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If it weren’t for events such as the Big Apple Comic Con — now taking place this March 25th and 26th (www.bigapplecc.com) — American actor, producer, and podcaster Brian O’Halloran wouldn’t have had the chance to reach out and meet his audience in a friendly setting. But a con like the BACC is totally conceived with the touchy-feely experience in mind.
And it’s no wonder he draws fans to such an event. By playing Dante Hicks in “Clerks,” Kevin Smith’s 1994 debut and became part of a low-rent comedy of punkish pop characters that became a cult classic.
He has also made appearances in most of Smith’s View Askewniverse films, either as Dante Hicks or one of Dante’s cousins. Born in Manhattan, he lived in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey, since he was 13. A second-generation Irish-American, both his parents emigrated from Ireland. Sadly, the 53-year-old’s father died when he was 15 years old. Once he graduated from Cedar Ridge High School, he pursued acting starting with “Clerks.” He returned many times to reprise his role as Dante Hicks in its 2006 and ’22 sequels “Clerks II” and “Clerks III.”
O’Halloran is the lead actor in “Vulgar” a 2000 film about a small town clown who’s traumatized after he’s attacked during one of his performances. Writer/director Bryan Johnson wrote the lead specifically with O’Halloran in mind. He has worked on theatre productions since high school. Since “Clerks,” O’Halloran has primarily been a stage actor, working with the Boomerang Theatre Company, the New Jersey Repertory Company and the Tri-State Actors Theatre, among others. In 2020, O’Halloran began presenting his own pop culture podcast, “The O’HalloRant,” on YouTube.
Q: What is it like being part of a franchise? Did you ever expect that would happen and hope that would happen? And as a result, how has it changed your life?
BO: No. You know, when we first made the very first “Clerks” back in 1993, [director] Kevin Smith was just writing about his actual job. The thing that he did was working at a convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey. The fact is that we then shot that film in the store after hours, late at night, and we were able to get accepted into the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, where it skyrocketed in popularity. Then being picked up by Miramax and being distributed around the world – going to the Cannes Film Festival and things after that. And then getting a deal with Universal and all these great studios, Lionsgate and stuff after that with these other films was a big shock, to be honest with you. Just some guys out of Jersey just doing the thing they loved to do, which is comedy.
Q: Were you doing acting before you did that film? Was acting always in your blood?
BO: Yeah, I had started doing theater in high school, college, and then local community theater in the Central Jersey area, Monmouth County. I did some off-off-Broadway stuff here in Manhattan, and was doing that for about three or four years prior to meeting Kevin. Theater is the best training you can do as an actor. To be in front of a live audience, there’s no “Stop, wait, oh geez, what was that line again?” It just sharpens your reflexes. It sharpens your interaction. And it definitely sharpens your memory because you have to know an entire show from beginning to end.
Q: “Chasing Amy” is probably my favorite Kevin Smith film, and it was a really critically acclaimed film in its time. It was ahead of its time. How has it impacted on you, and how have you seen people’s reaction to it?
BO: Well it’s definitely one of the best-written films of Kevin’s career. I mean, it was nominated for a Spirit Award for Best Screenplay. And Joey Lauren Adams, the lead in that film, was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. So, it was giving it more credibility to Kevin’s career. I mean, we had won awards at Sundance and at Con with the original “Clerks,” but this was a topic that I thought was never approached in a mainstream way like he did. And it was based on real life experience that Kevin had experienced himself. So, it was good to see that that storyline resonated with so many people in many communities, not only the gay and lesbian community, but also in just the relationship. It’s a romantic story that just so happens to tackle, you know, gay relationships.
Q: So how much of “Clerks” was improvised and how much of it was scripted?
BO: The first script was 95% scripted. Kevin was not a big fan of improvisation at all. When he got into, you know, “Mallrats” that was straight-up scripted. And “Chasing Amy” very much so. Even though Ben Affleck tried to riff, so to speak, from time to time, Kevin would be like, “Yeah, why don’t you just come back to my script? You go write your own script there, boy.” And then eventually he did and won an Oscar for it so, who knows. But what was good about that and Kevin is really his dialogue. His strength is his dialogue. And that’s what brings me back to doing work with him all the time. He has such an ear for dialogue that’s realistic, yet funny, yet tackles subjects that you don’t hear normally in movies.
