Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Spectre

Suze and I are back in Richmond and back at work though Suze is working from home with a horrible cold she picked up in North Carolina. Poor girl can't catch a break. I haven't caught it yet but I feel a watery, itchy tickling in my sinuses that can only mean one thing. I guess it will be a while before we'll feel like things are getting back to normal. As her Dad used to say, we've robbed this train before. But every case of grieving is different. And none of them are any damned fun. Our last day in North Carolina was pretty horrible for reasons I won't go into. Suffice it to say a wretched two weeks ended on a really sour note.

Suze has lost her Christmas spirit this year and that makes me sad because she's always been such a Christmas person. She absolutely adores it. And since I'm the Scrooge, I rely on her to keep me upbeat during this time of year. So I'm taking it as a challenge. I vow to get her in Christmas mode by the 25th, even if it kills me. And she just might.

I haven't had time to work much on drawing HMDH lately, obviously. With Christmas upon us, that may have to sit a while longer. Ugh. I'm this close to posting the scripts online and calling it a day.

I've decided to start sketching again. I stopped because work was getting so crazy I wanted to simplify my life and eliminate any stress that I could. But I've realized I've been eliminating all the things that make me feel like I'm more than just someone's employee and that's no way to live. So I'm going to draw when I can and not put any pressure on myself. I need some cheering up myself and this is the way to do it.

That said, I'm posting a drawing of the Spectre I did before Thanksgiving with the intention of posting it over vacation. I drew it, scanned it and saved it. And forgot to send it home. Then, before I got back to work, we got the news about Suze's Dad. I'd almost forgotten I drew it. I like it, especially considering it had been weeks since I'd drawn anything before that. I hope you like it too. In fact, I hope you like it so much that…

…you'll want to buy it. My Rom drawing auction hasn't caused much of a stir so I'm going to throw this drawing in as a bonus to whomever makes me the best offer on the Rom drawing. I'm still leaving the minimum at $50 because it's for a good cause. Come on. You know you want to pretend you want it.

Okay, that's all I've got. Hopefully, I'll have another new drawing soon.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Missing Richard Craig Lemons

Suzanne has said that we are now officially retiring from Sunday nights. This past Sunday, we lost her father Richard, quite possibly the greatest man I've ever met. He'd been ill for a while but this was still completely sudden and unexpected and we're all still in shock.

Mr. Lemons was always the coolest guy in the room, no matter what room he was in. Part Ernest Hemingway, part Santa Clause and part Ben Kenobi. When you say someone is "a good man", you're talking about him. He was the kind of guy you aspire to be but you never can because you just aren't cool enough. He was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, for Pete's sake! What hope do the rest of us have?

My mother-in-law likes to tell me I passed the "Richard Test" but that's news to me because I never realized I was being tested. That's because that's the kind of man Mr. Lemons was. I'd been "taken home" to meet my share of parents before I met Suze and in every case I could tell the fathers were wondering who this shabby-looking art student was and that they were just biding their time, hoping their daughters would lose interest. But with Mr. Lemons, it was different. He treated me with respect and kindness from the minute I met him, even though I had a lousy job and no real prospects. His respect was mine to lose. I never had to prove anything to him. His daughter liked me and that was good enough for him.

Not that I didn't try constantly to impress him. I was incredibly intimidated by him the first time we met. Suze drove me down to Williamsburg, where her parents were living at the time. They were Carolina folk and were not happy to be living in Virginia but had been transferred here when BASF bought the company they both worked for. We pulled up to a gate to the neighborhood with a guard house and Suzanne had the guard call up and announce us. I looked at her slack-jawed. "You've got to be kidding!" I was already nervous. But, by the time we pulled into the drive of their beautiful two-story brick house with the manicured lawn, I was practically a puddle in the seat.

But the Lemonses, particularly Richard, were nothing but welcoming to me. No appraising stares. No trick questions. No backhanded compliments. They sat me down, handed me a beer and made me feel at home. And Mr. Lemons spent the next 20 years making me feel that way. Never once in the entire time I knew him did he ever make me feel like I wasn't good enough for his daughter. Turns out the gated community wasn't something they'd wanted to be a part of but a lot of the transferred employees were living there. The whole gate thing wasn't their style at all. Mr. Lemons was a farm boy that had worked his way up in life through hard work and scrappiness. He didn't put on airs and didn't care for people who did.

Over the years, intimidation gave way to respect and admiration, then affection and finally love. I've had a lot of heroes in my life and I decided long ago that your heroes always let you down. But Mr. Lemons never did. He was a wonderful man that had so many great qualities. And he was true to the end.

He was such a considerate and thoughtful person. Whenever we went down to visit, he would hand me the Sports Illustrated Magazine he'd invariably saved for me because it had a Packers article in it. He'd always make sure to have my brand of coffee or rum or beer or whatever he thought would make me happy. He would grill the most amazing steaks and chicken you've ever eaten and then tell everyone I did it because I came down and stood beside him while he cooked. He'd always make sure I got the biggest steak in the bunch too.

He loved his NC State Wolfpack (his alma mater) and was delighted when he found out I "rooted" for them before I'd ever met Suzanne. (I liked that their colors were the same as my high school's.) We would have the best time watching the games with him and, if we weren't down there, he would call us to let us know the game was being televised.

I've always hated martinis because...well, because they're terrible. But her father could make the most spectacular martinis. They were ungodly good. We always called him "Bartender Rick." I think he was proud of that.

He had a catchphrase. Each night, when he got tired, he would stand up and say, "Well, you can stay up all night if you want to..." and then sing a rousing verse or two of "Goodnight, Irene." It made us laugh every time.

He was such a patient man. When we got down to the house 3:00 Monday morning after we got the call, Suzanne's sister told us how her husband Scott had said that he felt like he learned something new from Richard every time he came down for a visit. And I had just been thinking that very thing on the drive down. Because Suzanne's dad knew so many neat things. And he never judged you for not knowing. He would show you how to tie a knot in a rope to keep the boat secured or just the right way to throw an anchor or how to steer the boat. And he would never get angry if it took you ten tries. Or if you forgot everything he showed you between visits. He'd just laugh and show you again.

He could get angry like anyone else. But I never once heard him raise his voice in anger. He didn't have to.

He had this one mannerism that I loved. If you asked him a question about something he felt strongly about he would pause and kind of half-shrug, half-tilt his head and cut a sideways glance away from you. Then explain it to you, trying to sound like he wasn't an expert but you knew damn well he was. I would sometimes ask him a question just to try and get him to do it.

He never made me feel bad about myself for not liking to fish or hunt or for not knowing how to work on cars. One time, I went out on a fishing trip with Mr. Lemons and Suzanne's Uncle James. They both dressed in thermal underwear (It was December.) but, oh, I knew better. I just put on some jeans and a sweatshirt and jacket. And froze nearly to death. I had the gut shakes so bad, I thought I would die. It was ridiculously stupid of me. James has teased me mercilessly about it ever since. But Mr. Lemons never did. Not once.

The thing I remember most about him was the way he moved. He had this calm deliberation about everything he did. At first I mistook it for just slowness. But over time, I realized that he didn't waste a single movement. Everything he did, every gesture and action, was thought out beforehand. It was almost a metaphor for the way he lived his life. Every decision was thought out in advance. I came to love that about him and would just watch him move and admire it. I wish I could do that. But I'm too impulsive.

The only time I think I ever impressed him was our last visit in September. Mr. Lemons and I shared a love of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. We were watching a John Wayne movie that I hadn't seen. A character actor came on-screen and Mr. Lemons said, "Who is that guy? He's in a lot of these movies." I said, "Ben Johnson" without missing a beat and he looked at me like he was seeing me differently. A kind of "You're okay, kid" look. I played it off because knowing an actor's name isn't really that big an accomplishment. But I cherish that look he gave me.

I could go on and on but it's very late and I'm very sad and I just want to go to sleep and forget this week ever happened. If just for a while.

It feels strange to have this much affection for the father of your wife. You're not supposed to like your in-laws, after all. But I really did love that man. But he was so cool that I could never bring myself to call him "Richard", to his face or otherwise. And I knew he didn't like me to call him Mr. Lemons either. So I would play this game where I would have to word my sentences with creative uses of pronouns to avoid either one. I don't know if he picked up on it or not but now I wish I'd just called him Richard. Even just once. But...you didn't call the Fonz "Arthur", did you?

