Remembering Mike Wieringo

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Mike Wieringo, a well-loved and -respected artist for Marvel, DC, and many other publishers.  In a time when the “Image Style” of flashy, over-rendered comics were in vogue, Mike maintained a style that was dynamic, fun, and full of life.  Dare I say, “cartoony,” which most fans today use as a pejorative, not realizing that cartoons and cartoony art is what got them into the medium when they were children.

As Image was growing, much of my interest in comics was shifting.  I was intrigued by the work of Lee, Larson, McFarlane, and even Liefeld, but that wore off quickly.  Pinups are fine, but in an almost purely visual medium, storytelling is key.

And in that regard, Mike was a master locksmith.

I fell in love with Mike’s art from the beginning.  His work reminded me of another Mike, Parobeck, who had made a name for himself at DC drawing the Batman Animated Series tie-in comic, and the short-lived JSA book that just happened to feature my favorite team.  Parobeck also infused his work with fun, life, and a seeming simplicity that belied a real gift for storytelling.

One day I was at work at the local video shop, and a fellow came in to pick up a reserved movie, and his ticket read, “Wieringo.”  I asked if he was related, and the gentlemen smiled and said, “he’s my brother.”  Matt Wieringo and I chatted for a few moments while I rang up his purchase.  Matt confirmed that his brother was also a fan of Parobeck, and for some reason, that made me appreciate Mike all the more.

Mike would go on to draw some of comic’s greatest icons: The Flash, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Fantastic Four, Spider Man, and the X-Men.  Mike was one of the very few artists that if his name were in the credits – even if it were just a cover – it would cause me to buy the book no questions asked.

Social Media had not yet exploded into the global consciousness, but Mike posted art and thoughts almost daily on his blog (still available intact at mikewieringoart.com), and a couple of times he and I exchanged quick greetings in the comments on a post.

Ten years ago today, I was looking up something about Mike, and one of the first things to pop up was news of his passing.

A couple of years later, I attended Baltimore Comic Con with a simple goal: find Todd Dezago and Matt Wieringo.  Todd had interviewed Mike for a book, Modern Masters, and I asked them to sign it, and thanked them for their continued work in keeping Mike’s legacy alive.

I retold the story of how we met to Matt, and we chatted for a while about Mike, and about Matt’s work.  At the next table, Todd was delighting my Kidlet with goofy antics, all in Todd’s high-pitched “Choopie” voice from his character in the Perhapanauts.  My Kidlet was hooked.

It’s been seven years since I attended that show.  Matt and Todd have become friends, and we often talk about Mike, from his techniques, to his spirit, to his energy and compassion.  In those talks, Mike is still alive.

Sometimes you can tell how much one artist is influenced by another.  Take Jack Kirby’s influence on Erik Larsen for example.  Other times, it’s harder to find in an artist’s work.

I draw goofy animals in silly situations, and unpolished at that.  But while you may never see it reflected in my work, Mike Wieringo is a big reason I am drawing today.

In a time when I would surely have given up on the medium, Mike’s work kept me engaged, and gave me hope that bright, fun, four-color adventures could still be had at 22 pages a pop.  Mike’s work helped elevate my relationship to comics from fan to “I want to do that.”

It’s been nearly 24 years since I first found Mike’s work in a comic.

It’s been ten years to the day that we lost his talent.

But his spirit, his joy, and his sense of fun live on.  And if I can convey even a tenth of that in my own work, then I am on the right track.

I can say with some certainty, as I approach my second Baltimore Comic Con as a guest creator, I would not be where I am without Mike Wieringo.

Thank you, Mike, for everything.

We miss you.


A few of my favorite pieces by Mike Wieringo

This has been my computer wallpaper for years now.

This has been my computer wallpaper for years now.

Mike's rendition of one of my all-time favorite characters, Usagi Yojimbo (created by Stan Sakai)

Mike’s rendition of one of my all-time favorite characters, Usagi Yojimbo (created by Stan Sakai)

Mike drew this image of the Perhapanauts for his friends Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau, the 'Nauts creators.

Mike drew this image of the Perhapanauts for his friends Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau, the ‘Nauts creators.

Peter Porker, Spider-Ham, has always been a favorite of mine, and Mike was one of the few artists who drew the character with both respect, and a sense of the silly.

