In my previous post, I mentioned the epic meeting of my two heroes, Heat-Ray and the Demolisher. Well, here it is.
Apparently, by the time this issue "hit the stands", Noble Comics had fallen on hard times and was snapped up by M.W. Comics. M.W. looks to have been a low-budget, fly-by-night operation, resorting to shady tactics like tracing cover art from other publications. (Put that in your Swipe File and smoke it, Rich Johnston.) M.W. artists were also of questionable quality. Check out the Demolisher on the cover. His foot projects in front of the "Crusher's" leg. Either M.W.'s cover artist was drinking heavily or the Crusher was 40 feet tall. And Heat-Ray is depicted as if the power of flight does not extend to his extremities. They dangle from his torso like those wasps that used to buzz from one end of the house to the other during the summertime when I was a kid.
The writers were not immune to the decline in professionalism, either. One merely needs to read the story's title, "Cometh of the Crusher" to know we're in trouble.
Our story opens as the Crusher leans against a lamppost, really just minding his own business when the two heroes show up and decide to kick his ass for no apparent reason. Maybe they're curious how one earns the name "Crusher." Or maybe they just don't like his purple tights. Who knows? Lucky for the Crusher, he gives as good as he gets, giving Demolisher a one-two combination while exclaiming, "Take that...and that!" Having gained the upper hand, Crusher slips away into the night. We're then treated to a two-panel interlude, introducing us to a pre-AUSTIN POWERS Dr. Evil. We know Dr. Evil is a badass because he kicks some poor unnamed guy out of his office before laughing maniacally. Scared yet? You should be.
Back to the action, Demolisher and Heat-Ray, while pursuing the poor Crusher, have a net thrown over them by...somebody. No sooner does Heat-Ray rip the net apart than the duo find themselves caught in a cliffhanger...namely, the ol' slowly-compressing wall-vice. Up next...THE SMASHER!
If The Demolisher was my Batman then this guy, Heat-Ray, was my Superman. Heat-Ray was the guy I couldn't wait to draw when I got up in the morning. Thinking back, it amazes me how alive these silly little characters seemed to me when I was a little kid. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all my HEAT-RAY comics (and quite a few of my other masterpieces as well). I do, however, seem to remember seeing the first issue of what I believe was called NOBLE TEAM-UP featuring the first pairing of my two titans, Heat-Ray and (you guessed it...) The Demolisher! It's in my stuff somewhere and if I find it, I'll post the cover.
Heat-Ray, as you can probably tell from the sketch above, was based on the Hanna-Barbera character Space Ghost. I even got the name from an episode of SPACE GHOST when he exclaims, "I'd better try using my heat ray!" When I "designed" Heat-Ray, I misinterpreted the stylish way Alex Toth drew Space Ghost's cowl and, to my seven-year-old mind, Space Ghost had no neck. So Heat-Ray ended up looking more like Juggernaut, pyramid-shaped head and all. When I got older, I started tinkering with Heat-Ray's look, trying to minimize the Space Ghost influences by getting rid of the triangle head. I just ended up making him look more like Space Ghost.
Cross your fingers. Hopefully, when I get home, I can locate some Heat-Ray stuff. I know the world is just holding its breath in anticipation.
I love Penny Arcade, though I'm not really a hardcore gamer. The most I do now is play Medal of Honor with my coworkers a few nights a week after work. Thirty minutes a night, tops. But Gabe's clever, wonderfully drawn comic strip brings me back to the site every day or so. This has to be the funniest strip he's ever posted.
Well, okay. Nobody demanded anything. One person asked nicely. I thought I’d show the humble beginnings of the Demolisher, the chowderhead I drew a couple of posts back. These are the comics I drew when I was seven. I think I was a little older when I drew the SKULL book. Not that the art improved much. (Though Mike did do the layout and lettering for the splash page for me.)
Demolisher #1 In this issue, we’re introduced to a Professor Brown who discovers a “cemicle” that will “win the war!” He’s gloating over this fact when his lab assistant (who is either Emannuel Lewis or standing in hole) clumsily bumps into him, causing him to drop his beaker, which explodes. Then the little coward runs off. Can’t get good help these days. When Brown wakes up, he discovers he has unspecified superpowers and so he naturally sews up a purty costume and starts swinging through the city on a rope. The audacity! Such flamboyant activity doesn’t go unnoticed and the Demolisher soon finds himself attacked (for no apparent reason) by the deadly Disruptor!
Demolisher #2 Now that we’re past that pesky set up business, we can get to the real action. This is an issue-long fight scene between the Demolisher and the Disruptor that ends, predictably, with a final-page cliffhanger and the sudden appearance of the motiveless Slasher! He’s out for revenge for...uh...something. I was laughing at the cover to this issue for a couple of reasons. First, the Demolisher is running away! He hasn’t quite gotten the hang of the whole hero thing. Second, his logic is impeccable. Check out his four-star reasoning if you dare. Also, in an amazing coincidence, the second (and final) issue of the series is also the second-BEST issue.
