Sometime in 2000, I discovered eBay and found a comic book sub-category called "Fanzines, Fan Clubs." My initial reaction to the eBay auctioning process was a curious phenomenon. I would constantly watch an auction and pose aggressive attacks on competitive bidders, immediately raising the ante when another eBayer bid, and then wait until the very end to pounce with my best price. At auction end, I was there, no matter what time of the night, no matter where I was. The final two minutes were exhilarating - I found myself becoming an adrenaline junky for the auction process itself! This tit-for-tat bid exchange turned out to be a pretty expensive proposition. Thank God for automated "auction sniper" programs. The auction sniper I use automatically places my bid at the last possible moment, usually 3 seconds before bid end. It allows me to rest easy knowing that my competitors will have literally no time to react to my bid. So I no longer worry about keeping an active eye on any auction. I just fire and forget! Plus I win more auctions at much lower prices. No more of this tit-for-tat bid posturing.
My nostalgic juices rekindled, I embarked on a mission that remains unabated – to collect a complete set of comic book fanzines from the 60's and early 70's. You would think that a 6000+ piece fanzine collection would be pretty close to completion. But the holes in my collection are astounding.
Alas, I would estimate that I own only 1/3th of what was produced during this period of time. Fanzines were our internet of the day. They were our primary means of communicating our hobby, and thus the growth of new fanzines reached exponential heights towards the latter half of the 60's.
As I rebuilt my fanzine collection, I immediately targeted John Fantucchio, and started compiling a checklist of his known published works. Upon initial examination, it looked like he had dropped off the planet after 1975. What had happened to this master fandom illustrator/fanzine artist? Was he still alive? And if so, why did he abandon fandom so abruptly? I scoured the web and emailed several authorities, but to no avail. No one seemed to know what had happened to him.
I was told by one dealer that he had heard that John had passed away in the late 90's and that he had been extremely unwilling to discuss his fandom years. This same dealer said John had gotten into a huge rift with GB Love, possibly over the The Buyer's Guide covers and that's why his comic fanzine art stopped flowing through the RBCC. He surmised that JGF had dumped fandom because he was fed up. It turned out that his entire story was complete and utter bullshit, and I did not find out the truth until years later!
The truth is this: Fantucchio simply became too busy and was forced to take a breather from fandom. In 1973, he established the Fantucchio School of Art in the basement of his home. This required a major remodeling of his house and complete renovation of the basement area to meet Virginia Code. Much of the construction he did himself. The Fantucchio School of Art was very successful and ran classes two nights a week plus one on Saturday. And John still was working full-time at his day job!
And what a day job. Unbeknownst to fandom at the time, JGF was working as an illustrator for the Central Intelligence Agency. That's right, the CIA. His job title was "Illustrator General" but I like to think of him as Agent 00F with a license to draw! John calls it "The Agency." He worked there from 1963 until 1988.
The fact remains that JGF had little time to devote to fandom activities after 1973. So he took a sabbatical, albeit a very long one. There were no fights with GB Love, no feuds, no nothing! And the rumor that he is unwilling to talk about his fandom days? You've got to be kidding, there is nothing he loves talking about more!
But I digress from our story. It is now 2002, and I still have no idea as to the whereabouts of John G. Fantucchio. At the Comic-Con International in San Diego, I discussed John Fantucchio with Maggie Thompson (see left), Editor of CBG, and fanzine pioneer in her own right as co-editor of Comic Art. She had corresponded with him a few years back, but had lost his contact information. But she mentioned that he had lived in Northern Virginia, near DC. Ah-ha! I also live in Northern VA. Could it be that easy? I called 411 (yes, we still had "411" in 2002 ...) and lo and behold, was given a phone number! I called the number and was immediately patched into a recording with a female voice telling me to leave a message for John or Mary! Gloriosky, Fantucchio lives!!!
I never had the nerve to leave a message, even though I called several times. You have to understand that I was just a lowly fanboy, and John Fantucchio was this towering super-hero to me. And because I mistakenly thought John had less than favorable memories about his fandom years, I was very hesitant to offend him.
I also became aware of an eBay bidder who would constantly usurp my attempts to purchase Fantucchio fanzines and original art. He was every bit as voracious for Fantucchio material as me.