Peter Porker, Spider-Ham, has always been a favorite of mine, and Mike was one of the few artists who drew the character with both respect, and a sense of the silly.

More of Mike's Spider-Ham...and a few guests, too.

More of Mike’s Spider-Ham…and a few guests, too.

And another. Like I said...I love this character.

And another. Like I said…I love this character.

Another aspect of Mike's work was his ability to draw beautiful women who were strong and intelligent, without sexualizing them.

Another aspect of Mike’s work was his ability to draw beautiful women who were strong and intelligent, without sexualizing them.

Even when the female character in question was a teenager, there is still an inherent strength within the art, emanating from the character.

Even when the female character in question was a teenager, there is still an inherent strength within the art, emanating from the character.

We came close to a full X-Men book from Mike with ROGUE, but this was always one of my favorite of his X-Men drawings.

We came close to a full X-Men book from Mike with ROGUE, but this was always one of my favorite of his X-Men drawings.

Mike worked with Mark Waid to produce the best Fantastic Four comic since Kirby himself worked on the book.

Mike worked with Mark Waid to produce the best Fantastic Four comic since Kirby himself worked on the book.

Mike even drew Kirby into the book, a tribute more fitting as we are about to celebrate Kirby's 100th birthday.

Mike even drew Kirby into the book, a tribute more fitting as we are about to celebrate Kirby’s 100th birthday.

This page features a key lesson for storytellers, and having it delivered by Kirby makes it all the more powerful.

This page features a key lesson for storytellers, and having it delivered by Kirby makes it all the more powerful.

Mike's Sue Storm was a fantastic character, often shown to be the real core of the team. Feminine, yes, but easily the most dangerous person in the book.

Mike’s Sue Storm was a fantastic character, often shown to be the real core of the team. Feminine, yes, but easily the most dangerous person in the book.

Mike created this for four covers of the book early in his run.

Mike created this for four covers of the book early in his run.

One of the last books Mike worked on was a great limited series, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, written by Jeff Parker. Parker is another favorite of mine, and it was a thrill to read a book by them both. I am lucky to own a couple of pages from this book, too.

One of the last books Mike worked on was a great limited series, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, written by Jeff Parker. Parker is another favorite of mine, and it was a thrill to read a book by them both. I am lucky to own a couple of pages from this book, too.

Mike drew some amazing (ha!) adventures for the webhead...but this quiet piece of Peter and MJ will always be one of my favorite Spidey covers.

Mike drew some amazing (ha!) adventures for the webhead…but this quiet piece of Peter and MJ will always be one of my favorite Spidey covers.

I love The Spirit, and I loved how Mike made this image all about Dolan, subtly expressing Dolan's trust in, and exasperation with, Colt.

I love The Spirit, and I loved how Mike made this image all about Dolan, subtly expressing Dolan’s trust in, and exasperation with, Colt.

Mike's version of the Louise Simonson and June Brigman team, Power Pack. Mike drew children as their own characters, and not simply "small humans." I love how the various ages is represented in their bodies, postures, and the shapes of their faces.

Mike’s version of the Louise Simonson and June Brigman team, Power Pack. Mike drew children as their own characters, and not simply “small humans.” I love how the various ages is represented in their bodies, postures, and the shapes of their faces.

I think this cover to a Spider-Ham special was the last Peter Porker drawing Mike did.

I think this cover to a Spider-Ham special was the last Peter Porker drawing Mike did.

This arc of The Flash is a great one, for no other reason than it includes all of the great speedsters from various generations, including my all-time favorite Flash, Jay Garrick.

This arc of The Flash is a great one, for no other reason than it includes all of the great speedsters from various generations, including my all-time favorite Flash, Jay Garrick.

I don't know what this was for...but there's no way you can tell me that the spaceship doesn't look like a penguin.

I don’t know what this was for…but there’s no way you can tell me that the spaceship doesn’t look like a penguin.

My favorite era of the X-Men is the first twenty or so issues from the Kirby/Roth era. Mike drew the early Iceman perfectly.

My favorite era of the X-Men is the first twenty or so issues from the Kirby/Roth era. Mike drew the early Iceman perfectly.

Mike drew some great covers for his friends, some of whom are friends of mine, including Scott Sava, for his book Dreamland Chronicles, one of Kidlet's favorites.