Skull #1 Poor Skull. Not only is he suffering from the epidemic “uncanniness” plaguing the Wieringo superfolk, he’s fed up with the superhero biz already...and it’s only just the cover of his first issue! That didn’t take long. He also never got an origin story. Not even the ever-present “lab accident.” He must have taken matters into his own hands and gone out and stolen the Punisher’s costume. Out of embarrassment, he added the full-face mask. In his premiere issue, Skull is attacked (in his civilian identity) by a mugger. Skull manages to quickly switch into his costume unseen (“Gimme just a minute...be right with you...”) and retaliate. Unfortunately, the mugger has a supervillain sidekick, the vile Criminal! Skull quickly dispatches the Criminal (by tossing him over his head) and accidentally kills the mugger with his wrist-mounted blaster (which he seems to have stolen from Marvel’s Firebrand character.) While running from the police, Skull ducks into an alley to take care of some urgent business, scratching out the word “crime fighter” on his superhero I.D. card. Reward posters are promptly posted. Then (I smell cliffhanger!) he’s attacked by the mysterious Tarantula-Man who’s wearing a reversed-color version of Spider-Man’s webbed togs. I can hear my clever thoughts now...”Heh heh heh...I’ll just switch the red and blue and nobody will ever know.”
It was fun reading through these books but it was enlightening to see how much more derivative and simplistic they were than I remembered. Jeez, we took ourselves so seriously when we were kids, didn’t we?
It’s 1:00 a.m. and here I am at work, spending another loooong evening waiting for other people to finish their work so I can do mine. To pass the time, as I often do, I started sketching. And, as often happens, I got part of the figure done before I even knew what I wanted to draw. I’ve been thinking a lot about Mike lately (obviously) and especially a lot about our childhood, growing up together. Not surprisingly, a lot of my memories of Mike are of him drawing with me usually by his side, imitating him. We were both usually pretty territorial about our creations and I, at least, got a little competitive about it. I tried to come up with more characters than he did as if that would prove something. Unfortunately, less is more, and Mike’s characters had a certain life to them that I couldn’t match.
As I mentioned, we were territorial about our stuff but, on one rare occasion, we decided to put our heads together. The result was this loser. Around the time we came up with this guy, I was in a weird phase where my characters were less derivative of the mainstream stuff and, well, a little off the wall. (One example was a couple of aliens trapped on earth called Tangerine and FirmJaw. FirmJaw was the gal.) The fella in this sketch was named “Tombstone.” This was well before the character of the same name showed up in Marvel’s Spider-Man comics.
Tombstone was an odd bird. He was a scrawny kid who lived in the scary part of town (New York?) and spent his days and nights cruising the streets on roller skates looking for people to rescue. Hearing a scream, he would swoop in and beat the bad guys senseless (usually fighting dirty), cracking wise the whole time. Trouble is, Tombstone wasn’t exactly a hero. In the first (and only) story we did, Tombstone rescues a little old lady on her way to the market from a group of muggers. They’ve taken her purse and pushed her to the ground. Poking eyes and kicking groins, Tombstone makes short, comical work of the baddies and hands the lady back her purse. She starts to thank him and he tells her there’s no need. Justice is his true reward. Well, justice...and the five $20 bills he’s just taken from her purse as his fee. As he laughs and greedily counts the money, the old lady chases him down the street, swinging her purse and hurling curses at him.
It was pretty dumb, really, so I don’t feel bad taking credit for most of the idea behind Tombstone. If I remember correctly, Mike drew the story and I wrote the script and designed his look. I also remember Mike and I laughing uproariously as we discussed the story beforehand, bouncing ideas off each other like a couple of pros. We thought Tombie was destined for comic book greatness but, alas, that first story was all we ever did with him. And, unfortunately, I haven’t seen the artwork in years. It’s not in my stuff and I haven’t seen it in Mike’s. That makes me very sad because it was the only time I ever recall the two of us working together like that.
Well, except for that X-rated Avengers West Coast story I drew once, but I’m NEVER posting that.
That's right. "DOmolisher." I couldn't spell when I was seven either. That's how old I was when I created this guy. Mike was on the floor drawing one of his characters, probably the UNCANNY OWL and I was trying to emulate him so I drew a comic on the spot. Usually, I could draw an entire comic in a day or so. My comics were 8-10 pages on typing paper and usually consisted of a single fight scene that would end in a cliffhanger involving the appearance of yet another "surprise guest villain." None of my series ever went past three issues, so I never knew how the battles ended.
When Mike and I drew our comics, they were usually in full color, drawn in pencil and colorized with colored pencils. We didn't really have a good set of colored pencils; it was just a collection of odd colors that Dad would pick up willy-nilly whenever he found some that we kept in a Ziploc bag. None of them matched except the half-empty second-hand set Mike was using. Mom ended up getting me a set from the school supplies section of King's Grocery but they were really short (about 3 or 4 inches long) and the leads were really waxy and didn't lay down well. But they were mine and so I didn't have to keep begging Mike to borrow his, which drove him crazy.
Most of my characters were hodgepodges of Marvel or DC characters I liked. The Demolisher's costume was a riff on Starhawk of the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. His name was in response to my favorite Atlas Comics character at the time, the Destructor. I had observed Mike reading an issue of ASTONISHING TALES featuring Deathlok the Demolisher and just appropriated the name, not even fully understanding what it meant. My characters also tended to be a costume and a name and not much else. The Demolisher's powers weren't even fully defined. I remember him being strong and, when he hit you, his fist would glow like Iron Fist's. Not sure why. All my characters had the same origin too. They were always involved in lab accidents that caused them to be drenched in chemicals. (Except my character Heat-Ray, who was "blasted by a space alien.")