It turns out that my competitor was none other than David Irving, Mary Fantucchio's (maiden name: Irving) nephew, and probably the premier collector of Fantucchio art! We became friendly, chatting occasionally via email, and even exchanged missing fanzines as well as detailed information to complete our Fantucchio checklists. We finally met in early April. David has been collecting original art and paintings from Uncle John for many years, and has enough Fantucchio art to start a museum. I am so jealous!!!
So I was scanning through the constantly dwindling Classified pages of Comic Buyer's Guide #1659 (Nov 2009 issue, received in late Oct), looking in the "Fanzines, For Sale" section. This had been a ritual of mine for many years; never had much luck with it. But this time my eyes became transfixed. … could it be? It was a series of four classified ads:
OMG. All at once, I had no excuses. I finally had to call. Soon afterward, I received a call back from a man with a charming hint of Bostonian in his accent - it was Fantucchio himself!
We chatted for a bit, but the call was too short for us to do anything but exchange pleasantries and get to the business at hand: buying and selling fanzines. At this point in time, I was not sure John was up for an immediate meet and greet, so I decided to play it low key. John explained that he had prepared a catalog and would send the document right away to my home address. I could check-off any of items in the catalog to see if there was anything I might be interested in! I ended up buying a couple hundred dollars' worth of fanzines, plus a JGF drawn Hyperman Button (see right). A few days later, I received a typed letter dated November 9, 2009. It was signed with that unmistakable signature alongside a small illo of John's un-named Mysterious Character (which I use as the logo and footer of this site). John said I could pick up the package on Nov 21. The words "I will show you my studio" reverberated in my mind!
So after 40 years of being a fan, I finally met John G. Fantucchio. He lives maybe 50 minutes away, very close to the Pentagon and Washington DC, in the very same house that was pictured in Fantastic Fanzine 13 some 40 years ago. He's a big guy. Not overweight at all, but tall. He towers over me at about 6 feet (in comparison, I'm munchkin sized at 5' 4") tall. There are virtually no lines or wrinkles in his face, so he looks like he is 10 years younger than his actual age. He works out every morning, performing hundreds of stretching exercises - and it shows, as he is quite mobile. For a man in his early seventies, he is in super shape. The jet black hair of yesteryear has been replaced by gray and a beard, but at least he no longer looks like a Shop Teacher!
John remembers that he entered comic fandom quite early, probably sometime in late 1962. In fact, the first published mention of John G. Fantucchio is in Rocket's Blast 14, the January 1963 issue. GB Love had a column called "The Rocket Roll" which listed new members (subscribers). There it is on page 9:
John gave me a tour of his upstairs studio. Amazing. There are more traditional paintings and realistically rendered works. But there are also more pieces of art with 3-dimensional protuberances and bulges, abstractions that are impossible to describe. Some of the art is covered because of four skylights that threaten to fade paintings that are susceptible to sunlight, such as watercolor.
Portraits of friends, colleagues and unknowns (to me) line the wall. As a portrait painter, Fantucchio is unmatched: the faces are craggy and emotional, with every stress line exposed. If you would like a portrait that reflects your inner being, go to John G. But I'm warning you, it may not be pretty because he will expose the real you! An excellent example of JGF's early portrait painting talent can be seen in his depiction of the Frankenstein Monster on the cover of Rocket's Blast Comicollector 64 (see left).
Fred Hembeck said this about Fantucchio's Frankenstein: "This painting by John Fantucchio graced the cover of 64th issue of the noted sixties fanzine, RB-CC, and remains, to this day, one of my all-time favorite interpretations of the Frankenstein Monster." You can read more of what Hembeck says about JGF in a 2005 archive of his FredSez blog by clicking HERE. You'll have to scroll way down to the Oct 10th entry towards the bottom of the blog, but he has a pretty funny line about Fantucchio's "GREAT signature" that is a must-read!
In his Studio, there are materials of all types lying around the studio that John uses for his 3-dimensional work. They consist of paper, wood, nails, and plastic. John says "Artists were always the first to recycle. One of the greatest paintings in the Renaissance was painted on a wine barrel lid!" (check it out on google)
There are a plethora of collectibles on shelves that he built: nostalgic items from his youth, old transistor radios, old-time radio tapes, Matchbox type cars (he is an old car aficionado), art books ... it's like being at a memorabilia shop. Ironically, the only comic book related art I notice is an incredibly large painting of Captain America shaking hands with Richard Nixon. All in all, the thing that's striking about John's Studio is that it is an active center of creation. John says he's not 'retired;' he continues to "draw, paint and create items that hopefully have not been done before. It's an artistist exploration." It is obvious he has scores of art projects that he is actively involved in creating and completing.
