Last year on this date, I think I mentioned that I really didn't want to keep marking the occasion of Mike's passing here. But I've realized that to not make note of it would be wrong. Suzanne and I get a little morose this time of year and posting here helps me "get the poison out" a little. I'm going to mark the date a little differently this time.
By now, everyone knows how much Mike loved animals, particularly cats. That wasn't exclusive to him. The Wieringos, at least our immediate family, are all cat lovers. So, I think it's appropriate that, this week, Suzanne and I adopted a sweet little kitty that Suzanne has named Danger. Danger has had the most rough beginning to his life that anyone could imagine.
I'll start at the beginning.
After Toonces died a year ago, Suze and I knew we would eventually get another cat. There could be no replacing him but Charlie had never spent much time alone. Mike worked at home and when we brought him in to live with us, he had Toonces to hang out with. So the last year has been a little lonely for him. Suze and I joked that we needed to get him a "snack", meaning a little kitten to play with. We kept putting it off because we didn't know how he would react to a new cat in the house and it was still too soon after Toonces. We weren't ready.
Then the sister of one of my co-workers was coming back from a road trip and stopped at a diner in Charles City. She and her traveling companion noticed a cat in the parking lot, a cute little gray tabby, not much more than a kitten. Where his tail used to be was a raw, bloody stump. Something had torn his tail off. The people in the diner said the kitten had been hanging around the diner and they'd been feeding it. The two ladies left but couldn't get the kitten out of their heads. They realized they couldn't leave him there like that and went back and retrieved him.
Back in Richmond, they took the cat to their vet and, after several visits, lots of antibiotics, and a surgery to amputate the rest of his tail, he seemed to be on the mend. He also had ear mites, worms and back pain. But he never lost his playful good cheer.
My co-worker had heard me mention that we were thinking about getting a friend for Charlie and asked if we wanted to adopt the little guy. We went to meet him and Suze fell in love instantly. I wasn't so sure. He had so many health problems, I didn't know if we could give him the attention he needed with our work schedule. But my co-worker's sister said she'd keep him until his tail was healed up and he was so adorable. So we agreed to adopt him.
Last week, we brought him home. We continued with his antibiotic regimen and kept him in a large cage in the basement, away from Charlie. He must have been lonely down there but would perk right up when we would go down to spend time with him. And he was a little chow hound. His butt wasn't pretty but seemed to be healing.
Then, last Wednesday night, I came home late and Suze told me that Danger was acting like his wound was hurting him. I went down to look and he had blood running down his hind legs. I panicked and immediately ran him to the emergency vet in Carytown. They kept him for two days and nights and discovered that his infection had gotten much worse. He had an abscess near his tail. The doctor said it looked like whatever had taken his tail had bitten his hind quarters and that had started the infection. It was pretty bad.
They cleaned up his abscess and hit him with some heavy antibiotics. They said we needed to keep a close eye on him because his skin was really thin at this point and may tear. When we came to pick him up, he looked so pitiful with his arm bandaged where the I.V. was and the little blue E cone he's had on since the first day we met him. We took him home.
We cleared all the furniture out of one of our guest rooms and set up the cage in there where we would have quicker access to him and he'd have a nicer area to play in when we let him out for exercise. We started him on the antibiotics cycle we were given. It's pretty powerful and they warned us not to let it sit in his mouth or throat. Fortunately, the little guy eats like a garbage disposal and we just tuck the pill in his food and it's gone in seconds.
Yesterday morning, I went in to check on him and it seemed like the skin on his entire right buttock had sloughed off. There was nothing but raw meat. Again, we bundled him up and ran him to the vet. The same doctor was there and her face fell when she saw him. Our hearts sank. She took him back and about fifteen minutes later came back to tell us that this was a good thing. Yes, he had an open wound but, with proper care, it should heal nicely.
For the last 24 hours, he's been running around the guest room as if he was perfectly healthy. Suze and I are relieved beyond words. The emotional rollercoaster we've been on since bringing him home has left us drained. Little Danger still isn't in the clear but his outlook is much better than it was when my co-worker's sister found him in that parking lot. Suze and I have laughed and cried more in the last week than we have in some time. Charlie has parked himself outside the guest room and knows something is up. We're not going to introduce them until Danger is fully healed up and given a clean bill of health. We're crossing our fingers.
What's all this got to do with Mike? A couple of things.
This is the fifth anniversary of Mike's death and it's almost like the universe knew we needed something to take our minds off that fact and sent us little Danger. Danger's story is so similar to Charlie's and their personalities are so much alike. I know Mike would have instantly fallen in love with his new "nephew."
