I have to confess, though I've tried to keep it lighthearted here for my own sanity, I've been feeling a little down the last couple of days. Mike's absence is really starting to sink in in a real way and not the abstract sort of way it's been for the last six weeks. (My sister-in-law --purely innocently-- sent me an article that informs me this will only intensify.) My parents are still in Italy and I miss them. And, as of yesterday, Suzanne is in L.A. on agency business and will be for several days. Now, as I prepare for my first solo trip to Durham, I've been trying to come up with something fun to post here. I haven't had much time to draw anything not work-related (illustrations which I'm unable to post) and I'm worried the childhood stuff has overstayed its welcome. But, today, I was handed a topic and I literally felt the lightbulb go off over my head.
This morning, the agency held its quarterly staff meeting...which I forgot about and missed most of. (It starts early.) When I finally rolled in, there was a question and answer period and our President and head Creative Director was answering a question that was basically, "What advice do you give to people who want to succeed?" I paid particular attention to this because Mr. Hughes is one of the few people in this profession that I admire and sincerely like and his opinions are, without fail, worth listening to. He gave many suggestions (fortunately, none of which was "be on time for staff meetings") which I'm not comfortable repeating without permission but far down on his list was one that really stuck with me.
Now, from context, it was easy to gather he wasn't talking about Abraham Lincoln or the New York Fire Department. He was talking about people in your profession that you admire and wish to emulate. The thing that hit me hard was the fact that all the people that I hold up as my "heroes" aren't in advertising. With few exceptions (Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King), they're all in comics. So, in an attempt to post something upbeat, here's the short list of my heroes. Feel free to post yours.
1. Mike Wieringo And not just because he's my brother. Because everything I've ever done, either losing weight, drawing, writing, my job, even the house I bought...everything...was in an attempt to either impress Mike or gain his approval...and always will be. Professionally, Mike was also my idol. Ever since he got his first comics work, whenever I'd draw something, I'd hold it up to Mike's work and find it unworthy. He was the consumate artist. He never stopped trying to learn and improve. Looking through his old drawings that he did over the years I saw how many times he would start a page...a wonderfully drawn, perfect page...and set it aside and start over. He never turned in a page he wasn't satisfied with. That's heroic.
2. Sal Buscema I always related to Sal because, as good and prolific as he is, he's always been in his big brother's shadow. (Not that I'm anywhere as good as Sal is. Hell, I'm not even in the business.) I wrote a paper on Sal in high school because I was experiencing this. Whenever I started a new school year, I'd get, "Oh, you're Mike's brother! Do you draw too?" Sal's work always impressed me because it was so accessible. His drawings were simple and no-nonsense, without affectation. And, damn, could he tell a story. You always knew what was going on. He was the first artist I would follow from book to book. In fact, he drew the first comic I remember ever having bought with my own money...MARVEL TEAM-UP #49 And HE'S STILL WORKING!!! A few years ago, I finally got the opportunity to meet Mr. Buscema at the Heroes Convention. It was his first and only (thus far) appearance there and I made Suzanne drive like a maniac to get me there for his signing. I waited in line for an hour (rare for me). I didn't even have anything for him to sign. Autographs mean next to nothing to me. I just wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much his work meant to me. When I got up to him I found out he was doing free head sketches and he asked me who I'd like him to draw. I was flabbergasted but asked for Nova. He had no idea who I was talking about and asked if I had any reference or if I could sketch something out to refresh his memory. With Suzanne beaming beside me, I crouched down and, scared witless, drew the crappiest picture of The Man Called Nova ever drawn. My hand was shaking so badly it looked like it was drawn by a two-month-old chimpanzee. He got the idea though and drew the head sketch that now hangs, framed, in my living room. I think he was a little freaked out by how happy I was to meet him and, having absolutely no ego, couldn't understand why it meant so much to me. That's heroic.
3. Darwyn Cooke I admire Darwyn because he broke in so late (in his 40s) and because, when he did, it was with a fully-developed style. And what a style. He makes it look so easy. I always joke that NEW FRONTIER looks like it was inked with a two-by-four. And I mean that as a compliment. I have scans of all the original, uncolored pages and they're just gorgeous. He makes it look like he just slaps the ink down and is done with it. But if you try to do what he does (and believe me, I have) it's almost impossible. I've studied his work for untold hours and I have no idea how he does it. He's, for want of a better word, fearless. In a business where so much stock is put in precise, almost mechanical inking technique, his lush, even careless brushwork makes me cry with frustration. Because, as carefree as it seems, there's never a line out of place. As much as I love Sal Buscema's work, it's Darwyn Cooke that makes me insane with envy. And he's his worst critic. Reading the "special features" in the slipcase edition of NEW FRONTIER, it becomes apparent that he wrote and drew entire sequences for the book that never made it in because he wasn't satisfied that they helped move the story. It's what Stephen King, in his book ON WRITING, calls being able to "kill your babies." That ability to stay focused on the quality of the final product, despite having spent days working on something that wouldn't make the cut, boggles my mind. That's heroic.
4. Jack Kirby Do I really need to go into detail here? The man loved his work. He helped build everything that came before. The power, energy, dynamism and imagination we all wish we had is right there on every page he ever drew. And he put out several books a month of original material that is imitated and built upon, to this day, without fail. That's heroic.
This is, by no means, the end of the list of people whose work I admire. There's Michael Golden, Jim Starlin, Ernie Colon, Paul Smith, John Byrne (shut up, Leaf), old-school Tony Harris, Bruce Timm, and on and on... But these are the guys that fire my imagination. That keep me drawing and sketching even as I approach my 40s, stuck in a creatively bankrupt job. They make me want to keep trying to improve and learn and, maybe, one day, even get something published.
So. Who are your heroes?