I was killing time late at night at work when I drew this picture of The Demolisher. It was the first time I'd drawn him in more than 30 years. I didn't have any reference handy so I got the costume wrong. For some reason, I thought he had the Star/"D" emblem on his chest but I found my old comics Friday night and his chest was actually bare. For some reason, 99% of my characters had their initials in an emblem on their chests. This was fine and dandy until I got to my Daredevil rip-off, Black Snake. I laughed my ass off Friday night when I saw that "BS" on his chest.
This guy's not nearly as cool as Mike's characters but it was fun to draw him again after all this time. And what do you want? I was seven.
Our trip to Durham got off to a shaky start Saturday when our rarely-reliable Suburban went kablooey on us (for the fourth time in as many months) as we were just pulling out of the neighborhood. We had to deal with getting it towed to the garage before we could continue our trip in another vehicle. We considered bagging the trip altogether but we were meeting a contractor friend and conducting some other unpleasant business and we didn't want to get further behind than we already are. So we went. Ended up rushing to get some things done before dark but we managed okay.
The bright spot of the weekend was dinner at Tyler's in downtown Durham with Richard Case and his wife Colleen and Andrew and Vanessa of Chapel Hill Comics, where Mike bought his comics. Tyler's is a great place with an amazing beer selection and they actually serve meade, which I've been dying to try. (It was really good but not something I'd drink all the time.) We had a great time and it was nice to actually be doing something fun for a change. Mike really had some great friends and we could see why he brushed off all my attempts to get him to move to Richmond. They're such nice people and they really cheered us up.
Today was a real drag. The contractor came over and had some good news and some bad news. I'll pretty much be spending every free minute in Durham until January. Afterwards, we ran some errands, ate lunch at one of Mike's favorite places (used to be Le' Coco) and hit the road back to Richmond. Because of bad timing, I ended up missing the Packer game which I didn't realize was being aired. I'm hoping they'll air a lot of them this year since it's probably Brett Favre's last season.
When we got home, I tried to mow the grass but it's so dry here in Richmond that the cloud of dust created by the mower nearly choked me to death and polluted the whole neighborhood. We've been using ChemLawn for a year now and the yard looks twice as bad as when we started. (In their defense, we're never home to water the damn lawn so what can we say?) I gave up and decided to work on the inside of the house. Vacuuming was out of the question because I burned out the motor when I ran over one of Charlie's cat toys and it tangled around the brush. We started moving some things up to my attic office which looked like a bad flea market and ended up hitting my head on the top of the door frame. That was fun. We did end up getting some work on my office done so we can at least walk around now without tripping over something. Probably the first step in getting our house back. I tend to get depressed when the house is messy so it was very encouraging to see that a little progress was happening.
All in all, it's been an exhausting, frustrating weekend. I'm ALMOST looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. But, since I'll be pulling another all-nighter, maybe not. I'm so glad we got to have dinner with everybody in Durham, though, because it really overshadowed all the bad stuff. And Suzanne worked hard to cheer me up all weekend and really kept my spirits up during a frustrating and pretty bleak time. I just don't know what I'd do without her.
Okay, back to our regularly-scheduled self-aggrandizement. While I was moving piles of stuff in my office over to other piles of stuff in my office, I found more ENCHANTED drawings. The first are just some character sketches I did while I was bored at work one night. Epok was my favorite character in the story and I was always drawing and redesigning him. I could never get it right and was always tempted to ask Mike to design my characters for me. But then my pride would get in the way (“That’s pride...f***in’ witchoo.”) and I’d go back to the drawing board. Mike also encouraged me to just collaborate with an artist to get it done if I didn’t have confidence in my drawing ability (I didn’t) but, again, that danged pride...
When I did the sketches a few years ago, I had just gotten a bunch of different sizes of Pigma Micron markers. I’d read somewhere that Frank Cho uses them and I really digged his line work. (Who doesn’t?) I asked Mike if he knew about them and he said, “Oh, yeah. They’re great! I love ‘em.” That’s all I needed to hear. Since I was always trying to do everything exactly like Mike did, I immediately went out and bought a ton of them. Later on, I decided the brush marker was really great but that it was a little floppy for my needs. I asked Mike what he thought about it and he said something like, “How should I know? I use Pitt pens when I ink.” Aaargh!!! (Anyone want to guess how many Pitt pens I have now?)
Anyway, these sketches show me two things. First, my style is inconsistent at best. The big Epok is most like my typical style. The full-figure Epok is close but my small figures always fall apart at the end. I’ve never been able to draw small for some reason. Guys like Mike and John Byrne have always made me crazy with envy because they could always control just how much detail was needed to “sell” a small figure as really being there. If you put in too much detail, as I do, it looks weird. Second, I draws sum ugly wimmens. That headshot of Wendy looks like a dude in the process of sexual reassignment. I think it may be the chin. And it unintentionally looks like Ernie Colon drew it which goes to my point about how my style shifts constantly. (And that’s no knock on the great Ernie Colon, who is one of my artistic idols.)