Second, little Danger's veterinary care has been pretty expensive, I'm not gonna lie. Frankly, without the buffer of insurance, it's actually higher than my own recent medical bills. It's been worth every penny but, under normal circumstances, we'd be a little panicky about it. We are most definitely not rich. But Mike left behind some money. After Mike died, lots of well-meaning folks had suggestions for what we should do with it. Go on a trip. Buy a new car. We've done none of that. Each year, we've siphoned off what the law says we have to and donated that either to an animal shelter or to the scholarship fund. This year, it's going to Danger. We've adopted a "money is no object" attitude toward his care.
He's an incredibly sweet, loving cat and he deserves every chance at life we can give him. It's what Mike would do. We know this because he did it himself. With Charlie. Now he's helping us do the same for Danger.
I would be remiss if I didn't end this with a reminder that there's still one day left to donate to the M-Day benefit for the Hero Initiative in honor of Mike and the great writer/editor Mark Gruenwald. If you can, please contribute.
Anyone who comes here with any frequency knows how I felt, and feel, about my brother Mike Wieringo. But I can't remember whether or not I've mentioned how much affection I have for the late Mark Gruenwald.
Mr. Gruenwald was an editor and writer at Marvel Comics back when I was a little bitty fan avidly reading his CAPTAIN AMERICA, QUASAR and SQUADRON SUPREME books. He was one of my favorite writers and when I was old enough to start submitting plot samples to Marvel, he was the first editor I sent them to. Even for books he wasn't editing. I sent my writing samples to a lot of editors, in fact, and got a lot of form rejection letters. Mark Gruenwald was the only one to send me a personal reply. I almost jumped out of my skin. I didn't care that my plot was resoundingly rejected. Mark had taken the time to write a reply and compliment me on my grasp of the characters. Then he pointed out what I did wrong and I paid attention. He also suggested I stop sending editors (him specifically) submissions for books they didn't edit. That part I ignored. And you know what? He replied to the next one anyway. I still have those letters stored away somewhere and I treasure them. After I got enough rejections, I thought maybe writing comics wasn't for me and when summer was over, I went back to college and forgot about it.
In 1996, I was very saddened to hear (and I believe it was Mike that told me) that Mark Gruenwald had passed away unexpectedly at the age of 44. On August 12th. We tend to lose a lot of really talented people at a young age but little did I realize how that age and date would come back to haunt me...and Mike. As you know, Mike also died on August 12th at the age of 44. Every year, especially this fifth anniversary of Mike's passing, I get a little uptight as August 12th approaches. I remember that date in vivid detail and it's not a time I like to think about. But now Marvel editor Tom Breevort and Jim McLauchlin of The Hero Initiative have done something to shed a little sunshine on August 12th.
They've created something called M-DAY, a memorial to Mike and Mark as a way of raising money for The Hero Initiative. The goal is to raise $5,000 to go toward aiding comic industry professionals who are in need of a helping hand. As you probably know, most comic book pros are freelancers and a lot of them can't and couldn't afford health insurance and retirement plans. Especially the folks who are getting a little older that created a lot of the great characters and stories that you're seeing on the big screen these days but don't see any of the money being generated by the movies.
I don't generally like to get into Mike's personal business but one of the things that tears me up about his death was the fact that, as a freelancer, he could not afford health insurance. When Mike went to the doctor, it cost him a lot. And so he only went when he felt it was serious enough to warrant it. I'm convinced that Mike would likely still be with us if he'd had health insurance.
This is a great cause. They are there for the people who were there for me when I was younger, reading comics as an escape from being a poor, fat kid with glasses and braces. They created, and are creating, the worlds and characters that are making other people rich and some of them need a little help. I know times are rough and money is tight. But I'm hoping you can spare a little money for The Hero Initiative. If you can, please go to the link below and donate a little money, even if it's just a couple of bucks, and give me something to smile about when I think of August 12th.
Woo-hoo! As promised, The Mike Wieringo Scholarship's website is now live. It's a humble affair but it will be where Suzanne and I go to post our updates regarding the fund. I tend to get a little personal here (surgery...yuck!) and this way, I can keep the fund posts strictly business. I'm so excited and, apparently, not as dumb as I look. I figured out the technical stuff all on my little lonesome.
So go check out www.ringoscholarship.com and let me know what you think. It's a little threadbare right now but I'll be updating soon.
I forgot a few things when I posted my Heroes entry. Obviously, Heroes is usually crawling with people who are so talented that I almost die from envy but there were some special things that stood out this year. I'd like to share them with you.
First up is ARTIST ALLEY COMICS, the new digital initiative being undertaken by some talented folk who also happen to be some of my favorite people in the world. Craig Rousseau, Richard Case, Chris Kemple, Rich Woodall, Kelly Yates, Jason Copland, Michael May and Shawn McManus have gotten together and published some really neat books online in easy-to-download PDF format. And like most addictive substances, the first one's free! Go check it out. There is some really great stuff there.
