I don’t post a lot on social media these days and I rarely if ever post anything personal. But I have two personal stories that I’ve never really told publicly that I feel I need to tell today.
About seven years ago there was a letter in my mailbox from the White House. To be clear, not just the White House, but from the newly elected President Of The United States. Wow, maybe this had something to do with his appearance in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but oddly enough it was addressed to my then 8 year old daughter. It seems that unbeknownst to her parents, my little girl mailed a letter to President Obama wishing him well and offering him advice as only an 8 year old could.
And he wrote back.
In the letter he thanked and commended her for passing along her thoughts and engaging in this wonderful thing we call Democracy. To this day I still tear up remembering the look on her face as she read that letter realizing that not only did the President Of The United States write back, but that she lived in a country in which this was possible.
Two years later I was sitting in my office at Marvel when my phone rings and a gentlemen claiming to be an assistant to the President Of The United States tells me that the POTUS would like to commission me to do a piece of art for him. Thinking it was a prank I told him I’d love to discuss it further but I was rushing off to a meeting and would gladly call him back. I took down his info, did a quick Google search and confirmed that the number on my caller I.D. was indeed coming from an office in the White House. Wait, what?!?
As it turned out a close friend of the President, Patrick Gaspard, who was the Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs, was leaving to take on his new role as the Director of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Gaspard happened to be a HUGE Marvel Comics fan. We’re talking a full on True Believer since childhood, and President Obama thought that a perfect parting gift for his service to the administration would be a custom piece of art featuring Mr. Gaspard, himself and several Marvel heroes standing in front of the White House and for some godforsaken reason he was asking me to draw it. I of course had to get approval from the highest levels of Marvel where it was met with nothing but enthusiasm and a big thumbs up.
Now as unlikely as all of this sounds, nothing was more surreal than when I was sending off rough sketches to White House for the President’s approval and getting back notes. I’d never been more thrilled to get art revisions in my life! Once the piece was finished inked and colored by Danny Miki and Richard Isanove respectfully, I received word that the President was thrilled with the results and Mr. Gaspard was over the moon with the final framed surprise gift.
Admittedly, for those close to me that knew about the assignment, I’d make it a point to boast as often as I could that I was now officially the very first United States Sequential Artist Laureate. Quite frankly, I don’t see why that shouldn’t be a thing.
A short time later I was at San Diego Comicon signing books at the Marvel booth when someone extended a hand for me to shake. I looked up and the gentlemen said, “Do you recognize me?” How could I not, I had spent a week drawing him. It was of course Mr. Gaspard and he wanted to thank me personally for the art and to express how much Marvel had meant to him growing up and still means to him today. Patrick and I have kept in touch ever since and while his current tenure as Ambassador to South Africa is coming to an end, I’m looking forward to catching up with him when he’s back in the States and making good on my promise to bring him on to the set of Defenders or taking him to a Mets game.
And yes, I was lucky enough to meet President Obama. like I said, I don’t usually like to post things of a personal nature, but today I feel compelled to simply convey my own humble experience of having the great honor of meeting the most powerful man on the planet when he was in office. A man who was nothing but kind, appreciative and generous to me, who demonstrating a genuine love for the medium of comics and took more time than he ever needed to to express his appreciation for the work I created and the medium of comics itself. The same man who also took time to write a simple yet eloquent response in 2009 to a little girl who express love and hope, not for herself, but for her President and his future.
Godspeed President Obama, thank you for your service. I have no doubt and look forward to how you will continue to serve and change our world for the better.