The page art is my first attempt, many years ago, to actually produce the comic. At this point, I wasn’t working from a script and was just winging it. This was going to be part of a framing sequence in which the guy on the porch of the general store is interviewed by the reporter in the Volkswagen about what “went down” in the forest. Later, I ditched this scene in favor of a more “twist-filled” framing sequence but I still liked the reporter angle. I foolishly didn’t do character studies for these two guys in advance so the guy on the porch doesn’t really look too convincing but I like the reporter. He was based on Mike’s friend that he created comics with in high school, Carlton Hill. Charlton was an interesting guy that had a great imagination and wrote a ton of ten-page comics that Mike would then draw. I eventually ended up taking over for Mike when he started trying to break in to Marvel and DC and even got to draw one issue of Carlton’s favorite comic, THE AMAZING PIGGY. (I hope Carlton doesn’t mind me posting that.) Carlton usually let me do whatever I wanted but he was very protective of the Piggy and even redrew a lot of the faces and even an entire page when he felt I hadn’t captured the essence of the book. He also “inked” my pages which, back then, meant he went over them again in darker pencil. Ah, my only artistic collaboration.
I kind of like the page except for a couple of things. I really can’t draw cars for shit and it shows here. I was using a model of a VW to draw by but it wasn’t a GOOD model and I wish I’d worked out the perspective better before I drew the page. I didn’t do any layouts beforehand. Just drew right on the board. Big mistake. Also, those trees in the first panel are weird. The needles on the evergreens must be, like, three feet long! And this was before I’d tried using “real” drawing tools like crow quills or brushes or even the Microns. I think, on this, I ended up using some half-depleted Pentel markers left over from high school and some Sharpies. But, as they say, it is a poor craftsman that blames his tools.
This isn’t the kind of thing I really wanted to address here but I’ve gotten enough email and phone requests that I feel I need to make a public announcement. Or, at least, as “public” an announcement as can be made on my little bitty blog here.
A LOT of folks have been asking if there are pages of Mike’s artwork or sketches or even sketchbooks remaining in my possession that I would like to part with either for free or to sell. Some of the requests have been from fans or friends who genuinely want something to remember Mike by, which is absolutely fine, and some have been, well, a little more mercenary. My answer to both groups is yes…and no.
Mike’s artwork means a lot to me. Other than Charlie, it’s all we have left of him. If I had my druthers, I’d keep it all forever. That said, there’s a lot of it, it’s fragile and I realize it’s not possible for me to keep it all. I don’t have the time or resources to archive it properly. So I do plan to distribute SOME of it at some point. How I’m going to do that is a question for another (far off) day.
Mike’s estate has to be dealt with. Since he lived in another state and I’m doing this long distance while working a job with very demanding hours, it’s going to be some time before everything is straightened out. Once it is, I’ll make a decision about what to do with the art and sketchbooks. I do know that I’ll be holding onto the sketches from his blog. Those were very personal to him and, thus, to me. Close friends and family will also get some. (If you haven’t gotten something I’ve promised you yet, I swear, I haven’t forgotten!) As for the rest, the most important thing to me is that Mike’s legacy and name are protected. I’m going to try and do the right thing and that’s going to take some planning.
So, please be patient. I promise, I’m not hoarding this stuff to jack up the value. That wouldn’t work anyway because there’s plenty of his work on the market already. And my day job pays very nicely, thank you. Whatever I do with it, I promise I won’t be selling it off to buy myself a motorcycle or something. If at all possible, I’m going to find a way to help…somebody…with it. It’s what Mike would want and what I think he would do if he was here.
Also, keep in mind that even though we’re back at work, it’s been a month and life has started moving forward again…I still really, really, REALLY miss my big brother. We’re heading into the holiday season and it’s only going to get worse, particularly at Thanksgiving. There hasn’t been a day since August 12th that I haven’t cried at least once. So the requests, as innocent and genuine and well-meaning as they may be individually…taken together, after a while, they’ve started to wear on me. I’m not mad or annoyed, I promise. Some of you have asked very nicely and I appreciate it. And I’m not trying to be a dick or make anyone feel bad. I’m just asking that you give us time to get settled, cut through all the red tape and, well, to just grieve. I can’t begin to tell you how long that last one will take. Maybe forever.
But, eventually, some of the artwork and sketchbooks will be available. Until then, I’ve seen some sketchbooks for sale on eBay. And if you want to remember Mike at his finest, there’s that nifty TELLOS COLOSSAL hardcover for sale right now. So, try to take this in the spirit it’s intended and please bear with me.
I saw a thread on the John Byrne Forum and it brought back some great memories. One of the folks over there asked if anybody associated particular songs with specific comic books. That really struck a chord with me because, when we were kids, Mike and I used to sit and listen to the radio in his room and read comics. If we were listening to a particularly memorable song the first time we read a comic, we'd start to associate that song with the comic. Over the years, I've forgotten most of the associations, but two instances have stuck with me.
The first is the Marvel Comics adaptation of the movie CONAN THE BARBARIAN. I was flipping through the photo section in the back of the magazine when the song "Rosanna" by Toto came on the radio. Ever since, whenever I see certain stills from the movie or pages from the book, that song pops into my head.
The second is THOR #261 (seen here)
When I was in Mike's room (back when we lived in the tiny red-and-white trailer) I was reading this issue of THOR. We got it in one of those great three-packs they'd sell in the toy section of K-Mart or in the grocery stores. While I was flipping through it, the song "Keep on Dancin'" by Gary's Gang came on the radio. Now, whenever I hear that song, I see that cover in my head. Years ago, at the height of my addiction to Napster, I found a copy of the song and played it over and over, remembering that afternoon spent reading comics with my bro'.
