Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mark Gruenwald's "Ash-O-Graph" in Squadron Supreme #1

I had some time to kill a little while ago, so I stopped at a comic shop and flipped through some of their dollar comics. This rarely ends well, because I always end up meticulously poring through hundreds of books and buying a few dozen that I don't really need and struggle to find the time to read, but what can I say - collecting comics is an illness.

While searching through some boxes, I found (and eventually purchased) this:

It's a copy of Marvel's Squadron Supreme #1 from 1985, signed by writer Mark Gruenwald. But upon closer inspection, we can see the sticker adhered to the book labeling it as an "ash-o-graph", and another signature from Catherine Gruenwald. So what's this about?

The Squadron Supreme is, of course, Marvel's alternate universe version of the Justice League of America, with pretty clear stand-ins for DC's popular characters like Superman (Hyperion), Batman (Nighthawk), Wonder Woman (Power Princess), the Flash (the Whizzer), Green Lantern (Doctor Spectrum) and more. After appearing in a few Avengers comics a decade earlier, the Squadron got their own 12-issue series in 1985 with Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall and Paul Ryan at the helm.

When Gruenwald passed away in 1996, one of his final wishes was to have his ashes mixed in with a printing of the Squadron Supreme trade paperback. The issue I bought, however, was not part of the trade, and was remarked with the date 8/14/16, 20 years after he died.

So this whole mystery is interesting and a bit morbid, I suppose. The sticker placed at the bottom of the page is labeled "M.E.G. 'ASH-O-GRAPH' INK CONTAINS REAL CREMAINS", indicating that the autograph is actually a stamp, and the ink in the stamp contains actual physical remains in it.

A Google search sheds more light on the situation, and I found this site which goes into a bit more detail about Mark, his wife Cat, and his ashes. On the 20th anniversary of his passing, Cat signed some of Mark's books using the new autograph stamp at a few different locations.

One stop on the ash-o-graph tour was a local New Dimension Comics store, which explains how a copy of this book wound up at another nearby store in the Pittsburgh area, and after paying a total of one dollar for it, it now resides in my collection, absolutely one of the most unique books that I own.

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