Today is the third anniversary of Mike’s death and I still can hardly believe it. I remember getting the phone call that Sunday night with near perfect clarity. I never really went through the “anger” stage (I felt too beaten up for that) but now, if I think about that night too much I do feel the need to break something. It passes quickly, thankfully. What has also passed is that weird phenomenon where I would start an email to him only to remember that it was pointless and feel an overwhelming sense of loss every time. Now there’s just the occasional, unbearable need to ask his advice on something and knowing I can’t. Suzanne and I still miss him terribly and, every once in a while, we’ll just look at each other and realize we were both thinking about him at the same time and we’ll sigh. If we’re home, we usually snatch up Charlie and mercilessly subject him to that “Rockabye Baby on steroids” thing Mike would do to him while going, “EENH-EENH-EENH-EENH!” We had forgotten about that until Todd showed up in Durham the week Mike died and demonstrated it for us. We laughed our heads off and I think that was the point that we realized that, as bad as things were, we might be all right.
As August 12th has approached, I’ve found myself listening again to the Fanboy Radio interviews Mike participated in, sometimes by himself and sometimes with Robert Kirkman or Skottie Young. It’s just so nice to hear his voice and I’m really grateful that he did them. And I found a way to download the videos of him on YouTube, shot when he was on a convention Spider-Man panel with John Romita, Sr. He doesn’t talk much but he’s there. I don’t know if all this is healthy but it has helped, though I haven’t quite gotten up the nerve to re-read his MODERN MASTERS book.
But I don’t want this to be too sad so I’ve posted above a drawing Mike did for me after I graduated college and he still had a year to go. We started at the same time but, while all of my community college credits transferred, some of Mike’s didn’t. So his stay at VCU was extended. I don’t think he minded. Mike had to work to save up for college, which was why we were able to attend at the same time. (Like most things in life, I had college handed to me on a silver platter when my parents came into some money just when I was ready to go.) In his mid-to-late twenties and prematurely gray, he always felt like the “old man on campus” but it was a beneficial time for him. He was exposed to other art forms and other creative people. He was taught by Don Early, one of the best figure drawing teachers in the country. And working to pay his own way, I believe, taught him the work ethic that carried over into his comics career. Mike may have been slow but nobody could say he was lazy. He didn’t sit around playing video games or watching movies when he should have been working. He started early and finished late. He was just a perfectionist.
Mike was always working on his comics portfolio, even during school. He’d finish a set of pages and then start on the next, usually discarding the earliest set as unacceptable. If you’ve ever seen his pre-career sample pages, you’ll see a lot of the style evident in the New Warriors piece. Mike was in his Brian Stelfreeze phase and was trying to emulate him. And he was also trying to work in (against his own preference) some of that cross-hatchy, fussy stuff that was all the rage, hoping to appeal to editors. But (if I remember correctly) he had seen some people at conventions show portfolios with lots of panel-to-panel continuity but with the occasional pin-up or two to punch up their presentation. He decided to do that and started cranking out glorious pinups of Dr. Strange, She-Hulk and some others.
My senior year in college, my girlfriend at the time was digging on the drawings and, though he couldn’t quite bring himself to like her, he told her she could have one as sort of a peace offering. She picked an awesome color drawing of Starfire from the Teen Titans. Much to my eventual regret. We didn’t end well and I can only imagine what happened to that piece. I have a photograph in which you can see it hanging on the wall in her dorm room but you can only just make out what it is.
I really wish I had that drawing.
In 1991, I was working a horrible job at a catering company, really putting that filmmaking degree to good use, and had an apartment right across the street from Mike’s. I was over there all the time, as soon as I was off work. I’d pop in and play videogames with Mike’s roommate Ron and our friend Quentin and just hang out. I’d graduated college without a plan, without any real goals and still months away from meeting Suzanne. I was coasting through life. But not Mike. As always, he had a goal and a plan to achieve it. Whenever I dropped in, Mike would be diligently sitting at his table, working on his drawings. Either for class or for his portfolio. I wish I’d ever had one-tenth of his drive. At some point during this, and my memory fails me at this point, Mike did the above drawing for me. It was probably for my birthday because we were both pretty broke all the time and I would always pester him for drawings. And, of course, there’s the whole Nova thing. Although Mike had the audacity to put him in that damned brown costume they had him in.
The note at the bottom promises the second half of the piece. As far as I know, it never materialized. I say “as far as I know” because, for some reason, I never got this one. I found it in a portfolio of Mike’s college-era work in his house. You can imagine how it made me feel. As soon as I found it, I knew I had to share. So here it is, folks. I know you’ll love it as much as I do.