Good night, Richard. I'll miss you more than I can express.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bill Mantlo

Yep. You've seen this drawing before. Bear with me.

Thanks to some of Bill Mantlo's other fans at the John Byrne Forum, I was recently reminded of his plight and the struggles his brother Mike has endured in order to care for him. One of the members at the JBF posted this link:


It's an in-depth article about the Mantlos and the shortcomings of our healthcare system. It's a long, difficult, heartbreaking read but I highly recommend it. Another JBF-er did some research and came up with Mike Mantlo's contact info. I emailed him yesterday and he's an incredibly nice, positive guy. I'd really like to help him in whatever small way I can. Which brings me to the point of this post.

A couple of years ago, Todd got me in touch with the nice folks at SpaceNite, the people that commission and auction off art featuring ROM, SPACEKNIGHT, (one of Mantlo's most popular projects for Marvel) for his benefit. Though I'm basically nobody, they were enthusiastic about me inserting myself into their project and I drew the above picture for them to auction off. It's pen and ink on 11x17 bristol. Through some snafu involving miscommunication, we never did close the deal and the art is still with me. As far as I know, there aren't anymore SpaceNites in the works and I'd hate for the drawing to go to waste.

So in addition to what I'm going to send to Mr. Mantlo myself, I'm hoping someone will offer me something for this piece. Whatever I get will go directly to Mike Mantlo for the benefit of his brother. If anyone reading this is interested, please send an offer to me at DELETETHISmafus@comcast.netDELETETHIS and the art will go to the highest bidder. Though I don't expect the world to beat down my door, I did spend quite a bit of time on this so I'm going to start the bidding at $50. Since traffic's down the last couple of months since I took a break, I'm going to give it a while and close the bidding at noon on December 15th, 2011. If I haven't gotten any offers by then, I'll let you know and will then take whatever I can get. Deal?

Wish me luck and please keep Mike and Bill Mantlo in your thoughts over the holidays.

Astonishingly, I may actually have a new drawing to post soon. Later.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I had a great time with Rod and Leanne Hannah this past weekend. I was so happy they were able to come down for the Virginia Comicon. I also had fun hangin' with my friend Maddie McCants at the 'Ringo Scholarship table. We had a better-than-expected fundraising weekend so, combining that with what we brought in at the terrific Greenville show a few weeks ago, we'll be able to kick off the holidays with a sizable contribution to the scholarship fund. That thud you hear will be our contact at S.C.A.D. fainting. Thanks to everyone who donated and/or bought something.

Have a fun and safe Halloween, everyone!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Va Comicon Halloween Weekend

It's official. I'll be setting up for the Scholarship Fund at the VA COMICON here in Richmond next weekend. That will be Halloween weekend, in case you missed the title of this post! I'm so excited. I'm looking forward to all the folks in great cosplay outfits that will likely be there. Brett's throwing a costume contest this year and the winner gets $500!

Rod and Leanne Hannah of BlueMilkSpecial.com will be there. In fact, they're staying over at the Ringo Ranch so it looks like there will be a Hammer Horror Film Festival going on. I can't wait.


Still inching along with the layouts for issue 1 of HAND ME DOWN HORROR. I've also been trying to loosen up with some character sketches but it's been tough. I really want to draw this thing myself but if I want it to be read before I die, I may have to hire someone to draw it for me. I'm hoping it won't come to that. I'm too much of a control freak.

Here's a little teaser, though. I guess it's okay to post it, even though I'm light years away from being ready to publish. I think it's a much better representation of the tone of the book than the previous attempts I posted. I hope you like it.

That's all I've got. I hope to see y'all at the VA COMICON next weekend! Later.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Still Kickin'

Technically, I'm still on my break from the blog but I did want to post something to let anyone interested know that I'll be representing the Mike Wieringo Scholarship Fund in Greenville, NC this coming Saturday (October 8th) at the City Hotel and Bistro. Our friend David Tilley has kindly donated us space at his comic book show there this weekend. This is our first time setting up in Greenville so we're looking forward to meeting some new friends and hopefully seeing some old ones.

Coincidentally, my sister-in-law lives ten minutes away with her family so Suze will get some much-needed time with our niece and nephew and her sister Jennifer.


If anyone cares, pencil HAS been put to paper on THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR. While the going has been much slower than I'd hoped, I'm encouraged by the fact that I've begun and that I'm happy so far with what I've done. Hilariously, I've already deviated from the script as early as page one. Damn artists, always changing things. Mostly I'm just shifting angles and adding things to give background characters something to do. I'm trying something new (for me, anyway.) Instead of completely finishing a page before moving on to the next, I'm doing detailed half-size layouts for the complete first issue before I move on to lightboxing/penciling. Then, I'll pencil every page before inking and so on. Hopefully, this will keep me focused and moving and a faster pace.

While I'm enjoying seeing how my story is going to turn out visually, I have to say I much prefer writing to drawing. After eight full scripts and a rewrite, I had much more confidence in my writing than I do in my drawing. I'm so tense and draw so infrequently that it's hard to build up any consistency of style or any real confidence. Not to mention how difficult it's been drawing with my face two inches from the paper. (Not a consideration when writing.) The good (no, GREAT) news is that after Charlie broke my glasses while we were on vacation, I broke down and got bi-focals (those Invisi-line thingies) and now I can see enough to draw without leaning right over my hand. It's a huge relief. Maybe I can start reading more now too. I can't express what a pain that's been and how liberating these new glasses are.

Back to the book, I also have an official, finalized logo which is nowhere near what I posted before. It's much more playful and appropriate for the material. It's also something I think will stand out on the racks. Maybe if I'm feeling brave, I'll post it later.

I'm busier than ever and every moment I have to draw is spent on HMDH so, sadly, no sketches to post but we knew that. Still, all work and no play and all that so, for fun, Suze and I have been watching TRUE BLOOD on DVD. A coworker has the first three seasons on disk and she was nice enough to loan them to me. I've been wanting to watch the show for a while but I didn't want to spend our NetFlix rentals on endless TV show disks. Now we can just zip on through and hopefully catch season 4 on OnDemand. I have to say I'm really enjoying the hell out of the show though I'm amazed at how outrageously naughty it started out. The guy playing Sookie's brother either loves his job…or hates it. Then, halfway through Season 1, it seemed like the writers got caught up in the story and forgot to be raunchy. I'm a horror junkie and I like nekkid wimmens so I know why I'm enjoying it. But I can't, for the life of me, figure out what the attraction is for women. I guess there's the romance angle with the dark, mysterious and handsome vampire but that is such a small part of what goes on. With all the graphic sex and gore, I figured women would run screaming. Shows what I know about women. I've had that damned theme song (BAD THINGS) stuck in my head all weekend. It's a great song, though, so that's okay.

On regular TV, we've been enjoying the return of THE MENTALIST, FRINGE, FAMILY GUY and I'm looking forward to the new season of HOUSE. And, of course, there's football. My Pack is 4-0 and if they can stay healthy, they have a great shot at returning to the Superbowl this year. Suze and I are two-thirds of the way through THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy on audio book (we listen on the way to and from work) with a couple of books sent to us by Todd waiting in the wings.

Okay, I've got to run home now and get some things ready for planting grass seed in the morning. Rather than kill myself on the entire lawn this year (with no result) I've picked a small area of the yard and am working the hell out of it. If this works, I'll do that every year until the entire lawn looks good. Though, the way I feel today after just working a 20-foot by 20-foot patch all day yesterday, I may not even survive that.

Later, and I hope to see at least some of you in Greenville Saturday.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Four Years.

I have mixed feelings about continuing to mark this day. While I still enjoy posting on Mike's birthday, this is a day I'd just as soon forget. But I realize there are a lot of folks out there thinking about Mike today and I wanted you to know I'm with you.

I've actually been thinking about Mike a lot lately. He's never far from my thoughts at any given moment but lately...I don't know. It seems like every movie I see or book I read reminds me of him in one way or another. Suze and I recently managed to squeeze in a viewing CAPTAIN AMERICA. I was so blown away with well-realized the Avengers universe is in this series of films and it popped into my head that Mike passed away before the first IRON MAN movie came out. He would have loved all of these movies (especially THOR, I believe) and would have gotten such a kick out of the fact that they were being done. I'm so sad he never got to see any of them.

