Saturday, November 5, 2011

Barry Pearl Guest Blog

Before Barry begins, I wanted to let everyone know that this is not a eulogy. I'm still alive and kicking, although personal issues have kept me away from regular postings.

I sincerely want to thank Barry for orchestrating a very touching post that makes me proud to be part of fandom. It is people like those whose comments you will read that make the world a little easier to get through.

The Way It Began!

Nick Caputo: The First Yancy Streeter!

Nick Caputo was born at a very early age. But he would gain a reputation of knowing and loving comics and being incredibly generous. Nick would also be one of the premiere identifiers of Marvel Age Artists. You don’t make many good friends after the age of 40, but the Yancy Street Gang, me, Nick, Mike Vassallo and our ward, John Caputo, became fast friends really quick. And I mean real friends.

So our story begins: How did Nick get involved with comics?

John says:

“As his brother I am 7 years older, so I can vividly remember his youth. Nick always loved books and was an avid reader of many different genres. My brother's exposure to comics came from my always having comics, magazines, and an abundance of books that I had purchased around. Many a time he had to help me hide my comics from my parents so they wouldn't get torn up or thrown out because of some trouble I might have gotten into.

His ability, even as a young child, to focus on details, was remarkable. His love and enthusiasm for comics reinforced his knowledge of comic writers, inking and artists drawing styles. Even as a teenager he amazed me and my friends with his ability to identify artists, inkers and even letterers. As he was getting older we would have many discussions on storylines art styles and sometimes lack of.

I used to joke about the "minutia" he knew (still do), but his love and knowledge grew, and my little brother is now a respected authority. He deserves all the recognition he gets for his abundant knowledge. I am proud of how he continues to learn and is not afraid to correct a mistake which he or someone else may have made. I am happy that in a very small way I may have contributed to the way he turned out. Proud of you Nick!"

Brother John Caputo on phone, who started Nick (in front) on his path to unearthing comic book mysteries.

I met Nick when I decided that, after 40 years, I wanted to put my book together. I wound up on some sites filled with Kirby fanatics. What I didn’t realize at the time was ALL these sites had mostly the SAME people, with the same point of view. They didn’t believe that I knew my stuff or that I had all those comics. I had innocently posted something that made them declare me: UNKIRBY. I had posted that Steve Ditko did a great job at Marvel and often improved characters. They got upset when I said he improved the Hulk when he added his anger management issues. But they really got mad when I said I thought that Dr. Strange was a reworking of Dr. Droom, the first Silver Age Lee/Kirby super hero production, but a failed project. “How do you know”, I was asked, “that Ditko even knew about Dr. Droom?” I was asked a dozen times. But I knew that Ditko inked the first story. And so did a poster named Nick Caputo.

Now this is the big thing so that I need to underline: Many comic book fans know the credits, many know the characters and many just follow the stories. Nick knows all three; he can discuss comics with anyone. Even me.
Nick cut through the crap and said, “Wait, Barry has a point.” We started discussing comics, on and off line, and haven’t stopped. Nick was anxious to see the outline of my book and I sent it to him. He gave me invaluable suggestions and does till this day. In fact, when I told Nick I had worked for 40 years getting the cover artists for all those comic, Nick spend days putting it together for me. Without him and Mike my book would never have been complete or have been completed.

Mike Vassallo (Va-SALL-o) and Nick and John invited me to meet them at a comic con. They had been to several, this was my first one.

Mike Vassallo:

"How long have I known Nick Caputo? Over 10 years, having met him on Kirby-L back in the late 1990's. Realizing we both lived in the New York area; we made arrangements to meet at a con and continued to do so frequently. What great times we had! Probably the highlight was walking Joe Simon, arm -in-arm, up and down 2 flights of stairs when his panel discussion was going to be cancelled due to a broken elevator. I looked at Nick, surveyed the stairs and told him "We can do this! C'mon, Joe!” grabbing him on both sides to help him negotiate the stairs.

