The First Time I Met Brian Stelfreeze

It was early 1993 and Brian came to New York for what I might erroneously remember as the first New York Comic-Con. He stopped by DC and pretty much just hung out in my office. I’m not sure he’d told anyone he was coming, so he didn’t really seem to have any plans. Which was great, as far as I was concerned. He and I had spoken on the phone for I don’t even know how many hours—I’d guess at least a few dozen by that point, but maybe more like a hundred, but we’d never met or even seen a photo of each other, in those ancient pre-internets times. It was funny to watch the various editors and freelancers come in and be coolly polite…until I introduced him, at which point their eyes invariably lit up and they turned into gushing fanboys.

Anyway, he was just hanging out in my office when I got a phone call from the guy who was supposed to have sent me a cover that day. He said he’d missed FedEx but that I’d have it in the morning. Things were, not unusually, just the tiniest bit behind schedule, and if I didn’t have it the next day I was in trouble.

“You need me to do a cover?” Brian asked.

I shrugged. “Well,” I replied. “He said it was in FedEx…”

Brian laughed, “Yeah, but you know artists.”

I had to nod. Brian was not entirely unfamiliar with the occasional lapse in timeliness encountered by comic book creators.

“You got some paper and pens?” he said.

“I should have the cover tomorrow,” I said. “I don’t want you to have to draw an entire cover if it’s not necessary.”

Brian shrugged. “I got no other plans tonight. If you get the guy’s cover tomorrow, no problem. If not, you use mine.”

This was too good to be true. It was a win-win any way you looked at it. When your worst-case scenario is that you get a Brian Stelfreeze cover, your life is really, really swell.

So we went down to Production, and (again, if I’m recalling correctly) inker Ray McCarthy, then a staff production artist, set Brian up at a desk with paper, pencil, and a brush and ink. I’d given Brian the broadest of overviews as to what the story was about. “I’m on it,” he said.

Did he do a thumbnail? I assume he did, but can’t remember for sure. I do remember him penciling the cover in about, no kidding, 10 minutes. Needless to say, they were loose pencils…by his standards. But the basic drawing, no surprise, was absolutely flawless.

But then he started inking. And I watched as the cover seemed to materialize, like he was pulling it up and out of the paper. He kept rotating the board, spinning it this way and that way, ridiculously quickly, like a chef flipping pizza dough.

I had unbreakable plans with my then girlfriend, now wife, who was only in town for a few days, so I couldn’t stay. I watched as long as I could, then rushed out the door.

The next morning I walked in to find this sitting on my desk.

The perspective, the incredible sense of motion, the crazy-great drawing ability, even the delightful copyright infringements to which my editor’s eye was drawn instantly…it was humbling to be fortunate enough to work with someone that talented.

The cover from the original artist did show up in FedEx that day, but we later ran Brian’s as a pin-up since it was far too good not to be seen. And a while later he said, “Oh, hey, remember that cover I did for you in the offices that night? Yeah, that’s yours.” I put up the lamest of objections to such largess, but he could tell it was pro forma.

Like I’m gonna turn that down. Pretty good first date, all things considered.

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