Friday, August 31, 2007


We're off to Lynchburg this weekend for Mike's private family service. At Dad's suggestion, we're going to be more casual with this one. We're all going to wear T-shirts with Mike's art on them. I'm not sure how that's going to go over with our more conservative "country cousins" but I guess we'll find out.

I'm a little nervous about the whole thing. I was in such a fog during the Durham service. I was still in shock about Mike's death and having trouble sleeping and eating. While I'm still having a hard time with it, I've had the chance to calm down and be my old self again. Dad wants me to read my eulogy again and I don't know if I can do it. Firstly, at the Durham service, I was on autopilot and I knew a lot the people that were there. This one's for our parents' families and, frankly, I haven't seen or spoken to most of these people in twenty years. Secondly, the eulogy was written with a comic book crowd in mind and a lot of the references will just sail over their heads. But we're there to honor Mike and so I'll give it my best shot.

We were worried about leaving Charlie and Toonces alone in the house overnight, but they're getting along pretty well now. Not exactly friends but they're tolerating each other. As my friend Christian suggested, it seems Charlie has read Sun Tzu's ART OF WAR and keeps trying to take the high ground. (That was a good laugh, my friend!) Also, fortunately, Suzanne's sister is coming up to house-sit while we're gone and take her cute little kids to King's Dominion, a trip that's become a sort of yearly tradition. I was actually looking forward to seeing them (yes, honey, I swear I was) but it will just be long enough to pass off the keys this year. Hopefully, "the boyz" will be on their best behavior in front of their Aunt Jennifer.

So, if you're reading this, keep us in your thoughts this weekend. Despite Dad's insistence that this will be a celebration and not a funeral, I'm not sure we can put on a happy face just yet. This is going to be a tough weekend.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Torg lives!

It seems a lot of folks who loved Mike are reading this for now even if they aren’t posting. I just want to tell you all (or y’all if you’re below the Mason-Dixon line like we are) that those thank you notes are forthcoming. We’ve been busy, as you can imagine, with all the stuff you know about, some you don’t and going back to work hasn’t helped. Advertising has never seemed so boring and pointless as it does right now. But a job’s a job and I need this one.

(Yes, I know. I have time to post here but not to sign thank-you notes? I need this for therapy, man!)

Now, it’s time I lightened this blog up a little. When I was looking though Mike’s things, I came across something that made me smile.

Back in the summer of 1999, I and some friends put together a self-published anthology comic called TALES FROM BEYOND THE STARS. We each contributed a 4-to-5 page story. The only rule was that it had to be science fiction but even that rule was flexible.

For my contribution, I turned to a blast from the past. In high school, I’d done a stop-motion claymation film with a buddy on 8mm film. We’d seen a documentary on STAR WARS and saw that George Lucas had started that way. So TORG was born. He was a space-pilot with big round eyes and horns and simplistic features and armor that would be easy to manipulate. I modelled the characters with old red and green clay that had been sitting around in our storage shed/club house for years and my buddy and I got down to business, using action figures as extras and painting backdrops on cardboard boxes. (Kind of like a low-rent ROBOT CHICKEN.) We were so clever. Except we didn’t realize that you needed a tripod to lock down the camera. Foolishly, I’d pose my characters, pick up the camera, snap a frame, put the camera down, move the character a fraction of an inch, snap a frame...and so on. When we got the film back from the lab, the picture was so jittery, it looked like that old Bigfoot film.

I’d always loved the idea of TORG, though and so when I needed an idea for our anthology, I went back to him, creating a simple back story and, to keep it short enough for my page allowance, I painted the characters with broad strokes and came up with an O’Henry punchline for the cliffhanger. To give Torg someone to play off and talk to, I gave him a robot sidekick, a la C3PO and named him Bixby. In retrospect, I always believed Bixby was an original idea but IMDB lists FUTURAMA as coming out in March of 1999, and I was instantly taken with the show. So, I can only assume my Bixby character was a reaction to Bender. Oh well. Nothing new under the sun, I guess.

Anyway, I found a copy of the book in Mike’s stuff and I was really touched that he kept it. Later, I realized that Mike kept everything. But I’m going to choose to believe that he liked it anyway. Even if it was buried in a box of old correspondence.

So, without further ado, meet Torg:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Full Circle

Today, I was at the bank taking care of, know. I had to wait a while for someone to help me because I was there on my lunch hour and that's usually the busy time at banks. The lady in the office on the left seemed more cheerful so I was hoping I'd be meeting with her. It didn't work out that way and I ended up with the lady in the office on the right.