I don't pretend to love what I do for a living and I sure as heck don't like the hours. But sometimes working in advertising comes in handy. Today, I got a call from one of those annoying telemarketers taking a survey of people's viewing and listening habits. How they're exempt from the "Do-not Call List" I'm on, I don't know. But I got the call as we were racing the clock to haul some of our stuff to the Salvation Army and I was in no mood.
Our conversation went something like this:
"Hi, I'm Darla from Blah-blah-blah and, if I may have a few minutes of your time, I'd like to ask you a few questions about what television programs you wa--"
I'm not sure why this story has affected me so much but it has. This past Sunday, when Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills suffered his "catastrophic" spine injury, doctors said he would never walk again and may not even live long. It hit me hard. I'd never heard of Everett before and I'm not remotely a Bills fan. But I was really torn up, nonetheless.
Looks like, due to some smart doctors and some good old fashioned luck, Everett has a pretty good chance at a full recovery. For some reason I can't explain, I am relieved beyond words. Maybe I just needed some good news. But when my buddy Greg told me about this today, I got up and cheered. Well, as much as my bad back would allow, anyway.
Okay, I'm going to bed. Suzanne and I have been up all night cleaning the house in preparation for Mom and Dad's visit tomorrow. They're stopping by on their way to Italy. That's right, Italy. They planned this trip months ago and after Mike died, the airline refused to refund their money. So they're going through with the trip. It won't be the fun trip they were planning. Their long-time friend Bruno passed away recently, as did his younger son, Paulo. And they'll be taking part of Mike's ashes with them to spread in the place where he was born. This trip will be very hard on them and I'm going to worry about them every day. So, please keep them in your thoughts.
Okay, seriously. It's ultra-late, my back hurts and I've got a loooong day at work tomorrow. So, good night!
It's an old cliche: if the phone rings after 10:00 pm or before 7:00 am, it can't be good news. Somebody needs to tell my Dad this.
Since August 12th, I've been terrified of answering the phone. Every time it rings, I'm convinced it's going to be bad news. Yet Dad insists on calling me during that dreaded 10-7 red zone. I guess he wants to catch me when I'm not at work (and that would be the best time) but he's scaring me to death. It doesn't help that he has the habit of announcing himself with this low, forboding "Hullo...", as if he's calling to tell you somebody ran over your dog.
He just did this to me at 6:30 this morning. "Oh, no. Is Mom okay!??"
"Hunh? Yeah. She's fine. Listen, do me a favor. Can you go upstairs to your computer and look something up for me...?"
Tomorrow is September 11th. While the world looks back at that fateful day, 6 years ago, Suzanne and I will be marking the date for a completely different reason. September 11, 1993 was the day we were married. Over the past several years, we've struggled with how to deal with the fact that our "big day" falls on the same date as the worst attack this country has ever known. Should we celebrate? Or should we wait and do it on the 12th instead?
Usually, we're at the beach with her parents this time of year. We try to schedule our vacation so it falls on our anniversary. Even after the events of 2001, we've traditionally driven into town (in this case Morehead City and Beaufort, NC) and looked for interesting things to do. Like trying to find the latest location of the constantly relocating Atlantic Comics or drive by the now-closed Jungle Land. Lunch is usually at Clawson's in Beaufort. And Suzanne usually indulges me and takes me to the single used bookstore in the area.
For obvious reasons, this year will be different. For the first time since we were wed, there will be no September trip to the beach and we'll be spending this anniversary at work, probably working late. Hopefully, we'll get off work in time to go to dinner together but we both confessed tonight we hadn't even bothered to buy each other cards. We have every reason to be miserable tomorrow. But I'm not going to be. I'm going to enjoy the day as much as I possibly can. Because, even with everything going against us, the fact is I'm married to the sweetest, most selfless woman in the world.
My good buddy Christian accompanied me to Durham this weekend to move up the rest of Mike's stuff that we're keeping (his enormous book collection, his piles of college-era art, the bookshelves I'm going to need now.) I really don't know where we're going to put it. I couldn't afford a long-term storage building so we put most of it in the garage but, as we learned the hard way, you can't leave stuff out there indefinitely. We ended up throwing out a ton of our own old clothes and books because of mildew. So this is a short-term solution. All of it has tremendous sentimental value for me so I don't want to get rid of it. Looks like the only solution is to donate and dump a lot of my own stuff to make room. This coming weekend is going to be busy with trips to the Salvation Army, the dump and the houses of anyone who wants my stuff.
I just hope I'll be in any kind of shape for it by then. I managed to throw my back out pretty badly right before we left Durham. Not because I was lifting anything heavy. No, that would make too much sense. I threw my back out tying a knot!!! I was tying down the last item in the back of the van when BOOM!...I felt a little tug in the lower left and some of the most blinding pain I've ever felt. Took the wind right out of me. That good ol' Wieringo spine. #$%@!!!
Anyway, I'm back in Richmond now and it's only through the kindness and good heart of Mr. Christian Leaf that we were able to get the stuff unloaded and the van returned. Suzanne and Christian mostly unloaded everything by themselves while I limped along carting things like bookends and empty satchels. I owe Christian a debt I won't soon be able to repay.