Mike drew some great covers for his friends, some of whom are friends of mine, including Scott Sava, for his book Dreamland Chronicles, one of Kidlet’s favorites.

Okay...this is a cheat. This is by Mike's brother, Matt, who is just as talented as Mike. It's just not easy to get Matt to accept that assessment.

Okay…this is a cheat.
This is by Mike’s brother, Matt, who is just as talented as Mike. It’s just not easy to get Matt to accept that assessment.

Who Needs Rollercoasters When You Have Depression?

June has become a major month for me.

In 2014, I returned from a family vacation at HeroesCon to a phone call telling me I was being let go from my nearly ten-year job running a comic shop.

In 2015, I returned to HeroesCon with my first book, MOO THOUSAND AND PUN.

Last year, our second year exhibiting, I got to share table space with good friends Jamie Cosley and Jacques Nyemb, and debut my third book, TEMPLE OF MOO’D…and toys.

This year, after three years trying, I finally got a job (part-part-time minimum wage, but…it’s a start) …and promptly dislocated a rib.

But…

That’s not all.

I don’t talk about my work that much, in terms of my “career.”  I have a thirty-three year resume that is as eclectic and scattered as my brain.  I’ve been at the lowest rung of food service, and the highest rung of non-profit.  (Neither ended well.)  I have taken jobs that were “beneath me,” and jobs that I was way under-qualified for.  I approach every job the same way: I give everything I have because to do anything less is an insult to myself and the people who rely upon me.

I take pride in every job no matter where in the ladder of success it places me.

To get fired over the phone…that hurt.  The shop where I worked was having problems for much of its existence, and I don’t think many of the issues were really my fault.  (The fact that my assistant quit the moment he heard I was let go gives me some reinforcement to that conceit.)

Since that phone call, I have heard several anecdotes that in a small way make me feel better.

But I still failed.

I didn’t get to leave on my own terms, leaving a business in a better place then where it had started.

That is always my goal.  Make a place better.  In my years of non-profit work, that meant making the world a better place.

The day after I got fired, the idea for MOO THOUSAND AND PUN slammed into my migraine-addled brain like an ACME anvil.

Since then, I have written and drawn six books, and exhibited at over a dozen comic shows.

And yet…

There’s June.

June is “Heroes Month” in our house.  HeroesCon, run brilliantly by Rico Renzi and Sheldon Drum and their amazing staff every year, is one of the two most sensational conventions in comics.  (The other is Baltimore.)

We consider it Heroes Month simply because it is our family vacation.  We don’t do Disney, or a National Park, we do Heroes.  Every year, thousands of fans flock to Charlotte and interact with hundreds of talented creators to celebrate this wonderful medium.

Now, a moment of context: my wife went to Baltimore with me five years ago to help keep an eye on our Kidlet.  Five years later…and she gets more excited for Heroes and Baltimore than I do.

The creators we hang out with at these shows are our family.  Wonderful human beings all devoted to their love and passion for art and creativity.  Pay attention to the social media feeds of these creators and they all talk about shows like Heroes act as rejuvenation periods, reinvigorating the creative souls of artists and writers alike.

And yet…

In these three years, we have not sold enough to make back our table fees twice.  Once at a recent show which our product was not at all in keeping with the audience, but we attended mostly just because we knew friends would be there.  The other was my “hometown” show at the Richmond Raceway.

At Heroes, at Baltimore, at FredCon, we have been lucky to make those table fees every time.  Every year, we get a few more purchases from new customers, and sometimes we hear back from them on social media, or via email, about how much they love Shakes or Stanley.

And yet…

These past three years have been tough, thanks to the total lack of success I have had in securing employment.  The passing from cancer and Parkinson’s of my mother and mother-in-law left us with some sizable medical bills and we are still adjusting, still paying…and still just making it.

And yet…

I love writing.  I love drawing.  Someday, I will even be good at them both.  But being able to take a silly joke and turn it into a storybook…and then having a parent send me a picture of art their child has made of a character I created…

And yet.

I don’t think I have truly enjoyed any of this.  I keep thinking back to that phone call in 2014.  Or that job I resigned from in 2005.  Or the three or four interviews I’ve had since.  Or…

Today, I posted about how I might just end up in the corner of Heroes, a blubbering idiot, because my friends Jamie Cosley and Thom Zahler would be on our row, and we would be surrounded by my idols.