Mike loved movies as much as I do. And lately, I've found myself, through no conscious effort, watching a lot of the stuff we grew up watching and enjoying together.

I checked out the miniseries SHOGUN on DVD from our local library a couple weeks ago. I wasn't even aware it had been released. But the minute I saw the box, memories of sitting in front of the TV every night for a week with Mike flooded into my head. This was back in 1980 so I was 12 and Mike was 17. As a teenager, Mike was fascinated with Japanese culture. This was probably because of Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL stories. It was perfect timing. We absolutely loved the miniseries, absorbing everything. We even started humming the theme song for weeks afterward and speaking the few words of Japanese we'd managed to learn. I devoured the set, watching it every free minute instead of doing a million other things I should have been doing. And I felt like Mike was watching it again with me. I had a smile on my face that whole week.

Mike was really into Karate and took lessons for a while. He and — because I emulated him in all things — I started watching every Chuck Norris movie that came out. They ranged from awful to watchable but Mike took me to every one. He even got to meet Norris once when he came to speak at Mike's Karate dojo. Feeling nostalgic, I recently picked up a bunch of Norris' DVDs on Amazon cheap and started watching them again. They're just as awful as ever but it was nice to relive those memories of going to see them with my big brother.

The last movie I ever saw with Mike was a showing of LAND OF THE DEAD in Charlotte during the Heroes Convention. Mike and I were both Romero fans from way back and we jumped at the chance to see the movie together. Unfortunately, there were some loud guys talking in the row behind us and while Mike just ignored them, I couldn't take it. I got up and moved down several rows and so we didn't really see the movie together. If I had known...

Anyway. I miss Mikey more than ever. It doesn't sting quite as bad as it used to but as time goes by, I'm reminded of him more and more often. Everything I see, say or do seems to bring back memories. I guess that's a good thing. I just can't believe it's been four years since he left us. Suzanne and I were talking the other day and we agreed that it feel like he could just walk through the door this Thanksgiving and we almost wouldn't be surprised. It's like he's not really gone.

Certainly, I miss his work like any other fan. But I am especially missing just being able to pick up the phone and talk to him and seek his advice. He could make me laugh like nobody else could. And I loved how I would know that Mike was on the other end of the line when Suze picked up the phone because of how he would get her laughing until she "tee-heeed."

Worst of all, now that it's been four years, we've gotten to spend more time with Charlie than Mike did. That just seems wrong. As much as we love Charlie (and we love him dearly), he will always be Mike's "little buddy." Hell, Mike even drew him into the last work he completed. :)

So, thanks everybody for the kind thoughts today. I appreciate it more than you can know.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Taking a Break

As my work schedule has gotten worse and worse over the last few weeks and shows no sign of letting up, I've decided to take a break from the blog for a while. Not a permanent one but...for a while.

I'm most of the way through my last page of the PERHAPANAUTS assignment and plan to start inching my way through the HAND ME DOWN HORROR as soon as possible. Between that, the scholarship and finding myself in need of a lot of training to stay relevant in my job, the added pressure of trying to post something of interest on a regular basis has stolen some of the fun out of it. Though I'm still a "compulsive doodler", it's been weeks since I've even been able to pick up a pencil at work. That's not likely to change, frustrating as it is. I'm going to devote what little energies I have left at the end of the day to getting my book drawn and doing some other things I've been putting off.

Thanks for indulging me all this time. I'll certainly check in from time to time to announce when and where we'll be representing the scholarship fund and hopefully to share some HMDH artwork. But it will be on a much less regular basis. Hopefully, I'll see you around Todd and Craig's blogs.


Thursday, June 30, 2011


I really don't feel like whining about how much I've been working. Though I could.

Instead, I'll mention how I took great pains to clear this past weekend so I could work on my remaining PERHAPANAUTS pages and that worked out really well. One more page to go and that one looks like it's going to be a lot of fun.

Just for shiggles, (that one's for you, Ricky) I did the math on how long it's taken me to do this assignment, per page and, if I applied that math to THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR, it would probably take me 132 years to draw that. I don't think that will actually be the case, though. I plan on doing much simpler drawings and not noodling the backgrounds so much. I guess that's because I'm going to be inking them instead of Christian. As I've sent each 'HAPS page to Christian, I've gotten a response from him in the vein of, "OH COME ON!!! SERIOUSLY?" Dude is going to be living with a ruler in his hand for a while.

Speaking of HMDH, though I've not come anywhere close to meeting my schedule of starting the art on it this past January, I can say with some satisfaction that my rewrite has gone well and I'm pretty much done. Most of the dialogue got rewritten. The very first scene was re-conceived and some plot holes were fixed. Except for a few tweaks to some heavy-handed dialogue that I can do while lettering, I think I'm good to get started when I'm done with the 'HAPS. I'm much happier with it now. Still not completely satisfied but I feel like I've taken it up a notch above where it was.

Also, I want to say that I've been getting quite a few emails and Facebook notifications from folks since Heroes and just have not had any time to respond to any of that so I apologize. I'll get to that as soon as possible.

Lastly, the sketch above was done while I was waiting around the other night at work. Been pulling some all-nighters lately and that's got me back to sketching. I liked how this started out but by the end, I wasn't as happy with it as I'd hoped. Still figuring out how to draw women. And I was too damned tired to figure out the background.

Okay, that's all I've got. I'm exhausted. Going to bed early. Later.

Friday, June 24, 2011


One of the things people mention most when we talk about Mike is how much they miss his laugh. It was a good one. Hard to describe. He was very unselfconscious about it. If something struck him funny, he just cut loose. Sometimes, if he wasn't laughing uproariously, he would do this "ssss—sssss—sssss" thing that sounded like a snake with hiccups. The one that always got me, though, was when he'd laugh, seemingly forever, then repeat whatever it was that cracked him up in this high-pitched wheezy voice and then go off in gales of laughter again. For instance, if he was watching OFFICE SPACE:

"HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA…ha ha ha…ha.ssss—ssss—ssss—ssss…

"Lumbergh f***ed her!"


It was very endearing. Well…except this one time.

I've mentioned the trip to Italy we took with our parents and Suzanne about 10 years ago. I hate to fly under the best of circumstances but the flight to Milan was almost unbearable. Suzanne, Mike and I were in the center section with me in the middle. Suze was sitting next to a guy who was sniffing and wheezing and grunting like he had the Black Plague. The screens for the in-flight movie were embedded in the backs of the chairs so if the guy sitting in front of you put his seat back, you were out of luck. This was the case with me. By twisting my head at an unnatural angle, I was able to catch an occasional glimpse of the movie but I couldn't sustain it.

Mike was more fortunate. He was able to watch his movie just fine and that movie was GALAXY QUEST. "Oh, cool! I haven't seen this!" I told him he was in for a treat because it was hilarious. Apparently, Mike agreed.

I had taken off my headphones because they were pointless without being able to see the movie. But Mike had his on. Remember that scene in JERRY MAGUIRE where Tom Cruise is singing along to a song we can't hear and screwing up the lyrics? He thinks he's doing a great job but, to us, he sounds terrible.

For anyone not watching the movie, there was the not unpleasant hum and creak of a large aircraft cruising along broken by the occasional cough or whine of an unhappy child. Then it started.

"HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA…ha ha ha…ha.ssss—ssss—ssss—ssss…

"Hell of a thing!"



"HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA…ha ha ha…ha.ssss—ssss—ssss—ssss…

"That's not right!"



"HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA…ha ha ha…ha.ssss—ssss—ssss—ssss…

"…By Grabthar's hammer!"


Every head turned toward Mike. He had no idea how loud he was being and I don't think he would have cared if he did. He was having the time of his life. He watched the entire movie like that while I slumped down in my seat trying to be as small as possible. Once in a while, someone would catch my eye and I'd shrug and shake my head. "Never met this guy before…"

Finally, mercifully, the movie stopped. Mike took off his headphones and said, "That was a great movie. I can't believe I've never seen it before."

Things went back to normal. But it was a long flight. And, wouldn't you know it, there was time for another movie. There were actually "channels" on the screens so you could choose between three different movies. Mike put on his headphones and chose…GALAXY QUEST. I thought we'd be okay, though, because he'd just seen it. No way would he find it that funny when he already knew the jokes.