I began to invite him up to my house and he'd come up about every three months to hang out, talk comics, compare research and book ideas and have dinner with my family. We would have a ball doing massive art ID sessions in my basement where I'd pull out a long run of Atlas books and we'd page through them yelling out ID's to unsigned story art, checking and double checking each other and honing our skills to a sharp point.

Nick would take the subway and then the train out of Grand Central up to the Croton-Harmon station where I'd pick him up. Once my sister-in-law was over and offered to drive him home as she was headed downstate to Queens also. Since Nick doesn't drive, he had a tough time giving my sister-in-law directions! His visits often ended very late and on another occasion, after losing track of the time, I had to rush him to the train station well after midnight so he wouldn't miss the last train of the night, once making the last train with seconds to spare!

At some point another guy showed up online who shared a common Queens New York background and Nick and I arranged to meet him at a show. You may have heard of him, name of Barry Pearl. Anyhow, Barry immediately joined our little group and soon frequent treks up north became the norm as Barry would drive Nick up on Saturdays as a revived Yancy Street Gang was born. Nick and Barry have seen my children grow over the last decade and become surrogate uncles to them. Our dinners would include my wife Maggie as well as my children. The group slowly expanded as Nick's brother John was added to the roster and another online acquaintance who happened to be a neighbor of Barry's, Mike DeLisa, would occasionally join us. Further honorary members culled from our online community would also join at conventions and our after-con dinners began to become legendary and frequently include my now college age daughter Michelle, picking her up from her apartment on the lower east side.

But after-con dinners aside, I still prefer the laid back atmosphere of our Saturday breakfasts at my local diner and then a BBQ around my pool while discussing the merits of Chu Hing's inking over Pierce Rice and what titles deserved to be reprinted in upcoming Masterworks volumes!"

Dr. Michael J. Vassallo and Nick, very likely discussing the inking technique of Chu Hing.  

When we met at that first convention, we went out have lunch. We just talked for eight hours. We forgot about the convention! Mike said at one point, “The people at this table know more about Martin Goodman comics than anywhere else.” But we did do something that night for the first time, something we do at every convention now. We see a stack of Atlas comics for sale and look at the covers, and identify all the artists who drew them. Soon, we discovered that we had so much in common: the love of reading, books, Laurel and Hardy, Baseball, movies and so much more. We also learned that Nick, John and I had lost our fathers when we were very young and we grew up in one family homes. That is something that changes you forever.

We also all grew up in Queens and shopped in the same comic stores. In fact, we probably met at those stores but wouldn’t remember it.
Nick is very generous. Our next meeting was our first trip to Mike’s house as a group. When I went to pick Nick up, he handed me a stack of comics. To keep! No joke, I had a stack for him! The bunch of us are like that.

I asked Nick and Mike if they had the Marvel Masterworks of the Rawhide Kid, I wanted to read those comics. They didn’t. So the next time I saw Nick, he handed the first 20 issues of the Rawhide Kid! Not reprints, the originals! Since then, really, cartons of books and comics and DVDs have been shuttling through our houses! One of my favorite stories is a time I came over to Nick’s house with a huge amount of stuff and he had an equal amount for me. His mother was there and was just astonished to see what was going on.

The Yancy Street gang has shared a lot of adventures together. We have visited the home of Dick Ayers, had dinner with Flo Steinberg and Joe Sinnott and his wonderful family; we have gone to museums, movies and so many other events. Nick and I also like to go to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Queens. We saw the Muppet Exhibition the last time we were there.

Speaking of the Muppets, Nick has five good friends who wanted to be part of this, but can’t type: Cindy (Mike’s dog), Sammy (John’s dog), Lee, Kirby and Gussie (my cats). All jump when they see Nick and run to him! I hope Nick can post my favorite picture: “Kirby Overlooking A Caputo.”

  Together for the first time! Nick and Kirby!

Mike DeLisa, author of Cinderella Man, and a great comic book collector found us on Timely Atlas.

Mike D writes:

“Nick used his mind and talents to unveil under-appreciated aspects of Ditko's work. Magazines featuring his always trenchant articles were snapped up and preserved. By the time I met Nick in person, I felt as if I knew him well -- unpretentious, slightly inscrutable, droll, and all-around good guy. I have been lucky enough to tag along with the Yancey Street Gang on several excursions. Nick, a charter member of the Gang, made me feel welcome.