Every June, I go through this “HOLY COW!” period when we find out where we are sitting, and who will be nearby.  Last year at Heroes, we sat next to June Brigman, and behind Ramona Fradon.  This year we are next to Roy Thomas, and behind Don Rosa.

I still can’t believe any of this.  I’m still not convinced I belong.

And yet…

One of the things I track is purchases by friends.  I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to the people that have supported this goofy dream of mine from the beginning.  Thom Zahler was the first ever person to buy a book from me at a show.  There are people who were customers at the comic shop for nearly the entire time I worked there, and have bought something of mine at every show, just to help.  I have friends who buy multiple copies to give as gifts.

And yet…I never feel like it’s working.  I feel like I may never get past having an audience of remarkably kind and loyal friends.  I feel like I’m performing for a wall.  (And not one paid for by Mexicans, either.)

Every June, the nervousness and excitement of seeing friends, and “talking shop” with folks that inspired me and entertained me long before I tried to tell my own stories gets tempered by the gut punch of “what ifs.”

What if I can’t sell anything?  What if we can’t even get people to stop at our table?  What if I have wasted three years on a folly?  What if…?

Depression sucks.

I have been lucky to have gone nearly twenty years without feeling suicidal.

And yet…?

What if…?

Yesterday, I stumbled upon this song.  And, as odd as it may sound…it helped.

(My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a professional Jazz drummer, so there is a nice bit of synchronicity in the message for me.)

Now…it will not cure my depression.  It will not sell my books for me.

And yet…

We are coming up fast on the twentieth anniversary of the moment (and yes, I remember the exact minute) when my wife walked into my life.  I cherish that moment.

My wife really doesn’t understand depression.  But, that’s okay.  Only those of us with it fully understand.  It never goes away.  It can be abated and tucked away for brief periods, but it never goes away.

The lucky ones are able to check on each other, and help each other through the tough times.  My wife may not really understand it, but she keeps trying to help in whatever ways she can.

And yet…

It always gnaws at me.  Pushing those “What If’s” to the fore every June as our convention season begins.

As I begin the process of trying to convince complete strangers to take a chance on my work.

To convince people that a talking cow or a koala spy are really fun ideas for children and adults.

To make it to a point when my writing books about friendship, the world, and overcoming odds wrapped in silly packages helps.  Somehow.

Helps our family be more secure.  Helps some reader smile a little more.  Helps the world be a nicer place, for even just a second.

And yet…

No one can put more pressure on you…than yourself.  And, when you also have depression, that pressure is backed up by industrial-strength hydraulics.

And yet…

That song…

That song is right.

If I can keep trying…

There is a line that has always resonated with me, that I try to buoy myself with, from STAR TREK GENERATIONS.

Data wants to take leave because his emotion program is too much for him, and Picard tells him, “sometimes it takes courage to try.”

So I will try.

I will try to think less about the bills and the potential for failure and the depression.

And I will bang that drum.

And perhaps…this can be the show where I can stop worrying and asking “what if,” and start thinking “why not?”

And perhaps…my day will come.

Fingers crossed.

Commissions and HEROES

Hi All!

Sorry for the radio silence of late, but writing and drawing two books at once is a lot of work!

But…I did it!  Shakes and Stanley will each have a new adventure for readers this year, and both will debut at HEROES CON in Charlotte on June 16th!

I will have copies of both MOO FAST, MOO FURRYOUS and THE CASE OF THE CHICANE MUTINY on hand, plus copies of Shakes and Stanley’s previous adventures, and a few other fun things.  Don’t forget, every hardcover book gets a free SHAKES print!  (Ask nicely, and I might even make that TWO prints.)

Also, I will doing commissions at the show, but you can order them early from me by emailing me via the contact form to figure out exact pricing.  Here is a sampling of my non-book art, along with basic pricing.

Commissions Advert

 

Let me know if you have any questions!  Once I have the table number, I will update this post accordingly.

See you all there!

Cheers!

