Having written about comic books for too many years, I have written as well about why I stopped doing so, although this will be a summary of that, and my final say on the topic. I learned how to read prior to kindergarten on my dad’s old stack of comics. They played a large function in my life for years. While for the majority of my generation, television would prove to be a proverbial third parent, certain voices working within the medium of sequential arts struck me, even at such a young age, as far less filtered in their presentations or convictions. At a very young age I took note of the similarities between the mythologies I would read about at school and through the public library, with these power struggles of good confronting evil presented for modern audiences. And how they were no less contrived.
By the time I was entering my preteens my interest had evolved beyond the super-heroic predominance of the western industry to smaller press efforts, such as those distributed by mail through the Raw Comix label owned and operated by Glenn Hammonds of self-published or micro-published floppies loaded with sex and violence and general morbidity, and more mainstream though adult labels such as the Vertigo imprint debuting about that same time. All of which felt less like the creators involved were trying to sell something, or at least were not insulting my intelligence or experiences for the sake of selling something. I had learned to follow not particular brands or particular Intellectual Properties but specific names of writers and artists responsible, for it was their labor which sparked my interest, their messaging. But by my mid-teens I had lost interest completely in what was being produced, drawn instead to its colorful history and politics. In the mid-90s, just before the collecting-for-profit mentality almost strangled the by then lethargic medium and bloated industry to death, I was reading only trade journals and zines, the behind the scenes narratives. For a solid dozen years I read nothing pertaining to the industry or the medium at all, until I saw an opening to write professionally on the matters, what with the other voices writing professionally on the matters with rare exceptions presenting indiscernible fetishing praising only the most derivative products yet always incapable of explaining why. I knew if someone could write about comics at better than a high school reading level, they’d stand out like a sore thumb, and so I did.
Observing for example how Stan Lee was a devout capitalist and Steve Ditko was a devout objectivist, and that the differences between the two personalities convey the actual distinctions between Capitalism and Objectivism goes over the heads of anybody even vaguely satelliting the field, despite Ayn Rand herself repeatedly assuring the world she was a vehement Capitalist foremost. Even the heyday of the esteemed Comics Journal was more drawn to sexual peculiarities of creators than to what really made them tick. This culture well and beyond funny books prefers costuming under any circumstances.
For the next decade I reported on countless related stories for a number of platforms online and off, keeping accounts in a number of forums so as to keep an ear to the wall of public consensus. In 2005 I was following over three thousand relative profiles on myspace, prompting many others to take note of my aggregating the potential community. I reviewed many thousands of comics not published by Marvel or DC, who afforded marketing, and I interviewed hundreds of creators, only having to deal with agents or managers on perhaps 5 occasions, as word of mouth kept my inboxes filled. I never approached any interview with concerning any singular project, refusing to ask nonsense questions such as which other comic creators the subject liked or what their preferred tools of the trade were, but rather questions to discern what their philosophies were, their religious and political ideals, so as to learn who exactly were these personalities constructing these contrived fictions might be. In my review articles I credited all members of whichever creative team, which sounds sensible enough yet even today is largely uncommon, and while running my old website the lottery party I only used as tags full names, prompting the sweetest missives from otherwise neglected letterers and colorists. I maintained dozens upon dozens of pen-pals among professional creators, often finding myself solicited for private reviews of works in progress, which led to paying gigs proofreading, script-doctoring and ghostwriting, sometimes even composing adcopy. I gave job referrals for many artists and I checked professional references on behalf of editors I knew. I co-edited a graphic novel, personally talking some 63 artisans from around the world into volunteering their work to raise tens of thousands for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, only to learn the writer pocketed most of the money. I served on the final BoD for the nonprofit Friends of Lulu organization. I wrote introductions to a couple of graphic novels and was quoted on the backs of several dozen books from a range of publishers. I also turned down a great many invitations to pitch projects myself, seeing prospects of signal-boosting myself as a direct conflict of interest. This prompted a number of publishers to pullback and cutoff contact, realizing they possessed no carrot to dangle on their respective sticks for me. While running another website called new comics day, focused entirely with spoofing comic book news sites, I uncannily predicted so many trends later to come that there were as many emails wondering which industry insider was moonlighting under my apparent pseudonym as there were actual death threats offended by my ease in calling out the predictability of the medium and industry alike.