Second is a book called A ONCE CROWDED SKY by our new friend Tom King. Tom stopped by the table and was nice enough to give us a signed copy of his book. Though there are a few pages of comic art along with spot illustrations by artist extraordinaire Tom (MYSTERIUS) Fowler, SKY is actually a novel. Suzanne and I have been fighting over who gets to read it first. She won but I did get to read a few pages and I have to say I can't wait to dig in. Tom's is a really interesting person in real life (just read his bio) and he's a pretty darned good writer. He told us the publisher was so impressed they greenlighted a sequel before the first one was even published. Order your copy today and get in on the ground floor of what promises to be an exciting series.
Finally, I finally got to actually hang out with Dean Trippe. Dean is one of the nicest guys I know and we usually only get to shake hands and talk across the table for a few minutes at each show. This year, Dean missed half the show because of car trouble (We had ours after the show when Suze ("The Wolf") kept us off the jersey wall when we had a blow out at 70 mph.) but made it in time to have dinner with us and the 'Haps crew on Saturday night. He swung by on Sunday and gave us a copy of his awesome classic Avengers art. I showed the piece to some of my coworkers the following week and they loved it as much as I did. Thanks Dean! I absolutely adore this. I would kill to read an Avengers book drawn by you with the characters in their classic outfits.
As for me...I haven't been drawing much lately for reasons I've already blabbered on about, well, ad nauseam. And I've missed it. So, when two young men came up to me as we were setting up on Friday morning and asked if I would do some commissions to benefit the scholarship, I was not only extremely flattered, I was actually thrilled. If you follow me on Twitter, you've already seen these. If not...
First up was an inked drawing of Spidey in his Iron Spider costume on a sketch cover. I struggled with this one, trying to get the pose right and finally gave up on having him clinging to a wall and just had fun with it. I was pretty nervous because those sketch covers mean you can't just ball it up and start over. And it didn't help that Craig kept leaning over with a twinkle in his eye and saying things like, "You really going to go with that pose?" and "Are you still not done with that?" But, all in all, I was pretty happy with it. (Although I apparently forgot what year it is. They say the mind is the first thing to go. Sadly,...it's the hair.)
The other piece was even more daunting. The request was for an 11x17 piece in full color of the entire Superman Family. I changed the layout from what was requested to seem less rigid. Sadly, I only finished the inks by the end of the show...
...and had to finish the coloring at home and mail the piece out. But the "client" received it and emailed me that he was happy with it. So, I'm all smiles.
It makes me really happy that at least a few people think my art is worth paying for and that I can actually do something creative that helps raise money for the scholarship. That's pretty gratifying.
Anyway, that's it. Have a great weekend and try to stay cool. Ugh.
Suze and I had a great time at Heroes a couple weeks ago. I'd intended to do a huge write-up because so much fun had ensued. But, due to some health issues*, I've had to put it on hold and will keep it fairly brief now.
It was great seeing Todd, Sharon and Craig and finally meeting the talented Eric Henson (who came all the way from Germany where he's stationed and is now part of the 'Haps crew.) It was also a thrill to finally get to meet (and get books signed by) Walt Simonson and Mike Zeck, two artists whom I have admired for as long as I can remember.
But the best part of the show for Suze and me had to be getting to meet the previous and current recipients of the 'Ringo Scholarship, Nicky Soh and Eric Donovan. It may seem strange but Suze and I sort of look at the recipients as our kids in a way (which will tell you how old we feel) and we could not be more proud of these two young men. We found ourselves unexpectedly selecting a new recipient this year after Nicky was chosen last year, not because of anything negative but because Nicky is so darned awesome he ended up getting a full scholarship this year. Last month, out of an amazingly talented group of finalists, SCAD and our panel of judges chose Eric to receive it in the coming school year. Meeting these two guys was such a pleasure. They're both incredibly polite, down-to-earth and talented. And Suzanne just about melted when we found out Eric was getting married two weeks after the show. I guess that's already happened, so congratulations Eric! Thank you to Shelton Drum for once again having us at Heroes, to Trey Alexander for allowing us time before the art auction to introduce the recipients and to SCAD for sending them to the show. I like to think Mike would be really happy with all the "kids" who have received his scholarship so far. They've certainly made an impression on us.
During the show we became painfully aware of how little work I've done to promote the scholarship and produce any sort of materials for it. When we got back, I immediately started work on business cards, a brochure and a website. I'm hoping to have all these available before Baltimore in September. The website is almost ready. I just have a couple of technical things to deal with that are over my head. As soon as those are worked out, we should have an official website up and running. I also have an idea for something cool that would give us something to sell at shows that's Mike-related and would not get us into any sort of copyright problems with publishers. I'm excited about it but it could get expensive and will take some time. Wish me luck.
