Friday, January 25, 2008

The Meth Mishpacha

This blog is on hiatus as I travel the middle east in search of meaning and spirituality and shwarma that doesn't cause shilshul.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dave Cockrum Estate Sale Continues

As previously posted here, I am helping Paty Cockrum sell off Dave Cockrum's personal collection of comics. This includes file copies of books that he drew for DC and Marvel (such as The Avengers, Ms. Marvel and The X-Men) as well as Dave's personal Bronze, Silver, and Golden Age collection. There's lots of great books at more than reasonable prices, as many of you have already discovered. And more books are added every other day. Click here for the current list.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Marv Wolfman: Let My Readers Go

Mazel Tov to Marv Wolman whose book Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel (Nachshon Press) just won the National Jewish Council Book Award in the category of Children and Young Adult Literature. Homeland, which is fully illustrated by artist Mario Ruiz, also received the Moonbeam Award in the Young Adult non-fiction category and the USAbooknews award for History/Politics in the adult category.

Matt Haley. Excelsior.

My pal Matt Haley—creative consultant/commercial illustrator/comic art savant par éclat—is the cover feature of Layers Magazine this month in a Designer's Spotlight interview about his process. Matt is currently providing onscreen artwork for seasons one and two of Stan Lee's “Who Wants to Be a Superhero” TV series for the SciFi Channel.

"You're basically being asked to adapt a film they won't let you see, which is why most movie adaptations look pretty different from the final film. I had very little reference supplied by Warner Bros. Studios because they were worried about images from the film getting out before the film's release."
The issue is on stands now, and the online version is here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Harlan Ellison: Tough Jew Part III

Part III of my Harlan Ellison interview, in which Harlan refuses to solve the problems of the Middle East but solves our problem with the Middle East…

METH: You’ve told me this before but I don’t think it’s ever been printed. Your solution for Israel and the Middle East, please.

ELLISON: Okay. Here’s the story. It’s got to be 10 or 15 years ago when I get a call from the USIA, the U.S. Information Agency, the ones who do all the propaganda for the United States. They said, “Mr. Ellison, we’ve had a request for you to come and lecture in Israel. As an American-Jewish writer who is very popular—your works have been reprinted over there—they’d like you to come and lecture in Haifa at the university. So I said, “Yeah, that’s all right.” Now, in truth, I have about as much interest in going to Israel as I do in going to Germany, into which I have never set foot. That’s one of the three or four things I’ll never do. I did a list of things I will never do in my life: I will never do an ad for McDonald’s; I will never step foot in Germany; I will never eat lima beans; I would never harm a child; and I will never voluntarily read a book by Judith Kranz. Those are five of the things that are uppermost in my life. So then when I say voluntarily, I mean if you put a gun to my head, I probably would read a book by Judith Kranz, but I wouldn’t like it. As for lima beans, as I have often said, you show me someone who will eat a lima bean without a gun to the head, and I will show you a pervert.

So, to get back to where I was: An entire nation of people who are like my relatives, a whole country of yentas and kvetches, is not my idea of a good time. Now, I would love to see Petra, I would love to see the pyramids of Egypt, but I really have no interest in going to Israel. But, what the hell? Free trip, and Susan and I would go and we would do whatever. And maybe I could get to Petra while I’m there. So, I say, “Sure, I could do that.” And they’re going to pay me a nice fee. Okay.

About a week goes by and USIA calls again and they said, “They would like to do interviews with you prior to your arrival so that they can warm the country up for your coming” and I said, “That’s terrific.” They said, “Well, The Jerusalem Post will be calling you, which is one of the biggest newspapers in the world,” and I said, “Great” and “Thank you very much” and “I’m looking forward to going” and blah, blah, blah and all that bullshit.