Q: I believe you have some horror films in your background as well.
BO: I’ve never done a horror film straight up. I’ve done a film that's a mockumentary about making up a horror film called “Brutal Massacre,” a comedy, and that’s about it with David Naughton, Gunnar Hansen, Ken Phiri, and many others. You’re watching a film crew as they make this horror film. Written and directed by Stevan Mena, it’s very funny. I do make a cameo in David Lee Madison’s horror film called “Mr. Hush.” I’m towards the end of the film for that one. And then there have been bit parts in other small films as well.
Q: So now are you making films yourself in the future or that you’re working on?
BO: Well, right now I have a couple of scripts that I’ve been writing that I’m still working on. As far as jumping on the other side of the camera, that is one of my goals right now. I’ve been in front of the camera most of my career, so I look forward to working and jumping to that side.
Q: Now let’s talk about the most important bit of your history. Let’s talk about your Irish roots.
BO: My family came from Ireland in 1965 here to New York City. We settled in the Bronx. I was born here in Manhattan in 1969, lived in the Bronx until 1979. Then we moved to New Jersey. But every summer we went home, as we would call it, back to the west coast of Ireland, hung out in Galway, went up to Sligo and stuff like that. So, I’m the only one who’s American here. My father used to tease me like, you’re the only one who could be president of this country. I’m like, well, who wants it. But what’s great is I’ve been able to go back numerous times, and I love my Irish heritage. I’ve used it to my advantage a few times because I’m proud of it. I’ve done numerous Irish plays. I definitely would love to do a film over there at some point. The film industry in Ireland is huge.
Q: It’s growing all the time.
BO: It is growing all the time. And with the tax credits that the Irish Arts Council puts out, it’s really affordable. As you saw the House of Dragon was recently filmed there, many, many period pieces, especially when you film out into the West Coast on the southern coast of Ireland. It’s gorgeous. It’s an untouched country that really gives you that essence that I love. So, the fact that every time I hear, whenever I come to New York City, especially Manhattan, and I hear that accent, I’m like, oh, where are you from? And then we get to chat and then, you know, it only takes me not even a few days when I’m over there to get back into the accent. And it takes me about a week once I’m home here to get rid of it.
Q: I think there’s a movie in all this. Where’s your Irish movie?
BO: Yeah, there should be, there should be.
Q: But anyhow, what’s coming up?
BO: People can follow me on “Brian C O’Halloran” on Twitter and Instagram and “The Brian C O’Halloran” on Facebook. I’ll be releasing a new website here next year where people can follow me as to what I’m up to. I’m in talks with two production companies right now for films next year. I know we’ve just wrapped up Clerks 3. That was the most recent release, which went really well for us. Hopefully we’re working on “Mallrats 2” next year, but we’ll see.
Q: Anyhow, I really am glad that we’ve gotten a chance to meet.
BO: Pleasure meeting you as well.
Q: I’m going to make sure we get the word out about your roots.
BO: Right on, take care.
Jim Steranko's cover art for the 1982 Marvel Comics Adaptation of Blade Runner.
More than half a century ago, artist/writer Jim Steranko changed the way comic book storytelling was visualized. He brought in design elements originally conceived through design and fine art ideas. Back then, artists coming from the pop art scene such as Roy Litchenstein appropriated comic book design elements into genre-bending large scale paintings. It took Steranko to do the opposite for comics. His infusion of surrealism, pop art, and graphic design into the medium earned him lasting acclaim for such innovations in sequential art during the Silver Age of Comic Books, particularly with the 1960s superspy series “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” in Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales and in the subsequent eponymous sequential art runs.
With ST #135, Steranko took over Nick Fury, but the series had started with Jack Kirby and John Severin. Although he didn’t originate Fury, Steranko’s art radically changed the look of comics. Though it concluded when Strange Tales ended after some 35+ appearances, the 84-year-old’s influence didn’t end there. He then took on Captain America and the X-Men; there were short runs on X-Men (#50–51, Nov.–Dec. 1968), for which he designed a new cover logo, and Captain America (#110–111, 113, Feb.–March, May 1969). The Pennsylvania native introduced the Madame Hydra character in his brief time on the book as well.
Of course the comics of Captain America — which began in the early 1940s — definitely weren’t his either, but Steranko’s way of stylizing the character again was so highly innovative and influential that, in these cases, he made the characters his own so he could easily take a stand about them.