* "Health issues." That sounded ominous didn't it? Sorry about that. The surgery I described a couple posts back has resulted in some complications. The dissolving stitches came loose after the Dermabond came off and the larger of the incisions has reopened. Rather than perform more surgery, the doctor has decided to confine me to the house and have nurses stop by every day for wound care. It's a nasty business and I won't go into it. But the process is pretty painful and I'm pretty miserable not being able to leave the house or have any sort of activity. I'm turning into a slug and that's not good. Anyway, I'm looking forward to having this over and done with, though it sounds like it could be weeks. Crossing my fingers.
Since we'll be in Charlotte on the 24th, I thought I should go ahead and post this while I have the chance. This Sunday would have been Mike's 49th birthday. I know Mike would have been freaking out because next year would have been the dreaded five-oh. But you remember the old joke about getting old, right? It beats the alternative.
Usually on this day, I tell a funny story about Mike rather than bring everybody down. But this year I got nuthin'. It's been a rough half-year or so since we lost Suzanne's dad and it's really made me miss Mike even more. I tell people that we "miss Mike more and more every day" and it's become an automatic response that sounds like it. It seems trite. But, good god, it's the truth. There are days that I need to speak to him so much that it hurts.
Mike was my cheerleader. On days when I was feeling frustrated or worthless or felt like a failure, he would always point out the good things and remind me of my successes and what a great wife I have in Suze. Whenever I started going on and on about my "crappy job" he would set me straight, reminding me that I have a steady paycheck, health insurance and a 401K, all things he went without. No matter how lousy I was feeling, Mike would always manage to call at just the right time and by the time we were finished talking, I felt like a million bucks.
I used to love getting calls from Mike. Busy as he was, he would always find a reason to call me up and see how things were going. I would be downstairs in the den and hear the phone ring. Suze would pick it up and within seconds I'd know it was Mike on the other end because she'd start giggling and laughing and by the time she brought the phone down to me, her face would be almost purple. He had making my wife laugh down to an art form.
Our phone conversations weren't always about cheering me up. We talked about everything. Football, politics, comics, TV shows, movies, novels, family gossip, my job, his job. Same as everybody else. But Mike and I had more interests in common than I will ever have with anyone else as long as I live. That's why I feel a little twinge every time I see a movie like THE AVENGERS or read a new Stephen King novel or some new bit of technology comes out like the iPad. As much as I enjoy all these things, and I do, there's always that nagging voice in my head saying, "Mike never got to see this." I keep hoping it will stop because eventually, we're all gonna go and unless it's because of an asteroid smacking into the planet, there will be things that come along after we're gone that we all would have like to have seen. But I can't help it. I remember Mike's astonished reaction to SUPERMAN RETURNS and wonder what his face would have looked like after IRON MAN and all the subsequent films.
Obviously, Thanksgivings just aren't the same. My mother has eye doctor appointments frequently and that brings my parents to Richmond. I get to see them, while not as often as I'd like, pretty darned often considering how far apart we live. But I only got to see Mike in person two or three times a year. One of them was Thanksgiving. Now that he's gone, Thanksgiving has lost a lot of that excitement that it held for me. The anticipation of getting to hang out with Mike for three or four days without interruption was sublime. I really miss that.
It's no secret that I was taken with the fact that Mike had become a successful comic book artist. It was like my big brother grew up to be Elvis. Getting those emails from him containing pencil scans from whatever book he was working on made my week. He'd always admonish me to not share them with anyone and then two minutes later I'd get another email saying I could show Christian if I wanted to as if a lightbulb had gone off over his head. The biggest "secrets" he ever shared with me were (1) the time he told me about turning down a Harry Potter comic that he'd done some concept sketches for and (2) when he turned down the latest Nova series and sent me the outline for Marvel's plans for the character. Both those revelations broke my heart and I tried over and over to get him to reconsider but he'd made up his mind on both. Now, five years later, I'm finally breaking his confidence and telling the secrets. Sometimes, I'd turn the tables and send him some artwork I'd done for some advertising client. A photo comp I was particularly proud of. Or some storyboard drawings. Always with the admonition "Don't share!" and then I'd laugh. Because nobody would care. Except Mike. He was always overflowing with praise. I imagined him printing them out and putting them on the refrigerator door.
He was so cool about his career too. While I was jumping out of my skin about it, he would just shrug. We'd talk about some of the egos that some of the bigger names would get (Which is true in any industry. I'm not throwing stones. Advertising, anyone?) and he would shake his head and say, "I draw comic books for a living. Who could get an ego about that?" He would introduce me to people I idolized like Alex Ross or Nick Cardy like he was inviting me to meet his mailman. He was friendly with some of the biggest names in the industry but, to him, it was no different than me hanging out with the guy that sits three desks down from me at the agency.
