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I've been a fan of Rob Liefeld since my brother passed me his copy of New Mutants #98 to read. I bought his X-Force run new, and worked after school to make money to buy back issues of New Mutants that cost then royal sums of $6-20 (obviously the debut of Cable was out of my price range, but I had the reprint with the gold ink at least.) Of all the Image artists, Liefeld's was the only style I could halfway achieve, so there's a bunch of yellowed typing paper in a box somewhere of my Robified versions of beloved action figures and original characters of mine.
Liefeld was at the first Houston comic convention I'd attended since the EXTREME!!! '90s, and the first time I sought commissions. Unfortunately, I was poor back in 2010, and my friends told me his quote was roughly the same as my entire budget for that first show. Still, it planted the desire to get a Martian Manhunter piece, but then Liefeld proceeded to blow off Houston shows for the next three years, and then I was out of the country when he did roll through in 2014.
I wasn't 100% on attending Amazing Con, and my friends who had attended previously did not have kind things to say. I'd started and mostly completed the J'Onzz Family jam piece at Space City Comic Con, but I saved Ma'alefa'ak just for Liefeld, and really only attended this show to get that done. I don't recall if I went Friday, but if I did, catching Rob was a bust. You know those enormous serpentine lines that "Zombie King" guy photoshopped into his con promotional pictures? That's what Liefeld's actually look like.
I didn't want to spend my entire time looking at some other fanboy's back and stealing glances at passing cosplayers, so I toured the con like I normally would, running through a number of single commissions and new jams. That said, I kept eyeing the line, looking for an opportunity. Saturday was Liefeld's last day, and after missing him during panels and other promotional efforts, I finally saw an opening that morning. After waiting on the sidelines while he took pictures with some kids, I made my approach.
Liefeld is famously upbeat and unflappable at these appearances, so I was surprised to hear him say to a handler "I'm salty today! I've never been so salty!" Something had clearly set him off, and he was in a sour mood. I had intended to gush a bit about my '90s fandom, but it seemed best to cut to the chase and hope he would be game to join the jam. He immediately stated that he was only doing head shots for a set price, and if I was fine with that, he'd do his part. I agreed, figuring maybe I could get another artist to ape him somewhere down the line to fill out the piece. I gave him my reference, which featured a variety of takes on the character, and he asked me which was the closest to what I wanted, Ed Barreto's. I paid the man and split, only for a new wave of fans to show up right behind me to keep Rob busy for hours.
While I still wanted a J'Onn J'Onzz someday, if a full figure wasn't in the cards, his evil twin brother Malefic was a close second. I'd already gotten Brett Booth to do J'Onn's Silver Age younger brother T'Omm J'Onzz, and part of my head canon was that instead of merely being consigned to the dust bin of history, T'Omm had become Ma'alefa'ak at some point. That way, I could chalk up the elements of the Ostrander/Mandrake series that berthed Malefic that I didn't like to the unreliable narration of a mad Martian. Also, Booth was one of the early Image studio artists who trained under its founders, so I liked the implied progression from his innocent T'Omm to Liefled's Sith-level Ma'alefa'ak.
I checked in on the piece for the rest of the afternoon, but Liefeld was constantly swamped, and didn't seem to make much headway there. Finally, he began to pack up, and asked me to wait in the lobby of his hotel while he took the piece to his room to finish. I waited patiently, anxious that I might be in the wrong part of the lobby, or even the wrong hotel! Finally, Rob showed, and he'd gone well beyond what he'd agreed to in drawing Malefic's full body incorporated into the jam! I was giddy over finally having the equivalent of a Liefeld Martian Manhunter, and gushed over it. Rob was noticeably happier than he was that salty morning, and the jam was nigh-complete without stress or incident! I only needed one more artist for the finishing touches...
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