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.