Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Best $5 I Ever Spent

-By Dan dos Santos

Let's rewind 20 years...

The year is 1992, I am fourteen years old, and a Freshman in High School. The holidays are near, and my Mother has decided to take my Sister and me to the mall to do some holiday shopping. Well, they did some holiday shopping. I, as usual, made straight for 'The Dream Factory', a comic book shop just 4 doors down from the food court. My Mother knew there was no need to schedule a meeting time, or a meeting place. When she was done shopping, be it 1 hour, or 5 hours, she knew exactly where to find me. I would be right there in The Dream Factory, looking at comics for as long as I could.

My weekly allowance was quite low, and it took a few week's effort to save up $5. That meant I could buy about three or four comics depending on the cover price, which varied between $1.25 and $1.50 back then.

I would spend an inordinate amount of time in the shop, deciding exactly which 4 comics I was going to buy. I could get the new X-Force, the new Uncanny X-Men, and still have enough left over to browse some back issues! Or maybe try out a new series! Or maybe grab an issue of Dark Horse Presents! Or maybe I could get that really cool issue of Spider-Man with the foil cover! The possibilities were endless.

Walking out of a comic shop with four new comics in hand was my idea of heaven when I was fourteen years old. I would be able to read, re-read, draw, and re-draw those issues ALL weekend long. I would copy every spread, trying my hardest to emulate the style of Jim Lee. They would be my inspiration, my education, and the sustenance I needed to get through the weeks until I could convince my Mother to take me back to mall to indulge some more.

After spending an inordinate amount of time deciding exactly WHICH four comics I was going to buy, I approached the register. But as I put my purchases on the counter, confident in my decision, I looked at the rack just below me, and saw this...

I was stunned.

The realism was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I grabbed the magazine, and before my eyes were paintings by Michael Whelan, Hajime Sorayama, and H.R. Giger! All of whom were artists I had never heard of, and all of whom I fell immediately in love with.

But the cover price... What?! $4.50!!!

I had never spent more than $1.50 on a comic book. In fact, I was angry when the cover price went up from $1 to $1.25. I had the money I needed, but was this one magazine seriously worth as much as FOUR of my favorite comic books?!! I had just spent several hours picking out what I thought were the four best comics I could possibly purchase given my funds. Was I really prepared to put ALL of them back on the shelf just so I could buy this ONE, insanely expensive magazine?

I was tormented.

I remember thinking about the decision so long that the man at the register asked me to step aside so he could help other customers while I made up my mind.

Eventually I did.

I put all of my comics back on their respective racks, and walked up to the counter, once again, but this time with Airbrush Action in my hand.

It was the best $5 I ever spent.

The work inside opened up my eyes to a whole world of art I never knew existed before! Up to that point, I thought Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were as good an artist as one could possibly be. I realized then that there was so much more out there! The haunted paintings of Giger... The sexy Gynoids of Sorayama... the magestic landscapes of Whelan! The level of realism, detail and imagination was unbelievable. I seriously didn't know a person could make images like this.

From that point on, I was on a mission. I clipped out my favorite images from the magazine and pasted them onto the inside cover of my sketchbook as a constant reminder of what it was I was striving for. I slowly moved away from drawing comics. Instead, I found myself drawing fantasy themed images, trying my hardest to make them more realistic and more detailed than I ever had before...

And I haven't stopped since.


  1. I've been in that quandary before. Wow...just think if you had not glanced down and saw that magazine. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for that recollection. For me the Big Awakening came with the 1978 book "Tomorrow and Beyond: Masterpieces of Science Fiction Art."

  3. Great article, and very understandable! I actually have those two comics you posted haha. I should have taken the same route you did :)

  4. "Up to that point, I thought Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were as good an artist as one could possibly be."
    Bullet dodged!

  5. Thanks Dan. I actually started picking Airbrush Action around that same time. It introduced me to some great artists that still inspire me. Since then I've gotten to study under Jurek and Dru Blair whom I was introduced to in that magazine. Now of course my list of inspirational artists have expanded and many are on this blog thankfully!

  6. Hell yes! I never bought airbrush action, but I bought *that* issue!

  7. Dan, if you have the next issue (September-October '92) it features an article on my Dad! Keep an eye out for his rockin' mullet.

  8. Read this with a big smile on my face.

  9. Really enjoyed reading this post!

    Was always a fan of your artworks in MTG. Cheers from the Philippines! :)

  10. Here's hoping you realize that you, and the rest of the artists here are that issue to me, and likely many others. And it's free! Except for the thousands spent on the electronic devices and computers I view the site on, and the Internet subscription, blah blah... But it's well worth it for the wealth of information and inspiration you all bring to the table daily.

  11. Mine is a similar story, except with trading cards (which thankfully were considerably less expensive than art magazines). I went to my local corner store to buy some candy, maybe a comic and some baseball cards. But tucked away among the trading cards were yellow packs with drawings on them. Nothing too showy, but here was a man fighting a Pterodactyl, and I was curious. I had just discovered Frank Frazetta. I was 13, and dang it, I wanted to make art that was just as amazing. I still want to make art that is that amazing.

  12. I kinda feel sorry for a kid that thinks Rob Liefeld was as good an artist as one could possibly be

  13. Nine Inch Nails? really?

  14. for me, "those" books were VIEWS And MAGENETIC STORM from Roger Dean. and my mom could drop me at Waldenbooks and never have to worry about me going anywhere, either :)

  15. A truly inspirational post; just made me think I sometimes seem to lack the determination a child would have to polish my skills and never give up until I've reached even a fraction of the realism my idol artists are capable of! Thank you for giving me that back :)


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