There was an exhibit of Kirby and Steranko’s work once at the Victoria and Albert Museum years ago. It was very nice work indeed from both artists — and it displayed their specific styles. Some in the comic book world might consider Sternako’s viewpoint on other artists provocative but he never demurred on his thoughts on graphic story making or anything else.
His work has been published in many countries and his impact on the field has remained strong since his comics heyday. He went on to create book covers, became a comics historian — who published a pioneering multi-volume history of the birth and early years of comic books — and created conceptual art and character designs for films including “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and "Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” He was inducted into the comic-book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.
And at the December Christmas Con, clad in his distinct outfitting, the octogenarian expressed taut and sharp thoughts on the state of comics past and present — something he’ll do again on March 25-26 at the New Yorker Hotel.
Q: You’ve had a long career in comics and in dealing with the world of media. What do you consider the most important moments in your career that you want people to realize? You wrote Nick Fury, had your own magazine, came up with a design concept that nobody else has ever thought of for comics. Where do you feel one’s education should start?
JS: I think all those things that you mentioned and a few others besides that. They’re all my children, so I do not have a definitive answer when people ask me what my favorites are and what my most important things are that I’ve done in the past.
Q: What were your the biggest challenges/legacy?
JS: My biggest legacy, that’s something… I leave that to my fans and my friends. I don’t make that decision. I want them to make the decision.
Q: When you were developing your concepts for “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” you came into the field with a particular vision and visual style. Where and when did you decide how to step away from comics traditions and add all the collagic effects, the big panoramic images, and the psychedelic influences? Whoever thought a secret agent or someone part of a spy organization would fit in to that kind of environment? You really affected the way comics were conceptualized from that point going forward.
JS: I grew up with comic books, and found that when I was in a position of power, that I couldn’t imitate what came before. I had no interest in being a rubber stamp artist. That’s not what I do. At the time I got into comics, I had a full-time job as an art director and manager — it was eight to five. I also played rock and roll for 12 years, three to five nights a week — that’s a second full-time job. Then, along the way, I got an assignment to do a number of Marvel comics. I worked for them for three years. It was a somewhat uphill battle to convince Stan [Lee] to adopt non-Marvel-type techniques and treatments in my books, Captain America and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. He resisted that idea, even though they called themselves the “House of Ideas.” But don’t make me laugh. I guess I developed a kind of system where the work was an ultimatum. For example, I would never tell Stan what I was going to do ahead of time because he would say, “Don’t do that.” I’d just bring the work in on the day of the deadline when there was no time to make changes, and they’d have to take it or lose their monthly distribution. So those firsters that you were talking about, those puzzle pages, I called them innovations because they had never been done before in comics.
Q: They hadn’t even been done in normal illustrations as well.
JS: A lot of them. But the number that you’re looking for is, 150 of them I brought to comics in the space of about three years. The unusual thing about that is, that if you took every comic artist from the beginning of comic book history — American comic book history — and added them all up, they wouldn’t be anywhere near that number of 150 — 150 things, graphic things, that had never been done in comics before.
Q: Take artist/writer Neal Adams. A lot of the ideas Neal later incorporated into DC with “Green Lantern” were ideas that you also had about the way a page should look and the elements you could bring on the page.
JS: Neal did not represent what I represented in the field. He had his own agenda and I had mine. Even Jack Kirby, who was the king of all of us, was unparalleled in terms of what he contributed to comic book art. Not only in the number of pages, but the quality of those pages. But Jack had few innovations, maybe not more than two or three. Believe me, I’ve looked at his work and know it very well. I knew Jack and admired him for decades and decades, and he was a good friend of the family. He was a wonderful man but in terms of innovating new things, that was not Jack’s idea. He wanted to draw the greatest action figures and stories that could possibly be done in comic book lore. He achieved that, that was his goal. Mine was something completely different.
Q: One of the things you also did was to be one of the first comic artists to create their own publishing company. You brought out your own magazine — Mediascene (beginning with issue #7, Dec. 1973) and ultimately, it transformed into Prevue.
JS: Yes, I was in publishing for 25 years.
Q: Nobody can question you about your knowledge of comics because you also created histories of comics — “The Steranko History of Comics.”
