As part of what was considered the Academic end of programming for New York Comic Con, there was a panel dedicated to the historical document LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS. Academic was fitting though as the panel was moderated by Hannah Means-Shannon, a college professor in Medieval literature and history whose focus has turned to comics and comics history, writing various theory and thesis like articles on Sequart and very cultured journalistic articles for The Beat.
LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS is a collection of essays & interviews by Christopher Irving, balanced tightly against portrait photographs of the subjects taken by Seth Kushner, all bundled together ingeniously by graphic designer Eric Skillman. The book had pre-requisites of trying to focus mostly on creators who were both writers & artists, but many times that was forlayed to get a true full scope of comics in general and some of the more influential people who helped comics and the industry become what it is today, as there are features of folks such as Dan Didio, currently Co-Publisher of DC Comics after a 10 years as Vice President. Folks such as Harvey Pekar, primarily known as a writer. This widespread look shows that the book has its attention not merely on superheroes despite the book’s title, but on comics as a whole and it makes it a much better book for it. Also focused upon is Larry Hama, but I’ll get to that more in a moment.
Hannah had some very focused questions for the panel, and after getting into some brass tacks behind how the book came about, she got more into the book itself and its creators. I first want to share a quote from Christopher Irving speaking of a creator who had a spotlight panel at NYCC and has been part of some amazing comics, most notably DONDI and Wildcat.
“There’s no bullshit in Irwin Hasen…”
Christopher Irving was raised in a town called Farmville in Virginia where he loved Batman and used to get picked on at school for wearing an X-Men t-shirt. He also really loved G.I. Joe. No, really, loved it. We’ll get back to that, but he loved G.I. Joe, not the show and the toys, the Marvel comic. Okay, let’s move on quick. Seth felt growing up loving comics back in the 70’s/80’s was way different, being a nerd is the norm now for a lot of folks, but back then it just wasn’t cool.
Chris talked about how he used to hide comics inside the pages of Hustler, (instead of you know the other way around). Seth said he was about to say the same thing, except it was Playboy, which Chris said was for babies.
Eric’s best anecdote of growing up with comics is that if you look through photos, up till the age of 8 years old you won’t find anything with him where he isn’t wearing a Superman outfit.
Hannah asked the panel about which character and or work really had an influence or effect on them growing up in becoming tue comics lovers. This allowed for Chris to really really really open up about his love of Marvel Comic’s G.I. Joe by Larry Hama. The flood gates were open and the topic would be returned to various times during the panel. From discussing the silent issue, to Larry Hama’s awesomeness, to Chris’ pure admiration of the man and meeting him. Chris had to even bring up that Hama appeared in The Warriors as a guy on a subway platform in a hat. Chris stated G.I. Joe as one of the best written monthly comics ever. Seth even had a story that he was actually published in the issues of G.I. Joe complaining about the silent issue. Seriously though, Chris really loves Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe, I think he’d marry them if he could. This wasn’t even mentioned at the panel but in talking with Seth later over the weekend it turns out Chris even wrote an issue by issue breakdown of the comic.
Seth Kusher stated that he learned to read from Spidey Super Stories, which was written by Jim Salicrup, now edtior at Papercutz, who just happened to be in the audience for this panel. From there he moved on to Marvel Tales, which was a reprint of Spider-Man starting from the beginning, so it allowed he almost ground floor introduction and then in High school he used his photography as an excuse to talk to girls, much like Peter Parker, coming full circle.
Eric’s comic book love came and cemented during that time when Superman was coming out weekly with a Jerry Ordway, Barbara Simonson, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Kerry Gammill, Jon Bogdanove, George Perez, etc. handling the chores.
The panel started a slide show showing off some of the people focused on in the book, which allowed for some great quotes.
On the recently passed away Joe Simon:
“It’s not every day you get to spend time with someone who is a lexicon of comics” – Seth Kushner
“No one is bigger than Simon” Seth feels.
They did not achieve an interview with the legendary Steve Ditko, but Seth did photograph his door and talked to the security guard in his building who told him “I see him come in sometimes, but I never see him leave”. Chris explained the details of trying to obtain an interview. He had sent a letter of request with an S.A.S.E. and received back a rejection letter in pencil. Instead of being dejected by this, he was happy because he just got an autograph from Steve Ditko.
A big ending of the panel was discussing with designer Eric Skillman, the particulars of the books interiors and choices made, as well as the final cover. Eric said that usually he does the cover first, but on this project the interiors were designed first and a lot of careful planning was involved. They showed off some of the alternate covers during this as well, which you can see in slightly blurry photos, not up to par with my usual work below.
LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS is in stores now from powerhouse books.