So one morning, soon thereafter as the crow flies, I get a call from a guy and I can’t remember what his name was, but let’s call him Eleazer ben Yehudi. And he calls and he says, “Hello, this is Eleazer ben Yehudi and I am the senior editorial reporter for The Jerusalem Post and I would love to interview you.” And I said, “Just fire away.” And the first question out of his mouth is: “What do you, as an American Jew, think of the situation in the Middle East?” And I said to him, “Well, why would you ask me that? I’m a writer. I write amusing little fantasies. I’m not a political commentator. I don’t know what you people are going through over there. I have no opinion.” “No, no!” he says. “We’re anxious to hear what you think!” And he nuhdjes and nuhdjes and nuhdjes and pushes at me—already I know I’m going to hate Israel—and he keeps saying, “I want to know what you think! We want to know you want!” He sounds like Jackie Mason. So I say, “Listen. Trust me. You don’t want my opinion.” “Yeah!” he screams. “We want your opinion! We’re dying for your opinion! We’re plotzing to have your opinion!” He goes on and on and on; he will not let me off the hook. So finally I say, “Okaaay… but remember the old Chinese adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it!’” And he goes, “Ha, ha, ha! Extremely clever… So? What is your opinion?” And I said, “Here’s my opinion: all of you guys out there in the Middle East are out of the same melting pot, and you’re all as crazy as a butterfly on absinthe. I don’t know whether you’re all Canaanites at the base, or you’re all Jews at the base, or outa the Land of Nod, or whatever the hell you were at the git-go—Semites or what not—but you’ve been fighting there now for something like 8,000 years! You’ve never had five minutes of quiet and peace; you’re forever killing each other over the Holy Grail, or whatever the hell it is, and the rest of the world has had to suffer with this. Great things have come out of the Middle East, but stupidity seems to be your chief export—stupidity and violence are your cash crops, all you.” (And this was before September 11). I said, “My solution to the problem in the Middle East is this: We erect a wall 26 miles high around the entire Middle East. That’s Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, all of you—the whole bunch of you—26 miles high with one door, like a regular door in the front of a house. And every 10 years, we will open the door and look inside. If you’re still fighting, we close the door. Loz ze gein, you should live and be well—go and fight and kill yourselves. But if we peek inside and it’s safe, if it’s nice, if you’re not fighting, and you’ve got peace and quiet, you can come out and play with the rest of us like human people.

And the guy says, “What?” And I said, “Do you want me to repeat that?” He says, “No, thank you very much.” Bamm! He hangs up on me. Within an hour—an hour—USIA calls up and says, “Tour’s off. Pffffft!” And I tell you, I was relieved!

Being a tough Jew is like being a tough Oriental kid in an all-black neighborhood. When you’re an outsider, you’ve got two choices: You either become a target for people to hit you, to bully you, and con you, to take advantage of, and you wind up marrying people you shouldn’t, and you wind up in a job you shouldn’t have with people who bully you, or, you get tough. Now tough doesn’t mean hard. I’m not a hard guy; I’m a tough guy. That means that I take no shit and I’m wrong more often than I’m right, and when I am, I admit it. And that’s another part of being a tough guy. When you’re in the wrong you’ve got to face up to it and you’ve got to take responsibility for it. You can’t keep pushing it off on other people, and you can never blame the fact that you are a Jew! That’s what gets the goyim pissed off at us.

We just had a little fender-bender up here and I’m talking to the woman at AAA and she starts talking about “You people.” She was a black woman so she probably didn’t know that she was actually quoting the thoughts and philosophies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but that’s what she was doing. I tried to straighten her out but it was impossible. It’s widespread common lore that Jews own everything, to which my response is, “Well, if there is actually a great international Jewish money conspiracy, there’s some Jew out there with two shares, because I’m working my ass off!”

You’ve got to be able to accept responsibility for what you do, and you’ve got to be able to try and convince a lot of people who aren’t bad people, they’re just ignorant—not stupid, just ignorant; big difference—that Jews are not the arrogant, all-knowing “Chosen People.” That is as elitist bullshit as the Christians who think that when the Rapture comes, they’re going up and we’re going down. That’s just elitism, and it’s a bad kind of elitism, as opposed to my elitism, which is based on intelligence. Which is a good elitism.

And if you don’t like it, I’ll punch the shit out of you.

© The Kilimanjaro Corporation

Coming soon: Yr. Pal, Harlan
from IDW Publishing

Monday, January 7, 2008

Harlan Ellison: Tough Jew - Part II

I'm almost finished editing Yr. Pal, Harlan for IDW Publishing. In the mean time, here's Part Two of an interview I did with Uncle Harlan as part of the Tough Questions for Tough Jews series:

METH: You talked about Avram Davidson with great affection. He was a tough Jew.

