Comic Book Memories and the Death of an Old Friend

I lost a friend this week.

His name was Paul Kessin and he was only 51.

For longtime readers of 13th Dimension, Paul’s name may ring familiar. I’ve mentioned him a number of times over the years and he’s kind of been a character in the margins of the website, like those delightful Sergio Aragones cartoons in Mad Magazine.

Which is fitting, because Paul and his sister Nina introduced Mad to my sister Paula and me. At least that’s how I remember it. Maybe they just reveled in it with us.

Either way, that’s what I’m getting at: Like a pop-culture Zelig, Paul was there for so many of my formative moments growing up, a friend whose impact on my personal zeitgeist was profound.

I first met him in second grade at summer camp in central New Jersey. He had a boisterous personality and sense of humor, and before long we became buddies. He and his family lived in Highland Park and we – Paula, my mother and me — lived about 25 minutes away in Old Bridge. (My folks had just split for good.)

By this point, I was already a devout Batman fan, having been weaned on Adam West, Megos and Neal Adams. But meeting Paul opened a whole new world to me, even if it was just two kids growing up and finding out what was cool.

Paul was my best friend for years. His older sister, Nina, became my sister’s best friend. My Mom became friends with his parents. Hell, we ended up moving to Highland Park in part because we’d gotten so close.

And we were together for so much:

— I was with Paul the first time I went to a comic-book store, which was actually in Highland Park, though, sadly, it closed by the time we moved there.

— I was with Paul the first time I saw Star Wars – and I was also with him the first time I saw Logan’s Run – which was the big sci-fi movie before George Lucas’ blockbuster came along.

I got a program that opening weekend

— Paul and I would play Batman and Robin in his backyard — me insisting on being the Caped Crusader with him the Boy Wonder. My excuse? Even though we were in the same grade, I was older and taller. I thought it only right. And Paul was such a funny, good-natured kid, he went along with it.

— Paul and Nina introduced us to the now-defunct U.S. #1 Flea Market in nearby New Brunswick, a great place to get comics, old James Bond paperbacks and the world’s greatest fresh-cut French fries.

— The first time I read Archie Comics and Richie Rich was with the Kessins.

— Paul was the only kid I knew who got Underoos – and dammit, was I jealous. (I finally got them – as an adult!)

— Other than my Dad, Paul was also the only one I knew who was into Star Trek – which he pronounced “Star Track” – though the show’s appeal was lost on me until I hit college.

— And finally, amazingly, Nina introduced the Beatles – the Beatles — to my sister and me.

There’s more I’m forgetting right now, I’m sure.

Two issues I bought at that first comics shop.

Eventually, things started to shift. Paul’s family moved away. They came back some time later, but Paul and I weren’t quite as tight. We hung out but I also spent a lot of time with other friends and so did he. A year into high school, my mother and I moved away, Paula having gone off to college.

Before you know it, we grew up, living different lives in different parts of the country – he in Nevada, me in New York. But thanks to Facebook, we reconnected.

And we reconnected because of 13th Dimension and all the things I write about that germinated thanks to our friendship. We’d message each other and exchange comments here and there.

A few weeks ago, Paul contacted me about an auction near him that might have some cool Batman items up for sale and he offered to get them for me if I was interested. I appreciated his thoughtfulness, but declined since there wasn’t really anything I was in the market for.

Later, he reported back that he ended up getting some stuff for himself.

“I did end up winning some things cheaply but nothing too exciting,” he wrote. “I did get some Batman cups from 1991 from McDonald’s … that’s about it for Batman thingies. I did win some Kiss comic books. Yes, I still collect Kiss crap.”

Which reminded me that Paul – who was actually a multitalented musician — and some other friends had put on a Kiss lip-sync concert at our grammar school, make-up and all.

“Kiss! Man, I still remember that lip-sync concert!” I wrote.

“I do too!” he replied. “There are very few photos of that day, do you have any?”

“Nah, I didn’t take any,” I replied. “Sorry!”

And that was it. Our last exchange. Mundane but infused with a happy memory.

Paul suffered a massive stroke a week later and died about a week after that.

Some random day at Lafayette School. That’s me on the upper left. Paul’s on the lower right.

I’ve thought about him an awful lot since I found out he’d fallen ill. We hadn’t seen each other in years but we had a bond that stretched back to our childhoods — he’s part of my DNA.

So much of what I write about here at 13th Dimension — so many things that I love so deeply – have been informed and amplified by our friendship.

I suppose it’s important to remember exactly that. That my life is richer for having known Paul Kessin.

The best friend a kid could have.

MORE

— STAR WARS: What it Was Like A Long Time Ago… Click here.

— A Few of My Favorite Spider-Man Things. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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11 Comments

  1. So sorry for your loss. Paul sounds like a top friend and I raise a glass to him. Good memories of growing up are priceless, and having a close friend that shared them makes the memories all the more valid. Love all the images you posted. I have that exact same Star Wars movie programme. The old flea market looks like it was a good place to go to and grab goodies. 60s Batman rules!

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    • Sorry for your loss. I can tell he was a good friend. A great way to honor him through such a powerful anecdote my friend. Many thanks to you for sharing!

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  2. Very very sorry for your loss.

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  3. That’s a beautiful tribute, Dan. May Paul rest in peace and live in your heart forever. God bless.

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    • Daniel, Nina forwarded your tribute. You are a very talented writer. I’m so glad you wrote what you did about Paul, who, thanks to you, will now live on through the internet. I remember you very vividly, still speak to Paula once in a while, have always been impressed with both of you. I am still numb with the reality of his death and doubt that I’ll ever get over it. Thanks again for your fine tribute (loved that picture at the end, too!) From Lillian (now Kollar), Paul’s mother.

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      • Thank you, Lil. I’m honored that you liked it. You have my deepest sympathies. I am so, so sorry about all this.

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  4. I’m sorry you lost your friend. Reading this post certainly makes me appreciate life even more.

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  5. Sorry for the loss of your friend. A fitting tribute.

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