JS: I wrote the first two comic history books. And, I believe to this very day, they are different from the thousands of comic history books — literally thousands of them. Book shelves full of them. The reason I believe mine are different is because I wrote them from a position inside the business. Get it? Everything else has been written from the outside, by strangers. They’re making comments, some of them really important ones but they’re not from my viewpoint as [a comic book insider]. I knew the artists, writers, publishers personally. I knew them myself as a friend or they if they were enemies along the way. That personal touch, I think, is evident in “The Steranko History of Comics.”
Q: Those books are loved. They have their own voice. When you did the magazine, you not only were doing comics, you were covering pop culture in general so you had your own viewpoint. You did a lot of the interviews, too.
JS: yes I did a lot of TV, film, and…
JS: I was on the set of many, many Hollywood films. It was an education for me.
Q: Why haven’t you made a movie yourself? You have your legacy in “Captain America” and “Nick Fury.”
JS: I’ve just been so busy along the way that making a film, in the space of a year and a half or two, doesn’t work. However, right now, at this very moment, I’m engaged in one of the largest assignments that I’ve ever had in my life. I’m working for an international corporation to develop a new and different compelling strange world that will be turned into 3D and played by millions of gamers all over the world.
Q: Do you like how the movies treated the characters you worked on and how they interpreted your work? Did you like they way Nick Fury was transformed by Samuel L. Jackson? Do you think they captured the spirit that you were trying to convey?
JS: This may disappoint you, but I have generally found, particularly with the early Marvel adaptations — and the DC ones — that the actors who played the key roles, the superhero roles, looked to me like they had just graduated from college earlier in the week. They have zero authority. And I know that Captain America — one of the [key characters] that I worked on and that I loved, and I still love to this very day — he is the pinnacle of authority and justice. A kid just out of college for a week just can’t make that work. So I stopped looking at the Marvel movies. They have incredible special effects and things that have never been done before. I love that material but I believe the heart of filmmaking really exists in the characters, and I don’t believe those characters.
Q: Who would you like to see make a movie of some of your characters? Do you have anybody in mind? Do you have any character creation that you would like to see turned into a movie?
JS: Not really. I have no jones about that at all. I think eventually the right people on one side of the camera will connect with the right people on the other side of the camera and give us the kind of superhero movies that I think should be made. With really engaging stories and individuals and great acting.
Q: People haven’t appreciated that you’re as much of a writer as you are an artist.
JS: Nobody thinks of me as a writer.
Q: With all those issues of magazines, you delivered great coverage and had great ideas. What do you think about the current state of pop culture now, and how would you write about it if you had the magazine still going?
JS: I could be answering that question for the next 45 minutes but I find myself generally disappointed with contemporary comic books. Why? We have the best looking art that we’ve ever had. We have our pick of the crop of the entire world because of the internet. We have great, great art being produced. The thing is, most of them don’t know anything about narrative technique. Their pages are simply chaotic. I can’t read the stuff. I can’t read it. And I refuse to read it in that form. The artwork is often excellent. Most of the really good stuff is saved for the covers. You’re on your own when you get into the interior of them. Frankly, I can’t read that material. There are exceptions to the rules [but few are] available.
To learn more about Jim Steranko's appearance at The Big Apple Comic Con, go to: https://bigapplecc.com/
Boy, it’s hard to keep track of comic book impresario Mike Carbonaro. Maybe he can sit still for a two-hour movie — or so — such as the 93-minute “The Night At The Opera,” a film as fast paced and crazy-quilt as Carbo himself. He’s a Maven of media, especially that which involves superheroes and costumed characters. Now in his mid-60s, this NY-accented character may not be costumed but he is heroic, a rescuer of our pop culture. And he’s profiting from it.
At least once, maybe twice a year, Carbo holds the Big Apple Comic Con in the New Yorker Hotel. On Saturday, December 17th, is Christmas Con, then a co-sponsored Trading Card Con on Sunday. And next year, there’s the extended March 2023 edition.
If the New York Comic Con is like a glittery version of a comic-con, maybe the Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen of cons, then the Big Apple Comic Con is a punk rock equivalent — kind of like The New York Dolls versus The Rolling Stones. It’s hard-core for real lovers of the books, their artists and fans. Oh, it has its share of media stars, panels, signings/photo booths and an artist alley but it’s really for the basic collector.
