This past August, hoping to hold on to summer just a little longer, my 15 year old son and I headed out on a 3,000 mile minor league road trip. Our journey took us to over 20 different baseball sites (current and former ballparks) in New Jersey, Connecticut, upstate New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. On the first night – August 11th – we paid a visit to the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League and an Affiliate of the Tampa Rays. Our focus on these road trips typically involves visiting stadiums we have never seen, my photographing the ballpark, and the two of us watching the game. When we arrived at Dutchess Stadium about two hours before the start of the evening’s contest, little did we know that we also would meet a living legend.
“The Thing” by Joe Sinnott – but more on that later
As we walked around the concourse, stadium workers were setting up several tables for a special event in the beer garden. Walking among the workers was Victor L. Castro, Jr., who I soon would learn, is an up and coming comic book artist and penciler. Mr. Castro explained that the Renegades were sponsoring a Comic Con Night in honor of the annual October event held some 70 miles south of the Renegades in New York City.
Dutchess Stadium, Home of the Hudson Valley Renegades
Although I read comic books as a kid (mostly Archie – I was a Betty man), I do not profess to know much of anything about the world of comic book art. But I certainly was willing to learn and Mr. Castro proved to be an excellent teacher. He told me that there were several legendary artist scheduled to appear that evening and gave me some background about each.
Fans Line Up To Meet Comic Book Artist at Hudson Valley Renegades Night
Mr. Castro explained that the most well known artist of the group was Joe Sinnott, an inker for Marvel who was now in his late 70′s and was best known for his work on the Fantastic Four. (An inker is the second artist in the two step process of drawing comic book art. After a drawing is penciled by a penciler, an inker refines the drawing using black ink and giving the drawing that classic comic book look.)
As Mr. Castro was finishing his discourse, the artists started trickling in. For the next 30 minutes I had the pleasure of talking with each of the artists. First I met the husband and wife dynamic duo of Walt and Louise Simonson. Walt is a comic book artist and writer, best known for his work on Marvel’s Thor comic books. Louise is an editor and writer, best known for her work on The Man of Steel and Superman, including the Wedding of Superman. I then met Mr. Sinnott who was happy to sign a copy of the Renegades program for my son. I asked Mr. Sinnott about New York Giants hat he was wearing and he told me that not only was he a fan of the team but he also was related to former Giants Manager (and former National League Baltimore Oriole) John McGraw. Talk about Deadball Baseball karma!
Artist and Inker Joe Sinnott, Editor Louise Simonson, and Writer/Artist Walt Simonson
Also signing autographs was Mark McKenna, a comic book artist with almost 30 years experience in the industry. Mr. McKenna has worked for publishers such as Marvel and DC on titles such as X-Men, Spiderman, and Batman.
Comic Book Artist Mark McKenna
Bob Wiacek a creator, writer, and inker, has worked for publishers such as Marvel, DC and Darkhorse on such titles as Superman, X-men, Star Wars, and She Hulk.
Comic Book Artist and Writer Bob Wiacek
Fred Hembeck, a multi-talented cartoonist and creator is well known for his comic parodies and for his work with publishers such as Marvel Comics, DC, Fantaco Enterprises, and Archie Comics (I did not ask him his preference).
American Cartoonist Fred Hembeck
All six artists were kind enough to autograph a baseball for me as we talked, and many artist included a sketch or doodle on the ball, including Walt Simonson (Thor), Mark McKenna (Batman), Fred Hembeck (Spiderman), and Victor Castro (a new creation).
Baseball Autographed by Walt Simonson (featuring his drawing of Thor), Louise Simonson, Joe Sinnott, Mark McKenna, Bob Wiacek, and Fred Hembeck
The pièce de résistance, however, came later from Mr. Sinnott. When I met him earlier in the evening, I asked if he would be willing to draw one of his characters on a baseball. He was famous for his development of The Thing and I hoped he might be willing to draw something on a second baseball I had brought along. Because the crowds were starting to gather, Mr. Sinnott suggested that I come back later and he would see if he might have the time then.
First Pitch – Joe Sinnott, Walt Simonson, Louise Simonson, Mark McKenna, Bob Wiacek, Fred Hembeck, and Victor L. Castro, Jr.
The artists took a break to partake in pregame ceremonies.
After the artists finished throwing out the first pitch (with assists from Mr. Castro, who clearly knows how to throw a baseball), I returned to the beer garden and waited for fans to get through the autograph lines. I then approached Mr. Sinnott and asked if might have the time. He smiled, reached out his hand, and I gave him a rather scuffed up MLB baseball.
Joe Sinnott Working On Autographed Ball Featuring The Thing
Mr. Sinnott held the ball just below the table, so I was unable to see exactly what it was he was drawing. He worked intently, never once looking up. Five minutes later, he handed the baseball back to me. He had drawn a spot-on sketch of The Thing.
Legendary Artist and Inker Joe Sinnott Displays His Latest Creation, The Thing Signed Baseball
I could not believe my good fortune. I showed the baseball to Mr. Castro, who also could not believe my good fortune and advised me to take better care of the baseball. When I arrived back home a week later, I put the baseball in a protective cube and gave it to my older son, who I know appreciates exactly what it was Mr. Sinnott was kind enough to give me.
Many thanks to Mr. Sinnott, Mr. Castro, and all the legendary comic book artists and writers who made the evening at the the Dutchess most memorable in a decidedly non-baseball way.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Tri-City Valley Cats defeated the Hudson Valley Renegades 2-0.