Nick is a thinker, that much is clear -- especially now that the Internet's morass has coalesced into the Web and thousands of voices shout at each other in bootless competition with each other. Nick's blog makes it easy to find his recent thoughts. It is good to see that Nick continues to think, write, and contribute. As always, sharper than the rest."

An animated Yancy Street Gang at Doc V's House. From left to right: Mike Vassallo, Mike DeLisa, John and Nick.

Nick has been generous with others. Sometimes that has led to disappointing results. He contributed 90% of the material to many Ditko books and is barely mentioned in them. There are too many greedy and selfish people out there who take advantage of Nick’s willingness to share. Nick is always willing to share his great love for the artistry of Steve Ditko.

Rob Imes, the publisher of Ditkomania writes:

“I first encountered Nick's work in Ditkomania #11 (Jan. 1985) which I obtained from DM's original editor-publisher Bill Hall in 1993. Nick had a few illos in that issue. He was no longer involved in Ditkomania for most of the 1990s, so I didn't really know who he was. I began buying Comic Book Marketplace in the late 1990s, and there was an article about Ditko's 1970s Charlton ghost comic work in CBM #84 (Aug. 2001). The article was by Nick Caputo, and I could certainly relate to the subject matter, since I had written an overview of that material in DM #55 (Oct. 1997). At the time, it was rare for Charlton's non-superhero comics to get any fan appreciation. When Bill Hall announced the retirement of DM later that year, Nick contributed a short commentary about the zine (as did I) for the "In Memoriam" page about DM on Blake Bell's "Ditko Looked Up" site.

Nick Caputo has certainly been an asset to Ditkomania with his contributions of articles, letters and art which have appeared in its pages, as well as his contributions to other fanzines such as Jack Kirby Quarterly, Alter Ego, and others. Long may he write!"

Here is a scan from the letters page of DM #10 (Aug. 1984) where Bill Hall reprinted a page that Nick had typed up to circulate among friends in the summer of 1983, where Nick had used the word "Ditkomania" before learning of the existence of the fanzine with that name. (DM #1 debuted in January 1983.) It was a coincidence, or "Synchronicity" as Bill headlined the piece.

 Nick's "Ditkomania" Announcement.

Nick's first appearance in DitkoMania was drawing the cover of issue #8 (which reminds him why he switched to writing!)

A wonderful thing about our Yancy Street Gang is that when we are published we don’t hesitate to give credit to those who helped. My favorite story is that when we went to Dick Ayers house, I wrote an article about it for Alter Ego. Nick and Mike said that I should keep all the money I got when the story was published, but I said we should all go out for a big dinner together. Well, the meager check came in and we had a moderate breakfast. But even on line, when Nick sees something interesting he won’t “rip” off anyone, as has been done to us. In fact, his honesty plays into how he became friends with Batton Lash.

Batton Lash:

"I met Nick Caputo for the first time a few years ago, but I feel like I’ve known him all my life!

We both shared a passion: comics. Most especially, the work of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.

I had seen Nick’s byline on several articles in magazines such as Alter Ego and Comic Book Artist and enjoyed reading his keen observations on various comics and creators, especially those about the Marvel Comics published in the early 60’s. But it was on several online message boards devoted to Ditko’s work, that I truly appreciated Nick’s knack for writing about comics. Even on the best sites, the comments section has its share of tedious meanderings, slapdash analysis, and (worst of all), knee-jerk reactions, usually skewing to the negative. But not from Nick. His comments are always thoughtful, perceptive and upbeat. I would read Nick opine on, say, the classic sequence of Spider-Man lifting the tremendous weight off of his shoulders (literally and figuratively) or the Tales to Astonish Hulk reboot (what worked that didn’t work in the character’s failed first series), and find myself, more often than not, enthusiastically nodding in agreement. When I peruse various comics-lists, I’d check to see if that Nick Caputo fellow would be commenting, because I knew it would be worth my time to see what he had to say! I considered Nick a like-minded cohort, even though I never met the guy.