Wrong. Apparently, it TWICE as funny.

Want to try and guess what he watched on the flight back? I bet you'd be right.

That was one of those excruciating experiences you think will never end. And then it does. And you laugh about it for the rest of your life. So, yeah. I miss Mike's laugh too.

Especially that one.

Happy Birthday, Mikey.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wieringo Animal Shelter

I've been much too busy lately between work, parental visits and achieving true manhood by switching out the alternator on our Suburban all by my lonesome to do any sketching but I did want to share something with you.

A week or so ago, I had the pleasure of representing the Mike Wieringo Scholarship Fund at the quarterly Va Comicon here in Richmond. I love the Va Comicon because it's a fun little show and Brett treats us REALLY well and we don't have to travel. I get to sleep in my own bed at night and don't put a lot of miles on the cars. But the best part is getting to hang out with some familiar faces like Shelton (Heroes) Drum and Marc (Baltimore Comicon) Nathan without them being under the pressures that their respective conventions place on them.

I was visiting Marc at his booth when one of his guys came over and shook my hand. He was a fan of Mike's and wanted to ask my opinion of the tribute to Mike that was in one of Marvel's recent comics. I told him I hadn't seen it. It was apparently in one of Marvel's current crossover tie-ins (FEAR ITSELF: HOMEFRONT #2) and, well, I don't read that sort of thing anymore. But the fellow (I'm sorry to say I've forgotten his name) was very excited about it and told me the exact issue to look for.

I proceeded to check every dealer at the convention and, despite finding some other fun stuff for myself, I couldn't locate the book. So, immediately after the show closed, I drove over to Nostalgia Plus and told Marvin what I was looking for. He located it in 30 seconds and this is what we found inside:

I'm not sure who to thank for that...the writer, the artist or even the letterer. But it's a wonderful tribute and one I think Mike would have just loved. So "Thanks!" to whoever was responsible.

Pretty cool, right?

Monday, June 6, 2011

We're back from our trip to the 2011 Heroes Convention in Charlotte. Just walked in the door, in fact, and it's really great to see Charlie. He's so happy we're back. I'll probably post a more detailed summary later in the week but I have some email to catch up on, lots of unpacking and I really need to collapse for a while before work starts back up tomorrow.

First, and most importantly, I'd like to officially congratulate Nicky Soh, our second recipient of the Mike Wieringo Scholarship Fund at S.C.A.D. He was one of three finalists given to us to submit to our panel of judges (thanks, folks!) and it was a very close vote. All the finalists should be very proud of their accomplishments. I wish we could give all three of them the scholarship.

Nicky Soh is very deserving of this award. Unfortunately, with the convention moved up a few weeks this year, Nicky wasn't able to make it to the announcement Saturday night on such short notice. Hopefully, he can attend next year. Good luck, Nicky. You deserve it.

As for our last (or, rather, first) recipient, Rae Rochelle, she has now graduated and I can't wait to see where she goes from here. I hope S.C.A.D. will keep us up on how she's doing. She was the speaker at the S.C.A.D. scholarship dinner (which we were sadly unable to attend) earlier this year and we received a copy of her speech from Karla Geibner, our contact in Savannah. It really choked us up. She's a great person and I'm so glad she was the first person to win the scholarship. I think Mike would be very proud.

Before I sign off, I want to thank everyone who stopped by and donated money or items for sale to the fund or bought something from us. We got some incredibly generous donations from passers-by, friends and pros alike. I can't thank you all enough. Your continuing generosity keeps us going. I'd thank you all by name ( I remember each and every one of you.) but I don't want to embarrass anyone. Just please know how thankful we are.

I also want to thank all the people who stopped by or emailed us or posted here and on Facebook with their condolences about Toonces. Everyone was very understanding and went out of their way to make sure I didn't feel like I was being perceived as the "crazy cat guy." We weren't sure we were ready for Heroes after we lost our little guy and especially were worried about leaving Charlie alone for 3 days but once we got to the show, everyone really cheered us up and we had a great time. It was fun seeing all our "regulars" and all of Mike's friends. ( I guess, after all this time, I really should start calling them "our" friends since they've embraced us.)

Thanks also to our friends Don and Kelly McCants who kindly stopped by over the weekend and checked in on Charlie and hung out with him for THREE HOURS so he wouldn't feel so lonely.

A huge thank you to Shelton Drum and his Heroes crew who hooked us up with a great spot next to our friends Todd, Craig and Nick, along with our new friends Gino and Scott. Also, he deserves a medal for putting up with my annoying emails and phone calls while he was swamped with convention business. Thank you, Shelton!

Finally, thank you to Casey Jones who generously spent hours this weekend doing sketches for us to sell for the fund when he could have been making money for himself. He's such a great and talented guy. And he loved Mike. He's doing a great job keeping Mike's memory alive and telling great stories about Mike's professional days that even I didn't know. I'm so grateful for that. If you're interested, (and why wouldn't you be) click the Artamus blog link on the right. Thank you so much for everything, Casey.

Okay, more later.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No More Miracles

This is a very long story and certainly nobody is required to read it. But Toonces was a sweet and faithful friend and he has more than earned a proper memorial. I make no apologies. This is more for me than anyone else anyway so feel free to skip this and I'll see you after the Heroes Convention.

Next month, Toonces would have been officially 20 years old. That's a good long run for any cat. But I don't think any amount of time would have been enough for us. Everyone thinks of their pets as special but in Tooncie's case, it was true. Because he wasn't a pet. In a house with no children, he was our family. He was a tiny, sweet, gentle, loving little guy and I will miss him always. Suzanne says he finally used up his nine lives. And that sounds about right.

Everyone that met him instantly fell in love with him. And everyone had a different name for him. I called him "Tooncie", "Boose" and "Li'l Buddy". Suze called him "Puss", "Tig", "Tigger Bumps" and, because of his small size (he was all fur and only 8 pounds of it at his heaviest) her "tiny little sweetheart." Christian called him "Peepers" because of his big eyes and because it irritated Suzanne. My father-in-law is sort of a cross between Santa Claus and Ernest Hemmingway and while he loved Toonces, I think he thought his name was not quite manly enough. So he started calling him "Toon-Man." My brother Mike, who almost never called anyone by their real name, took to calling him "Woonces", "Woon-seshun", "Tarwoonces" and "the Mibian" for some unknowable reason. Suzanne latched onto that one and later started calling him her "Miracle Mib." There was a reason for that which I'll get to.

I first met Toonces when I moved to Norfolk, ostensibly to start a video production company with a college friend of mine. I'd made an off-hand comment to my aunt that I was thinking about getting a cat because I didn't want to be alone down there. I'd even gone ahead and paid the extra deposit on my apartment for pets, just in case. My aunt, being who she was, took my "what-if" as gospel and took it upon herself to find me a cat. Turns out the father of one of her friends, an old Lithuanian immigrant living in Sandston, had the horrifying habit of allowing his female cat to keep getting pregnant and then hunting for the kittens so he could drown them in a bucket. The mother cat got wise and found a hiding place for her kittens and the old man didn't find them until their eyes had opened. At that point, he couldn't bring himself to kill them. There were four kittens. Two girls and two boys. I didn't want a girl cat because I was afraid she'd get out and get pregnant before I could have her "fixed". So I picked one of the boys, a beautiful, grey-and-white longhair with blue eyes. The old man said, "no." He wanted that one. "Well, shit" I thought. That only left one choice. And he looked almost exactly like the cat we'd had as kids named Morris which I didn't really want. I had already decided on what I wanted to name my future cat and this little kitten, cute as he was, sure didn't look like a Toonces. This was not a match made in heaven, I felt. Still, it was this one or nothing. So I bundled up this tiny little cream-colored kitten and took him back to Norfolk with me, grumbling.

We had a rough start.

