I can honestly say the people are among the most friendly and caring you will find anywhere in the world. Spain is a very casual country and everyone seems to be more than happy to take their time getting to where they want to go, or doing what they do, rather than mindlessly rushing about like headless chickens as we Americans tend to do. Since their conventions are not put on for money, they do it completely out of love, and it shows. They made us feel not like guests, but as part of the family. The cities are cosmopolitan and modern but still have a strong sense of a very proud history. If I wasn’t a Neanderthal and could speak the language, I could easily live there.

From Gijon, Noel and I flew down to Barcelona and spent a few days walking the city. Barcelona is one of the most beautiful major cities you will ever find. We visited museums, the various Gaudi houses, and generally had a great time. My friend, David Macho, who is both an agent for Spanish artists as well as a translator for comics – he’s currently working on the final Tomb of Dracula editions - made sure we ate at restaurants way off the beaten track. All of them were great, as well as the company of David, his wife Paloma and our now mutual friend, Jaime who works at Planeta. Coincidentally, when I was last in Barcelona David and company took me out for a special birthday dinner, since the con took place during my birthday. A year and a half later they repeated the event – this time we were in Barcelona during Noel’s birthday.

After visiting all the essentials places to see, we rented a car, left Barcelona, and made our way to Avignon, France.

Avignon is a medieval walled city which almost defies description. But it isn’t just some museum. Within the walls, Avignon is an actual working city where people live and work. There are hundreds of shops and restaurants for the tourists, but there are also homes and grocery stores and everything a real city needs to survive.

We took a tour of the Palace of the Popes, built about four hundred years before Columbus set sail and slammed into the New World. When there was conflict in Rome, the Popes fled to Avignon and started what was essentially Vatican City East. They were there for about a hundred years before returning to Rome.

The tour of the Pope’s Palace took us to the old section, built at the turn of the 1st millennium. We were told we wouldn’t be taken to the “new” section of the palace. New meaning it was built only a brief five hundred years ago. You slowly begin to understand why most of the world thinks we are still a young country and not yet mature. When you’re looking at magnificent statues carved over a thousand years ago, it’s hard to argue with that.

We visited a few other cities in the Provence region of France before taking a sleeper train to Venice. The train should have been an easy ride, but the tracks into Italy had been damaged, so we first took a train to Nice, then a bus to Monte Carlo and another train into Italy before transferring to the sleeper. I’d been dreading this part of the trip because I was sure the bunk beds would be uncomfortable, but it turned out they weren’t, not even for someone who is almost six foot two. Oh, I didn’t sleep, but that was more out of the excitement of the trip than being uncomfortable, so I was still wide awake, albeit tired, when we chugged in Venice.

I could take a full column on how incredible Venice was, but I will spare you the detailed home movies. Instead, all I will say is it is the most incredible place I have ever seen and can’t wait to go back some day. If any Italian Convention wants to bring me there, don’t worry. My answer will be yes. Anything to get back to explore more of Italy.

At any rate, that is how my past few weeks have been spent. I’m back home now, watching a literal ton of DVDs while I push past a bad case of jetlag, turning out a few plots and by the time you read this, hard at work on a novel. I can’t tell you the subject quite yet – DC prefers to do their own publicity - but this is something I’ve been looking forward to writing for almost two decades. I’ve also been told about another major assignment I can’t yet talk about, but I can guarantee some people will be very happy when DC breaks the news (am I riding a very fine line here or what?).

Next column, once I’m no longer suffering jetlag, I’ll get back to talking about comics, movies and more. Until then thank you for letting me indulge myself just a bit.

See you soon,

Marv

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