Although I now live in San Diego, my parents still live in Brooklyn, where I grew up, and I try to get back as often as I can to visit them. On one trip, several years ago, I made it a point to get in touch with Nick, who I learned resided in New York. I was going to e-mail him cold. I'd introduce myself and see if he had any interest in meeting up. I didn’t know what to expect— I had no idea what Nick was like in person or even if he wanted to meet with a total stranger. Much to my surprise (and delight!), before I could send my message, I received an e-mail from Nick Caputo himself! He had read an observation I had made about Ditko’s stories and asked permission to elaborate on my theory in an article he was preparing about Dr. Strange. By all the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, was that kismet or what?

We got together for dinner and hit it off instantly. Nick is one of the nicest guys I ever met. Easy going, good-humored, very smart, quick with a quip, too. We were kindred spirits; two guys who were there at the dawn of the “Marvel Age of Comics”, now examining and discussing those seminal works of Lee, Ditko, and Kirby with all the scrutiny and devotion usually associated with rabbinical students pouring over the Torah. In time, I would meet the other FFFs (am I dating myself, frantic ones?) in his circle: his brother John, Barry Pearl, “Doc” Vassallo, and Mike DeLisa. And all of us were on the same page—comics page, this is! I look forward to meeting with Nick and his “Yancy St. Gang” every time I go to the East Coast. In between visits, though, I’m pleased that Nick now has a blog that I can read regularly. It’s a great showcase for Nick’s astute observations on comics. A subject, as far as I’m concerned, there is never ‘nuff said."

I encouraged Nick not to lose his generosity; that is how he has met Mike and me. If I am remembered for anything, I hope it is for one email conversation we had before I met him. Nick wrote that he had started a book several years ago about Marvel but did not receive much encouragement to finish it. I told him to finish it and I would do anything he need to help him do so. So he started writing again. To this day, I am, I believe, the only person to have read Nick’s first draft!

Nick’s generosity and love for comics always helped and encouraged others. But let us give the final word to Jacque Nodell:

“It's hard for me to remember when exactly I met Nick, because it seems like we have been good friends for ages! I can't even say for certain how it happened, but the world of online comic book enthusiasts is small -- especially when you share the mutual interests of Kirby monsters and romance comics!

Regardless of whenever and however we met, I am glad to call Nick Caputo my friend and colleague. He has unfailingly supported my endeavors as a blogger and comic book scholar, and has always been more than happy to read my works in progress and lend supportive yet rigorous commentary. Nick continues to be a great source of knowledge, and someone who is always willing to answer a question. I am so glad that Nick started his own blog in which to record all his expertise.”

Nick Caputo here again: I really got choked up reading these posts from people I admire and respect. Barry, Doc V, Mike DeLisa, Batton, Rob, Jacque and Brother John are all stand up folks who love comics and have something interesting and important to say. They are as much the "Good Guys" as the professionals I've discussed in my previous post. I had a hard time putting this blog up since I'm not one who likes to be in the spotlight, but I promised Barry I would post his Guest Blog and he surprised me with its contents. Rest assured, you'll hear little about "Nick Caputo" from now on, and more on the comics and creators who are worth analyzing and celebrating.

           John Caputo, Nick, and Barry Pearl


Lefisc said...

What!!!! Nick is still alive!!!! Cancel this blog....Put up the one about Vince Colletta!!!!

Doc V. said...

Nick Caputo? I thought I was writing about Nick Capullo! A guy I went to school with!!!

The Seditionist said...

This is so sweet! But I think you left out his first great accomplishment: Inking Fantastic Four #1!

Tony Isabella said...

I wasn't asked, but I would have added that Nick has never killed anyone who didn't deserve it.

He will be missed. No, really. His enemies try to get a bead on him, but he's just too quick.

Nick Caputo said...

Sedetionist: The amazing thing is that I inked the story when I was a year old!

Tony: I learned to be agile from reading all those Ditko Spider-Man's!