I'd never raised a kitten on my own and he was so tiny he was barely a hand full. Once I let him loose in my little duplex apartment, he kept crawling under things and getting stuck. I'd move the furniture and he'd run under something else. Finally, I took the advice of a friend and put him in the bathroom overnight to get acclimated. Bad idea. The screen in the bathroom window was ajar and he got out. The next morning I woke up and found him missing. I ran outside and looked all over, finally discovering him under the stairs of the apartment next door, shivering and terrified. I brought him back inside and admonished him. Over the next week or so, he peed on my favorite chair, pooped on the carpet, knocked water over on some of my drawings, shredded toilet paper all over the apartment and knocked the trash over, getting chicken bones all over the place. I was having dinner one night while talking to Suze on the phone. Tater tots and ketchup. Toonces jumped onto the table and dragged his tail through the ketchup and started slinging it all over the room while I held the phone in one hand and tried to grab him with the other. Worst of all, there was a body of water nearby and the area was infested with mosquitos and fleas. They found Toonces. He had them so bad he was miserable.

Suzanne finally came down for a visit to meet him. I'd made him a bed in a box with the side cut out. On the top, I'd put a "sign" that read "Toonces, the cat who could take a nap." When she walked in while I was a work, he was asleep ON TOP of the box. She fell in love immediately but he wanted nothing to do with her. It took several visits for him to warm up to her and even then it was only after she spent hours combing fleas off his face and dunking them in the "flea vat", as I called it. An old margarine tub filled with alcohol. After that, he loved her like crazy. I'd finally had enough of the fleas and tried rubbing him down with flea-killing foam. He immediately tried to lick it off which I was afraid would make him sick. So I tried to wash him down in the sink. He freaked out and clawed his way up my face, over the top of my head and down the back of my neck. I had to peel him off and toss him into the chair he'd once peed in.

This wasn't working out.

I had about given up on our relationship when, one morning, I woke up and was heading to the kitchen to make coffee. There was a huge spider sitting on the floor just inside the bedroom door, blocking my exit. Suzanne will tell you I am terrified of spiders to the point of genuine arachnophobia. This thing was the size of a silver dollar, black as midnight and all angles. It was staring at me. I froze. I didn't know what to do. I was afraid if I moved, it would be on me in an instant. Suddenly, in a blur of beige fur, Toonces came out of nowhere and slapped the spider hard with his paw two, three, four times! Then he leapt back, never taking his eyes off the spider, which was stunned and twitching. I grabbed a ream of typing paper I kept around for drawing and dropped it on the spider. Toonces and I locked eyes. He'd saved me! I started laughing and picked him up and hugged him. And that was the moment it happened. We were best friends for life.

The job didn't work out and I ended up moving back home to Lynchburg with my tail between my legs. Dad wasn't thrilled to have a cat in the house and set strict rules for where he was allowed to go. But mom was secretly delighted. He took to mom and I was dismayed to see that he was in danger of becoming "her" cat. I'd found a job as an Art Director for a first aid kit manufacturer. Which is a huge laugh but I won't go into that. After about nine months of that, I got a job back in Richmond working as Production Manager for a graphics service bureau. I rented a room from my aunt but had to leave Toonces behind. I visited him at my parents' place as often as I could. Suzanne and I eventually got engaged and, when we finally got married, it was time to bring Toonces to Richmond. Mom was devastated. She had become so attached to the little guy that it was like losing an arm when I drove off with him. I feel terrible about that to this day. But Tooncie and I were best buddies. He had taken to spending every minute possible in my lap. He was a cold natured kitty and I tend to give off a lot of heat. I'd been wrong. We actually were a match made in heaven.

Tooncie settled right into his new life with me and Suzanne in Richmond. We were renting a nice little brick rancher in the western part of the county that Suzanne had shared with some roommates until we got married. Their lease was running out and they had both made other arrangements. Despite seeming to like his new home, he picked up an old habit of sneaking out.

One Christmas, he got out the night before we were going to drive down to spend the holiday with Suzanne's family. He was gone for hours. Searching the area turned up nothing. We decided I would stay behind and go to work on Christmas and print up flyers and search the neighborhood. We were hugging and crying on the couch when we heard an almost imperceptible meow. We looked up and saw Toonces looking in at us through the storm door. He had an expression on his face that was like he was saying, "Damn, y'all. It's cold out here. You going to let me in or what?" Our relief was indescribable.

The next time he got out, he ran up a tree in the front yard. We didn't have a ladder so I had to back my truck up to the tree and use that as a boost to climb up after him. I took a pillow case and put him in it. We could see the outline of his head moving back and forth and the effect was so comical we laughed ourselves silly.

Eventually, we bought our own house just down the street. A new, slapped together thing of only about 1,000 square feet. But it was enough for the three of us. Tooncie found lots of high places where he could watch things happen (and we had no idea how he could possibly have gotten up there) and there was a big bay window overlooking the back yard so he could watch squirrels and birds.

Despite his small size and his fastidious, quiet nature (he rarely meowed, only chirped) he was fearless. He got out of the new house one day and as we were chasing him down the front steps, a bluejay dive-bombed him. He barely flinched and went on the offensive, missing the bird with one lightning-quick swipe by a hair. The bird left him alone after that.

One of my favorite memories of all time occurred in that house. My mother, for some reason, hates to impose on anyone in any way. For the longest time, whenever she'd visit, she'd bring her own everything. Water. Towels. Snacks. Even toilet paper. I don't want to embarrass her but we were really scratching our heads on that one. Money was tight but we weren't destitute. One day after a visit, I found a roll in a plastic baggie in the guest room. Shaking my head, I took it into the living room to show Suzanne. Toonces came running up to me in a playful mood. In the picture above you can see the hallway behind him. Since it was the most open area of the house, we would throw things — usually a ball of tin foil or paper or a cardboard tube — down there and watch him chase them. Something made me get down in a center's stance, holding the roll of toilet paper like a football. Tooncie came up beside me, curious. I yelled, "Hike!" and stood up, going back for the pass. And damned if Tooncie didn't run down the hallway. When he got halfway down, I threw the roll to the end of the hallway. Tooncie got there just in time, leapt into the air, spinning around midair to face me...and batted the "ball" out of the air with both paws. I howled with laughter. Suzanne and I took to doing that with him as often as possible. He would do it once...and only once...every time. Then he would run off and do something else as if he was saying, "I don't like to repeat myself." When we told Suzanne's parents, they didn't believe it. So we said, "Go ahead." And he did it for my father-in-law which delighted him no end. I was so sad when, one day, he decided his football career was over and that was that.

After five years or so, the little house got to be a burden. Whenever we'd have Thanksgiving dinner, either Mike or my parents would have to stay in a hotel because we only had one guest room. And our combination kitchen/dining room/laundry room/catfood-and-water area was driving us crazy. Plus, we realized, there just wasn't any room for Toonces, now past ten years old, to get the exercise he needed to keep him healthy. He was always a light eater but he was getting lethargic. We were both making better money at that point and moved into the larger house we're in now.

Shortly after we moved in, Washington D.C. and Richmond were plagued by two assholes with a rifle that the media dubbed the Beltway Sniper. The whole thing seems kind of dreamlike now but at the time, we were genuinely terrified every time we went shopping or filled our cars up with gas, never knowing if we'd hear the shot that got us. One weekend, we were out shopping for things to spruce up our new fixer-upper and had gone to Target and Lowe's and Home Depot, all in the northern part of Henrico, about five minutes from Ashland. That was the day a man was shot and nearly killed by the sniper at the Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland. When we heard the news, my blood chilled and Suzanne was inconsolable. We both felt like we'd almost stepped into an empty elevator shaft. I was trying to comfort Suzanne. I turned off the T.V. and suggested we play the board game SORRY! to take her mind off it. She agreed. Toonces, always able to read our moods, decided his mommy needed him. While we spread the game out on the couch seat between us, Tooncie jumped up and positioned himself at the board between it and the back of the couch, looking at it...and us...with curiosity. Suze and I looked at each other, laughed shakily...and dealt him in. And he played! He got the yellow pieces and, I shit you not, he pawed his pieces every time they came around to him. I won't pretend he moved them the right amount. But it was like he was playing the game. We laughed and laughed. And you know what...? HE WON.

Tooncie really took to his new home, which was a relief. He seemed more energetic, running up and down stairs and finding all new hiding places and perches. The previous owner had installed wide window sills on the inside for potted plants and they were perfect for Toonces. He was able to sit in various windows throughout the house and look out. In the springtime, we'd leave the windows open and he would squint into the breeze coming through, sniffing the air. He was so happy.