ELLISON: Yeah, Avram was a very tough Jew. He was also frequently as crazy as a Jewish bedbug.

METH: Tell me again, that story you told me once, about what happened with you two in New York City.

ELLISON: Well, Avram had been in the Israeli Merchant Marines and he’d been all over the world. But Avram, when I knew him, was a pudgy, little Jewish guy wearing a yarmulke who used to walk down from the Upper West Side with rye bread for me when I was living in the Village. And one time we decided to travel together to a science-fiction convention in Philadelphia, and I was going to drive. I had an Austin Healey—an open-air little convertible, nifty set of wheels, very sexy, gun-metal blue, with a louvered bonnet. And, as always, I was going to take my typewriter with me. (suddenly starts to laugh) So I told you this story?

METH: Yeah, you told me once upon a time; so tell me again.

ELLISON: (laughs hysterically) It’s the G-d’s truth! Avram came up to my apartment. I was living down in the Village at 95 Christopher Street, right at the corner of Bleeker, and I had packed my bag, but I had my typewriter out. I used an office manual in my apartment, but I had my portable way up on the top shelf of a clothes closet and I had to get up on a little stepladder to pull it down. Avram was behind me and he was catching these things that I was throwing down for the car—he’s standing behind me and he’s catching them. I didn’t quite turn around—I just assumed he would grab it because I was turned awkwardly on the top step of this short ladder, so I held the typewriter out for him and it clearly said “Olympia” and that’s a German-made typewriter (laughs so hard he can barely continue). And as I let go of it, I heard Crash! I turn around and the thing has fallen on the floor and smashed open. I said, “What the fuck was that all about?” He says, “It’s German.” He wouldn’t touch a German typewriter. He wouldn’t even touch it!

Avram would not allow his stuff to be printed in Germany. He would not sign a contract with a German publishing company. Avram knew that… You know that great quote from Owen Miller, the poet? “Of all liars, memory is the sweetest.” Avram knew that as time passed, schmucks like that neo-Nazi who shot the 10 people in Minnesota recently would resurface and the lies would start being told again—the Holocaust deniers and all of that. Avram understood that, and he held a grudge almost as well as I do. Anybody who wants to see how tough I am should read the piece I wrote called “Driving in the Spikes,” which is in The Essential Ellison. It’s an essay on revenge. I’m still working on grudges from 1962.

METH: That’s why I love you.

ELLISON: Look, Clifford you know this to be an absolute. I mean you can attest to this personally. As good a friend as I am—and I am loyal to the death—a guy who treated me well last year when I went to lecture in Phoenix had a little traffic accident; he got hit by a guy and I was in the car as he was taking me to my lecture. I said, “Fight it and I’ll come back and I’ll testify.” He said, “You’ll come back from L.A. to testify?” I flew back to Arizona at my own expense to go to traffic court with him. But as loyal a friend as I am, that’s how implacable an enemy I am.

Most sins against me are so minor and stupid, I can ignore them, and I do ignore them. I just cut that person out of the world. But every once in a while, something will happen where somebody evokes the kind of anger that I would feel as a Jewish kid in Painesville, in the school yard when they beat me up. You know the story that I tell. This is not long after the Depression, and we were not very wealthy. I mean we weren’t destitute by any means; my Dad worked and had a job, but it was very, very hard times. And one winter they ganged up on me and beat me up and tore my clothes off. I was buck-naked. If you’ve ever known an Ohio winter, they are terrible. The only place worse is Chicago. But I was so ashamed that my clothes had been torn off and that they were ripped, because my mother was very fastidious and very conscientious that because we were Jews, my clothes were always clean and never patched. You know, you had to look like a mensch. And I was so ashamed and so chagrined to go home and show my mother the torn tatters of clothes that I was clutching, that I hid in the snow in the bushes for about four hours, until it was dark and they came and they found me. Blue. I was fuckin’ blue. Hypothermia. Pneumonia.

METH: I know Beckwith [see Part I of this interview] shows up as a character in “City on the Edge of Forever,” but whatever happened to Wheeldon?

