According to Dictionary.com (Okay, so it’s not the OED—Oxford English Dictionary—deal with it!), zany is defined as “ludicrously or whimsically comical.” I would venture to say that there is also an air of danger or unpredictability that accompanies its usage. The 60’s comic television series Laugh-In could certainly be called “zany.” Add to that talent and creativity that is almost criminal and you come close to describing Ken Steacy.
Steacy as he looks today (Don't let the sophisticated pose fool you) in a picture from his website, www.kenspublishing.com. There, you can see an example of his zaniness in a video, in which he plays a trick on his wife, the equally talented, yet grounded, Joan Thornborrow Steacy. The published works of Steacy and his wife—as well as other exemplary creators—are also available on the site.
I had the pleasure of meeting Steacy in 1988 at the Mid-Ohio Con, one of the warmest, most fun, and subsequently best, comic book shows now held annually in Columbus, Ohio. But during the show’s early years, the fairgrounds in Mansfield hosted the event, and it was in this suburban city, situated betwixt Cleveland and Columbus, where I met the artist.
With such industry luminaries as Stan Lee, John Byrne, Todd McFarlane and Dick Giordano, the convention floor was packed. But such insanely fan-favorite guests also meant that someone less popular, yet no less talented, like Steacy often found himself with smaller lines and more time to roam the show floor, bantering and teasing those colleagues tied to their tables by an endless sea of eager fans awaiting autographs.
Oh, who am I kidding? Had Steacy been all the Beatles rolled into one, signing free copies of first edition 45s of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” the resultant queue would not have kept him at his table for long, he is that fidgety. Squirrels have a longer attention span. Thus, it was that I found myself perched atop the table, at which phenomenally hot Spider-Man artist Todd McFarlane was signing, when Steacy strolled over.
Two examples of Steacy's beautiful airbrush work. Notice the inclusion of fuchsia... Ken just loves his fuchsia!
McFarlane only just started penciling the Web-Spinner’s adventures a few months earlier, but his outrageous interpretation of the Wall-Crawler was already a major topic of debate, especially his rendition of Spider-Man’s eyes. McFarlane’s were three times larger than had been the norm for decades, a size not seen since the Web-Swinger’s inaugural artist Steve Ditko drew the character. Marvel’s Personal Appearance Department redesigned the costumes…eventually…to reflect McFarlane’s new standard—a story recounted in my April 24, 2009, posting, entitled “My, What Big Eyes You Have”—but at the time, they were still reflective of the “old” style.
As was often the case at conventions, Spider-Man was left unfettered by a designated autograph area to roam freely amongst his adoring fans. It was inevitable that I pay a visit to the artist of Amazing Spider-Man.
The crowd in line for McFarlane’s signature was split on wanting Spidey’s autograph in addition to the popular artist’s or not. Some thought it “neat.” Others didn’t even want me to touch their comics for fear of my knocking them down a “condition” level, an absurd notion for several reasons: 1) I was wearing gloves; whereas these paranoid Felix Ungers were not. So they were doing more damage gingerly taking their vaunted “mint-condition” comics out of their Mylar sleeves than I could by running my hands over them; 2) McFarlane was also handling the book sans gloves; and 3) unless certified as being authentic—or accompanied by some other form of proof, like a photo of the artist actually in the process of signing—McFarlane’s autograph alone would lessen the value of any book he signed.
Don’t even get me started on the possible damaging effects of ink on comic covers. There were some misguided fans who brought silver or gold paint pens with which their idols were instructed to sign. Over time, the chemicals in the ink eat through the paper. Even Sharpies—another industry favorite for autographs—can hurt books. Having an artist sign on an interior page in basic pen ink is less destructive, but now the comic you were so fearful of getting thumbprints on is being opened and handled whilst getting autographed.
And I hate to break it to you, you will never be able to retire on any comic published in the last fifty years.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, atop Todd McFarlane’s table, surrounded by comic geeks…
“Hey, Todd! I see you brought your body guard with you.” A giggle accompanied Steacy’s snarky comment.
“I beg your pardon,” I retorted in feigned indignation. “I have it on good authority that I have lovely eyes. Besides… I am Spider-Man! I think I’d know the appropriate size of my own eyeballs. Yours are too big!” I replied, referring to the artist’s interpretation of the Wall-Crawler.
Thus, our debate descended to the level of two ten-year-olds at the playground; good-humoredly, of course. And much to the delight of the fans.
It was Steacy who broke up our prepubescent polemic. His epiphany was nearly audible; I could swear the area got momentarily brighter from the light bulb that appeared over his head. With maniacal glee, he grabbed my arm and ushered me from the wondering crowd. The next few minutes, he led me from one artist’s table to the next seeking a couple of sheets of white drawing paper. He eventually settled for off-white ones with a “This’ll do.”
I couldn’t fathom what was on Steacy’s mind, but his giddiness and focus was infectious. Had he been evil, he would’ve rubbed his hands together and Bwah-hah-hahed.
Next stop: Steacy’s own table, where several fans were camped, copies of comics Steacy drew in hand, awaiting the artist’s return. They may as well have been motes of dust. Steacy took his seat, grabbed a Sharpie and began drawing furiously, entreaties of “Could you please sign my books, Mr. Steacy” ignored. But soon, his fans, too, were caught up in the artist’s demented enthusiasm. Whereas most people would’ve backed away, they watched mesmerized as the psychotic Steacy grabbed an X-Acto Knife. Like Edward Scissorhands he attacked the paper. Two items emerged. It wasn’t until he held them up to either side of my head that I realized that he had fashioned two “McFarlane” eyes. Huh?!! But he was off again on another quest, me close behind, his growing mob of acolytes in tow.
Where Steacy found tape, I don’t know. Maybe the power of his crazed crusade caused its manifestation, but soon he was taping the two “McFarlane” eyes over the smaller ones of my costume, forgetting that there was a human being inside the suit as he manhandled my face. With a disturbing Cheshire-cat grin and twinkling eyes, he admired his work before grabbing me again.
“Let’s go show Todd!” he giddily blurted.
“I can’t see, Ken!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, yeah,” he replied with a cackle at his own stupidity. Had his mouth been full of water it would have been a spit-take.
The X-Acto knife appeared in his hand. Had he been carrying that as he whirled through the show room like the Tasmanian Devil?!!
Suddenly, he was holding my head steady with one hand while wielding the X-Acto knife with the other, slicing holes in the paper that was loosely taped to my face. Move?!! I didn’t breathe and certainly wasn’t about to protest, what with a razor-sharp blade millimeters from my eyes. More unsettling, he giggled the entire time he worked, muttering things like “This is going to be great” under his breath. Yeah, especially if blood starts spurting out of the orbs of the suit!
In seconds, the deed was done and I was still in possession of two functioning eyes. Steacy did a perfect job, too. My vision was only as impeded as it had always been when wearing the costume.
We raced over to McFarlane’s table. I bounded onto the table mere inches from the Spidey artist, whose head was down in the midst of sketching. I hunkered low and, resting an elbow on the table, chin in hand, said, “You were saying?”
To his credit McFarlane retained a straight face when he turned to greet my reconstructed visage, but I could see he was having trouble staving off a smile.
“They’re still too small,” he dryly commented before returning to his work.
Everyone erupted in laughter, including McFarlane.
Alas, though many shots were taken by fans, I only have the eyes—autographed by both Messieurs Steacy and McFarlane, who added a little comment and a sad opticon—to share. But I did get a chance to see Steacy’s handiwork when I ducked into the rest room for a peek. He did a remarkable job; I looked like a McFarlane-rendered Spider-Man. Imagine what he could do if he breathed!