After a few years, though, he started to slow down. He was losing weight. He was fourteen and I started to get worried. Dr. Ryder, our vet, who comes to our home, diagnosed him with hyperthyroidism. She said that if we didn't do something, he would continue to lose weight until he died. We had two options. Medication or radiation. The medication was fairly cheap but if he was allergic, we'd have to stop. We started him on it and he immediately threw up and started scratching. That meant radiation. The radiation was $1,200 and it meant we had to leave him at the vet for several days because of the danger of exposure. The money was the easy part. We cried like babies when we had to leave him there in that strange place. But we brought him home and followed all the rules they'd set forth. We properly disposed of his waste. We used gloves. We petted him but didn't allow him to sit in our laps. Well...except...the day we brought him home, I was exhausted. We spent some time with him, trying to keep contact to a minimum. But then I went up for a nap. An hour later, I woke up there was Tooncie, asleep on my crotch!!!! At that point, we weren't yet trying for children but it sure gave me a scare. The good news was that the radiation worked like a charm. He was good as new, much more energetic and it was then that Suzanne started calling him our Miracle Mib.

After that, though Tooncie continued to show a little age if you looked for it, people were still shocked to hear he how old he was. It was like there was a portrait of him in the attic getting older. We couldn't be happier.

Then, in 2007, Mike died. We were faced with the difficult decision of what to do with Mike's cat Charlie. My father was adamant that we shouldn't bring him home. But Charlie was family and was so important to Mike. So we decided we had to try. My father warned that we were going to "ruin the last years of Toonces' life." How wrong he was. After a few weeks of getting the measure of each other, the two became cautious friends. Toonces actually seemed to enjoy having another cat around, despite having to compete for lap time, food and prime window space. We wished we'd gotten him a friend sooner. Toonces and Charlie chased each other around every night, delighting us with their antics and easing the pain we were in just enough. Tooncie started going deaf, eventually only able to respond to sharp whistles. But, otherwise, he was none the worse for wear.

Then Toonces started peeing everywhere, pretty much making Suzanne's office uninhabitable. At first we thought it was a reaction to Charlie but then Dr. Ryder told us he was in renal failure. We were devastated. She said it was serious and told us when it got bad enough, we'd have to give him fluid injections and all sorts of medication. We started crying again. How could this be? He still looked terrific. We put extra litter boxes on each floor of the house and they random peeing stopped. But nothing else happened. He didn't seem to get worse. He was drinking and urinating more than usual but after a couple of years without incident, we started to think we'd witnessed another miracle. He was the Energizer Bunny. My god, nothing could keep this little guy down!

One night, Suzanne and I were watching TV and I realized that Tooncie was facing away from us on his favorite perch, the two-seater in our den. That was weird. I tapped him on the "shoulder" and he jerked. But didn't look at me. I turned him around and waved my hand in front of his face. He didn't follow it. Horrified, I realized my little buddy had gone blind. The next morning, we found him upstairs in my office. He was able to get around, bumping into door jambs and feeling his way down stairs (a heart-wrenching sight) but he refused to give up. Still, he'd decided to make my office his base of operations, so we set him up with a litter box and food and water and called Dr. Ryder. Of course, by the time she got there, he stubbornly wanted to go everywhere in the house so we had to follow him to keep him from hurting himself. Dr. Ryder arrived and checked his blood pressure and eyes. She said his pressure was higher than any cat's she'd ever seen and it had detached his retinas. He was irreversibly blind and we HAD to get his pressure down. She prescribed medication that had to be given every day. The pharmacy was kind enough to realize we'd have trouble forcing pills on a blind cat and created a solution for us we could give him with an oral syringe. And so we did.

Things continued like that for a week or so, us struggling to medicate a blind and stubborn cat and watching him bounce off walls and get lost if we picked him up. It was breaking our hearts. Then he started getting better at moving around. I noticed whenever he changed rooms, he'd look up at the ceiling and realized he was probably able to still see a little light if it was bright enough and was using the ceiling lights to navigate and get his bearings. He was so smart. We started leaving the lights on all over the house, night and day.

Then, one day, when Suze and I were in the kitchen and I was walking from one end of the room to the other and I stopped in my tracks. Toonces had followed my path across the kitchen with his eyes. I looked over at Suze. She'd noticed it too. I ran over and moved my hand back and forth in front of his face. He watched it. Back...and forth. HE COULD SEE! We snatched him up and hugged him and laughed with relief. Dr. Ryder came over and examined him. His blood pressure was under control and — she couldn't believe this herself — his vision had almost entirely returned. She'd never seen anything like it. Another miracle. Suzanne said, "He just used up another of his nine lives. How many does he have left?"

Unfortunately, we would find out. Dr. Ryder had detected a heart murmur and recommended we take him to a feline cardiologist. We did and the prognosis was not good. After all manner of tests, the doctor told us that the walls of one of his ventricles was getting thicker from the high blood pressure...it had to pump harder to get the blood circulated...and that eventually a clot would form in there. He told us he was doing fine now but he wanted to see him again in about six months. He upped the dosage on his medication.

Over the last year, Tooncie's deafness and arthritis had gotten him into the habit of getting me up at 4:30 or 5:30 every morning. It wasn't to be fed. He just wanted us up with him. As soon as I got up, he'd start in on Suzanne who, fortunately, is a much heavier sleeper than me. It got so bad I would have to lock myself in my office a couple of times a week with the fan on to catch up on sleep. He was relentless. I was irritable and exhausted all the time. I could feel years dropping off the end of my life. But there was nothing to do about it. I tried locking him in the downstairs bathroom for a few hours once but he peed on the floor and I felt so guilty I vowed never to do it again. We tried throwing rolled up socks and squirting him with a water pistol. After he went blind I promised him I'd never do that again. I was so grateful when he got his sight back that I stuck to it. And "shushing" him didn't do any good. He was deaf. I had to do it so loudly, it scared him and woke Suze up anyway.

Nights were better. He would curl up on the two seater behind my legs and in the winter, we set up a heating pad which relieved his arthritis. Sometimes we'd have a fire in the fireplace and he'd curl up in the chair or on the floor next to it, one of his favorite spots. He looked older but still in great shape for an old, old kitty. Sometimes, he would even get in bed with us and Charlie and we'd be one big happy family. Six months passed. Almost time for his check up.

I woke up Tuesday morning and realized Tooncie had let me sleep until 7:30 which was unheard of. I looked for him and found him in my office, under a chair next to the comic boxes. It was one of his spots. He noticed me and yowled. This wasn't his usual "get up and feed me" meow. And certainly not the gentle chirp we'd come to love. Tooncie was in trouble. I noticed his front paw was at a weird angle and he couldn't put any weight on it. He was week and scared. I woke Suze up and we frantically called Dr. Ryder repeatedly, hounding her answering machine until she answered. She came right over as soon as she heard and confirmed our fears. Our sweet baby had had a stroke. I'm not going to go into detail but we did spend the entire day with him, loving him and taking him outside for some air and sunshine. We never left his side for 12 hours. He wouldn't eat or drink and couldn't seem to sleep more than a minute or so at a time. Then Dr. Ryder came back and thogh I thought I was ready, I wasn't. Our sorrow was indescribable.

The next morning, I couldn't sleep. I woke up at 4:30 and went downstairs. After I cried for a while, I had to laugh. He was gone but he was still getting me up early!

If you don't have pets or don't like animals, I don't expect you to understand. Tooncie spent 20 years making us happy when we were sad and seeing us through some of the hardest times we'll ever know. He was our child, our light and the reason we couldn't wait to come home at night. He was a funny and sweet and gentle soul. His quiet purr and sweet little chirps are what I imagine an angel's harp would sound like. He loved going on vacations to the beach with us, sitting on the back porch watching the seagulls and feeling the sea breeze blowing through his fur. He loved to climb onto my hip when I was on the couch. He loved tuna out of the can and rotisserie chicken and would beg for it without shame. He would roll over on his back, look you in the eye and reach out with one paw and break your heart. He would let Suzanne pick him up and hold him face-up (but tear me to ribbons if I tried it.) Then, he would turn his head around and look at me while she did it with this forlorn expression on his face as if to say, "Are you really allowing this to happen?" He had these cute little tufts of fur on his paws so that, when he ran around a corner on the hardwood, he'd just run in place for a while like a cartoon character and make us laugh until we cried. He played a game with Suzanne that we called "Bite the Mommy" that was the cutest thing I've ever seen. He had a way of entering a room that made you hear "Ta-daaah!" in your head every time he did it. He had a gorgeous ruff around his neck like a lion and poofy hair on his back legs that looked like he was wearing pants.