~JRD

The 2016 ICRVN Year In Review

The new year had barely begun when, very early in JANUARY, an Ontario man was arrested at the American border trying to smuggle over 50 turtles into the States. Most of them, perhaps planning for a shorts sell, were in his underpants. A group of armed, angry white guys took over a federal facility in Oregon, apparently to protest a shortage of snacks and sex toys. A South Korean man created a robot that drinks so the young man would no longer drink alone…reinforcing the reasons he was drinking alone in the first place. A Portland man was arrested after stealing a python from a pet store by hiding it in his pants. He was given away from the sound of a python laughing from the young man’s pants. Th town of Whitesboro, New Jersey voted to keep their town seal of a white man choking an American Indian. (They later realized, “Oh. Right. Racist as hell. Got it.”) A woman in Georgia went on a rampage in a Waffle House that included throwing plates at other customers and stripping naked. Customers described her as clearly scattered, and somewhat smothered and chunked. Maine Governor Paul LaPage blamed the state’s drug problems on “guys from New York named D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” implying they were Black. Later that day, three leaders of the Maine drug trafficking ring were arrested: James, Jody and Donna (all were white). A Texas man was discovered trying to smuggle marijuana in with him to sell to other inmates after his arrest. The drug, hidden between the man’s butt cheeks, was found thanks to a new crack down on crime. UK Film Censors had to watch a 10hr film of paint drying. The film was made as a protest to UK rating laws, and given a rating of “suitable for ages 4 and up.”

The chaos of January was buffered slightly at the beginning of FEBRUARY, by the announcement of a new technological advancement. English scientists revealed a new way to store information: nanostructures protected inside glass disks. Because glass is heat resistant and chemically stable, the storage could last billions of years. Or until it drops onto the floor. A typical example of regal opulence, a Cambodian village spent $40,000 making a luxury custom-built toilet for a Thai princess’ scheduled 2-hour visit. While she didn’t use it, she did take its picture. February closed out with historians claiming in a new book that Hitler suffered from a combination of genital malformities. Man…Kick a guy when he’s down.

MARCH would not be very active for peculiarities, but it started with a doozy. A St Louis man was taking a naked selfie with his favorite thing: his gun. Which went off. Shooting off his other favorite thing. Later in the month, two thieves in New Mexico were apprehended by an undercover cop when the thieves asked him to help start their stolen car.

Craziness returned to the upswing in APRIL when a woman in Florida was arrested for cocaine possession and during processing, when officers found a crack pipe hidden…in her vagina. Shortly thereafter, a woman in Tennessee was arrested for an outstanding warrant, and during processing officers found heroin hidden…in her vagina. The woman tried to eat the heroin before officers could obtain it. Not long after that, an Iowa woman was arrested after she tried to hide from police in her oven, which thankfully, is not a euphemism for her vagina. Perhaps proving that shipping and delivery jobs are too strenuous, a FedEx worker fell asleep during his shift loading a plane bound for Texas. He was halfway from Tennessee to Lubbock when he woke up. April ended when an alleged thief fled a crime scene by jumping a nearby fence. Secret Service officers patrolling the White House grounds nabbed the thief immediately.

MAY started off a slow summer when an Illinois woman sued Starbucks for putting too much ice in her iced coffee. Ted Cruz showed just how much he cared about women during the last two days of his campaign by letting Carly Fiorina fall off the stage, and then punching his wife in the face twice while hugging an advisor. Conservative Virginia congressional candidate Mike Webb posted a screen grab of his computer…forgetting to close the open porn tabs. Continuing the political slide into ridiculousness, a Virginia woman’s family made a political statement in her obituary, stating she preferred death rather than choose between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Relatively speaking, JUNE was fairly quiet, save supporters of the orange Nazi twinkie starting their own dating site. Like their savior, participants had to be either emotionally, intellectually, or actually bankrupt.

JULY did not disappoint those of us who take relief in silliness, starting with a Nashville man found in bed with a mannequin stolen from a nearby sex shop. The thief’s lovemaking was described as ‘wooden’ by the mannequin. A North Carolina couple was charged with a count each of misdemeanor assault by police who caught the couple fighting…with pizza rolls. A Swedish soccer player was given a red card for passing gas near the referee, proving referees aren’t the only stinkers in sports. Joey Chestnut reclaimed the Nathan’s title (and potential gay icon status) eating 70 wieners on the Fourth of July in the annual Hot Dog eating contest. New Hampshire police captured 500 fugitives by inviting them to a Pokemon Go contest. A Tennessee woman started a fire in her apartment when she tried to barbecue a brisket in her bathroom. Firefighters responded and put out the fire by turning on the shower. A woman in the UK staved off a robber by repeatedly beating him about the head with a pack of bacon.