A very active collector and buyer of comics, discs, and pop culture memorabilia, Carbo’s comic book story began as a young boy who would use his toy dump truck to roll his comics into a treasure chest covered with Superman wallpaper. Over 40 years later, he’s still rolling along and buying comics — only now it’s in a white SUV, sometimes having woken up in the middle of the night to spend $20k on comics.
In the ‘70s, Carbo attended almost every comic book and collectible convention in the NYC area. He paid his way through private school and college with money made by dealing comic books. In the ‘80s he opened a comic book store in Forest Hills, Queens, NY, which he ran for more than a decade.
Then, ever restless in the 1990s, he launched a new venture — the Big Apple Convention. Over the years, he’s run over 75 comic cons locally. Over the course of its history, the convention has been known as the Big Apple Convention, the Big Apple Comic Book Art and Toy Show, and the Big Apple Comic Book, Art, Toy & Sci-Fi Expo. Larger three-day November shows were known as the National Comic Book, Art, Toy, and Sci-Fi Expo, the National Comic Book, Art, and Sci-Fi Expo and the National Comic Book, Comic Art, and Fantasy Convention. In 2014, the name “Big Apple Convention ” was revived by Carbonaro for the March 2015 show. He’s sold and then reacquired it. But whenever and wherever he did, Carbo was its ringmaster.
In 2000, the bushy-haired dynamo also kicked off a career as a Senior Buyer for Neat Stuff Collectibles. He spent millions of dollars buying comic books and collectibles during his tenure. Then, Carbonaro helped Dave & Adam’s Card World build their comic books business. He’s always gearing up to spend billions on every collectible imaginable — comic books, pulp, toys, and sports cards and artwork. Whatever you’ve got, Carbo will buy it!
In typical Carbo fashion, when we met up he was in a whirlwind. “Get down here to the public library near the Lions. I’m coming from my accountants, meeting a long-time collector and then you. And I’ll be off again.”
MC: This is the most beautiful spot — the Chrysler building right there — 42nd Street, Fifth Avenue, New York Library, and my friend, Arnie Sheinman. Q: What are your memories of comics and the library? MC: You know what? I actually want to build a comic book library. This is not it. But I do enjoy the 42nd Street Library when I’m here. But the reason I’m here is my accountant — who is also Arnie’s accountant, at least for this year, and is across the street. Q: I imagine your accountant has a lot of work to do. MC: You mean when it comes to me? Well, he’s kept me — yes, he’s kept things honest and stable for the last 20 years. Q: You’re always running around with all that cash to buy comics. How do you keep track of of it all? MC: I don’t know. The comics keep track of themselves. But Arnie and I were doing business way back, starting in the earliest days. But you were doing business before me, at the comics shows. We were just talking about this new movie, the Shazam! movie, the “Black Adam”, which is okay. But remember the Captain Marvels? There was a time when the Captain Marvels were the X‑Men — when everyone wanted to have Captain Marvels, this whole period, But Marvel Family No. 1, which is now $1,000 to $20,000, nobody cared that much about Marvel Family No. 1 — 25 dollars, maybe 50 dollars, a hundred bucks, would have been a lot for that. Tons of those all the time. Anyhow, it’s amazing what the movies will do for the awareness, value of a comic book. Q: Do the movies make you more motivated about a particular comic book? MC: Not personally, but from a fiduciary point of view, yes. It makes me want to buy more because everyone wants them, and the value kind of goes up. Then it goes down, as the movie does well or worse, depending. So yeah, it motivates me a little bit to do it. Q: So you weren’t motivated by “Black Adam?” MC: The comics themselves motivate me. Q: And “Black Adam” didn’t do it for you? MC: It was okay. What can I say? Q: How about the comic? Shazam No. 26? MC: Shazam No. 26? That’s another book from the 70s. You can buy it in the dollar bins all of a sudden, the dime bins. Q: Now you’re talking about the Golden Age ones? MC: No, no, this is the 1970s appearance of Black Adam — the Shazam one. But then there’s Marvel Family. AS: So worthless. MC: What about Marvel Family No. 1? Didn’t that have something in it too? AS: No, I’m