Thursday, October 4, 2007

Personal Heroes

I have to confess, though I've tried to keep it lighthearted here for my own sanity, I've been feeling a little down the last couple of days. Mike's absence is really starting to sink in in a real way and not the abstract sort of way it's been for the last six weeks. (My sister-in-law --purely innocently-- sent me an article that informs me this will only intensify.) My parents are still in Italy and I miss them. And, as of yesterday, Suzanne is in L.A. on agency business and will be for several days. Now, as I prepare for my first solo trip to Durham, I've been trying to come up with something fun to post here. I haven't had much time to draw anything not work-related (illustrations which I'm unable to post) and I'm worried the childhood stuff has overstayed its welcome. But, today, I was handed a topic and I literally felt the lightbulb go off over my head.

This morning, the agency held its quarterly staff meeting...which I forgot about and missed most of. (It starts early.) When I finally rolled in, there was a question and answer period and our President and head Creative Director was answering a question that was basically, "What advice do you give to people who want to succeed?" I paid particular attention to this because Mr. Hughes is one of the few people in this profession that I admire and sincerely like and his opinions are, without fail, worth listening to. He gave many suggestions (fortunately, none of which was "be on time for staff meetings") which I'm not comfortable repeating without permission but far down on his list was one that really stuck with me.

"Have heroes."

Now, from context, it was easy to gather he wasn't talking about Abraham Lincoln or the New York Fire Department. He was talking about people in your profession that you admire and wish to emulate. The thing that hit me hard was the fact that all the people that I hold up as my "heroes" aren't in advertising. With few exceptions (Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King), they're all in comics. So, in an attempt to post something upbeat, here's the short list of my heroes. Feel free to post yours.

1. Mike Wieringo And not just because he's my brother. Because everything I've ever done, either losing weight, drawing, writing, my job, even the house I bought...everything...was in an attempt to either impress Mike or gain his approval...and always will be. Professionally, Mike was also my idol. Ever since he got his first comics work, whenever I'd draw something, I'd hold it up to Mike's work and find it unworthy. He was the consumate artist. He never stopped trying to learn and improve. Looking through his old drawings that he did over the years I saw how many times he would start a page...a wonderfully drawn, perfect page...and set it aside and start over. He never turned in a page he wasn't satisfied with. That's heroic.

2. Sal Buscema I always related to Sal because, as good and prolific as he is, he's always been in his big brother's shadow. (Not that I'm anywhere as good as Sal is. Hell, I'm not even in the business.) I wrote a paper on Sal in high school because I was experiencing this. Whenever I started a new school year, I'd get, "Oh, you're Mike's brother! Do you draw too?" Sal's work always impressed me because it was so accessible. His drawings were simple and no-nonsense, without affectation. And, damn, could he tell a story. You always knew what was going on. He was the first artist I would follow from book to book. In fact, he drew the first comic I remember ever having bought with my own money...MARVEL TEAM-UP #49 And HE'S STILL WORKING!!! A few years ago, I finally got the opportunity to meet Mr. Buscema at the Heroes Convention. It was his first and only (thus far) appearance there and I made Suzanne drive like a maniac to get me there for his signing. I waited in line for an hour (rare for me). I didn't even have anything for him to sign. Autographs mean next to nothing to me. I just wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much his work meant to me. When I got up to him I found out he was doing free head sketches and he asked me who I'd like him to draw. I was flabbergasted but asked for Nova. He had no idea who I was talking about and asked if I had any reference or if I could sketch something out to refresh his memory. With Suzanne beaming beside me, I crouched down and, scared witless, drew the crappiest picture of The Man Called Nova ever drawn. My hand was shaking so badly it looked like it was drawn by a two-month-old chimpanzee. He got the idea though and drew the head sketch that now hangs, framed, in my living room. I think he was a little freaked out by how happy I was to meet him and, having absolutely no ego, couldn't understand why it meant so much to me. That's heroic.

3. Darwyn Cooke I admire Darwyn because he broke in so late (in his 40s) and because, when he did, it was with a fully-developed style. And what a style. He makes it look so easy. I always joke that NEW FRONTIER looks like it was inked with a two-by-four. And I mean that as a compliment. I have scans of all the original, uncolored pages and they're just gorgeous. He makes it look like he just slaps the ink down and is done with it. But if you try to do what he does (and believe me, I have) it's almost impossible. I've studied his work for untold hours and I have no idea how he does it. He's, for want of a better word, fearless. In a business where so much stock is put in precise, almost mechanical inking technique, his lush, even careless brushwork makes me cry with frustration. Because, as carefree as it seems, there's never a line out of place. As much as I love Sal Buscema's work, it's Darwyn Cooke that makes me insane with envy. And he's his worst critic. Reading the "special features" in the slipcase edition of NEW FRONTIER, it becomes apparent that he wrote and drew entire sequences for the book that never made it in because he wasn't satisfied that they helped move the story. It's what Stephen King, in his book ON WRITING, calls being able to "kill your babies." That ability to stay focused on the quality of the final product, despite having spent days working on something that wouldn't make the cut, boggles my mind. That's heroic.