In AUGUST, a Michigan woman was arrested trying to escape the women’s restroom by climbing through the ceiling. She was trying to ditch her court-ordered class on decision making. George Zimmerman was punched by a bystander after Zimmerman boasted at a Florida restaurant that he “was the guy who killed Trayvon Martin.” (The only joke here…is Zimmerman.) NYC officials removed a statue of a naked Donald Trump. City officials stated that “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.” Anthony Weiner got caught sexting again. His wife, Huma Abedin, left her husband after finding out he was still an awful prick.

SEPTEMBER began with a Royal Canadian Mint employee proving even Canadians can make asses of themselves when he was arrested after smuggling $140,000 worth of gold…in his rectum. A Polar Bear in the Polish Poznan Zoo found new toy that had to be taken from the bear before the WWII grenade could explode. A manhunt in Germany, following an assault during Oktoberfest, put police on the lookout for a blonde male wearing lederhosen.

OCTOBER was a busy month, with members of the general public across the country panicking when they began seeing creepy clowns wandering thru various neighborhoods, instead of on the campaign trail where they belonged. Alabama voter Joshua Hughes expressed regret on social media after Hillary Clinton became the official Democratic nominee for getting a “Feel the Bern” tattoo…on his genitalia. An explosion at a gas station in Florida was caused by a woman who used the vacuum to suck up gasoline which had been spilled in her trunk. After the explosion, she shut her trunk and drove off. A Texas man, Rogelio Andaverde, staged his own kidnapping to be able to hang out with his friends after his wife refused permission. A woman took a fight from Charlotte, NC, with her support animal, a duck. The duck became an internet sensation, particularly since it took care of its own bill. The school board in Charleston, SC, removed pregnancy and STD prevention lessons from a curriculum to replace it with lessons on abstinence. The Bundy family who led a takeover of the federal wildlife refuge in Oregon were acquitted on the evidence that they were white.

NOVEMBER came, and proved that we were apparently ready for the apocalypse to get here sooner, rather than later. But, before we rush headlong into oblivion, men worldwide showed their privilege when a study on a new male contraceptive was ended prematurely after study participants started to feel like a natural woman reacting to the pill…with mood swings, acne, and a lowered libido. (Spoiler: they couldn’t handle it.) After the election to end all elections (somewhat literally), Hitl’orange-elect supporters protested Starbucks by having baristas write Trump’s name on coffee, instead of their own names…after they bought the coffee.

 

I have written this tongue-in-cheek focus on the ludicrous news bytes that pass our feeds for close to twenty years. This year was a little harder to write.

For the most part, I write about the stupid crap people do to themselves or their family for peculiar reasons, like the guy who accidently shot a family member when the bullet ricocheted off an armadillo. Things that are so goofy that you have to laugh.

But…this year was different. A week out from 2017, and folks are currently mourning George Michael (and in much smaller numbers, mourning Liz Smith and Vera Rubin), while breathing a temporary sigh of relief over Carrie Fisher, who died one day before her mother. My generation is being reminded of our own mortality…almost daily…with the passing of yet another celebrity. We have lost so many artists and celebrities that we have come to speak of 2016 as an anthropomorphized entity, and not just a measure of time.

November brought about a political revolution sprung from the basest racism of the KKK in the guise of what seems more and more like a foreign puppet in exchange for political leverage for business interests. In its wake are a growing number of hate crimes, making everyone who thought our country was more progressive than it really is back to reality.

People voted for a president because they either shared his racism and misogyny, or they hoped so much that he would take care of them they felt they could gloss over those qualities.

Politics and society have reverted back to the worst years of the 1950s, so much so that I still wait to see who this generation’s Emmet Till will be. That time is coming, I fear, and we will lose many battles as we struggle to bring our country back to where we thought it was. That is a long way away.

The election of Obama, and the progress we as a country had made was, sadly, a mere phantom, covering up a rebellion of a different sort.

We are not what we thought we were, and it will take a lot of work, and lot of understanding, and a lot of talking, to make us what we thought…what we should be.