talking about the Silver [Age] one. MC: Right, right. That’s what Shazam was — kind of silvery. AS: That’s the Marvel stories. MC: Yeah, that’s the one I’m talking about. The 1940s kept Marvel Family as well as the Shazam ones from the ‘70s. Q: Did it ever confuse anybody about, there’s Captain Marvel, there’s a DC Captain Marvel and then there’s Shazam, and then there’s… MC: Yeah. Well, that’s the whole thing of a lawsuit with that. I think it’s interesting. Marvel — I believe DC actually stopped, or paid off, Fawcett [Press] to stop printing Captain Marvel. And then, later on in the Seventies, Marvel bought the rights to it, or owned the rights somehow, and then created it and it became Captain Marvel themselves, calling it Shazam. AS: They named Marvel “Captain Marvel.” It was Captain Mar-VEL. MC: Right, right. And then Marvel Comics created a Captain MAR-vel character in the ’60s. So it was… Q: Then it was [morphed] into a woman? MC: I believe that’s correct, right. Oh, I remember when I had my comics store, that was actually the first graphic novel that really did amazing [business]. We had to keep reordering it, the first printing and the second printing. I had my comic books store in the 1980s — I guess that’s ’83 – ’84, when “The Death of Captain Marvel” came out. That graphic was six bucks, and it was great. That’s like selling six comic books. So I was making three dollars on every six‑dollar sale. I kept reordering that graphic novel and reordering it. Q: And that’s at the retail rate, right? MC: Yeah. That was at my comic books store in Forest Hills — Continental Comics in the ’80s. I had just moved back again to Forest Hills, and the guy whose house I moved into and I invested a little, and I’m paying him rent — is one of the kids that used to buy comic books from me in the 1980s. In a $2.2 million house in the Forest Hills Gardens. Q: So you’re in Forest Hills now? MC: I’m back. Q: Is there a difference between the Queens comic book fan versus the Manhattan comic book fan? MC: Absolutely not. Everyone likes comic books, it’s all equal. We all love them the same. It doesn’t matter where you live or where you are. Comic books are equal. Now some people are a little more crazy about the way they love their comics and how they love their comics, but nevertheless we are all equal lovers of comic books. Whether we buy them, sell them, or whatever, right? Q: Now that you’re back living in Queens, have you ever thought to set up your house in such a way that it becomes a comic book haven? MC: Oh no, no, no, I already have a warehouse, and a basement. Actually the reason I bought it is because of the whole garage and basement of the house, I am turning into a business and an office and all that. And for my Big Apple Comic Book Convention, which is coming up this month. And Christmas.
BACC is not a corporate show — it’s a collectors show. It’s not 100,000 people, it’s 10,000 people. But we bring celebrities, we bring artists; if you come to the show you can move around and breathe easily, you can get to see everybody; you can do your comic book business, and that’s what I like about it. It’s a fun experience. It’s real social media with other collectors. That’s the thing, you walk into a comic book convention or you collect comic books, regardless of race, color, creed, anything, you have that common interest. That’s something I learned as a kid buying and selling comics, the melting pot of comic books has been a very positive experience for me in my life.
Q: So Arnie, you told a few stories of me in the past, and one of these is amusing. I would like to negotiate when I buy something, and you mentioned that I negotiated with you and I left the difference on the floor when we did it? AS: A little kid used to come over and pay me in change, and he left more change on the table than he spent. Q: Did he have any valuable change? AS: No, just nickels and dimes. But to an 11-year-old… MC: But buying comic books back then was pretty cool. Q: Then you were an 11-year-old… MC: No, I was 12 or 13. This is 1970. Q: So you’re 12 or 13. Why is it comics and not something else you collect? Although you do collect a lot of other things, do you? MC: No, comics were it. Because I liked collecting comics when I was a kid, I enjoyed it, and comics were — it was something easy to figure out. I liked the numbering system. I liked buying them. I liked seeing them. I liked that Marvel Comics were exciting.