Don't get me wrong. He was just as impressed with the talent these folks have as I was. I remember how giddy he was when he showed me a page of artwork he got from Mike Mignola. He'd introduced himself as a fan and Mignola had not only known who he was but told him he was a fan of Mike's himself. He asked if they could trade pages. Mike was beside himself. It was the same with guys like George Perez, Stuart Immonen, Walt Simonson. He was in awe of them. But the fact that he knew them and could hang out with them without feeling like a shmuck...Enh. In Mike's view, we're all just people.
Well, look at this. This is probably the most rambling thing I've ever posted. Sorry about that. I guess what all this boils down to is that I miss my brother. Still. As much as I enjoy going to all these conventions and meeting Mike's fans and hearing stories about how much they love his artwork and wish they could have met him. As much as I enjoy hanging out with Mike's friends in the industry who have been so gracious to to us and the scholarship. And as much as I love the new family I have in Todd and Craig and the Brotherhood of Mike...I'd give it all up in a second to go back to being the guy who had to wait in line to get a hug from his brother. To have Mike sitting there at that table greeting his fans (and his fans really are the best) with a smile and a sketch. To have Mike going on and on about how cute Charlie was being that day. To have Mike being the guy that could reduce my wife to a giggling, crying puddle in seconds.
Happy Birthday, Mike. You deserved to be 49. And much more beyond that. And we really do miss you more and more each day.
It's been a crazy couple of months. I won't go in to the usual boring work stuff but…dayum. I think you know what I mean. Suffice it to say that the two days I took off from work to have surgery last week were the high point of my month.
Surgery, you ask? Nothing serious. I've just had a few holes sliced in me over the last couple of weeks. The first was just to have a mole on my chest checked out. Suze had been worrying about it for years and when my doctor looked at it during a routine check-up, he said I should have it biopsied. So I did, not realizing that meant they were going to cut out a nickle-sized chunk of Mafus flesh. That turned out okay (I think there are no finer words in the English language than "your test results came back negative.") and it's almost all healed up.
But the kicker was the whole point for the check-up in the first place, which was having a couple of cysts on my back looked at. I tend to get them a lot (starting in college) and every few years, when I've got 2 or 3 saved up, I arrange to have them removed all at once. I know a guy who has cysts that float around under the skin
and when he gets a collection, they cut a hole and push them all out through it like a Pez dispenser. That ain't the kind I got. Mine are big, insidious suckers about the size of a fat quarter that latch onto the meat and they have to knock me out and dig them out before they turn into something worse. Usually, they leave a slight dent in the flesh with a scar about an inch or so long. But there's this one…
The very first one I got was over my left shoulder blade and this is the fourth time I've tried to have it dealt with. This time, I guess the surgeon took it personal and went at it like it had insulted his mother. He cut a six-inches or so long incision into my back, across the middle and yanked out scar tissue like he was pulling up wire grass. I had no indication this was going to be the case and if I had, I never would have done it when I did because next weekend is…
Yep. Day after tomorrow, we're heading down to Charlotte to attend the 30th Anniversary of the Heroes Convention with tracer extraordinaire, Christian Leaf in tow. I'll be doing it with stitches in my back so, if you see me and you're happy about that fact, please don't clap me on the back. My Percocet supply is dwindling and I might holler.
Hopefully, we'll be representing the Mike Wieringo Scholarship Fund again. I say "hopefully" because, though I spoke with Shelton a few months back at the VA COMICON to confirm our appearance, I haven't spoken to him since and I don't see us listed on the website. That doesn't mean anything though, because that's been the case before. But I try not to ever take anything for granted. If we do get to set up, I'm going to assume we'll be next to the Perhapanauts folk in Artists Alley around table 401 or so. So look for us there if you're interested. If we're not there, it probably means I'll be enjoying my first convention in 5 years as a spectator. Not a tragedy, obviously, but it would not be so good for the scholarship. But like I said, Shelton's never let us down before so...
Believe it or not, between the time I started this post and my typing this part, I've broken a tooth. Gotta squeeze in a dental visit between now and Thursday. Somehow. Jeez. And I thought getting a haircut was going to be problematic.
For those of you who are curious, I've written 75 page of the HMDH novel (about 16,000 words). That may sound like a lot but I started this thing a couple months ago and I'm only to the part where the first issue of the comic version ended. That sucks. Stephen King says a writer (in his estimation) should put out 10 pages of fresh copy daily. So I'm a few hundred pages behind. To his mind, I should have my first draft done some time next month. Ain't happening. But I'm plugging along.
Of course, I experience doubts on a daily basis. That was driving me crazy until I read a great quote somewhere. I've forgotten who said it. It was on a writing site online. The quote read, "Allow yourself to write a horrible first draft." So that's what I'm doing. I was handicapping myself by "crafting" every single line. And it was killing my momentum. So I'll craft later. And write now.
