What follows is a "re-post" from one of my previous blogs, at the request of an anonymous reader.
When I was a youngster, I looked forward to summer more than any other thing. Not only did it signify a break in school and a respite from the constant abuse of my fellow students, but it also meant that it was time to hop on one of the distinctive planes of Southwestern Air and fly out to Alvin, Texas to spend the season with my father.
I loved my father and he loved me, of course, and we had an incredible amount of fun together. But when you're ten or eleven years old, knowing nothing about life outside of your sheltered little world, how much do you really have in common with your father? I was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he was Monty Python. I was Weird Al, he was Pink Floyd. I was Choose- Your- Own- Adventure, he was Philip K. Dick. I was Mountain View Elementary, he was NASA. I was...you get the idea.
But we met in the middle when it came to our love of comic books. Each year, he would make the climb into the attic, disappearing from sight for a long stretch of time where he could only be heard cursing about spiders and insulation. When he finally emerged, it was with a mammoth cardboard box of comics from his army days--vintage issues of The Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and The Incredible Hulk. We'd pour over the issues together, discuss the story lines, and spend long, delirious hours attempting to reproduce their art. This is one of my strongest and fondest memories.
One year, back home in the sweltering heat of Phoenix, Arizona, I happened upon a funny little comic book entitled Fred Hembeck Destroys The Marvel Universe. I didn't know who this Hembeck fellow was, but I did know all of the characters that he was destroying, and this, coupled with his fantastic cartoonish style, intrigued me enough to fork over my meager allowance.
I must have read that book a dozen times over the next few weeks, tittering like a school girl the entire time. I brought it with me that summer to Alvin, and as much as I loved it, I made a gift of it to my father. I wanted him to share in the joy with me.
The following summer, he gave it back to me.
The summer after that, I returned it to him, and so on. It became a silent little game between the two of us that continued for years. Eventually it stopped, but I don't know why. Perhaps he had misplaced the comic book, or simply had forgotten about it. Regardless, I didn't receive it back from him until after his suicide. I sat in the very room where he had hung himself, feeling very haunted as I sorted through his belongings. I moved aside a pile of art magazines, and there it was, Fred Hembeck's mug grinning up at me.
I cried over this comic book just as long and just as hard as I had laughed over it previously. Of course, I took it home with me. It was the final move of the game.
This comic book, after all these years, is indescribably battered but still in my possession. Just recently, I went online and ordered a fresh copy in pristine condition. Not a replacement, mind you. Just a backup.
On a whim, I looked up Mr. Hembeck's webpage and dropped him an e-mail. He was kind enough to not only respond, but also to send me an envelope containing two index cards: one with his autograph, and one with an original sketch of Hembeck himself hamming it up with Captain America. These two cards, along with that original, beat-to-hell issue of Fred Hembeck Destroys The Marvel Universe are now the prizes of my collection.
Mr. Hembeck, if you're reading this--and even if you aren't--thank you for the laughter, and thank you for the memories.