We’ve been forced to take our two steps back. But, if we can learn to make change…real change…happen in a peaceful way, we will make our one step forward, and another. And another, and exceed even what we thought we once were.

Consider the words of both David Bowie, and the advice of Marvel hero Luke Cage’s mentor, Pop Hunter:

We can be heroes, always forward, just for one day…

And every day after that.

Or, as George Michael put it…you’ve got to have faith.

Hope and Thankfullness

It would seem difficult to find something to be thankful for this year.

The Republican party is gone, with a new American Nazi party in its place. Artists and musicians who shaped not just a generation, but an era, are passing almost daily. Natural disasters which take dozens of lives, caused by climate changes, are happening more and more often.

And yet, it is in times like these that we need hope. The current icon of hope, Barack Obama, is leaving to return to the private sector, and we are left with an incoming president who cares so little for anything other than himself that he refuses to denounce hate crimes. Germany is leading a growing coalition of nations concerned for the rising white supremacy movement in America. (Germany. Let that irony sink in for a moment.)

Social media is becoming toxic, thanks to the ease at which we can create our own echo chamber. Social media has also made it easier to spread lies when we share “headlines” without checking the veracity of the story, so long as keywords in the headline agrees with our preconceptions.

It’s also ironic to write about being thankful today, when considering the historical context. American Indians are being sprayed with firehoses to protest an oil pipeline from crossing their land and potentially ruining their environment. The initial festival now known as Thanksgiving may be the one time white European immigrants have spent an extended period of time with American Indians without resorting to violence.

It’s hard to find good out there these days.

So…we have to make it happen ourselves.

Social media has also altered how we define and perceive friendship. Our personal value seems tied to “likes” and how many “friends” we have, or the number of followers.

I’m too old to get caught up in that, and have managed to be fairly good about using social media as a platform to trade ideas and tricks about art, or keep up with old friends and family (“real” friends, based on the pre-1997 definition) for when a phone call isn’t convenient at the time. I have even become friends with a few people I have “met” through Twitter (rarely do I “friend” someone on Facebook whom I have not met in person).

One of those friends had been quiet for a while, which is not uncommon when he gets deep into creating a new book. However, I found out that he and his wife lost their toddler earlier this year. I felt awful for not knowing. But, I found something that made me think about today.

Several children were saved by his passing because the boy’s organs were donated. For what would have been the boy’s second birthday, his mother created a hashtag, “fortheloveofotis,” for acts of kindness in their son’s name.

We need more of that.

It doesn’t need to be attached to a hashtag for social media, of course, but it did help me realize that even in our darkest times, we have the great capacity for hope.

When I think of the things that give me hope, things that I am thankful for, it starts with my wife and child. My wife is a stern woman when it comes to my future, never letting me give up. That’s a daunting task. My child is a kind child who cares little for the things that make us different, but is also aware of how cool it can be that we have those differences to make life more interesting.

I am also thankful for a group of friends in the comic and book community that have embraced me and offered advice and fellowship, that are amazingly too numerous to mention. (However, a handful have been truly amazing in their encouragement and enthusiasm, that I would be remiss in not thanking publicly: Mark and Chris Mariano, John Gallagher, Liz and Jimmy Reed, Christy Blanch, Kyle Roberts, the Cosley Family, and the ever-growing “Drew Crew.” Thank you all.)

My family is basically my wife and Kidlet, and my Godmother. When I was young, my grandparents were gone, and the split that sent my mother and father in different directions also separated me from all but my mother. My father started another family, and echoing my childhood, the youngest child was shut out at a young age by my father and his wife. I had managed to keep up with that child for a while, but by the time I met my wife, my step-sister and I had lost track of each other.

My sister found me a couple of weeks ago. We’re going to see her, and my nieces, in a few days.

On a day we generally celebrate with family, those who share a bond of genetics and blood with us, I share the day with a family of my own choosing. People that I care about that enrich my life. My blood relatives are scattered throughout the country, and have not been a part of my life for decades, for a variety of unpleasant reasons.

Today, I celebrate my real friends that I love, and cherish, and whose company I enjoy.  They are my family, and I am thankful for them. And for you.

Enjoy the love of your family, whomever they may be, and try to spread a little love… little hope…in their honor.

Cheers.