Sunday, February 24, 2008

The first cut won't hurt at all, the second only makes you wonder

Steve Whitaker 1955-2008

Whitko was the first person I ever knew who was as crazy as I was about Kirby's Fourth World and Gerber's Omega the Unknown. He helped me find a flat in London that was walking distance from his place in Twickenham. Before that I must have stayed at his place ninety times. (So you see why he was so keen to help me find a place of my own.) He wasn't born in London and he didn't die in London...but he loved that city and simply walking down the street with him was an education in the history and customs and noumena of the place. Everyone wanted to be near him for the endless stream of learning and knowledge he had to share.

Others at the link above have more to say.

I am so totally fucking sick of death right now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sing me a song that was a hit before your mother was born

Well, maybe not that long ago.

Over on Will Shetterly's blog I recalled a political campaign music video from a few months ago that deserves to be more widely seen, even if the unfortunate candidate himself is long gone from the Presidential race. It isn't often I've gone back to watch a campaign spot more than once simply to enjoy the music! The retro-pop animation also grabs me:

As I mentioned in my comment to Will, I wasn’t one of this guy's supporters…but if I’d seen this immediately before stepping into the booth, it would have been hard to avoid voting for him.

What's that? You say you want a younger, fresher candidate? Or perhaps you'd just like to supplement the Lennon song with an equally cool McCartney number? Behold the future:

More details about this precocious troubadour here.

These are two of the best Beatles covers I know of. Julie Taymor, eat your heart out!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The night after you saved the universe

"Plants are like people. Writers are like plants. Therefore, and this may come as a surprise, writers are like people. Given them light, water, nourishment, a comfortable pot and an encouraging world and they'll grow."

-- Steve Gerber, Howard the Duck #16

A couple of years ago, Steve wrote a blog post thanking a group of friends who helped him move into his new apartment. With characteristic self-effacement, he said:

Why I have people like these around me is a mystery. Nobody could be nice enough to have earned their friendship, least of all myself. Somehow, I got very, very lucky.

To which I had to reply:

You know, this turns out not to be the case.

Turn back the calendar to the Spring of 1976 and see an overenthusiastic teenager attending one of his first comic book conventions, excited beyond all description because his favorite comic book writer is going to be there in person. Said writer — who at that time was enjoying prominence and attention equivalent to what an Alan Moore or a Grant Morrison possess today — took a table in the dealer’s room and made himself available to anyone who wanted to chat with him. Said teenager remembers spending pretty much the entire day at that table, and not being shooed away by said writer or being put in his place for asking endless naive and eager questions about Omega, the Defenders, Starhawk, Howard, and all the other pressing topics of the day.

Instead, at the end of the day, you thanked me for being interested in your work. To top it off, you even gave me a free “Howard The Duck for President” campaign badge — even though you were selling them at the convention — as, so you said, “a token of your gratitude.” I left that day knowing that while I may have been totally obnoxious and wanting to hog all your time, you still made me feel like I had done you a favor rather than vice versa.

Some of my later encounters with favorite comics creators were much less pleasant…but these weren’t as upsetting as they might have been, because I always had you as an example of how a truly classy person behaves. Years later I ended up working at Marvel and a few other comics publishers…and though it all, I always remembered meeting you as proof that someone in this business could demonstrate class and respect for others; the rock star ego trip was not inevitable. And whenever I’ve gotten praise for my own writing, I’ve always tried to emulate the example you set.

Nowadays, the mere fact of this blog is evidence that you’re still the same guy who’s willing to be honest and accessible even with strangers, and that you still care about making people feel appreciated. And I’m forced to assume that the folks who’ve known you in person all these years see the same thing. I’m just saying, is all.

I was fortunate enough to see Steve again at two other conventions here in New York before he moved west, but it was a much bigger thrill many years later to start corresponding with him when Steve was briefly a member of the Jack Kirby Discussion Group. Our correspondence was about non-comics stuff -- mainly to do with depression, relationship issues, why we both loathed Florida with a passion -- so I fell into the unbelievable position of regarding Steve simultaneously as an impossibly distant childhood idol, an approachable real life hero and role model, and a regular guy with whom I discussed regular guy stuff. In those e-mails I never mentioned having met him all those years ago nor what an impression he made on me as a thirteen-year-old, feeling he'd be uncomfortable with gushing hero worship. I kept quiet about it for a long time...and I'll always be glad I finally took the opportunity to tell him what that formative experience meant to me. I'm glad I had the chance to know him not only as an icon but as a person, though it means I'm feeling the loss of both right now.

(Who else in life do we know at first as gods, then as heroes, then as all-too-fallible mortals, then at last -- if we're lucky -- as friends? I think we usually only have that full gamut of relationships with our own parents. Which would explain why it feels as if I'd lost another parent.)

Also a couple of years ago, I wrote an appreciation of Omega the Unknown that says more than I can bring myself to say right now about just how much Steve did for me with his work and by the example he set.

(Thanks to magnetgirl for the button illo at top.)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I'm still on a severely reduced blogging schedule, but a couple of things have happened that deserve at least a quick mention.

One regrettable development on the political landscape: as of the start of February, fomer Superman writer Elliot Maggin has called off his bid for Congress this year.

I previously mentioned Maggin's congressional ambitions here, and I was always hoping to find some way of supporting his campaign which somehow didn't involve large sums of money that I don't possess...but his reasons for terminating his candidacy are unassailable. I hope he'll try again someday, and I hope he'll succeed, because that would be amazingly cool.

And while we're on the subject of icons from my childhood, a fond farewell to Barry Morse. I know he had a proper serious acting career on stage and screen from the 1930s up to the present and might wish to be remembered for something more than one supporting role from the mid-Seventies...but back in the day I was endlessly fascinated by Space: 1999 and he was my favorite part of that show. If I'd been just a bit older I'd remember him from The Fugitive with David Janssen instead.

Anyway...for decades Morse was one of those actors who seemed to work nonstop, always bringing a touch of class and professionalism to small or supporting roles. His Wikipedia entry points out that "Morse was perhaps the only actor to have performed in every play of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw" and also that he did charitable work in support of Parkinson's disease sufferers in honor of his late wife. That cause is very close to my heart as well, so I'm going to say he was a good guy and I'm happy to have been a fan of his work.