We went downstairs and had a 60's and 70's fandom gab-fest! He had detailed anecdotes about fandom luminaries and spoke with great affection for such people as GB Love, Alan Light, Martin L Greim, Gary Groth, Phil Seuling, and especially Bill G. Wilson.
John's memory is nothing short of remarkable. Even after 40+ years, John can tell you the exact techniques he used to execute a particular illustration, the problems he had, and why he did it that way. For example, he told me about his idea to use the "Daring - Original - Inevitable" phrase at the top of The Buyer's Guide #1 logo, then proceeded to show me!
He just disappeared for one minute and emerged with the actual pasted-on lettering that he used for TBG #1 - John knew exactly where it was located after 40 years!
I brought out a few Fantucchio original art pieces that I had picked up over the years. One of them was the original Black Terror cover art he did for RBCC #93, originally printed as a black and white cover:
I was amazed to find out that John was not aware the Black Terror piece had been made into an RBCC cover! He had originally drawn it in mixed media - black ink, colored pencil and pastel. It was a commission for a local collector in exchange for a couple comics. Evidently it went to Florida, and GB Love used it as a cover. Maybe James Van Hise can fill in the details.
We discussed Fantucchio's own "Mysterious Character." He was featured in scads of comic fanzines, both as an interior illustration and also on many covers. These included The Buyers Guide, Fantastic Fanzine, Fandom Unlimited, Chronicle, Panorama, and RBCC to name a few. He even was the subject of a major contest in The Collector 13 to "Win a Full Color Fantucchio Original." The premise of the contest was to:
Two grand prize winners were announced in The Collector 14: Martin L. Greim and Anthony Kowalik were now the proud owners of Fantucchio original paintings! Greim's painting can be seen as the large background image at the beginning of this page, or you can click HERE for a look at the original. I asked John if he ever used the names and origins that Greim and Kowalik supplied, and he said "No." Although he thought Kowalik's name was very good. John has his own take on the Mysterious Character. The Character is an alien. And what he carries on his side John calls "the Canteen." He has a name, and John told it to me, but if I tell you he will have to kill me (oh, that CIA connection ...)! That's all I could get from John. So I guess the Character will remain ... mysterious!
I have to talk about the squirrels. One of John's simple pleasures is to feed the neighborhood squirrels twice a day. He places a load of unshelled peanuts into large bowls that he fills with water so the nuts float. "They like it that way." So John fills the bowls up and sure enough, within a few seconds a couple of squirrels come into the back to pick up their dinner! And John knows exactly who is who: there's Joe, Betty Lou, Eddie, Cleo, Chloey (rhymes with snowy), Zooey, the list goes on. See Eddie sitting on John's leg at left. I was amazed by three black squirrels that came running - I'd never seen a jet black colored squirrel before. Apparently, John has been the benefactor of a family of black squirrels for many years. He's seen generations come and go. John loves these squirrels so much, that he hesitates to travel much because who's going to feed them?
So there ended my first meeting with the great John G. Fantucchio. He gave me my $300 package of fanzines and my Hyperman button, all pristine mint, that had originally prompted my visit. I had completely forgotten about them.
I've had many more experiences with John since that memorable first visit. I've gone to many gallery art shows that John has participated in and visited John and Mary in their home countless times. I always learn something new and have a great time. They are very gracious and humble people and I consider them to be friends.
But one thing has always nagged me. Here you have a stunning talent like John G. Fantucchio, and he has never received the accolades that he deserves. There are many people who were part of comics fandom in the 60's and 70's who grew up on John Fantucchio covers, and I suspect they would love to see what he's been doing.
After I visited John that first time, he wrote me a letter that said "Your knowledge of fandom and comics is truly amazing! I hope you will be able to put some of this to use and someday write some articles, or perhaps write a book."
I really started thinking about it.
The clincher came when I met Joel Pollack at one of the Del Ray Artisans Gallery art shows that John participates in. Joel is a longtime friend of John's, the owner of Big Planet Comics in Maryland, Virginia and DC and a noted authority on comics and art. He also has a fanzine connection, as he was the cover artist of Rocket's Blast Comicollector 59, the one with the Sandman on it! I relayed my idea to Joel about possibly setting up a fan website devoted to Fantucchio's works. He told me "I hope you do because he really deserves it. It's about time someone paid attention to John, it's about time!"
So here it is John, I'm putting some of it to good use ...