ELLISON: Wheeldon died. Wheeldon shows up in my story “Final Shtick”—that’s me going back to my hometown. It’s a Lenny Bruce character, but it’s actually me. And the town is Lanesville... Wheeldon is dead. He wound up as a used car salesman; he was a milkman for a while, then he was used car salesman, and then he died. If you look at The Essential Ellison, you’ll see that photograph of me and my 3rd or 4th grade class and I’m smaller than everybody. I’m smaller than the smallest little girl. And we’re standing in rows on the steps of the school, Lathrop Grade School; and if you let your eyes track up to the top row, where the tallest kids stand, almost directly behind me is Jack Wheeldon, you can see him. It’s in the caption—there’s all the information there.

METH: I remember that picture of you smiling.

ELLISON: Actually, I’m not in fact smiling—it’s really very strange. Every kid either stands with hands at sides, or with hands clasped in front of them, little Dutch girl style. At the end is this little pugnacious-looking kid with his hands on his hips, leaning forward, wearing a Captain Midnight Secret Decoder badge, and a bandage on his face from some brawl. He looks like an escapee from The Newsboy Legion or one of the other kid gangs Jack Kirby used to draw. He’s looking right into the camera and his lips are skinned back like a feral animal. And it’s me. It is not a smile. There I am at age what? Nine? Ten? And I’m already a tough Jew.

METH: The story that I recall about you and Avram Davidson had the two of you facing off against a bunch of guys down in the Village—

ELLISON: That’s in print. It’s in Partners in Wonder and it’s the introduction to the story that Avram and I did called “Up Christopher to Madness.” Avram tells the true story about how I stood off an entire gang of Italian street kids.

METH: It wasn’t a Jewish thing?

ELLISON: Nah, it had nothing to do with being Jewish. It had to do with they came on broyges with us, you know—“on the muscle”—trying to give me a hard time, or they were bothering Avram, or whatever the hell it was, and I went after ‘em. And I drove off the whole goddam gang. There must have been 12 or 13 of them.

Part III tomorrow

© The Kilimanjaro Corporation, 2005

Own Dave Cockrum's Personal Comics Collection

As noted previously, I am helping Paty Cockrum, Dave Cockrum's widow, sell off Dave's personal comics collection. This includes his Golden Age and Silver Age collection (some real beauties) as well as his file copies of books that he personally worked on (such as Giant Size X-Men #1, his first work on The Avengers, etc.). Click here for more details.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Tom Spurgeon Reviews SNAKED

Over at The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon dissects the premiere issue of Snaked.

This comic logically builds on an underserved customer of the comics market: folks who enjoyed really heavy, nastily-tinged, brutishly handsome comics made possible by the direction of the comics market 1988-1995 or so. Works like these often play well with classic outsiders, say by economic circumstance or by race, and in doing so often touch off a number of subliminal triggers in addition to the stridency and appeal of the surface text. Snaked has all of those signs. Here we see figures a constant half-degree over-heated and sexualized, violence much more horrific and damaging than anything in the genre prepares us to face, and government conspiracies which are less whispered over in austere corners of power than boasted about at the company watercooler and bandied about as a subject of concern during pillow talk.

A story about shadowy programs, political maneuverings, revenge and supernatural killer-types can hardly be new no matter how they're combined. What puts Snaked above the vast bulk of similarly-targeted comics is that its creators know that it's one thing to present such a story through an ugly point of view, and it's quite another to present it as if it's a beautiful thing, so that what seeps into the consciousness isn't just the the horror of an event but the sensuality of experiencing it, the exposure to the kind of soul that would make something like that happen, the thought of a world where something so far over the line so as to exist a lifetime's travel from that line can be presented as heroic on some level. Snaked gets the highest recommendation I can give a title exploring this bleak a series of human impulses with barely hidden-glee: I'm not sure I want to see this comic in my house.

Harlan Ellison: Tough Jew

For those who missed it when it first appeared on May 10, 2005, I’m reprinting (e-printing?) my interview with Harlan Ellison, which originally appeared at Chazarmaveth. This was the opening act for my occasional feature Tough Questions for Tough Jews. Note that I'm currently editing Yr. Pal, Harlan (a collection of Harlan’s electronic letters) for IDW Publishing.

