Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Can I Have Your Autograph?

Among the writing prompts that we use in the CTY class are some pieces that I have written. For example, when we discuss setting, we use a page from my unpublished novel, The Junkyards of Memory, in which the main character visits the home of an old high school friend. After reading the description of the house, which is quite messy, we ask the students to describe the bathroom. Not surprisingly, what we usually get makes the world's worst public washroom seem like heaven.

A group of radio plays that I wrote some years back is the basis for another lesson on dialogue. The plays, which I've mentioned before, feature the group of high school students in 1969 and all are based on some of my earlier writings. One, "The Fire," began as a sketch in Elmont High School's "Green & White Gaieties" variety show in 1968, in which a student tries to report a fire and gets caught up in the school's red tape. The others, though seeming to be far-fetched, are only slight exaggerations of events that actually occurred during my high school years.

Lauren has used both prompts in her class, just as we do when we work together, and her current students, after reading them, asked how she got them. That she actually knows the author seemed to surprise and delight them, especially after she told them that I had written hundreds of comic book stories as well. (One has to wonder if they think she also knows Ernest Hemingway, Ayn Rand, Dr. Seuss, and the other authors whose works we use!)
So imagine their response when I came to visit last week. They stopped what they were doing and, after one asked me for an autograph, the rest followed suit.


Over the years, I signed my fair share of autographs, most of them at comic book conventions and comic book shops, but also at schools where I've lectured on the comic book business. The vast majority, as you would imagine, are on copies of comic books that I've written, though there have been a number of sheets of paper, some napkins, and even a cardboard box or two.

Early in my comics writing career, I visited a local show and was surprised to find someone selling autographed comic books. The reason for my surprise was that the comics were autographed by me! When I told him who I was and that it was not my signature, he was shocked. His father, he said, had gotten them from my father.
So I called up my dad and asked if he was giving away the comic books I had been giving him. "Of course," he said. "Isn't that what they're for?" When I asked about the autographs, he replied, "Oh, I signed your name. People like them a lot more when they're signed." From then on, I always signed any books I gave him.

Perhaps the strangest thing I ever signed was a soda can. I was doing a guest appearance at a local comics shop in the mid-80s and after I finished drinking a soda, one of the fans asked if he could have the can. Well, in the days before eBay and auctions of such things as celebrity germ-filled tissues, it was quite odd that he would want a soda can simply because I had been drinking from it. Besides, who would ever believe that I had even touched this can?
Simple, of course. I would have to sign it. So I did and the happy fellow left the store with his prize, leaving me wondering what his parents would say when he brought it home. As it turns out, his parents apparently had no problem with it because he recently found me on Facebook and said that he still has it!


  1. Of course, to those of us unwashed, an autograph is a reminder of how we touched greatness, something bigger than ourselves - greatness being a relative term, of course. I do a lot of community theatre, and more than once, I've actually been asked for an autograph - which I'm always glad to do, and usually laughing inside at the time. Someone wants to remember ME??? Probably they want to be sure that, should I ever become famous, they can say they knew me when.

    My favorite autograph story was the Superman convention in Cleveland back in 1988, and among the many guests was Julie Schwartz. I was delighted at the chance to meet the braintrust of the silver age, and I approached eagerly and asked him to sign my program.

    He replied somewhat gruffly, "Why do you want MY autograph? Who am I?"

    I blinked, and then answered, "You're Julie Schwartz. You're kind of the godfather of DC Comics... you helped bring back all those titles in the 50s..."

    He smiled and took my program and said, "Okay, I just wanted to be sure you knew who you were asking."

    I don't know if that was typical of him... but he seemed to be a great guy, and that never seems to have been in doubt from what I read.

    So, Bobro, can I get your autograph...? :)

    I remain,
    Eric L. Sofer
    The Silver Age Fogey

  2. Yes, that was typical of Julie!

    As far as identities go, Julie liked to tell a story of his encounters over the years with Isaac Asimov.
    Asimov would greet him with, "Julius Unger, how are you?" calling him the name of another prominent science fiction fan from the 1940s.
    Julie would respond, "Isaac, Julius Unger is dead."
    To which Asimov would respond, deadpan, "I know."