Not only did he do the lion's share of the labor, he kept me pretty cheerful during what could have been a depressing errand. Anyone who knows Christian knows that he's always "on". His sense of humor is quick, smart and relentless. Saturday night, we were planning on getting some dinner and then catching the HALLOWEEN remake at the theater. We were tired and pretty much over it by then though, so we settled on dinner at Don Cecilio's (All praise the 32oz. frosty mug Dos Equis!) and an evening of Sci-Fi Channel's worst made-for-TV movies. We got back to Mike's house in time for the last 3-quarters of SASQUATCH MOUNTAIN and it was like watching it with the robots from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Christian (and the beer) had me laughing until my sides split. And when the hot brunette from CABIN FEVER showed up, he really hit his stride.
Knowing my back was in agony didn't stop him either. All the way back today, he had me cracking up so much it made me wince. The man should be on the radio.
I’m not very good at finishing what I start. Since high school, I’ve created quite a few concepts that I knew would make great comics only to put them aside the second the “next big thing” came along. Either I wasn’t happy with my writing or not confident in my drawing. Or I didn’t have the right drawing tools. Or a way to publish it. Whatever. I always had an excuse.
One of the many ideas in my revolving door of a head was a planned 12-issue series called ENCHANTED. I feel safe in putting this on the internet because I’m very likely not ever going to do anything with it and want to finally get the damn thing off my chest.
When I was just starting college, I started going with Mike and his friend Paul on his weekly trips to B&D comics in Roanoke, Virginia. It was a fifty-mile trip but there were plenty of books to read on the way back. Mike bought nearly everything that came out and had a strange “rule” about me not buying the same comics he did. So, when WATCHMEN came out in 1987, I was not allowed to buy it. So I read Mike’s copies on the trip back. I was instantly captivated. I didn’t understand the idea of “deconstruction of superheroes” that all the espresso-sippers were blathering on about. All I knew was this was a damn good story. And I knew that Moore had based his superheroes on the old Charlton characters. At the time, I was going through a nostalgic phase and was re-reading my beloved Harvey comics featuring Richie Rich, Hot Stuff and Casper. Hmmm. Watchmen... Harvey Comics...
ENCHANTED was born on one of those many trips to Roanoke. I cheerfully told Mike about my idea: What would happen if the Harvey characters grew up and existed in the “real” world? I thought he’d tell me I was an idiot. Instead, he got very excited. (In fact, of all the concepts I ever told Mike about, this one was the one he liked most and always encouraged me to complete.) He told me it was a great idea and I absolutely HAD to do something with it. The only problem was I didn’t own the characters! I knew I would have to change, or at least alter, the names. Casper became “Kasper”. Cadbury became “Hershey”. Wendy became “Winifred.” My favorite character, Hot Stuff, became “Epok” and sported a tattoo on his arm that said “Hot Stuff.” And so on. I conceived of back stories for all the major characters including Lotta, Dot, Spooky, Gloria, Jackie Jokers, Sad Sack...all with slightly altered names.
I knew that I wanted to set my version of the Enchanted Forest along the banks of the James River in Virginia. Virginia has a very New England feel to it in some places and I was big on Stephen King at the time. My big “idea” was that these characters would team up and come into conflict with the Army, led by General Sachs (see?). But I was having a hard time coming up with a reason. It was Mike that solved that problem. He said, “Maybe Richie Rich wants to develop the Enchanted Forest.” And suddenly my entire story fell into place.
In my story, Richie Rich (I struggled with his name...Riche?...Reich?...Richard Rich, Jr?) became a sort of cross between Lex Luthor and Greg Stillson of THE DEAD ZONE. In order to get his development going, he bribes and blackmails officials and then, confident of the outcome, jumps the gun and begins surveying the land before the papers are even signed. This tips off our hero, Kasper, who is a tragic figure, trapped on our plane as a ghost despite the efforts of his friend Winifred, whom he loves. She is married to Lucas, a werewolf (an elf in an early draft) who can’t stand the sad little ghost who’s always dropping in at the most inopportune moments. Kasper sounds the alarm and our story begins.
I won't bore you with details but it was the most complete story I'd ever written. I had the beginning, middle and end all worked out along with some nice (I thought) set pieces including a scene in which an angry, frustrated Epok attacks Richie, nearly kills Hershey (who's more of a bodyguard than a butler) and burns down the Rich mansion. I also decided to cut out the General Sachs part and instead have RichCorp be a sort of OCP-style mega-corporation with its own security/police force. It was going to be epic.
But, like everything else I've started, I lost interest as soon as I'd written it down and moved on to the next project. (Called SAMHAIN, which I'll write about later.) I came back to it again and again, tinkering with character designs (below) and rewriting scripts. About ten years ago, before the Heroes Convention, I felt I needed a pin-up to fill out my portfolio I was planning on showing to some of the pros. So the night before, I stayed up all night drawing the picture at the top of this post. I wasn't all that happy with the result. All the hair looks plastic, almost helmet-like and the elf in background was very rushed (at 4:00 in the morning!) But I kind of liked the attitude and Richie Rich ended up looking like Mike for some reason. That was purely unintentional.
I wish I'd ended up doing something with this idea. It could've been cool. But then again, it also could've gotten me sued.
Well, it's only a few days until the Baltimore Con. All the comic-related blogs and news sites I frequent are unnaturally quiet leading up to this weekend. I can picture everybody hustling around, getting their stuff together and busily packing their bags.
