Monday, April 06, 2015


In a recent article in The Atlantic, it was claimed that experiences trump materialistic rewards. I buy that.

When I was 19 years old and had a little disposable income for the first time in my life, I bought every comic book that Marvel and DC put out, and some selected independent titles as well. I was a collector. I carefully handled every comic, then put it in a bag with an acid-free backing board.

Thirty-one years later, I still buy comics, but I only buy what I like, and once they're available digitally on sale, I'll get rid of the floppy issues if they're worth anything. I would rather have all of my comics available to read on my iPad than to have physical copies that I have to haul with me on vacations and on planes and trains when I'm on business trips, which I take often now. Life has changed.

Back then, I started collecting superhero action figures, too. I was given the first Batman and Superman Super Powers figures, and I bought the rest. And the Secret Wars figures. All of them. I even worked at Toys R Us, and chose my figures from the cases when they were brought out to the floor. There were few enough of the figures back then, that I could keep up. There's no way I could do that now. I'd love to collect the Mego-like World's Greatest Heroes figures, but investing in my own business supersedes that want.

Then in my late 20s and early 30s, it was Magic The Gathering cards, and then other card games, Star Trek and Star Wars, mostly. Then it was original comic book art. I had some great pieces by some great artists. Take, for example, this George Perez New Teen Titans page, shown here. I had pieces by Greg Land, Norm Breyfogle, Tom Grummett, Dick Dillin, Brent Anderson, Bill Reinhold, Denys Cowan, Larry Stroman, you name it.

Then my daughter came along. When we adopted Sera in 2007, I gave it ALL up. Everything. I sold off all my action figures, all my original art (except one page, which has sentimental attachment and is worth only about $50), and all of my comic books. I still have quite a few things about me, including trade paperbacks and hardcover collections of comics. But all the valuable stuff is long gone.

Since beginning my journey of being a comic book creator, the collecting bug has lost its bite. I go to comic book conventions and buy little. I pick up a little souvenir for Sera, usually a sketch card or two, or something My Little Pony related, but nothing for me. There's just nothing in it for me anymore. I'd rather have money to pay artists to draw my creations and bring my dreams to life. When I run my Kickstarter, whenever my upcoming hardcover book is finished, I will be using the original art from the book as incentives. I will keep none of it. My wife asks me, are you sure you don't want to keep it? I always laugh and say no. A high-res scanned print will look just as nice in a frame on my wall if I want to display it and I won't have to worry about it being destroyed in a storm. I will even sell my George Perez portrait of La Calculadora. Yes, he's one of my absolute favorites, but the joy of receiving it from him and publishing it will always be a memory that I will never forget. And whenever I see him, he recognizes me as "that math guy!" That story alone is worth more to me than the actual physical piece of Bristol board.

In contrast, I read a post on Facebook yesterday about a man who has every key Marvel Silver Age comic, including Fantastic Four #1, in a safe deposit box and takes them out occasionally to enjoy them. Then he puts them back. He has literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in comics that he has to go to the bank to see.

I went to Las Vegas last summer to speak at the American Library Association annual conference, and I will be talking about that experience for years. Being wined and dined by an international publisher, being applauded and recognized for my work, traveling through Utah and Arizona seeing family, all of it was wonderful. I'd rather do that than be able to say, "Hey, look at this copy of Fantastic Four #1!" I can read Fantastic Four #1 whenever I want. It's on my iPad.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Stick

I have been putting this off for years, but I have to get some of this out right now. I tell this story to my students, so it's not exactly a secret. This is the short version. I'll write the full version someday.

I was an abused child. My mother and father swapped spouses with another couple in 1970-71 after my mother caught my father cheating with the neighbor lady. The neighbor's husband didn't take kindly to that, and my mother and he had an affair right back.

I was almost six when it started. My brother had just been born. The next year was spent making weekend visits where they went into their various bedrooms and did whatever, while we kids, my brother and me on one side, and the other couple's three children on the other, all bunked together.