4. Jack Kirby Do I really need to go into detail here? The man loved his work. He helped build everything that came before. The power, energy, dynamism and imagination we all wish we had is right there on every page he ever drew. And he put out several books a month of original material that is imitated and built upon, to this day, without fail. That's heroic.

This is, by no means, the end of the list of people whose work I admire. There's Michael Golden, Jim Starlin, Ernie Colon, Paul Smith, John Byrne (shut up, Leaf), old-school Tony Harris, Bruce Timm, and on and on... But these are the guys that fire my imagination. That keep me drawing and sketching even as I approach my 40s, stuck in a creatively bankrupt job. They make me want to keep trying to improve and learn and, maybe, one day, even get something published.

So. Who are your heroes?


todd said...


what a beautiful essay.

and a wonderful list.

i always have to stop when people ask "who are your heroes?" there are a few people that i'd like to be like, but i think a hero is more about your own personal admiration for someone's morals and values, their dreams and ambitions. that's what you were saying.
mine would be;

1. my dad--yeah, i definitely don't agree with everything my dad believes in, but i have such admiration for his courage and integrity. in my entire lifetime, i have never seen him waffle on his convictions, i have never seen him shrink from a situation or responsibility.

2. johnny carson--this man was so quick, so intelligent, and so talented, that he made the people sitting next to him look good. he understood what he was, what he meant to america, and he humbly filled that role for over thirty years.

3. stephen king--borders on the "i would like to be like...", but here is a very, very talented storyteller who understands that he HAS to tell those stories--and that there is a huge population of us that NEED those stories.

4. paul newman--great actor, sure, but here is a man who does more for the underprivledged and disenfranchised than we will ever know about.

5. others i admire: edward r. murrow, walter cronkite, james stewart, steven spielberg, tom hanks, stan lee, archie goodwin.

funny, i thought this post was gonna be about last monday's episode...


Warren said...

Hmm... my heroes. In no particular order:

1. Roy Thomas. He is probably my favorite comic book writer of all time. Avengers and X-Men really started popping for me when Roy took them over. When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be him. I love to chat with him at Heroes Con. He's very patient with my middle-aged fanboy questions and never gives me the bum's rush.

2. Charles L. Grant. While I like Stephen King, I think Grant was the bee's knees when it came to horror fiction. His understated approach to horror drew you into the stories so that, when the unbelievable happened, you believed it. And his Shadows anthologies are still the best horror anthologies evar!

3. Jack Kirby. It seems like since Steranko and Neal Adams debuted in the sixties, comic book readers have gone after the "hot new artist" of the day. Nothing against Steranko and Adams (or Turner or Lee or any of today's crop), and yes, I do indeed love their styles, but Jack Kirby should be the role model for comic book artists to follow. He was a craftsman who could produce pages that would make your jaw drop. He was also a worker who got his stuff out on time. He was a creator whose concepts are still being explored by the two biggest publishers in the industry. I don't think there is anyone who has a bigger legacy in Comic Books than Jack Kirby.

4. My wife. Just the fact that we are still together speaks volumes about her patience. She's faced a lot of adversity in her life, but she still kicks ass. She's one of the best people I have ever met and I'm lucky to be her husband.

And there are more, but then you'd fall asleep before you got to the end of the post.

Christian D. Leaf said...

1. Hunter S. Thompson – Dr. Gonzo. The man lived on his own terms and had a life that very of us can even dream of. Intensity, passion and creativity out the wazoo wrapped into one kinetic being. In the words of the good Doctor: “One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

2. Stephen King – The mind that goes bump in the night. Profilic, talented, yet still down to earth. I’ve reread his works more than any other author, which takes some doing with the amount I read.

3. Robert Rodriguez – Who can read ‘Rebel Without A Crew’ and not be inspired? I’m not too pleased with his recent actions of dropping the wife he talks so highly of in the book for McGowan, but his drive and desire to make Hollywood on his own terms still demands respect.

4. Charles Bukowski – Not that he’s someone to truly admire, but the fact that he started even later in life than Cooke gives one a sense of hope that it’s never too late break in and do what you really want to.

That’s about all I got right now. The antibiotics I got this morning are whupping on a brutha.

Brian said...

Heroes, hmmm,

1. My mom and dad and all the honest, caring, hard-working moms and dads like them who are the foundation of this country and who, regardless of what clown happens to be in office, are the real reason that this is and always will be a great place to live.

2. My boss. If every government leader approached his or her job the way he does, then the moms and dads mentioned in number one above would have a government worthy of them.

Heywood Jablomie said...