Suzanne and I have never attended the Baltimore Con. The closest we've come was making the trip one August about three years ago to attend the HorrorFind Convention to see the author Michael Slade. See, the Baltimore Con usually falls on the same weekend we begin our yearly vacation at the beach. As I've posted before, Suze's family owns a couple of houses on the water on Harker's Island, NC and we usually spend a week there every year in September. I read and drink and she swims and gets sunburned. The past couple of years, Mike had stopped by in Richmond on his way up and had started leaving his car at our house and taking the train to Baltimore. It gave us the chance to buy him dinner and spend a brief evening with him before he went on his way the next morning. Last year, he was joined by his good friend Randy Green and the four of us spent a pleasant Thursday evening watching my beloved Dolphins get stomped by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Suzanne even baked us cookies.
Each year he tried to convince us to change our plans and take the trip with him. Each year we turned him down. See, my birthday is the 17th and our anniversary is the 11th. (Yeah, yeah. I know. It was OUR anniversary first.) We try each year to time our vacation so we can have at least our anniversary at the beach and sometimes we get lucky and get my birthday off too. But this year was going to be different. We had started talking about actually doing it this year. We've been taking the train to New York the last few years and having a blast. So we were thinking it might actually be fun to go to Baltimore with Mike. Hell, just the train ride up would be worth it since we'd get to spend a couple of uninterrupted hours with him.
Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Like so many other opportunities I had to spend time with Mike, this one too shall be missed. Instead, there will be a celebration in his honor, attended by his friends and colleagues. And rather than making the trip as planned, I will instead be driving down to Durham with my friend Christian Leaf to retrieve the last of Mike's things and begin the process of preparing the house for sale.
I've begun my second week of work since returning to Richmond and it's not getting any more interesting or any easier. At least a couple of times a day I see something "kewl" or interesting that I think Mike would enjoy and actually open an email window to send it to him before reality comes crashing in and I remember. Whenever I sent Mike an email, I always had an image in my head of him sitting at his table, the computer would ping and he'd turn to read what I'd sent him. Now, I see the house how we left it...shelves empty...beds stripped, closets bare...and no Mike. Sometimes I cry, sometimes not.
Mike wasn't just my brother, he was my friend, my protector, my idol and my mentor. We fought like cats and dogs growing up, especially in college when we took instant dislike to each other's girlfriends. But I always looked up to him. And, in the last 17 years or so, we both matured a lot and we became closer than ever. And I still can't believe he's gone.
I had planned on moving on to other topics by now. But every time I sit down with something in mind, it always turns to Mike. I can't get him out of my head. I don't know how you're supposed to deal with something like this. To quote a certain nearsighted Starship Captain, I've never truly faced death. And while I've never "cheated death", I've never before, with the exception of my Grandmother, had anyone close to me or even really so much as a casual friend die. Certainly not this young. This is new territory and I don't know how I'm supposed to be reacting. Writing it down here, whether anyone reads it or not, helps. But since this is a public blog, like leaving your diary open on a park bench, there's the risk that someone may read it and think, "Damn, this dude is nuts." I hope not. Because I don't feel nuts. I just feel sad and I want to get to a point where I'm not so sad anymore. And if airing this out in here in the open is how I get there, then so be it.
Next time, I PROMISE. Something fun. Just don't call the guys in white lab coats quite yet, okay?
On a lighter note, what the hell is up with the Byrne board? I've been trying to go there for 3 or 4 days and it loads for a minute or so, then stalls out. What the fuh? I needs my fix.
I admit I go there, like a lot of people, to see the latest train wreck. It's a shortcoming I'm not proud of. But I also go there to see Byrne's commission work. There's an energy and passion in that stuff I wasn't seeing in his later work at DC and I look forward to it. And I also get a lot of interesting links out of the place. It's not that I agree with much of what's said there (except in the "what's wrong with comics" vein) but it's always interesting.
Besides, say what you will about those guys, they were all pretty classy in the days following August 12th.
I was on-call today at work, though the agency was officially closed. We have a big new business presentation due tomorrow and, if things get hairy, I may yet be called in even now. But after sitting around the house all day waiting for the phone to ring, I started feeling guilty. I decided to start getting some much-needed work done around the house.
Once we saw Suzanne's sister and her kids off, I climbed up on my new gazebo roof and put the cap on. Then, I hauled down some stuff from my upstairs office. I moved a heavy table, the drawing/light table I built myself (which is going to my buddy Leaf) and my first Macintosh computer, an old desktop G3. I ended up straining my back a little and it reminded me how much I miss my chiropractor. My last appointment was Monday, August 13th and, well, you know.
Anyway, the reason I'm moving so much stuff out is that I need to make room for some of Mike's stuff. Other than Mike's beloved Charlie and his artwork, the rest of what was in the house was just that...stuff. When we were down there, it was such a surreal time. I kept saying that I was waiting for Mike to come home and yell at me for messing with his things. It just didn't feel real and I had a hard time dealing with it. I ended up donating a lot of his stuff to charities or giving things to friends I knew would appreciate it. But there was one thing I just could not part with. One thing that, in keeping it, makes me feel like I still have a connection with Mike. His drawing table.