During the course of our business together, she asked me what Mike did for a living. When I told her "Freelance Comicbook Illustrator", I watched her face closely. Usually when I tell "civilians" (As John Byrne calls them. I sometimes think of them as "muggles".) my brother is...was...a comic book artist, they give me a funny look like I'm putting them on. This lady perked right up. "Really? That's what my daughter wants to be."

It was my turn to be incredulous. I imagined a little toddler sitting at a table scribbling on newsprint with a crayon babbling, "I unna draw tomits in I grow up!" I asked her how old her daughter was.

She said, "Nineteen. She's studying Sequential Art at SCAD."

I was floored. We talked for several minutes about her daughter's love of comics and I asked if she'd considered the Joe Kubert school though I told her there was nothing at all wrong with SCAD. She didn't know what I was talking about but had me write down the name so she could look it up. She was very excited and just knew her daughter would be interested. We finished our business and I left. But I couldn't get it out of my mind.

It was such a strange encounter. Meeting with her and not the other lady was pure chance and yet I felt like it was meant to be. For so long we've been hearing so much pessimism about comics: It's a dying industry. Kid's don't read comics. Women don't want to work in comics. All that combined with Mike's passing had me ready to give up the hobby in disgust. And yet here, in one complete package, was the antithesis of all that pessimism. The mother of a young girl chomping at the bit to go out and create comics for a new generation. What were the odds of me meeting this woman in the way I did? I felt like Mike had taken me by the hand and led me to this meeting as his way of telling me, "Don't give up just yet, bro."

The meeting left me feeling content and optimistic in a way that I haven't felt in weeks. Am I just being silly? Maybe. But the older I get the more I'm convinced that not everything can be written off as sheer coincidence. Whatever it was...

It was cool.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Well, it's looking good. Charlie and Toonces have been dancing around each other all weekend. Charlie is kind of a big goofball, really, and just wants to be friends. Toonces is master of his domain and demands respect. He's been hissing everytime Charlie comes around. But he never attacks. Most of today has been better. They've been hanging out in the same room and Toonces has stopped hissing. We've tried to give them equal attention but we don't want to rub Charlie in front of Toonces because he gets jealous. Still...

It's looking good.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Back in Richmond, full of self-pity

Well, we're home. It's been a rough couple of weeks. I'm a mess and my parents are just destroyed. Now that all the craziness in dealing with Mike's memorial service, legal red tape, packing, comforting his friends and each that all that is on pause for now, we've had time to sit down and face the fact that Mike, my brother, Suzanne's gone. I still can't believe it. I've had to put on my game face when posting on Mike's site. But here, on my tiny corner of the Web, it's hard. I have to deal with the idea that the guy I grew up with and used to talk with for hours about comics and football and movies and politics is not there anymore. I have friends who enjoy a lot of the same things I do but not one of them enjoy them all in the way that Mike did. (Leaf, you come the closest, brotha.)

We thought coming home, getting into the routine again, would help. It hasn't. My den, my home theater, my sanctum sanctorum, where I usually watch movies, was where I was when I got the news via a phone call from the Durham police department. It will never look the same to me again. Despite the additional presence of Charlie, who came home with us, the house seems emptier somehow. Something's missing.

To make things worse...and this is a minor problem, all things considered...a major storm blew through while we were in Durham. When we came home, our yard was destroyed. Limbs and branches were everywhere. The power had gone out and our clocks were all blinking. We had to call the alarm company to reset the alarm, which was beeping. Our back fence was obliterated by the top half of a tree that fell onto it. Fortunately, our gazebo was spared. I've spent the previous four weekends before Mike's death, putting a new roof on it and I'm not quite done. If it had been damaged, I don't know what my reaction would have been. Again, minor compared to the previous two weeks, but it's a lot to deal with on top of everything else. And I'm starting to feel a little picked on these days.

My mind tends to wander now. I can't concentrate. The tiniest things set me off on crying jags. I made the mistake of watching a YouTube video of Mike in a panel with other comics pros and had to turn it off. Hearing that laugh...I'm just not ready yet. I see things in the house that he gave me...especially the original CASPER artwork and the Nova pin-up he drew me for my birthday...and I lose it. This morning, I pulled into the driveway after going to the DMV and saw Mike's car sitting there. (We had to bring it home with us for security reasons.) The last time it was there was last Thanksgiving...