The comic book business is a 24-hour business and when the comics come out, people want to sell them when they want to sell them. And I’ve had guys I’ve known since I was 12 years old. So all of these years I’ve been collecting and I’ve had guys I’ve known all their lives, guys 45 years old, “I’ll never sell, I’ll never sell.” All of a sudden, in the middle of the night they’ll call me and go, “Okay. I’m ready to sell.” And if I don’t answer that bell that day they’ll find someone else to buy it. That’s the cool thing about the comic business, it’s very liquid. If you need money, you want to sell something right away, you don’t have to deal through any brokers. You have to be ready to go. For me, the middle of the night and doing the deal is my life. It was the best dream I could have had and it came true. Coins and stamps were dull. My dad collected coins and stamps. He taught me how to collect things, and I liked postcards as well. I collected postcards — Coney Island. I won first prize for my Coney Island collection. That was pretty cool. But Coney Island is, you know, the old Luna Park and Dreamland, and all that, that’s all gone now. Q: Did you go out to Coney Island? MC: Yeah, I used to make my mom take me. But it wasn’t the same in the ‘60s. Q: How was the Mermaid Parade for you? MC: Didn’t get to that one. That was way back. This was the ’70s. But I’m flying out to buy a comic book collection in Florida next week, and I’m probably not even going to see Disney [World]. For me the comic book collection is Disneyland.
New York City has been my home. I’ve fallen off the roof at Studio 54 [and] I had a comic book store in Jackson Heights. I like the fact that I run the Big Apple Comic Con in New York City. It makes me feel good that I’m a part of New York and I’ve done something fun here.
Learn more at https://bigapplecc.com/
"Living the Luxe Life: The Secrets of Building a Successful Hotel Empire"Authors: Efrem Harkham with Mark BegoPublisher: Skyhorse Publishing
When veteran hotelier Efrem Harkham bought a struggling hotel in Bel Air 31 years ago, little did he know he was launching what would become the Luxe Hotels brand — an international hospitality company. Now, Luxe includes the Luxe Collection Hotels representation company (which is limited to 200 member hotels) and the corporate-owned properties such as Beverly Hills’ Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel and Bel Air’s Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel as well the Luxe City Center Hotel in Los Angeles. Harkham sought to make the brand typify the name Luxe and be synonymous with comfort and refinement — something he hopes to do with the recently acquired Life Hotel in Manhattan.
The company employs over 300 and provides marketing, sales, reservations and other services for hotels in Europe, South America and Asia, as well as North America. As he explained in an accented English voice which mixes a touch of his life growing up in both Australia and Israel, he has a global perspective. “We created an international brand through the Luxe hotel name, like The Rose Garden in Rome. We gave it a face lift and BOOM, The Luxe Rose Garden. When that title enhances an existing hotel, it really serves in the duty of the name. Every state has one of these beautiful hotels. It was my idea that day that I’ve got to find these little boutiques in all these beautiful cities which needs to be granted that name. The idea was born right there.”
But there’s more to Harkham than just hotels. Hospitality isn’t just a job but a way of life for this 60-something. And it’s not just hospitality — it’s a mix of class, euro-styled elegance and a professional thoroughness that underlies his places and his business style. Thanks to years of experience — and through seasoned author Mark Bego’s skills (a New York Times bestseller with 62 books on rock & roll and show business under his belt) — Harkham’s life chronicle, "Living the Luxe Life: The Secrets of Building a Successful Hotel Empire" (Skyhorse), came to fruition as an insightful guide to both success in business and in spirit. Through his rags-to-riches American memoir, Living the Luxe Life details Harkham’s business philosophy, a commitment to excellence in all aspects of life, succeeding in a constantly evolving marketplace, and mentoring employees. He firmly believes that his methods provides customers with a superior product. Chapters expand on Harkham’s business model, touching on his belief in philanthropy, education, and patience.
And given his less-than-auspicious roots, one wouldn’t have thought hospitality was in the cards. “I was born in Israel. There were several hundred thousand people that arrived within a period of five years. That is a lot of people for a brand new country to absorb. There were food shortages and no housing, we were living in ramshackle camps. We lived in an old British barrack and we just put up walls inside. There were around a hundred thousand people in that area. One thing that we always did was, despite all the squalor, we always celebrated the Jewish holiday Shabbat, and that was a life saver. We brought joy to the squalor and you just work your way out of it by not giving up.”
Born in the Jewish state, Harkham’s religious experience helped define him and how he responded. “I was a very quiet child and I would watch my family sing and celebrate every Friday for the Jewish day of rest. There are a lot of Jewish holidays! I’m sure living in New York you know. During those years, we were all watching my Dad; my Mom was in a bit of shock, lobbying for us to go to school. We saw kids not having proper education and he lobbied hard for a school for 400 kids. He actually got the funds for a school and had it built for 400 children. He encouraged me and my siblings to help make it happen for the kids and to help them be confident in the world, to be able to find their strength.”