Finally, one day, the other husband, Steve, came to pick us up and took me away from my home. My mother was very pregnant with his child, and we went to live with him. The beatings began shortly after. The first time he hit me, we were having dinner and I don't know if I was chewing with my mouth open or had my elbows on the table, but I was sitting to his right and he hit me so hard in the face that he knocked me over the back of my chair. I got up off the floor with blood filling my mouth, and cried. I had no idea what I had done. Later, I figured it out. It wasn't table manners that had gotten me hit. It was the fact that I was the son of the man who had taken his wife and I looked like him. I was a daily reminder of the loss of his family. I don't excuse his behavior. I am explaining his behavior.

I spent the next five years being beaten virtually every day. It wasn't always so nice as a backhand to the face. Mostly, he had me take my pants down, and beat me on my bare behind with a 14" ruler from DeNooyer Chevrolet in Battle Creek. It was wooden on one side, and metal on the other. It was affectionately called (by him), "The Stick." You know, as in "Shut up, or you'll get The Stick." "You're getting The Stick when we get home." The police were called at different times because of all the screaming that my little brother (age 1) and I were doing, and the police examined the welts on our behinds. They did nothing. We got it worse after they left, just to prove the point that there was no one who could stop him.

But the problem with corporal punishment is, it loses effectiveness after a while. I still remember the day when I was 11 and in 5th grade and The Stick lost its power over me. We were living in Allegan, Michigan, and Linda Ronstadt's Heart Like a Wheel was playing and he was going to town on my butt. And I wasn't crying. He hit harder. I wasn't crying. I just decided that I wasn't going to feel it anymore. He told me that I'd better cry or he'd keep hitting me. I wasn't crying. I felt like I had won a victory. Then he punched me.

The beatings continued to get worse throughout the next year. I would go to school with a black eye and he would tell me to tell my teacher I fell. I didn't. I told my teacher that my stepfather had punched me in the eye because he had taught me not to lie. Didn't matter, though. Nothing happens when your mother works at the Department of Social Services. This is before there were child protective services. The beatings grew so severe that my mother finally decided to let me go live with my father, who had divorced the woman with whom he had cheated, and had remarried to a  third wife. I didn't tell my dad what had happened because they still had my brother and I had been told what would happen to him if I told on them. So, I kept it quiet. I kept it quiet until my brother got the same opportunity six years later and there was no one left to hurt. Or, so I thought. When he started beating on my mother, she finally left him for good.

This little vignette only catalogs a fraction of the physical abuse. There was far, far more physical abuse as well as emotional abuse. I just had to do something to deal with the feelings I had when I was watching Outlander tonight and the alleged "hero" started beating Claire's bare behind with a belt. I had to clear the room quickly. Writing this helped get a little bit of the anger out. There's a lot of that. That it still comes on this strongly after 38 years is just amazing to me. The impressions made in childhood truly cannot be underestimated. I know I'll never get over it. All I can do is deal with it the best I can, and try to make sure that it doesn't happen to anyone else.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Old Wounds

I waited for a special occasion to write a new blog post here in my old stomping grounds. That special occasion is the release of Russell Lissau's and John Bivens' Old Wounds #1.

I've known Russell for some time now, and I know him to be a good guy. He's an honest guy, as honest as any I've known. And he's a journalist, like David Simon was. So, when I tell you that Old Wounds reads like an episode of The Wire, set in the world of Watchmen, you'll know that I mean business. He's telling a crime story like it is, as he's seen it. And that expert storytelling shows through and gives the world of Old Wounds a gravitas that almost seems too good for a world with powers in it.

The opening of the story focuses on Michael Lane, a former masked adventure called Night Hunter, as police wake him at his door to report the death of someone who used to be close to him. I don't even want to tell you more than that, because I don't want to spoil the blooming of the flower that marks the beginning of this story. It unfolds in a way similar to Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent, where layers give way to more layers.

What I will tell you is that the story feels familiar, with settings and imagery evocative of Watchmen (secret identity closet) and The Dark Knight Returns (retired hero missing an arm) but with none of the baggage that go with them. It doesn't feel thirty years old. It feels comfortable, like your favorite sweater that has been freshly cleaned. But as the story progresses, that comfort is only temporary, as Michael and his former partner find themselves embroiled in a mystery that you feel isn't going to go well for them. The danger feels real, and I am genuinely interested in what happens to the characters, even though I just met them.

I can't wait to read more.