As mom gets sicker, and Christmas gets closer, I realize I haven’t had much of a chance to blog properly lately (which, considering the sheer number of blogs out there in the universe, may in and of itself be a kind of secret blessing).
While I have started an epic series of posts about Wonder Woman, Mom, queens, and comics (it’s a multi-chapter blog with photos and videos that should probably be an online book, it covers so much Wonder- and pop psych-related territory), the effort has reminded me that one of the great support systems I have in my life remains something that’s been integral to it for close to 30 years: the comic book industry.
And as an adult, I don’t necessarily mean the comic books themselves, especially some of the mainstream ones being published now, which, with a few exceptions, “speak” to me less and less to me as I get older (for a variety of reasons), although I still love love love great comic book art.
But as a whole, the industry has been fantastic to me and an extraordinary place to grow up (I started working at DC Comics when I was 21, back in 1991). Historically, its presidents, publishers, editorial staff, administration, and many of my fellow freelancers have, for the past two decades, taken incredible care of me — personally, creatively, and financially, although I like to think I’ve probably given them a little something back in return for their efforts (and let’s face it — how many people out there get to write and draw the adventures of their favorite character of all time? How many industries actually give you the opportunity to do that? Very few, I’d assume).
For most of that time, members of the administrations of both mainstream super-hero publishers (Marvel and DC) have worked incredibly hard to find projects that suit my talents, skills, and frustratingly uneven creative temperament (I’m an arteest, dammit). I find that the people in the “big” companies — and in a few of the other smaller one — have generally been very gracious, very supportive, and very kind to me. I’ve made friends that have lasted 20 years, some of whom have risen with me in the ranks and “fought” with me in the deadline-laden trenches. The NYC-based staff of DC Comics were there for me when my first boyfriend died (he was an employee at DC) when I was just 23, and during the horrific events of 9-11 (days I still remember so crystal clearly, because I spent much of time following the event on the 6th floor there). My editors are Marvel Comics saw me through some really tough times when I returned there a couple of years ago, and I owe at least two of them more than just a night on the town for suffering through with me and protecting me as best they could from their own bosses and the realities of our business.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I moved in with her, my work-life altered dramatically. I had just starting my second issue of Fairest, the Fables spin-off and was working on developing a couple of creator-owned projects into other media, and was launching what I thought might be a wonderful “kickstart” to Phase Two (Three –?) of my career. My last time at Marvel was not what I hoped it would be, even though many there struggled to make it so, and my brief stint on Adventure Comics upon my return to DC Comics ended not with a bang but a whimper. I felt like I had a lot of making up to do for fans, for my bosses, and for myself.
Mom’s Stage-4 lung cancer diagnosed totally put the kibosh on that particular strategy. And how.
But you know one of the things that’s been really amazing about this whole experience? This whole, horrible process? How immediately my bosses, Shelly Bond and Greg Lockard, found ways not only to accomodate my schedule but have done everything they can to make sure my heart and soul are taken care of, as well as my checkbook (and their publishing schedule!). They light up nearly every day with sweet emails, gift baskets, and funny stories — because they’re beautiful, loving, giving people as well as amazing editors. Former editor Frank Pittarese lept forward with words of solace and advice from similar events in his life. Jack Mahan, one of the VPs in administration, and a man I feel I owe the world to, has done everything in his power to make sure I’ve had the very best I’m able for 15 years, and has taken extra special care to let mom know how much she’s loved, too.
Over at Marvel, Steve Wacker and Tom Brennan have been fantastic about checking in with me when they can (it was Steve who once told me that, in comics, I was the perfect model for Peter Parker, and my mom was the ideal model for a more modern Aunt May. Once he said that, it allll clicked. He was right). Ben Morse, who’s so awesome I can’t stand it, offered his hand, advice, and lots of wonderful exchanges on Twitter, all of which made me feel a thousand times better. The far too awesome Chris Ryall at IDW sent me some extraordinarily sweet messages and also helped ease my workload (those Legion/Star Trek covers) Freelancers like the infinitely kind Joe Kelly and Trish Mulvihill were right there, checking in with sweet words of support and extensions of help if I ever needed it. My inker Andy Lanning, who has stuck with me thru thick and thin, continues to be one of the most generous men in this business, and to no one more than me. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chuck Kim, my former editor and roommate, who texts hilarious words of wisdom to me almost daily about such important luminaries as RuPaul and Raven of the New Teen Titans.
On a recent visit to the DCEast halls, numerous people, from group editors to folks in production to 7th floor receptionist, asked about my mom, asked about me, and laughed with me about work, cancer, and the hilarious Christmas decorations adorning the halls there. Good, kind people — some of whom I’ve know a very long time — who took just a little bit of extra time to extend a handshake or hug, to ask how I was doing. I’m forgetting lots of people by name, I’m sure (I’m writing kind of fast here). But the numbers of people in my biz that have offered support and kindness are extraordinary, especially here on the East Coast, which will always feel like “home” to big comics publishing, even as the publishing biz slowly evaporates and its remnants move west to Hollywood (ka-ching!).
I think it’s rare for most people in the world to get the opportunity to work anywhere for more than 20 years consistently, and with good people, and make a decent living doing it. The comics industry has given me that. Admittedly, in recent years, it’s felt less like “home” and far more like a place of business — new people in power; bleaker tone of material; greater (obvious) emphasis on fourth quarter profits; new staff faces in the halls; the devastating-to-some restructuring that tore DC literally into two — and walking its halls doesn’t have quite the same sense of warmth and familiarity it used to, at least to me (but that’s okay — it has been 20 years, after all, and a place like that has to grow and evolve and change in order to survive).
But I certainly hope that for the younger generation, for the new folks coming into our industry, that they find in it a home and a place of belonging, too. A place of safety, security, and stability. A place of creative enrichment. A place of lucrative royalties if you work on the right crossover. A place like I have — a safe place to come out and feel infinitely accepted, to make life-long friends, to be a nerd/geek/whathave you. I fear that, as in all businesses, ego, economics, and geography are conspiring to prevent the building of such special, unique relationships in our rarified trade except among a privileged few. But I certainly hope I’m wrong. And I hope they get to know well that, in this bizarre industry of ours, filled with all sorts of strange and damaged people, the good ones are golden, and will follow you to the ends of the Earth and back if they can, cape and cowl or no.
I’m so very lucky to have literally grown up in the comic book industry. I’m extremely lucky to be a part of it now. And my mom’s sure lucky I’m a part of it, and that I fell in love with Wonder Woman, all those years ago. If I didn’t, I’m not sure where either of us would be right now! But I doubt it would feel this much like home.