Shelbi Land bounced up the stairs to her dad's office, a true man cave reflecting his passion for horror movies, 1955 Chevrolets, superheroes and the Green Bay Packers.
"Do you think your dad's job is cool?'' I asked the 13-year-old Seven Springs Middle School student.
She nodded and told this story:
On Mother's Day, Greg and Shelbi took Mom (Trish Land) to Macaroni Grill in Clearwater. Diners there are invited to draw on the paper table coverings, which usually results in goofy stick figures and favorite monsters. Greg clutched a crayon and in minutes created an image of Iron Man. The servers were so impressed they had him autograph the paper and saved it for framing.
"That was pretty cool,'' Shelbi said.
Her dad gets plenty of opportunities to draw Iron Man at home these days as part of his contract with Marvel Comics. Since 2003, he has penciled Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and other characters for editors in New York he has never met. No need. They send him a script, he sends them illustrations. He likes it that way.
"Trish and Shelbi were on a trip to New York last year and they stopped by the office,'' he said. "They enjoyed it. They're more personable that I am.''
Greg Land, 49, prefers to hole up at his home in Trinity. He works 10-hour days, but he can show up in his boxer shorts. He blares rock 'n' roll. An air hockey game sits in one corner. The walls are covered with framed horror movie posters including Creature From the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein and his favorite, The Wolf Man.
Everything in this room makes him happy, reminds him of family and good times. The old revolving rack that holds classic comics was a gift from his parents. The books themselves remind him of boyhood days in Indiana when he would sit with his grandpa reading and sipping chocolate milk shakes at the Terra Haute Rexall soda fountain.
On the wall behind his light table, Land has framed a poster advertising American Graffiti. His parents took him to see the movie and he fell in love with one of the stars, Harrison Ford's 1955 Chevy. His parents helped him buy one in 1978 — his first car. His mother ran an upholstery business out of their home. She covered its seats. He drove the Chevy to pick up a girl he had met in French class at high school, Trish. It was their first date. They earned college degrees and got married in 1985.
The bumper of that first car sits in Land's office, at the base of the air hockey table. The grille is mounted on the wall. Land kept the parts when he decided to transform the old Chevy into a 502-horsepower black and gold beauty that regularly wins classic car shows around the state. The trophies stand tall in Land's office. The Chevy has its own private room in the garage.
Land's mother, Janet, died of cancer in 1996 at 53. When he remade the old Chevy, he preserved a patch of the upholstery she had sewed all those years ago. He made a pouch for the car's important papers.
• • •
Technology allows Greg Land to work anywhere in the world. So why Trinity?
The path began in Louisville, Ky., where he worked 13 years for a screen print company. "I drew teddy bears and team logos,'' he said, "just about anything you could put on a sweatshirt.'' In his spare time, he contracted with DC Comics, drawing for the popular Nightwing series.
Just as his talents began to attract more attention and his workload stretched into 80-hour weeks, he was diagnosed in 1995 with testicular cancer. He endured radiation treatments and eventually was declared free of the disease, but now he had to start over, building his contacts.
His big break came in 2001 when he accepted a job with CrossGen Comics in Oldsmar, the brainchild of Mark Alessi, who had sold his software company to multimillionaire Ross Perot. Whereas most comic book companies used freelancers, Alessi set up a 13,000-square-foot facility in Oldsmar and recruited writers and artists to work under one roof creating a series that featured a heroine endowed with magical powers and oversized breasts.
Land and his wife and daughter found a home in Trinity and he commuted to Oldsmar for three years. He worked on a series called Sojourn, creating 34 books before CrossGen went bankrupt. During the months that Land and other employees worked without pay, he was allowed to freelance to Marvel. That turned into regular contracts.
Land endured some harsh words from bloggers who suspected him of tracing some of his work. His answer to that: "Nobody would use me if I did that. Anybody can be a critic on the Internet.''
"I give everything to each project,'' he said. "I agonize over these pages. Some days I'm erasing more than I'm drawing. Trust me, when I'm erasing, I'm not making money. I'm passionate about my work. I just want to draw.''
He did leave the man cave on Friday to treat pupils at a Trinity school to his talent. Over the years, he has been a favorite during events like the Great American Teach-In. Shelbi likes showing her dad off to classmates.
Anyone who can draw Iron Man like that is just so cool.