It's still fun. I'm having to give personalities and backstories to characters who were just passing through in the comic scripts. I can't rely on visuals to get across something that needs to be written out, hopefully with some finesse. But, fortunately, it turns out that's the best part. I'm still having a blast with it. I just hope that doesn't diminish as my job becomes more and more demanding every day.
Someday that will reach critical mass and my head will explode. Until then, I'll just keep struggling to eek out a half-page to a page a day until this thing is done.
So that's about it for now. I have a ton of stuff to do to get ready for the convention. And I have to figure out how to eat dinner without breaking the rest of this tooth off. And I need to write a special post that I need to put up before we leave for Charlotte. You'll see why soon. So adios. Hope to see you in Charlotte!
I've been posting so infrequently, I've almost forgotten how to use this thing. This is my 300th post on the blog and it's appropriate because I've got a lot to cover.
First, I want to announce that I'll be setting up at the Boston Comic Con next weekend. We usually only do Heroes and Baltimore and some local cons but things came together so well I couldn't resist. I've never been to the Boston con and have only driven by the city itself on my way somewhere else so this is very exciting. The organizers of the Con contacted me through Craig Rousseau and said they wanted to have an auction that will benefit, at least in part, the Scholarship. They also offered to donate table space to us so how could I say no? This will be the first time I've flown to a convention for the scholarship fund and it kind of stung a little (remember, I pay all overhead out of my own pocket) but it's being offset because I won't have to pay for a hotel room thanks to Craig who's letting me stay with him and his family in their house. Todd and Sharon are coming down too so we're going to have a blast. My only regret is Suze won't be coming because she's got some family stuff to take care of. Anyway, if you're in the area, please come by to see us. We'll have limited inventory because of the whole flying thing but I'm bringing all the best stuff!
I want to thank the organizers of the VA Comic Con also. We set up there a couple of weeks ago and they have been so gracious to us every time we do. They give us a great spot by the entrance and we always have fun. So, thanks guys! And I'll see you next show.
The divider is because the rest of this is personal stuff about me so if you're here for the Scholarship stuff...all done.
Suze and I went to the SXSW Film/Interactive/Music conference last month and I think I had one of the best times of my life. Going to Austin, TX has always been on my Bucket List, ever since I first discovered Ain't It Cool News and they started posting about this magical place called The Alamo Drafthouse. I won't go into nauseating detail because I'm tired (long weekend) but I will say I had some of the best BBQ I've ever had and went to one of the most amazing comic shops I've ever been to. I love my local comic shop and it suits my needs to a "T". Not to mention it's run by some of my best friends. But...damn. Austin Comics was a curve buster. I don't think many cities would support such a place. Because of limited luggage space, I could only buy a few books but I could have easily dropped $1,000 in that place without scratching the surface. They have EVERYTHING. I also went to an amazing bookstore called Book People and a fantastic used music/movie store called Waterloo. We were fortunate to be hanging out with a coworker (Suze was on the company dime while I had to pay my own way...sigh.) who was very familiar with the area and the conference and so he played guide. We saw a lot of great movies and if you've followed my Twitter account, you'll know we saw CABIN IN THE WOODS, THE RAID: REDEMPTION and IRON SKY before their wide release. Along with seeing the people behind the movies. Like live DVD special features. The highlights of the trip had to be the 90-minute panel discussion with Joss Whedon, going to Mondo (where I bought a STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN screen printed poster) and meeting Harry Knowles. Honorable Mention goes to literally running into actor/director Matthew Lillard in the convention center. (His film FAT KID RULES THE WORLD was wonderful, winning an award at the conference.) Austin is a great town and I can't wait to go back.
I mentioned a while back that I was dealing with a sick relative. That relative is an aunt on my father's side. I was her closest relative geographically so Suze and I were checking on her one or two times a week. She has Alzheimer's and it was a while before our family realized it. We're not close so we didn't stay in touch much but once we realized the situation, Suze and I decided to make sure she was okay, stopping by often and bringing her food and toiletries. Her disease was very advanced and it was often frustrating, scary and just plain tragic. (Alzheimer's just basically steals who you are.) Getting help for an Alzheimer's patient is very difficult and my father was working as hard and fast as he could from where he was to make it happen. Thanks to his efforts, she's in good hands now and though things will never be "good" for her again, at least we don't have to worry about her wandering off.
