The first official DAYS OF THE DEAD convention received a huge boost when it was announced that the elusive, Ace Frehley, would be its top guest. Frehley, of course, was the original guitarist for the iconic rock band, KISS, and a strong percentage of fans (who proudly count themselves as soldiers in the KISS Army) will quickly site him as their all-time favorite member.
If not for Frehley’s talent than certainly for his lack of conformity. With his inability to adhere to a tight schedule, coupled with his shaky relationship with sobriety, Ace would not only be a thorn in Gene Simmons’ dragon boot but, so far as many fans were concerned, become the living embodiment of “cool.” Ace rejoined the band when it reunited in 1996 then left again in 2002. Despite his replacement, Tommy Thayer, donning his familiar make-up for subsequent touring, the majority of fans know that there is only ONE “spacemen” and that will forever be Ace.
Ace was performing at a Michigan concert on Friday July 1st, when DAYS OF THE DEAD began. His plane was slated to land in Indianapolis between 10-11am – the same time the doors of the convention officially opened. Having attended this event with a couple of late starters, I decided to scope out the hotel a bit on my own around 10am. It wasn’t hard to locate the area where Ace would be signing as a line of conventioneers, many wearing their obligatory KISS shirts, had already begun.
Indeed, this very well could have ended up as much a KISS convention as a horror one. Prior to the event, several celebrities scheduled to attend DAYS OF THE DEAD backed out and organizers considered adding Peter Criss as a suitable replacement. This lofty notion, however, was soon killed by Frehley’s people who were, no doubt, uninterested in splitting the KISS dollar. For this event, it would be Ace and Ace alone.
DAYS OF THE DEAD organizers promised us quick access to Ace so that we would have more time to cover as much of the event as possible – rather than standing in line for hours. Aside from that, I knew that Ace’s plane schedule, coupled with his reputation for being late, meant he was unlikely to show up any time earlier than 1pm. I figured I could track down a convention associate later that day or, if worse came to worse, see him on Sunday. Both options would soon prove themselves unnecessary….
At around 1pm I walked past the area Ace was to sign and saw the same group of fans standing in their same locations as before. Clearly Ace had yet to arrive. One impatient fan garnered big laughs when he began parodying one of Ace’s signature hits and sang, “Shock me! Show up and be punctual!” After awhile even the most hardcore Frehley fan at this event was ready to concede that Gene Simmons may have had a point! I shook my head and went off for a late lunch.
Upon returning, my mouth nearly dropped to the floor. In the time that it had taken me to eat lunch and freshen up, the long serpentine line to see Frehley had been reduced to about seven people! I make a point to never question good fortune and, without hesitation, jumped right in!
Ace Frehley had indeed finally shown up and his handlers ran his line like a well-oiled machine. This, in itself, could not account for the dramatic reduction of waiting fans. It soon became apparent that the true cause of my luck was more than likely due to a good old-fashioned case of “sticker shock!” The average celebrity encounter, at a fan convention, costs about $20 which usually includes one autograph and photo. The more popular the celebrity, the more money can be charged. For example, Lance Henriksen charged $40 for a signature and photo when I saw him at Flashback Weekend back in 2009.
Frehley not only charged $30 for a single autograph but an additional $30 for a photo (which had to be taken with THEIR camera). Larger specialty items would cost more to sign. For example, if you decided that you wanted an Ace Frehley signature on your guitar (and what fan wouldn’t?) that was $500. I kind of understood the mindset concerning that one as many conventioneers are less interested in acquiring mementos as they are in profiting off of a celebrity signature. I once read in Gene Simmons’ blog that he doesn’t like signing guitars for this very reason. Still, considering the status of the economy, it was a bitter pill for most guests to swallow. A couple of fans standing with me complained that the fees were totally “ridiculous” while another gushed that Ace was a legend and, for $30, he’d be content if Frehley “spat” on him. Most of us agreed that that fan could probably use a little work on his self esteem. I had no intention of leaving the line as my true purpose was much less about meeting a legend as it was about fulfilling a quest.
For nearly 20 years Frehley was the lone signature missing from my Marvel KISS comic. While there have been many comic books featuring KISS over the years, the most popular was the first one – printed in 1977 during the height of KISS fandom. In a well publicized event, members of the group had their blood drawn by a registered nurse and added to the ink used in its printing.
In the early 90’s, I purchased my own copy at a Chicago comic convention. In 1993, it was signed by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley during a promotional event for KISS ALIVE III. A year later, Peter Criss added his John Hancock during a small KISS convention in Chicago.
Now, at long last, my dork dream would be fulfilled with the first Marvel KISS comic sporting the signatures of all four original members! I wasn’t going to let the current price of a tank of gas stand in the way of accomplishing this goal, along with getting a photo to prove that the meeting had taken place.
Ace looked pretty good, sporting a pair of shades and goatee that would have meshed well with his former band mates during their “Revenge” days. The handlers provided little time for fan interaction (not that Frehley was known for such things anyway) and, in no time at all, I found myself sitting next to the man himself. Before leaving for Indianapolis, I purchased some playing cards and removed all the “aces” from the deck. As they were about to snap the photo, I held up the cards to add interest and avoid the usual standard fan photo.
As I held up the cards, his handlers began to laugh. Ace (formerly aloof) turned and looked at me. He let out a laugh, pointed to me and said, “Hey, look at this guy! He’s playin’ with a full deck!”
Despite the hefty price tag, I left satisfied. Not only had I obtained the coveted autograph, but I had also been acknowledged by the man himself. And, amazingly, without having to gush all over him or shower him with gifts. Two days later, fans were able to obtain their photos online via a web address given at the time of payment. The quality (as you can see) was TERRIBLE and considering I was walking around with a Canon digital EOS around my neck, downright painful for having paid $30 for! In fact, it’s about the same quality as the one I had taken with Criss using a Kodak film Instamatic (judge for yourself) 17 years earlier! I noticed that this was true with all the photos taken that weekend and available for downloading.
Regardless, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. After all it is what it is, and certainly no one can begrudge me the “moment.” And, if nothing else, I’m sure everyone would agree that it is infinitely better than had the legend simply spat on me!