Parts two and three of this interview will appear next week.

METH: The first thing I read of yours that knocked me out was the introduction to Approaching Oblivion where you talked about…

ELLISON: (interrupts) “I’m sick and tired of the world, and fuck the lot of ya.”

METH: Yes, that’s what it was. But there was a strong Jewish message in there. Here’s this little Jewish boy and his very Jewish experience--an experience that still affects you.


METH: You’ve always been conscious of being a tough Jew.


METH: Did you have Jewish role models who were tough Jews, because in the 1930s it would have been guys like Bugsy Siegel and Dutch Schultz representing that image.

ELLISON: No, I’ve never had a Jewish role model of any kind.

METH: So you thought Jews were a bunch of wimps.

ELLISON: No. You want to ask the questions and answer them, too? You can hang up and you won’t need me and I can go back to work.

METH: (laughing)

ELLISON: So, are you ready?


ELLISON: Okay. I was a Jew in a world where there were no Jews. The only Jews I knew were my mother and father, and they weren’t all that Jewish. They were High Holy Day Jews. We would go into Cleveland and we would go to the synagogue there, and I would see all these people and they would be mumbling in a language I didn’t know. So I didn’t have that much contact with them. The way I knew I was a Jew was when I first learned that I was a kike, and I learned that at the end of Jack Wheeldon’s fist and feet, and his pals at Lathrop Grade School in Painesville, Ohio.

In my grade school, I was the only Jew for some while. I couldn’t have been any older than four years old when I moved to Painesville, and we lived on Harmon Drive, and there were no Jewish families at that time. Soon thereafter, there were Jewish families, but the kids were not in my class—I was a little bit older than them. And when I went to grade school, which was right around the corner from us, I was the only kid. Now, this was Ohio in the 1940s—‘39, ‘40, ‘41 that kind of thing. And these kids were the products of their parents inbred anti-Semitism. If they believed anything, they believed that Jews had horns and killed Christian babies to make their matzos. Now, you hear people sometimes talking about this, and they say it as a gag. I actually heard it. It was said to me.

Jehovah’s witnesses were big around there and I remember very clearly one day when I was walking home from school and this little girl started following me. And she started saying, “You’re gonna’ go to hell because you don’t believe in Jesus Christ. You’re gonna’ go to hell, and when you’re in hell, you’re gonna’ want water, and I won’t give it to you!” And I started crying and I ran on home.Years later, I had to laugh: What a terribly loving, “Christian” attitude that was on her part.

I knew I was a Jew because they would not let me forget I was a Jew. We’re talking here about the middle-America version of The Protocols of the Elders of Fucking Zion. And I became a tough Jew because I had no alternative. I was very small and when we were all small, I was able to hold my own and I could brawl pretty good with the best of them. But as they got older and taller, and I stayed a dwarf, they were able to beat on me like a big door. When I got to high school—Champion Junior High School in Painesville—one day I was sitting in an auditorium because there was an assembly, and behind me were Wheeldon and Beckwith and Jividen and the rest of those assholes whose names, of course, are burned into my memory because they were those memories that never leave you, no matter how well-adjusted you get. And people say, “Well, let it go, let it go.” Fuck you, “let it go.” You let it go. I think bad memories are as valuable to a writer as good memories. Pain is a much greater friend to a real writer than pleasure because the pleasure takes care of itself—it’s what sustains you. But what gets you passionate and angry enough to write are the hurtful memories. And one of ‘em behind me called me a kike, and I turned around and I slammed the guy—I think it was Wheeldon, but it may not have been Wheeldon; it may have been another one of his no-neck cronies. I slammed him in the face with a geography book. And when he recovered from being hit, he punched me, and he hit me so hard, he tore the chair out of the floor. It was an old wooden high school, and the chair was pulled straight out of the floor.

So did I have any role models? Yeah. Me. Is that tough enough for you?

© The Kilimanjaro Corporation, 2005

(stay tuned for Part Two)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Stan Lee. Patriarch.

When I phone Stan Lee or exchange emails with him or see him in person on those rare occassions when we meet, I tend to forget that I'm dealing with a legitimate icon. He makes me forget because he's such a regular guy. But when my kids' friends are visiting and they catch the signed photo on the wall or the framed one of the two of us together, they invariably ask, "Do you really know Stan Lee?" And then I remember.