The last thing I want to post about is THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR. As I've mentioned, my workload has been pretty crazy lately at my job and the scholarship seems to be taking more of my free time than I expected. Plus, the SXSW trip didn't help any. (And, yes, I'll cop to watching a little too much TV at night when I eat dinner.) So I've only been able to get, at most, one evening a week to draw uninterrupted. For me, drawing is not something I can't just turn on. I have to really psyche myself up for it. In the last 4 or 5 months, I'd only managed to draw 5 or 6 pages of layouts and the last page I worked on was a huge disappointment. With my erratic schedule, the artwork was inconsistent and although the characters were really coming to life for me, it just wasn't living up to my expectations. And I started to get frustrated. I love this story and I want to get it out there. And if I try to draw this thing, it never will. That was a hard realization to come to but it finally sunk in. So I took a look at the alternatives. As I saw it, there were three.
1) Hire someone else to draw it. There were two reasons why I couldn't see doing that. One, I'm a control freak and nobody would be able to draw this the way I want it drawn and two, I just can't afford to hire anyone to do anything.
2) Convert it into a screenplay. Ugh. I don't quite understand the format, don't want to buy Final Draft and, again, likely nobody would ever see it.
And then there's 3) Convert it into a novel. This last one appealed to me for two reasons.
First, Both Todd Dezago and Rod Hannah have read the finished comic book scripts. Todd told me from the beginning, when I sent him my basic idea, he thought I should write it as a novel instead of a comic script. (I told him I didn't like my own prose enough for that and that was only half-true. Mostly, I had conceived it as a comic and was being stubborn.) Rod told me he liked the story but felt like there could be more. Like there were scenes that needed adding. It needed to be longer. I agreed because I felt the same way all along.
When I wrote the comic book scripts, the story almost got away from me. There was so much...stuff I needed to go into. One character in particular shows up and does the "monologuing" thing (think INCREDIBLES) and I wished I'd had space to be a little more artful about it. Plus, there were character relationships I wanted to develop that I just didn't have time for. The book went from the original 4 issues to 6 issues and then finally 8. I could have done 12. I'd ended up cutting out a lot of stuff I wanted to do just because I couldn't draw it all. I also had to worry about how to end each page with a mini-cliffhanger, each issue with a major one and keeping dialogue to a minimum and panel count per page down. With those last two, I failed miserably. The thing that bugged me most was that I love these characters and really wanted to explore what made them tic. And that wasn't happening.
The second reason the novel idea appeals to me is that the year before Mike died, we'd talked about doing something like that together. He'd read my less than charitable review of a book I'd read and emailed me that if I felt that strongly about it, I should try to write a better book than the one I'd read. He knew I could do it. And he wanted to work on it with me. He'd read everything I'd ever written (poor guy) including all the short stories I wrote a young punk. But I gave him all sorts of reasons it wouldn't work out and now I wish I'd just shut the f*** up and done it. I would, in fact, give anything to be able to do that now.
So...I'm writing a novel.
I know I sound like a magpie, every shiny new thing and all. But I think this is for the best and I'm only doing it after a LOT OF THOUGHT. I'm about 30 pages into it (6,500 words) and I'm having the time of my life. It's certainly not going to be the great American novel but I'm happy with what I've written so far and I think it's better than several published novels I've read in my life. Best of all, I have a passion for it that I didn't have when I faced the drawing board. I think I've been trying to force myself into a roll I'm not built for. Writing is just as hard as drawing; don't let anyone tell you different. But I think I'm a better writer than I am an illustrator and I look forward to writing this book in a way that I never looked forward to drawing it. These characters are really coming to life for me now, especially since I'm not constrained by the limitations (and I mean that in a positive way) of comic structure. Writing comics is hard. It's harder than writing any other storytelling medium. There are so many things you have to keep in mind while you're doing it that screenwriters and novelists don't have to worry about. (TV writers maybe have an inkling but...still harder.) Doing this has freed me up to think about character and theme and story without worrying about all that. I have such respect for guys like Todd and Mark Waid all the others who manage to work within the framework of comic book story structure and turn out brilliant work. It's not that I don't want to do that some day. But this story really needs a different format.
I'm really cutting loose now. Every night, I can't wait to hit the word processor. No psyching up required. I'm in heaven. I'm going to write this thing and then submit it to every publisher I can think of and if they won't publish it, I'll do it myself, either through print on demand or digital download.
I feel a little guilty because I promised a comic book. But not too guilty. Because giving up the idea of drawing this thing has taken such a load off my mind. And being able to really explore this world I've created has given me a new excitement. It's hard to express. So I hope you'll forgive me.
No sooner did I vow to post more than I discovered Twitter (You can see my Twitter feed over there on the right.) and became a Tweet-a-holic. With Twitter, any thought that pops into your head can be put out there for public ridicule and it's sort of usurped this blog as my pressure valve. There are a couple of things I wanted to post about that the character-limit on Twitter won't accommodate, however, so here I am.
