Sometimes, there’s a lot of truth in that old saying: “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” One of the places it all too often plays out happens to be in the cases of celebrities and artists you admire.
Not always. For example, this past week I had the pleasure of meeting Scott McCloud for the second time, and he was just as gracious and interesting to talk to as when I first introduced myself to him at San Diego Comic-Con 2010. But at that same Comic-Con, perhaps flush with the good experience, I made the mistake of approaching the autograph area and Ted DiBiase.
For those who don’t know, DiBiase was a legend of professional wrestling back when I was growing up. In the kid-friendly, cartoony Rock n’ Wrestling era of the WWF (WWE will never, ever sound right to me), DiBiase was “The Million Dollar Man”, the diamond-studded archenemy of Hulk Hogan and other working glass do-gooders. He wore sparkly suits with dollar signs on them, hypnotized ring officials with fistfuls of bills, and in general made having a lot of money into being a supervillain, complete with an over-the-top evil cackle.
On top of all that, the guy was a good performer in the ring. As far as wrestling heels (the bad guys) of the 80s go, he’s right up there with Jake “The Snake” Roberts for me. Let me just make this short and sweet by saying, yes, that was cream of the crop.
Now in the wrestling business, there’s some heels who go method and will act like jerks to the fans even when they’re outside the arena. But that’s not as common in the modern era, and the character of The Million Dollar Man has been out of circulation for years. Plus, if he’d at least been a jerk in the manner of his character that might have been fun–if tough to pull off when you’re sitting in a tiny booth with no line and offering autographed photos for cash. Instead, there was just this crushing sense of apathy. I don’t remember him even offering a thank you in response to my gushing to him how much I’d enjoyed his work; just some unsmiling grunts, and an indication that it was twenty dollars for a photo. A photo I now almost didn’t feel like buying, but I did it anyhow, maybe hoping deep down I’d just caught him at a bad time. Still, when I found that photo again earlier this year and saw it had gotten accidentally crumpled, I felt no loss. It was almost a relief to throw it away and forget the awkwardness of those moments.
The wife had a similar experience when she finally got to meet Terry Moore, artist and author of her much beloved Strangers in Paradise comics. There she was, face to face with him at last at his booth, with no one else around, her SIP book clasped in her hands as she shyly asked if he might sign it for her. His clipped response was that he only signed items that people had bought directly from his table.
To this day I don’t understand why he did that. This wasn’t a scheduled signing session, and to my knowledge he doesn’t have some publisher looking over his shoulder and making arbitrary rules about how to run his booth. It’s not like she was holding some scan she downloaded off the internet, this was a bought and paid for book, exactly the same as what he was offering that day. Despite not really having the money to spare, she sadly forked over the cash for an identical copy of something she already owned, just so he’d sign it. It wasn’t until later that her sadness turned into resentment, but to this day that remains the last work of Terry Moore’s, SIP or otherwise, that she ever purchased. She didn’t toss anything out, though; on the contrary, she keeps both copies side by side in her bookcase, I suppose just to make sure she never forgets.
Again, it’s possible both gentlemen in question were just having really bad days, but in both cases it seems like it would have been better for everyone if the meeting had never taken place. Well, I suppose DiBiase and Moore were fine with it since they got their money, and I’m sure forgot about us soon after.
But on the fan side of the equation, it’s no wonder we get nervous when we’re face to face with people we admire, people whose work inspires or at least entertains us. It’s that flashpoint where we might walk away with our love justified, or might have our memories tarnished forever.
It’s a gamble every time, and can leave you exhilarated, or feeling like you got punched in the gut. Sometimes I’m tempted to quit taking the chance altogether and just enjoy the image in my own head. Blissful, blissful ignorance. Rarely does it survive a convention.