There's so few individuals whose impact and influence--whose very face--is as singularly representative of a given industry. Babe Ruth. Or Elvis. Perhaps Moses.

Michael Netzer pays tribute to our industry's most important creator in his Portraits of the Creators.

Marv Wolfman: Watching the Children Grow

As an aspiring writer weaned on comics, all I ever wanted was to work for Marvel or DC. But the grass is always greener, and as I became friends with many writers and artists in those camps, I watched their growing frustration despite the fact that their characters were catapulting to new heights. Anyone who has hung around comics as long as I have must wonder on occasion how cool it would be to have created The X-Men or Ghost Rider or Wolverine—and how lousy it must feel to see those characters generate millions of dollars while the creators are left out of the character’s financial success.

Marv Wolfman had a hand in building about 75 Marvel characters including Blade (with Gene Colan), The Black Cat (with Dave Cockrum), Bullseye, Condor, Diamondhead, Nova, Sphinx, Terrax, and Torpedo. At DC, he co-created most of the New Teen Titans and all of their villains with partner George Perez, including Cyborg, Deathstroke the Terminator, Gizmo, Jade, Jericho, Nightwing, Pantha, Psimon, Raven, Shimmer, Starfire, Terra, Trident, Trigon, and literally dozens of others.

Marv and I recently spoke about watching these “children” grow up.

Meth: The whole legacy thing is tricky. You and I both know any number of creators who labored to give birth to something only to see THAT thing become THE thing their career was forever associated with. And then their creation suddenly wasn't theirs anymore and some big corporation was making gazillions off of it. Let's take the X-Men, for example. Now there's more than one way to process that experience--and perhaps the process differs as you mature. Dave Cockrum was rarely bitter about his roll in the X-Men. He was only sorry that the industry stopped giving him work… Was your Blade experience painful?

Wolfman: It wasn't Blade that was the problem. I love the character and my involvement with him. My problem was that [Marvel] decided the creators should not get any money or even recognition for their creation. I had to fight and all I managed to get, along with Gene Colan, was the credit. And only on the movies. They were not included on the TV series, which is why, despite the fact that some friends and good people worked on it, I couldn't bring myself to watch it… Creators should always participate in the success of their creations. DC has given percentages for decades now. I wish Marvel had chosen to do the same as that was all I originally asked for.

Meth: Where does this leave you with Marvel?

Wolfman: Unfortunately, although I still love many of their characters, and some editors would like to work with me, the word comes from on high that I can't be hired. It's a shame. They are doing some great books.

Meth: Knowing what you know now, how would you have handled the Blade situation in the beginning? Or were there really any options?

Wolfman: In an early letter to them, I had originally asked only for the same percentages DC routinely gives its creators, and frankly the same one Marvel does for its creators (since 1978 or so) but very late one night I was called by one of their company Presidents (I think from Marvel Studios) and was told that if I wanted to get anything from them I'd have to—in his words—"Sue us." That completely threw me. There had been nothing in any of my correspondence to that time that even hinted of that thought.

As I say, I wrote letters asking only for the standard deal. I know someone high ranking at another company tried to help, but they were adamant. Without mentioning names, I had heard stories that one of the people responsible for many of their characters found it impossible to go into Toys 'R Us because he'd see characters he created that he never saw a penny from, and I was determined, win or lose, I would not let that happen to me. I didn't want this to be a legal case but that exec made it clear the company wouldn't give the same deal they were already giving others and the situation unfortunately escalated. I wish it never happened, as it certainly hurt professionally and financially, but that exec made it clear suing them was the only thing I could do.

I still wish it didn't go down that way. I still like many of the Marvel books and have no bad words (publicly or privately) about the company or its people - some of my currently favorite books are Marvel - but at the time I felt I wasn't given any options.

Meth: Your experiences with DC have been more rewarding. Is that a testament to Paul Levitz?

Wolfman: I think the change at DC happened with both Jenette Kahn and Paul. They both seemed committed to changing the way things had been.

Meth: You spent time in the hot seat at Marvel, as an EiC. How have things changed since the bullpen days, politically and practically?

