Two years ago, Stan Goldberg stood off to the side of Hoie Hall in East Hampton, eying the sea of artists, collectors and spectators circling around a half-dozen tables dotted with box art. He was shaken out of his reverie by a light tap on his arm, tugging his gaze downward.
A young boy — no older than 10 — gazed up at the famed illustrator, holding out a piece of blank white paper.
“Excuse me, Mr. Goldberg,” he started, extremely shy. “Could you sign this for me?”
The artist smiled, his blue eyes alight behind his glasses, and gestured to the Box Art Auction preview’s sign-in area.
“Come with me,” he said.
Mr. Goldberg took a seat on one side of the table, chatting with the mesmerized boy on the other, while he drew the title character from his comic series, “Archie.” Practically bubbling over with excitement, the fan quickly said goodbye and half-skipped back to his parents, holding up the drawing with both hands.
The artist did not leave that table for the next hour, inundated by fans during the remainder of the preview event — a benefit for East End Hospice that he attended annually with his wife, Pauline, who was never far from his side.
He couldn’t have looked happier. And, at this past year’s event, held Saturday in East Hampton, he was sorely missed.
Following complications from a brain hemorrhage on July 24, from which he never regained consciousness, Mr. Goldberg died on August 31 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. He was 82.
“I really haven’t had time to sit by myself. That’s when it’s going to really start sinking in,” said Ms. Goldberg, his wife of 53 years and a part-time Hampton Bays resident, during a telephone interview on Sunday evening from her home in Queens. “I’m going to have to deal with it. We had a very good life, in spite of a few bad things — and they were really bad, I have to say. But he just loved life. He loved being with the cartoonists. And most of all, more than anything else, he loved to draw.”
With more than six decades under his belt as a comic book artist, Mr. Goldberg’s passion blossomed at a young age while growing up during the 1930s in Manhattan. After just turning 17, he went to work for a company that would become Marvel Comics, helping to design the original color schemes of all the classic 1960s characters, including Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Hulk.
“A lot of talent and a little luck I had at the beginning,” Mr. Goldberg said two years ago at the Box Art Auction preview, “and fell in at the right time. I had Stan Lee as my friend, my editor, everything else for the first 20 years of my professional life. We spent a lot of time together with the superheroes.”
There, Mr. Goldberg established himself as one of the true giants in the industry, before being tapped in 1968 as the flagship artist for Archie Comics, with the love of his life by his side. They met at a party through friends of friends, his wife recalled, and a year later they were married.
“They were always together,” their eldest son, Stephen Goldberg, said on Saturday morning during a telephone interview from his home in Manhattan. “I can’t imagine one being without the other. Because they spent so much time together — my father worked at home in Jericho most of the time — my brother, Bennett, and I joke that even though they were married 53 years, it was more like 106.”
Despite his successful career, Mr. Goldberg was a model father, his sons agreed. He was in the stands or on the sidelines for all their sporting events — “He was always more excited than I was,” Bennett Goldberg laughed — and showed a genuine interest in their lives while letting them into his. His oldest son remembers visiting the Marvel offices in Manhattan, surrounded by all of his comic book heroes and the creative minds behind them.
The fame never got to his head, the family said. He always took the time to speak with anyone who crossed his path — from executives to fans on the street. He was a big talker, they said.
“He never had an arrogant air about him,” recalled Southampton resident Eileen Flax, who met the Goldbergs on their honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean five decades ago. “And they had a bazillion friends. They would go away to, say, Mexico in the wintertime and meet another 100 friends. He was a very good listener and gave very good advice. He never let his famous personality get in the way of anything. Everybody would gravitate toward him. He was that kind of person. And he loved his family.”
In 1984, tragedy struck when the couple’s daughter, Heidi, was raped and murdered at age 19. They found solace by attending Parents of Murdered Children meetings — where Mr. Goldberg would go out of his way to talk with the men who didn’t open up as much, Bennett Goldberg said — and through their extensive travels. In 1988, they bought their home on the East End, one of 12 waterview cottages once part of a 1950s motel complex that has since been converted into a co-op.
“On July 5, I made a fire on the beach with my father, my wife and my two boys, who were watching the fireworks to the west of us and the east of us,” Stephen Goldberg reminisced. “The boys were just in amazement — they’re so young, how many times have they seen fireworks in their lives, let alone on both sides of them. But my father wasn’t watching the fireworks. He was watching the boys. Seeing the smile on my dad’s face, the enjoyment of seeing their joy, his face lit up. It’s such a silly nothing, but it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Mr. Goldberg wasn’t a golfer. He didn’t play tennis. He loved the water and often found himself drawing in his spare time, when he wasn’t visiting museums and art galleries — including the gallery of cartoonist Michael Paraskevas in Westhampton Beach, which closed in 2011.
“Art is very competitive with each other, and artists tend to get very territorial,” Mr. Paraskevas explained on Monday during a telephone interview. “Stan never struck me as the kind of person who was competitive about life. He would really help people out. He’d talk for hours about art with you.”
And the artist was always striving to be better. At 82 years old, he was still taking classes — as evidenced by the figure drawings in his art portfolio, which Bennett Goldberg, also an artist, stumbled across last week.
“When someone reaches a certain point in their career, you think they’re going through the motions a little bit, but not my dad,” he said. “He always looked up to other artists to see what they were doing. It inspired him.”
This past year, Mr. Goldberg wasn’t sure he wanted to participate in the 14th annual Box Art Auction. He was recovering from a car accident that fractured his vertebrae — his wife suffered two broken arms and a broken leg — and he simply didn’t have the energy. But, one day, he woke up determined, Ms. Goldberg recalled, and painted a pre-Archie comic book strip both inside and outside the box.
“Last year, a high bidder lost out on his ‘Nancy Drew’ box, not having left a large enough absentee bid,” benefit chair Arlene Bujese said. “It meant so much to her, as she wanted it for her daughter, who grew up with ‘Nancy Drew’ books. Stan generously painted another box. The donation to East End Hospice totaled $7,500.”
This year, his box sold for $2,700 — one of the highest bids of the evening, a tribute to his artistic legacy and a nod to a life well-lived.
As published in the Southampton Press