Great post Matt, very nicely done too. Heroes are very valuable in the world and it helps people to have them. Mine would be(in no real order):

1. My mom, dad and one of my aunts. They are all some of the strongest people I know and have always been there to help me no matter what or when I needed it.

2. Mike-Your brother is/was/will forever be my artistic inspiration. While I never got to meet him, the dynamics and personality he put into his work, and the work he did will always make me want to be a better person and artist.

3. Fantasy author Raymond Feist, his works continue to inspire and amaze the living shit out of me.(Even when some of the books are kinda eh) If fantasy is your thing give him a whirl if you can or haven't!

4. Katsuhiro Otomo and Masamune Shirow-They're long history of work and what they continue to do kicks my ass every time I see it.

5. Timothy Truman-He was one of my first artistic heroes and still continues to wow me.

6. Erik Larsen-How that man draws the way he does amazes me!

To shorten this some I'll just list the rest that I admire greatly: Some guys named Todd DeZago and Craig Rousseau =), Paul Smith, Paris Cullins(anyone know what ever happened to him???),Chris Eliopoulos-the man is comic gold!, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, Chris Elliott and Bruce Campbell.

*Sorry this was a long one!!*

renecarol said...

There aren't a lot of people who I really admire or at least would genuinely want to be more like. I've always wanted to be more like my brother. When I was a kid I wanted to be like him because he was older and cooler. And had a voice that reached into other people's souls. And I wanted to be like that. The kind of person that other people just loved. Now I wish I were more like my brother just because he knows how to be happy. He appreciates the things in his life that matter and everything else doesn't matter anyway. That may sound easy enough but I'm the kind of person who would let something like getting cut off in the morning ruin my whole day. But my brother knows how to let the little things in life roll off of him so that he can be happy. My attempts to be more like him have always been futile. I guess we are just cut from different pieces of cloth.
My mentor - Dr Randy Clark - I was so impressed by him I went and changed my major. I knew that I had things I needed to learn from this man and I couldn't do that majoring in Exercise Science.
My best friend - Mike Wieringo - who impressed me over and over again with his great respect for all living things. My daughter was distraught for years after our cat, Aslan died. The first year after he died being especially hard on her. You'd think she'd have been too little to have remembered having a cat at all since Aslan died when she was 3 and she has trouble remembering things that happened just last year. At the time that Mike got Charlie, my daughter was expressing some sadness and missing Aslan that I was not exactly being understanding about several months after his death. Mike was able to help her feel better (having lost Butch not too long before that). He listened to her, talked to her, and let her love on Charlie. I'm not a great animal lover - I wish I were. I don't hate animals though - I've been vegetarian for 26 years of my life and I go out of my way to avoid running over squirrels and other small animals. Overall I'd rather not have to deal with caring for a pet or really being responsible for anyone other than myself and my daughter. It would've been nice I guess if I'd care as much about Alsan as Mike did about Butch (and Charlie). Maybe I could've been more understanding with her at that time like how Mike was. Mike had a great love for animals and a deep respect all living things. It showed in everything he did. I remember a time where Mike scooped up a spider and took it outside. There's a saying that teaching a child to not step on a caterpillar is as valuable to child as it is to the caterpillar. That's the kind of parent I'd like to be.. the kind that teaches respect for all life even scary spiders. Mike's the kind of person I could stand to be more like.

Brian said...

I too trap spiders and moths and let them out of the house. I always thought I was a little silly to do it, now that I hear Mike did it as well, I know I'm in good company.

Matt Wieringo said...

I try to do that as well but I'm terrified of spiders, so it depends on the kind of spider. Currently, Suzanne and I have semi-adopted two stray cats that were born in the neighborhood. We're trying to befriend them so we can trap them and have them "fixed." Our neighborhood is becoming overrun with feral cats and we're trying to nip it in the bud, as Barney Fife would say.

Casey Jones said...

That's a great Sal story -- thanks for sharing that. What a great guy. Also nice to see a nod to "old school" Tony Harris artwork. Tony's stuff is still great, but when he first broke out, it was a really exciting time.

renecarol said...

Matt, Probably some of Mike rubbed off on you. Mike had a way of making me want to be a better person so I'm sure a little of him rubbed off on me. And probably a lot of the people who knew him.

Squeeze said...

Nicely said honey.

My heroes in no particular order-

1) My Mom and Dad- they both came from nothing and were the first ones in their families to get college degrees. I don't know what I'd do without them.

2) Matt Wieringo- he really is as great as we all think he is. I count my lucky lucky stars that I found him and had the good sense to marry him. He is a good man and is so good to me and my family.

3) Angelina Jolie- Self Confidence without excessive ego. Really doesn't care what people think of her. Wish I could just lay it all on the line like she does and not care what other people think.

4) Jennifer Johnson- my sister. True and big heart. Amazingly talented. What a combo. What's not to love.

5) Karen Ellis Feureman- The best boss I ever had. A great teacher and friend.