His next stop was even further away from the United States when he acquired Australian roots: “When we arrived in Australia, it was like arriving in Heaven. Oh my God! It is just such a beautiful and peaceful country. My brother was able to secure us a home there before we arrived. I started high school and being an immigrant from Israel was really foreign to the Australian teenagers. I was quiet, shy, introverted, and being the youngest boy in the family, I was passive. Arriving in Australia, I was getting a little chubby from all the good food, so at school I made an effort not to go with the heard mentality. I didn’t want to be like the other guys.”
Though it wouldn’t seem apparent now, Harkham survived his own share of contentious situations, and that taught him a lot. “I was using my ambition and drive to help my parents out of their financial issues. Over the holidays, I worked, I gave them money, they were always short on money. The school’s bully saw the opportunity to poke fun at me. I was the subject of lots of gang outs. I didn’t tell my family about it or my four older brothers. I was too proud to tell them that I was being harassed. I came home with two broken arms and black eyes and they would ask me what happened, and I would say a sports accident. They believed me. This gave me a lot of strength, not to go with the herd and believe that I am okay and that I have a mission to help my parents.”
While growing up in down under, he got his start in business at age 17 in Sydney. He worked as a salesman for Lulu, his older brother’s clothing manufacturing company. Lulu took off after he persuaded a buyer for a large retailer, Rockman’s of Australia, to carry one of the company’s jumpsuits. That achievement led to him establishing a successful track record in the rag trade. And all that drove his move into hospitality. “I felt that that’s why I succeeded in the garment industry. I put myself in my consumers’ shoes, and made sure that they were getting the best product that they could get for what they were spending.”
By selling his share of the clothing business, Harkham used his money to move to Los Angeles in ’78 and invest in commercial real estate, including the struggling Radisson Bel-Air Hotel — now the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. “I went into hospitality with the same mentality of quality control. I tried being on my own, but I was convinced that it would be useless on my own, that I had to join with a larger entity, which, I did. I joined two international brands and in the process of doing so, sold my profits for even more. And I just went, ‘We’ve won!’ I signed a very long contract, 15 years. But after five years, I said ‘Bye Charlie.’ I realized that there were others exactly like me looking for representation and for someone who would help them be found by the consumer. I decided to stop complaining to the branch I hired and mustered the courage to create my own brand and philosophy.“
And that attitude is evident when you walk into any of Harkham’s one-hundred-plus luxury hotels. “I tell my team where ever they are: ‘We all have to lead.’ I expect my staff to look better than I do when I am out there. And they do this 24/7. It’s all about that attention which is personal and genuine. It has to be perfection. It’s a way of life, and we teach it to the staff and executives. We teach it to everyone.”
An example was cited. A woman battling a stubborn cold checked into the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. Harkham noticed and ordered the restaurant to send her freshly made chicken soup free of charge. It paid off. The guest now returns often and tells her friends about the gesture. He added: “This resulted in a long friendship with the guest, her entire family and work associates.
“We make sure every student employee understands that we want customers for life, not just for one day or one stay. We want them to celebrate their anniversaries or their birthdays with us. So that is the mentality that we’ve engendered at the company.”
Harkham cited another example as to how he acts on his ideas: “When we celebrated Beverly Hills’ 100th birthday, we had a specially baked 4,000-pound cake that had 15,000 slices, and residents flocked to that event. With the hotels we represent, we carefully select properties that have a one-of-a-kind individuality, rarely found among many hotel chains and collections that abound today. Each property has its own distinctive personality and they’re often located near historic sites offering compelling design and unique architectural elements.”
Though he travels regularly, he tries to be home with his kids on weekends. While on the road, he practices yoga and meditation to keep his mind and body fit. “Closing out the world is what it’s about — 15 minutes in the morning and again at night. It helps me maintain my sanity.”
Living in Beverly Hills, he also invested in the local industry — Hollywood’s film business, becoming associate producer for “Gorky Park” a 1983 crime drama starring William Hurt. No doubt he took an interest in this extracurricular activity because his hero is Walt Disney. “Animation was executed by many before him but [Disney] introduced something new. He created magic and made it special — that’s my goal for the hotel industry."
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