Dad took special care to transport the table to Lynchburg when he returned home a week ago. He knew how much it means to me and wanted to keep it safe until I could pick it up. We did that this weekend and now it's set up in the corner where my old table used to sit. That table is where the magic happened. I don't expect it to make my drawing any better or easier. And I don't expect that any more professional comics work will ever be produced on it's surface. But the idea of sitting down there to draw where so much beautiful artwork was created by Mike makes me smile. I don't feel like an imposter in the way I did when I was posting on Mike's site and sleeping in his bed and eating at his table. I feel like, when I draw at that table, Mike will be standing behind me, looking over my shoulder and giving me quiet encouragment. Just like he did when we were kids, laying head to head on the living room floor, drawing away with our typing paper and colored pencils.
A quick trivia aside. If you look up at the picture at the top of this post, you'll see a small hand-made table just to the left of my chair. That's the light table that Dad made for Mike when he was still living at home and had started working on the Doc Savage miniseries for Millennium Comics. Mike was using his technique of blowing up thumbnail sketches and tracing them onto the final board even then. He used that table to do the Doc Savage books, the two JUSTICE LEAGUE QUARTERLY 8-page stories and at least part of his first issue of THE FLASH. When he switched to the light table he got when he moved to Artamus Studios in Hillsborough, he gave me the table to use for drawing my submissions pages. It killed my back to lean over that table and I often wondered how he produced so much work on it. But I loved it. My only alteration was to tape down a couple sheets of transluscent vellum over the clear glass to diffuse the light. Mike and Dad both slapped their foreheads when the saw what I'd done. "Why didn't I think of that?" Eventually, about seven years ago or so, I got tired of stooping over and having two tables took up too much space, so I designed and built the light table you see in the picture. The small light table Mike used is now back in Lynchburg with Dad and he uses it to do small art projects. (What? You thought Mike just fell into this whole art thing?)
It was great seeing my parents again but also very strange. The last time I was in Lynchburg was for a mini-reunion with some highschool chums and Mike heard we were going to be there and came up too. That was the last time I saw him before he died. That thought occured to me as we pulled into the driveway and it hit hard.
There were so many reminders of Mike around. I won't lie. It's getting slightly easier. That sounds horrible but it's true. There were times, like when I first went into Mike's old room, now the guest room, that I would immediately start crying. But it's getting easier to fight back the tears when they come, unbidden and at the slightest provocation.
The service itself was tough but I got to see some folks I haven't seen in a long time and that was good. My old bosses from "Your Video Place" (Yes, I was once a video store clerk.) came by and they were a sight for sore eyes. My friend Billy was also there. Plus dozens of relatives I haven't seen in ages. Mike's friend Paul Rogers, who was at the Durham service, attended and also spoke.
Best of all, Mike's good friend from high school, Greg Fairchild was there. Greg missed the Durham service because he only had my work number and couldn't reach me in the week after Mike's death. But I got word to him about the Lynchburg service and he showed up and was the best-dressed man in the room. Damn, Greg can wear a suit. (As they say in 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, "Does that make me gay?") After graduation, Greg went on to become a professor of economics at UVA's Darden School of Business. He told us how he ran into Mike in Chapel Hill a few months earlier and immediately recognized him. They chatted for a while and caught up and talked about old times. Looking back, Greg realized he was given a chance to say goodbye. I like that. We asked Greg to say a few words and he nervously accepted. He told a lot of great stories about when he used to hang out with Mike (Turns out Mike could really cut a rug...) and really lightened the mood. My parents were so glad to see him and so was I. It was a short service and not as emotional as its Durham counterpart. The funny part was when I realized that Dad had stuck one of my drawings on the board with Mike's work. I told him this and he replied, "Who cares? Nobody will know the difference." But the drawing was so bad, I kept thinking, "Poor Mike. They're going to think he did that!"
We spent most of today with Mom and Dad talking and laughing and, for once, we were able to tell good Mike stories without tearing up. Well, mostly. We left after lunch and took the scenic route up 29 North, through Charlottesville. It's beautiful up there and we were looking forward to it. On the way, we both needed a pit stop, so we stopped at a rest area about 30 miles from home.
I was facing the wall, taking care of business when I man stepped up to the urinal next to me. He suddenly cracked off a loud fart that made me jump and exclaimed, "WOAH!! Testify!!!"
I had one of those laughing fits where your whole body starts shaking and you have to throw your head back but I was trying not to let him hear me so it came out in big hisses. Fortunately, I was almost done because I would have peed all over the wall. When we got back to the car, I told Suzanne and she almost wrecked the car she was laughing so hard. Damn, we needed that.
When we got home, I discovered that Mike wasn't the only Wieringo brother with great friends. While I was gone, and they must have been planning this for some time, three of my friends frrom work snuck over to the house with tool belts and ladders and finished the roof on my gazebo. It's beautiful. They did an amazing job and my neighbor tells me it took them all day. I have no idea how I'm going to repay the kindness of my little "shoemaker's elves", but I'm going to try. I had been worrying aloud that I wouldn't be able to finish the roof before winter because of all the trips back and forth to Durham I'll have to make. So they did it for me, never saying a word. I'm so touched. I just can't believe the kindness. Keep in mind, these guys work about 60-80 hours a week and two of them have children and wives who are expecting.
Every time I start to lose faith in people, I'm reminded that there are truly wonderful folks in the world. And I know three guys that are getting big, fat kisses on Monday.