First, I'm still drawing, despite not posting anything. I've been working on layouts for the first "issue" of HAND ME DOWN HORROR. My workload at my job has doubled lately and I haven't had much spare time. I'm loathe to complain about it because the increase in workload comes from some creative opportunities that I'm pretty happy about. But the loss of free time has been stressful. Still, Christian's insane work ethic has shamed me into putting more time into it. There's not much I can show yet, I'm afraid. I can say I've reached the part of the story where my lead character is introduced and it was at that point that the character design just "clicked" into place. I just threw my hands up and started drawing him onto the page and there he was. Exactly like I'd seen him in my head but was unable to translate before that moment. The sensation was THRILLING. The villain has been nailed down for a long time so I'm not worried about that. He shows up soon enough. And my female lead doesn't appear until the "second issue", though I've got her design pretty much in hand as well. I'm very excited to be working on it.
Second, I thought I'd chime in on the whole Gary Friedrich thing. If you've been living under a rock, you haven't heard that Gary Friedrich, the co-creator of Marvel's motorcycle-riding demon character Ghost Rider, lost his lawsuit against Marvel for the rights to the character. There's a nice summation of the story here:
Nobody (and I mean nobody) cares what I think about this. But this is my blog and I feel strongly about it so here goes. As John Gallagher has said here (http://jbgall.livejournal.com/7951.html) I hate bullies. Always have. I grew up with them and sometimes I had the guts to stand up to them. Sometimes I didn't. When I did, I got the strength to do so in part by leaning on the example set by my heroes: the characters in Marvel's comicbooks. How sad it is to now see the company I loved as a child failing to live up to the principles of justice and fair play espoused in their own products. This isn't the first time we've seen this sort of thing. Jack Kirby was famously mistreated by Marvel and we've all heard of what happened to Steve Gerber. You can debate the legalities of who created what and who owns what forever and never get to a satisfying conclusion. But this should be about what's right, not what's legal. It was one thing when Marvel won the lawsuit filed by Mr. Friedrich for ownership of the character. It was another thing altogether when they went after him for money he's earned at conventions trading on what little fame being the creator of a third-tier character afforded him. They're kicking the guy when he's down and that's just wrong.
I can't express my disappointment. The few folks at Marvel I've ever dealt with after Mike's death have been nothing but wonderful, accommodating people. They've returned artwork whenever it turned up (at their own expense) and have had nothing but nice things to say about Mike. I guess now that Marvel is owned by Disney, a soulless, famously litigious corporation, things have changed. After years of trading on the names of creators and using the popularity of various artists and writers to attract readers, the new suits have decided that they would have you believe these characters all materialized out of thin air. Which is bullshit.
Whether you believe these creators (like Mr. Friedrich) went in with their eyes open or not isn't the point. These people were hired for peanuts to create ideas for comicbooks. Payment was then withheld for work already produced until they signed away their rights to those ideas. Then those ideas were turned into multi-billion dollar properties for corporations. It's not out of the realm of reason to expect there be some additional compensation as a "thank you." I'm outraged that they've gone completely in the other direction. It's cruel.
I don't believe in screaming "boycott!" whenever some company does something I don't agree with. And I certainly wouldn't do that here. Boycotting Marvel Comics would only hurt other creators whose work I admire who are just trying to make a living working with characters they love. But I do believe in voting with my wallet. In a case of strange timing, there's a new Ghost Rider movie coming out this week. I was going to go see it. But not now. Instead, I figured out how much money Suze and I would have spent on movie tickets and then on buying the DVD when it came out and sent it instead to Steve Niles' benefit fund. (You can find the link at the Ain't It Cool News story linked above.) Marvel, of course, will be getting the money either way. But this way I'm helping Mr. Friedrich and at least getting a symbolic dig in at the suits at the same time. It looks like some online auctions by artists Neal Adams, Mike Mignola and Eric Powell are doing really well. If Mr. Niles' fundraising goes as well, maybe Mr. Friedrich will be able to meet his legal "obligation" to Nu-Marvel for their blood money. But they've also taken away his ability to earn whatever living he was scraping together before all this.
One last note. If you think this won't have a chilling effect on the convention circuit, I worry you're wrong. Things may appear to stay the same. It would be difficult and expensive for Marvel to go after every artist selling sketches of their characters or writers selling copies of their scripts. But should those creators piss them off as Mr. Friedrich did, there would be no way to stop Marvel from inflicting crushing legal debt on them as punishment. Marvel now has a nuclear option whenever a creator steps out of line. Personally, this scares me because I was hoping to put together a book of Mike's blog sketches as a way of raising money for the scholarship fund. Now that idea terrifies me because Nu-Marvel would probably come down on me like a dropped piano. And I can't afford that.
Anyway, enough of that. I'll try to scrounge up something else to post soon. I'm working on a drawing for a co-worker. It's a bit of a departure for me and I'm not sure if I like it. But the co-worker wants me to finish it so I hope to have that done soon.
Oh, and I guess I should change my banner back some time soon, hunh?