Last night was tough because Mike's friend Mark Waid gave us the advice of having a friend bring Charlie to our house so Toonces wouldn't feel we betrayed him. Good advice, as it turns out. We left Charlie with our buddy Christian Leaf and he was nice enough to bring him in today. But as we were leaving Leaf's house last night, Suzanne just cried and cried, uncontrollably. Charlie had held us together for two weeks. He's all we have left of Mike and he'd been so sweet and affectionate to us and my parents. We were able to focus on Charlie and not our grief. I should have known it would do this to her. When we took him away from the house in Durham, leaving my parents down there for another day, alone, my Mom had the same reaction.

It's almost Fall now and I keep seeing ads for shows and movies and books that I know Mike was looking forward to. LOST. HEROES. Football. Jeez, he loved football. He was so looking forward to the next Batman film. Worst of all, the TELLOS COLOSSAL hardcover came out this week. It had been delayed for weeks. My only consolation was that he got to see it before he died. His comp copy was on his desk when we got to his house at 4:30 that horrible Monday morning. He was so excited about that it breaks my heart.

Probably the most heartbreaking aspect of this whole tragedy has been the impact on my parents. They've been preparing for their own demise for ten or fifteen years. We used to tease them about their preparedness. They had a kind of Zen serenity about it because they've lived full, happy lives and have come to terms with it. And they knew they'd never have to bury their sons. That serenity is gone now and my Mom and Dad are no longer the happy, content people they were. They'll never be the same because now they're worried about me too. They're clinging to me and Suzanne and are terrified of letting us out of their sight, afraid they'll never see us again. That's the part that's killing me.

Selfishly, it occurs to me that I'll have to go through losing them eventually on my own. Knowing Mike would be there for me had helped me accept that eventuality. Now I'm back to being that scared teenager I was when it first sunk in that parents don't live forever. When they're gone, I'll be alone. The last of my family. The other day I realized that, assuming I live an average life-span, I'll spend as much time in this world without my brother as I did with hiim. And that, my friends, is not fair. In fact, that's some cruel motherfucking shit.

I don't know how I'd have gotten through this without Suzanne. She's been a rock. She did 90 percent of the paperwork and phone calls in Durham while my parents and I cried and stared off into space. She fed us and drove us to lawyers and the funeral home and she and her wonderful, beautiful sister Jennifer had pictures made for the service. Jennifer also brought us lasagna and ran errands and kept my Mom company. Mr. and Mrs. Lemons raised some mighty fine girls and I thank my lucky stars every day for marrying into that family.

Hopefully, in time, my posts will be more fun. I'll be mentioning Mike from time to time. How can I not? I idolized him and I will miss him for the rest of my life. But the sad fact is that work starts for me again on Monday and I still have his affairs to wrap up. Then, hopefully, I have another 40 years to live. How I'm going to do that without the coolest big brother of all time remains to be seen. But I'm going to try.

I have to.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Woah! Wolf-Man's got 'nards!

Not many people dig the Eighties. The leg-warmers, the feathered hair, Reaganomics...Madonna’s armpit hair in Penthouse. (Eww.) But I love ‘em. I grew up in the Eighties and, though it wasn’t the coolest decade in our nation’s history, I look back on it fondly. I’m a nostalgic kind of guy and can listen to the music of that era, cheesy though it may be, for hours on end. One of my favorite things to come out of the Eighties was the movie MONSTER SQUAD. (Not to be confused with the similarly-themed Saturday morning kids show of the same name starring Fred Grandy.) It’s a great little cult film about Dracula gathering up a gang of monsters (based on the old Universal classics) to help him track down an amulet that will help him take over the world. The only thing standing between him and world domination is a gutsy gang of young kids.

Universal wouldn’t let the filmmakers use their character designs so FX wizard Stan Winston came up with all-new looks for Wolfman, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and the Creature. His makeup effects are wonderful and worthy of this entertaining, FUN and surprisingly charming film. It’s directed by Fred Dekker (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) and co-written by the multi-talented Shane Black, who also wrote LETHAL WEAPON and THE LAST BOY SCOUT, wrote and directed KISS KISS BANG BANG and played the jokester in PREDATOR.

For years I waited for this movie to be released on DVD and I was starting to fear it never would be. Until now. Some wonderful soul at Lionsgate tracked down the long-lost rights to MONSTER SQUAD and here we are. They just released the film on a spectacular 2-disc set with lots of extras like behind-the-scenes stuff, interviews and commentary tracks. Best Buy, as usual, let me down and doesn’t even carry the DVD., my consistently reliable source for all things nifty, not only had it but shipped it to me, for free, in three days. I’ve been chomping at the bit to watch it but work, car troubles, a visit from the parents and many thwarted attempts to finish the last POTTER book have conspired to keep me from it. Hopefully, tonight’s the night. If you’ve never seen this little gem, I highly recommend it. Pop some popcorn, pour a big ice-cold soda, then sit back and enjoy one of the best monster movies ever made.