And a million other little things I hope I never forget.

July 1st would have been his 20th birthday and I really wish he'd made it.

So long, my li'l buddy. Everyone's cat is special. But not every cat is Toonces. He was our little Miracle Mib. He just ran out of miracles.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Toonces 1991-2011

I'll post something longer in a while. I'm just not up to it now. Suzanne and I have lost our little buddy, our son, our tiny little sweetheart. Toonces is gone.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What Might Have Been

Well, shoot. I was one of those jerks saying that WB really blew it with the casting of the WONDER WOMAN pilot that ended up not getting picked up for next season. But now they've released some stills (I got these from iFanboy.) from the show and I have to say...wow. Adrianne Palicki looks absolutely stunning as the amazon princess. All the reviews I've read have really given her props for pulling off the role. Now I'm disappointed we won't get the chance to see it.

I feel bad for Palicki, too. I like her. She was the one bright spot in the terrible LEGION. I hope she can survive this and find her star-making role.

Have a great holiday weekend.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Goin' Back to Charlotte...

It's official. Shelton Drum has graciously made it possible for us to represent the 'Ringo Scholarship again at this year's Heroes Convention in Charlotte June 3-5. We hope to make an exciting announcement there so if you're going to the convention, make sure to attend the art auction Saturday night.

We'll be setting up in our usual spot with the lovely creators of THE PERHAPANAUTS, Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau (and maybe Nick Cardy!) Just look for us under our new vertical banner (see above.) It's scheduled to be ready a week before the show. So cross your fingers.

If you think you've seen everything we have to offer, think again. Suze and I have taken another look at some of the artwork in our possession and we're in a better state of mind now and have decided to let more of it go. We're still not selling any of the TELLOS pages and likely never will but there will be some pages from Mike's final completed project, the SPIDER-MAN AND FANTASTIC FOUR miniseries he did with the inestimable Jeff Parker. And there will also be some pages that I'm just in love with that Mike did for his two-issue run on MS. MARVEL. Mike had a real fondness for the character as a teenager (especially when Dave Cockrum redesigned her outfit) and I think it shows in these pages. All these pages are inked and have some nice character shots so they'll be a little more expensive. But we won't be gouging. Mike would NOT have liked that. Even if you don't want to buy a page, please feel free to stop by and take a look. You'll see why I've been hesitant to sell them.

A quick aside about the SPIDEY-FF stuff. It's inked by Wade Von Grawbadger, one of my favorite inkers. I'd been a real fan of his from when he was inking Tony Harris on STARMAN. About a month after Mike passed away, I got an email from Wade telling me that he had some pages of Mike's from the miniseries and wanted my address so he could send them to me. I was blown away. I had just assumed that Mike had sold them off and forgot about it. Wade could have just sold the pages and I'd never have been the wiser. But he not only didn't sell them, he made a real effort to track me down and contacted me to return them. In our email exchanges, he struck me an extremely nice, self-deprecating and sweet person. I can't thank him enough for the effort he made. Because of him, I got to hold those beautiful pages in my hand and now we'll get to use them to expand the scholarship in Mike's name. So here's a great big public "Thank you!" to Wade Von Grawbadger.

Friday, May 20, 2011


She-Hulk. Just because. Four posts in one week. That must be some kind of record.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Head Games

As promised, here are some head studies of three of the main characters in THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR.

First up is Prince Vlad himself, Dracula. He has several different looks throughout the story, including (as seen in the lower right corner) the historical Vlad. I didn't want to be strictly bound to the few existing portraits of the real man himself. I took my "post-curse" design and incorporated a few elements but I took some liberties with the hair (Draculea's appeared to be fairly curly in the paintings I've seen.) and changed the mustache. But I think you can tell who it's supposed to be at a glance. This whole exercise was sparked by a sketch I did last week showing a scene featuring Vlad from the first chapter. I've included that one as well.

Next is Dana Barnes. I think these drawings capture her character pretty well. She's obviously a little tomboyish but unmistakably feminine enough to catch Johnny's eye. A bit of a flirt but practical when she has to be.

And, finally, our hero. I think Johnny's hair still looks a little off. I'm not sure what it is. When I was writing the story, Johnny just always had long hair in my mind. I can't picture him without it. Hopefully, it's not too distracting.

Anyway, I hope you like them. Busy as I am, I'm on a real roll this week. Every free second, I've had a pen or pencil in my hand. It's becoming addictive. I just hope I can get some time at home so I can fulfill my obligations to Todd and Craig. I'm really feeling a little ashamed of myself!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Power Girl

Last night, I was waiting for Suze to finish up work and ended up knocking out this Power Girl drawing in about an hour for no particular reason. I'm going to be getting very busy starting tomorrow so I wanted to get in as much work on it as possible and ended up pretty much just spitting it out. I think the quickness with which I sketched it helped in some ways and hurt in others. But I kind of like it.

I'm waiting for Suze again tonight and it's too rainy to limp (damned tendonitis) down to Legend again. So I'm sitting at my desk drawing character sketches for THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR. I spent some of the evenings while Suze was away tweaking a couple of the scripts and I'm really itching to start. I figured why waste time drawing superheroes so I got down to bidness. I'll post the results next time.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Wonder Woman

Suzanne's been on the road for work quite a bit lately. (Well. In the air, actually.) While she was in L.A. Last week, she had occasion to visit the fine folks at Warner Bros. and pick up a bunch of Wonder Woman swag in the gift shop. She's been a huge Wonder Woman fan since she was a little girl. I assume that originated with the Lynda Carter series in the '70s. (I was a big fan of Ms. Carter too but for entirely different reasons.)

With NBC passing last week on the new WONDER WOMAN pilot being shepherded by David Kelley, I figured the time was right for a drawing of the shapely amazon for my best girl. I have to admit that, beyond the old TV series and a few comic stories I'd read, I was never a huge follower of Wonder Woman.

Then Darwyn Cooke changed that when he did DC's NEW FRONTIER and showed me an all-new version of her that really resonated. This was a Wonder Woman I could get behind. (Shut up, pervs!)

She was curvy, tough, compassionate, warlike and cute, all at once. I loved the way he drew her. My tastes have always run to the, ah, rubenesque and here was a Princess Diana that could have been played by TWIN PEAKS' Sherilyn Fenn or a young Jennifer Connelly. Or even Elizabeth Taylor in her heyday. I'd love to see Hollywood be brave and take a chance on this version of her in this day of "thin is in."

I think they've missed two golden opportunities when they didn't make a movie with Catherine Zeta Jones who, sadly, is too old for the part now. And then they didn't steal Morena Bacarrin away from V for the TV pilot. As pretty as the actress is that they chose for the pilot, I don't think she was right for the part. Who would YOU like to see playing Wonder Woman?

Anyway, I hope you like the drawing. More importantly, I hope Suze likes it, since I'm giving it to her. This one was a toughie. I'm not that great at drawing women and I had a really difficult time with the line work as my vision has really been giving me problems lately. It's nothing serious (I think.) I probably just need some new glasses. Bifocals. Ugh. I'm considering Lasik surgery to correct the near-sightedness and then I would just need reading glasses for stuff close up. It's getting frustrating so I'll have to figure out something soon.

Anyway. Have a great Monday. Later.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

PvP and Bucko

I assume most of you are reading Scott Kurtz's online strip PvP (Player vs. Player) on a regular basis, right? If not, now's a great time to start because he's doing some of the coolest stuff he's ever done right now with the current LOLBat storyline. As Jack Nicholson says in THE SHINING, "GO...CHECK iT OUT!"


And while you're reading online comics, it wouldn't kill ya to look into Jeff Parker and Erika Moen's fun little strip BUCKO.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hawkeye for Heywood

New rule. Don’t blog after 11:00 p.m. Whew. Care for some cheese with that whine? Sorry about that. After a nice overnight stay visiting my parents (requiring some fancy logistics in order to keep Tooncie properly medicated) my batteries are nicely recharged and I feel a lot better. Moving right along.

