Above:Phil Hale chats with Mark Chiarello.

It’s convention—and workshop and gallery show—season and Donato’s recent post got me thinking about getting out-and-about and meeting the people face-to-face we admire, people whom we might know only through their work or interviews or social media presence. The cons, workshops, and exhibits can provide us with an opportunity to see and talk to some of the creators who inspire us, our art heroes. But…

There’s a saying—either originated by Allan Carr, Marcel Proust, or Louisa May Alcott, depending on whom you believe—that we should never meet our heroes. The reason being that real people don’t live up to our fantasy perceptions and the expectations we project onto them; that they will disappoint us when we discover that our hero might have feet of clay. That they might be *gasp* human and not gods after all. And that disappointment often turns to, not only disillusionment, but sometimes bitterness and anger. Remember the starry-eyed character Benjy Stone’s frustrated outburst at his hero Alan Swann’s failings in the movie My Favorite Year: “Don’t tell me this is you ‘life-size’! I can’t use you ‘life-size’!”

Justin Hook wrote a piece sarcastically listing 12 reasons why we should never meet our heroes, as did (less humorously) Todd Brison. They both make at least some valid points, yet my opinion, on the other hand, is that…we should. We definitely should.

Oh, sure, there will always be a hero who disappoints, who might be rude or crude or immoral or a letch; whose social skills might be lacking or whose political views outright appalling. When we meet them they may be having a bad day or week or year—or maybe they’re just damn crabby all the damn time. That’s life: people are people. But finding out that a favorite creator might not be as wonderful in person as we may have wished doesn’t affect the wonderfulness of their work—you might recall that I wrote earlier that great art exists because of the artist but it also exists in spite of them as well—but the experience, no matter how it goes, may actually provide some added perspective and a fuller understanding of the art that has affected us.

For my part, I’ve never been one for absolutes and have increasingly considered “hero” as a misused and misapplied description (much like “awesome”) but for this essay, yeah, I’ll admit to having art heroes, because there are most certainly a whole lot of creatives whom I respect, whose work I admire, and who, through any number of ways, affect and influence me.

Above: Stephen King drinks my last Pepsi while seemingly wondering what the hell I’m doing outside Harlan Ellison’s house.

I’ve written a lot of stuff about art, artists, and our field over the years (including more than a decade here on MC), but I still aspire to write with the clarity and wit Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Harlan Ellison masterfully display in their nonfiction. I’ll never be as good, but it’s something to shoot for.

Above: Creatives x 3: Artist Tran Nguyen and Orbit V.P. Lauren Panepinto flank Spectrum’s Boss, Cathy Fenner.

I’ve been a designer and art director for over 45 years, but I still learn from and aspire to have the vision and amazing skills of Lauren Panepinto, Chip Kidd, Paula Scher, Irene Gallo, Louise Fili, Robert Benton, and Fred Woodward.

Above: In the rear, Michael R. Whelan and Stephan Martinière; in the front, Donato Giancola and Joe DeVito at the first Spectrum Exhibition in NYC.

I’ve produced illustrations for book covers, magazines, posters, album/CD/DVD covers, t-shirts, and greeting cards, but I still aspire to be able to create art as memorable and as wonderful as that produced by Frank Frazetta, Mark English, Brom, Iain McCaig, Peter de Sève, Donato Giancola, Jon Foster, Scott Gustafson, Mark Chiarello, Mike Mignola, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Paul Bonner, Karla Ortiz, Gregory Manchess, Tara McPherson, George Pratt, John Jude Palencar, Anita Kunz, John Severin, Dave McKean, Gahan Wilson, Bill Carman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Stevens, Dan dos Santos, Kinuko Y. Craft, the Dillons, and so many, many more—my list is long and gets longer every year.

Above: Watching Rick Berry, Brom, Dan dos Santos, and Gregory Manchess painting away.

I could easily make long lists of sculptors, calligraphers, photographers, publishers, and editors—and even a few actors and musicians as well—who have excited, impressed, and influenced me, too.

And I’ve met everybody that I’ve mentioned.

Some only in passing; some became people I worked with on projects; some became good friends. Each encounter, each experience, each meeting…added to my professional and personal growth, my outlooks, and my life. I’m not important or rich or charming or powerful or particularly outgoing (like many of us, I can be shy and something of an introvert), but I took advantage of the opportunities—like those Donato mentioned—when they arose to meet my heroes and express my respect to those that have inspired and continue to inspire me. And, you want to know something?

No matter the outcome, good or bad, I have never regretted doing so.

Unless we can recognize and appreciate excellence in others—and celebrate it—I don’t believe we’re ever able to achieve excellence for ourselves.

So go ahead: go out and meet your heroes. I think you’ll be glad you did.