My sketch above started, like most of them, as a couple of aimless lines on the back of a memo at work. I started thinking about the movie I’d ordered from Amazon and, before I knew it, I’d drawn this. I’ve always loved the classic monsters, especially the Creature and Wolfman. In fact, I’ll buy just about any book or movie, good or bad, if it’s got a werewolf in it. I’ve always had a soft spot for the fuzzy little guys. Too bad I can’t draw them worth a damn. I didn’t really try to conform to any set “look” for these creatures. I just drew them and hoped they’d look good. Like Winston, I came up with my own designs.

I hope you enjoy the sketch and I REALLY hope you enjoy the movie.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More Love for Movie Music

Thanks to a local Richmond publication (BRICK magazine) I’ve stumbled across a website that was made for me. It’s called and, as the name infers, it’s a site where you can go to listen to movie music streaming through your computer. Apparently, it’s run by folks here in Richmond, Virginia but it’s a very slick, well-run site and they, frankly, play some great shit.

My wife and I have toyed with the idea of subscribing to XM Radio because of the soundtrack channel they have. But I’ve had occasion to listen to it and it just doesn’t seem like…me. Lots of easy-listening stuff that I’m just not interested in. Family-friendly stuff. Occasionally, they’ll have a theme hour where they’ll play something interesting, but on the whole, I think it’s a nice try but no cigar., on the other hand, is kicking serious butt. In the last fifteen minutes or so, I’ve heard tracks from Alan Silvestri’s PREDATOR score, John Williams’ THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and Bruce Broughton’s TOMBSTONE. Right now, I’m hearing “Time Warp” from the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW album. Unbelievable.

A few minutes ago, they played “Ripley’s Rescue” from James Horner’s ALIENS score. This one hit me kind of funny because I distinctly remember that track playing on my stereo one day in college and my girlfriend at the time telling me to put on some “real” music. At the time, I wasn’t terribly offended because she was smiling when she said it but she was serious. Over the years, I’ve gotten similar comments from folks. (Thankfully, not from my wife, an understanding angel of a woman.) One tends to get tired of hearing that something you love is not considered legitimate. What, I wonder, do these people consider to be real music? Britney Spears?

I’ve loved film music of all kinds since I can remember. When I was nine years old, I saved up my allowance for three months to buy my first soundtrack, the two-platter album of John William’s STAR WARS score. It was the vinyl album with the great full-color stills from the movie in the middle. I’d listen to it all the way through on my parents’ turntable stereo system, then start it over again. Over and over, until my Mom cried, “Enough!”

My next album was Basil Poledouris’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN score. I was a little older and had begun to gain an appreciation for music in general and I was able to pick out specific instruments by ear. I was hooked. Next was Ennio Morricone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE UGLY. I soon started collecting them to the exclusion of almost all other music: Elfman’s BEETLEJUICE and BATMAN, Horner’s ALIENS and WRATH OF KHAN, Poledouris’ ROBOCOP, Williams’ RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and SUPERMAN, Howard Shore’s THE FLY, Bill Conti’s underrated (and too-often mocked) ROCKY score.

When I was in high school, I lost almost a hundred pounds by walking incessantly up and down our road listening to the opening theme music from THE DEAD ZONE by the late, great Michael Kamen, recorded by putting a microphone up to the TV because the album was unavailable. I even compiled (in similar fashion) a tape of about fifty TV theme songs to listen to.

Over time, film music has broadened my horizons a bit. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE introduced me to the wonderful world of the band AC/DC. The DIRTY HARRY movies gave me an appreciation for Jazz by way of the amazingly versatile Lalo Schifrin (whom I’ve seen conduct in person.) And I’m constantly hearing pop or alternative rock songs in movies that have prompted me to seek out more by that particular artist. Even hip-hop! The OFFICE SPACE album is loaded with great hip-hop songs.

But my first, best love is orchestral scores. My latest loves are John Powell (X-MEN 3, HAPPY FEET and MR. AND MRS. SMITH) and John Ottman (X2, SUPERMAN RETURNS.) I’m also going through a kind of retro-crush on the late Jerry Goldsmith since a friend gave me his RAMBO and FIRST BLOOD scores to listen to. (He had them but didn’t want them because, you guessed it…!)

There’s a lot to love in movie music, whatever your tastes. So, feel free to tell me you don’t like it or even that you hate it. But don’t dare tell me it’s not “real” music.