Wolfman: I actually don't know since I haven't done it for awhile. I loved being EiC at Marvel (and later senior editor at DC and at Disney Adventures magazine) when it was a creative post. We were able to do comics we wanted to read. Comics that tried to preserve what was great about the company while pushing it forward at the same time. We were also attempting to "grow up" our stories as the age of our readers got older as well. Unfortunately, at that time Marvel was sold to a company called Cadence, and I have to say that company wasn't quite the best. My job slowly became far too business and much less creative, and Cadence kept trying to find ways to make things cheaper and worse. I was in my mid-20s at the time and really didn't know how to fight them, wasn't good at politics, and awful at business. I'd like to think I'd be a lot better now.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

People Who Die

New Year’s resolution: If I am ever stricken with terminal cancer, I’m taking a few of my enemies with me.

When my buddy Gray Morrow (67), that wonderful artist and human being, realized he was in the grips of something modern medicine couldn’t cure, he did the honorable thing and put a bullet in his head, rather than drag his wife Pocho through a prolonged and expensive ending. I know there are people with the audacity to judge that harshly but that’s because they are selfish cowards or religious fanatics. Or don’t own a gun.

Looking back on 2007, I lost more friends than enemies. Dave Cockrum (63) died in late November, 2006, but that’s close enough. My Fraternity Brother Joe Vitolo (41)—who appears in several of my “fictional” pieces as “Shaky Joe,” died in April, 2006, but that was close too. But actual ‘07 death toll stats include Hilly Kiristal (75), founder of the New York punk mecca CBGB. I didn’t know Hilly beyond a few phone calls that finally landed my band The Orphans a gig at his joint. That was 1984 when I still thought I had a better chance of survival when surrounded by people who could play instruments. Hilly was, by all reports, a glum bear of a guy, and his club was the single most important shithole on the planet.

Evel Knievel
(died November 30, 2007 at the age of 69) and I got drunk together at the Essex House Hotel in Manhattan in 1986. I liked the guy. He walked like the Frankenstein Monster but if you had that many pins holding you together, you would too. The cat broke every bone in his body at least twice, which is what you get for trying to jump over big objects with a Harley. Evel told me the story about promoter Shelly Saltman’s book—how he’d taken an aluminum baseball bat to Saltman in the parking lot of the MGM Grand for writing that Evel abused his wife and kids. “He was a Jew like you, Clifford, but he didn’t have the guts to wear one of those beanies on his head like you do. Hell, I respect you.” Maybe it was the beer talking. Maybe it's because I'm a better fighter than he was. Evel regretted beating Saltman half to death then spending six months in jail for it. “I shouldn’t have gone after him,” he told me. “Next time, I’d send somebody.”

Brad Delp (died March 9, 2007 at the age of 55), lead singer of Boston, sang the songs that formed the soundtrack of my early freshman year at Morris Hills High School. I saw the band perform at Madison Square Garden that year and arrived early enough to find Brad restlessly strolling around the first few rows of the orchestra. Most of the people sitting there were oblivious to his presence.

Norman Mailer (died November 10, 2007 at the age of 84) forged an early path for authentic American cultural criticism. Sadly, I didn’t read him until much later in life when my professor Bill Zander shoved a copy of Armies of the Night in my direction. Never met Norman either, but there’s a lot of people I’d rather see dead.

Kurt Vonnegut (died April 11, 2007 at the age of 84), perhaps the most important novelist and essayist of the last half-century, was one of my dozen or so REAL heroes, the list of which includes Meir Kahane, Mordechai Anielewicz and Batman. Kurt gave this young writer some help as well as such a harsh critique of my first novella that I didn’t know what to do with myself and needed Walter Cummins to talk me off the ledge (explaining that Kurt was only raising the bar for me and, “don’t think for a second that he takes this kind of time for every young writer who comes down the pike” and “get off that ledge and come back in here before you catch cold.”) Years later, I had lunch with Kurt above the Harley Davidson Café in NY City and interviewed him for Barnes and Noble’s new on-line site. He was one of the few people who could write anyfuckingthing and whether I agreed with him or not, all I could hear was that sensational voice. And usually I agreed. He was that impossible hybrid of great artist and good man.