A while back, my buddy Mike (who posts as Heywood Jablomie...a screen name that cracked me up when I finally got it) emailed me. He had a DVD set he suspected I’d be interested in and offered it up. I was interested but I felt bad just taking it so he suggested I draw him something in return. He said he was on a Hawkeye “kick” lately and requested a quick sketch. Well, for what he was offering, I didn’t think a sketch on copier paper would be a fair trade so I drew this up on 11x17 bristol board and threw in some extras. I’ve long been a fan of the old Marvel Comics “floating head” covers and have wanted to draw one since I was a kid. When I “took over” for Mike, drawing for his friend Carlton (which lasted maybe 3 or 4 10-page comics along with a couple of failed long-form efforts) I managed to throw in a couple of them. Looking for reference for the classic Hawkeye outfit, I came across several old AVENGERS covers with the heads on them and knew I had to do it. I struggled mightily with the Scarlet Witch (I’m still bothered by her right eye) but the rest were a lot of fun.

I think the “Mike” influence is pretty obvious in the main figure but, to me, Iron Man looks like J.R., Jr. and with the Vision, I was trying for the Jim Starlin version. With Cap, that’s pure me.

I hope you like it.

Meanwhile, the trip to my old hometown, however brief, really got me re-stoked for the HAND ME DOWN HORROR. There were some character bits and parts I wasn’t satisfied that I couldn’t work out and some solutions actually came to me in my sleep. The story is set in a small, isolated Virginia town and getting back to Rustburg must have kicked something loose. It’s true what they say. You should always step away from your story for a while to recharge and then come back to it with fresh eyes.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Inspiration Overload

I've been somewhat frustrated lately. I've still got two pages of my PERHAPANAUTS story to turn in. I'm still not finished with Heywood's commission. Don't get me started on being 5 months past my planned start date on drawing THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR. And I have no sketches to post, despite several false starts. Life has conspired to get in the way of any of my plans to draw.

Take tonight for instance. The plan was to come home at a decent hour and finish inking Heywood's drawing. But Suzanne and I carpool to work together to save parking costs and gas money. And today she was surprised with some after-hours obligations for her job and I was stuck killing several hours at my favorite watering hole (Legend Brewery) waiting for her to finish. I find drawing at a bar very difficult (as Christian can attest) and so I did what I usually do when I know I've got some time to kill. I printed off some online interviews with some of my favorite creators to read. The incomparable Darwyn Cooke. Chris Samnee. Dave Stewart.

Reading these interviews had the reverse effect I'd expected. They put me in a sort of funk. These guys are all so good and so passionate about what they do for a living and live and breathe their work. While very inspiring, it also served to emphasize that I am just not in that situation. I guess I'm going through a sort of mid-life crisis but I'm realizing now, more than ever, that I just don't have any passion for what I do for a living. Don't get me wrong. I'm good at what I do and grateful for the job. I think I've earned it and try every day to get better at it. But I don't leap out of bed in the morning just champing at the bit to go to work. I look around at the people I work with who get so excited when something is working right and I wonder why that's not me. It's got me thinking about how I ended up on this path.

Many, many years ago, around the time I was graduating high school, I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. It came down to two things. Drawing comics and being a police officer. I realized, thankfully, that I don't have the temperment, powers of observation or, frankly, guts, to be a good cop so it looked like it was comics for me. But Mike was going through some frustrating times of his own back then, languishing in a crappy job and extremely nervous about not making it into comics. We had the usual sibling rivalry that most brothers go through. As a result, he made one throwaway, offhand comment that didn't seem like much to him at the time. He said, "You only want to draw comics because I want to."

He meant nothing by it. He was just speaking out of frustration. But it had a devastating effect. Because I looked up to him and I wasn't sure if he was right or not. As in most tragedies, I have at least one fatal character flaw. When I feel threatened, I tend to bare down and think, "Fuck you; I'll show you." Usually, not really knowing just what it is I'm planning on showing. In this case, what I decided to show was that I could do something other than draw comics when that was what I really, really wanted to do. At the time I'd been really taken with some films like THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, RAZORBACK and BLOOD SIMPLE. I decided I'd go to film school. And, as a horror nut, I decided I wanted to be a horror movie director.

Somewhere along the line, though, I think I started to see my mistake and, in my senior year, I realized I'd just wasted four years of college when I should have been drawing. I had no real vision or philosophy when it came to film. It was a deficit that would plague me my entire time at VCU. Add to that my growing realization that I should have been studying illustration and you can imagine how I was starting to feel. One day, one of my few Illustration instructors (They were electives.) saw some of Mike's work on display in the hallway and told me, "You shouldn't bother. Your brother has it all over you." When I told Mike this, he was furious. Ever the protective big brother, he told me the teacher was full of shit but the words stuck with me. Not even the fact that one of my other teachers held back some of my illustrations to be placed in the school archives made me feel better about it.

After graduation, I got farther and farther away from doing what I really wanted to do and, eventually, I stopped drawing altogether. A quasi-video production job led to a graphic design job which led to an art director job which led to a service bureau job which led to where I am now, working at a mid-size, national advertising agency. It's a great living and a lot of people would kill me in a heartbeat to have my job. I should be doing backflips. But, then, there's those interviews. Maybe the grass is always greener. I know there were days when Mike was dissatisfied with where his path had gone, despite that fact that it was what he'd always wanted. But, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I wanted to work in advertising. It really is a case of falling into a good thing. I've always been lucky that way. Or have I? Because now I'm stuck. I make too good a living to walk away from it. Giving up a good thing just isn't in my nature. Another character flaw. But there's a part of me that just screams at me that I should take a chance. Take some real illustration classes. Learn how to draw better. And just do it.

We recently had a couple of people just up and leave. I asked them what they were going to do and their answer was, "I don't know. Do some things I always wanted to do." I told them, "Damn. I wish I had balls that big."

Who knows. Maybe I just need someone to tell me I can't do it. Then I could say, "Fuck you; I'll show you."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Black Lightning

My last post kind of "sparked" this one. I'd mentioned that I wasn't really that into Metamorpho growing up but that's not entirely true. I'd forgotten about the Element Man's membership in The Outsiders. Back then, I'd found Dad's stash of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, DC's version of MARVEL TEAM-UP featuring Batman and an ever-changing roster of superheroic guest stars. I fell in love with the book and started buying up back issues by the handful at The Treasure Chest, Lynchburg's comic shop at the time. I also started buying the current issues as they came out. Almost immediately, the book was cancelled in favor of a new title to be called BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS. Batman was going to start a new team of misfits and mentor them. I was horrified. My favorite part of TBATB was seeing Jim Aparo drawing all those great DC characters. Now the roster was going to be fixed and full of a bunch of new characters I didn't care about. I knew about Metamorpho, of course.

But there was one character I was interested in. Black Lightning. Despite falling under the comic book curse of being an African American character with the word "black" in his name, I was drawn to the guy. It probably had something to do with his cool costume. Most of DC's B- and C-list characters had forgettable outfits. But Lightning had one that was on a par with some of John Romita's best designs. It also had the benefit of the brilliant addition of fake hair to hide Lightning's true identity. Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, Lightning didn't quite fit in with the rest of the team as they were portrayed as a bunch of misfit losers. I didn't see Lightning that way. As I recall, he was a teacher in his civilian identity that was trying to improve conditions in his inner city neighborhood.

I was hoping the sketch above would turn out cooler and had intended it to sort of work as a companion drawing to the Metamorpho piece but it didn't turn out like I'd planned. I'm a little embarrassed to post it but I don't really have anything else. I'm particularly humbled because I just finished reading Dave Stevens' final interview in the latest issue of BACK ISSUE! Stevens was a real artist's artist. It was never about money or prestige with him. He was always just interested in producing good work and improving himself. I think Stevens' ROCKETEER has some of the most beautiful art I've ever seen in a comic but he revealed he was so dissatisfied with his work that he went out and took dozens of courses in drawing and painting to try and improve his drawing. Reading the interview was so inspirational. I'm in my forties now but I want to run out and enroll in drawing classes.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now. I apologize for the disjointed post. It's very late and I'm pretty tired. I've got a full day tomorrow but Heywood, I promise that includes finshing up lightboxing the pinup I promised you. Then I'll just have to ink it.