During that decade of what I deem tradescribing, I was technically homeless more often than not, although what is socially viewed as working homeless. I will always find the steam to do what I feel is important, especially when it comes to self-education and to helping others. This comic book stuff was how I spent whatever free time I came across, as opposed to playing video games. Getting a creative industry to see itself in the mirror was my past-time. There was a brief window where I was employed as clerk to a comic book store, owned by a mainstream comic book artist and managed by his wife. I later assisted that artist in his home studio, learning how to cut boards, erase excess pencil marks and filling in India ink blacks before scanning pages to fax or packaging boxes for delivery. There is actually even an issue of Uncanny X-Men where I did far more of the inking than not, uncredited. I was separately also not credited for scripting the Michael Jackson tribute comic from Bluewater, work performed over a ten-hour night the weekend before the book was due to the printer, after the credited writer bailed on the project when the publisher reneged on a verbal contract. The editor was a friend at the time, his first credited work as a letterer turned an editor, and what are we good for if not saving those around us from lines of fire. The irony there being that years prior I had done a big story collecting names of over three dozen writers and artists which that publisher owed money to, said publisher both despising me and fearing me enough so that had he known I was the one to bail out what proved one of his most reprinted books he’d likely have checked himself into a mental ward from the frustration. My final ghostwriting job resulted with the billionaire creator of the CSI television franchise stiffing me out of hundreds of dollars myself, for work I had accomplished for his vanity-published line of graphic novels, more irony in that the books were sold as educational, yet they embarrassingly enough required a high school dropout to spellcheck and rewrite the damned things. I have endless stories on comparable matters, copious with ironies as self-reflection is not a thing those focused with illusion are remotely capable of.
Of the handful of creatives I felt close enough as to ever consider a friend, all of whom found themselves at odds. Mike Netzer gave decades of his life to creating art, and he and I got along quite well for reaching certain of the same conclusions despite coming from starkly different backgrounds. Notably, realizations that creative industry is an oxymoron personified nowhere else with such bluntness, prompting the call to arms for the big thinkers of comic books to instead apply their sensibilities toward real-world concerns, as opposed to merely prolonging commercial artworks benefiting only those who enable and perpetuate the many damaging effects of the business. Norm Breyfogle was another friend, made to feel ostracized for his unwillingness to ever take a side in any of the voluminous episodes of melodramatic primadonna backstabbing common to the field. Sandy Plunkett is perhaps the most endearing, for his stoic aptitude in simply finding little to no personal use for the industry side to the medium at all.
All of which is to say that I may well have been a poor man’s variant of the late Larry Ivie.
Larry was an early fan of the trade, and quite possibly the grandfather of fandom for his organizing some of the earliest meetups, ordeals which evolved into the massive conventions of today. He achieved some professional credits as a writer and penciller in the 50s and 60s, nowhere near to his heart’s content, although he self-published many more comics and magazines himself, proving capable of designing, production, editing and painting diverse works on his own dime. While he clearly loved the sub-genre of super-heroics most, his more elaborate art seemed to always have been reserved for fantasy and science-fiction. He was among the very first to assemble mailing lists for subscriptions, as he maintained pen-pals with industry insiders and outsiders alike and aplenty, for years and years. He actually coined the phrase Justice League post-Justice Society, though shamefully he was never credited for this. And he was also an obsessive collector of memorabilia, finding a home for original artwork and the like to such degree that, when he passed away a few years ago, a tractor trailer pulled up outside my friend Sandy Plunkett’s cabin, bearing more physical belongings willed to Sandy than he had physical space to store. He wrote to me, requesting my assistance in going through the literal tons of historical relevance, organizing which should be given off to museums or donated to charities or sold to cover medical expenses not covered by publishers with billions in the bank for their creatives responsible for generating said profits. At this same time however, my mom’s health had abruptly declined to the extent of needing round the clock care, her now rendered bedbound but with no money herself for the standards of professional caregiving. So opting to keep her alive measured by myself as more important than much anything else, I had to leave Sandy hanging. But being capable of my respect, he was capable of more than he imagined of himself.
Fast-forward to now, and Sandy has not only accomplished the herculean feat, but has packaged a lovingly extensive study on the life and works of Larry for the Alter-Ego magazine, edited by Roy Thomas, a godfather of modern comics himself in every sense, and published by TwoMorrows, who were the intended recipients of a Speedball essay I composed years ago prior to being informed the Ditkomania fanzine would happily run it. I am the only person alive or dead to have been published by both Heavy Metal magazine and the Ditkomania fanzine, an ironic accomplishment meaning nothing. Everything I did was nothing in the greater scheme of things. But what Larry accomplished in his time, the standards he helped set and connections he helped to curate, remain profound despite the lacking of popular notoriety. Upon reading the issue, I actually thanked Sandy for kicking this critic in the nuts in the nicest possible manner conceivable. Larry was a complicated man of ironies himself, his passion quite possibly unmatched by the endless lines of comic book people since. A passion wholly unmitigated, despite an entire industry and an entire medium building on social frameworks he initiated, initiated from a place of love.
And it is a true and verifiable wonder how, as much as love is prized by societal subsets today, the task of illustrating its accomplishments is left not to self-placating fantasists or self-righteous critics but to the old fogies still bearing dreams from days long, long gone by.