My wife (now ex) came home to find me wailing like a wounded animal. Seeing this started her crying also, convinced yet another tragedy had taken yet another member of my family.
She was right.
Lots Of Years Earlier…
That was my first day on my first job and I was looking forward to my first paycheck. I’d never had that kind of bank all at once. This was to be a day of firsts, after I’d gotten my scratch; I was going to shop at my first bookstore. The 8th Street Bookstore in New York City to be exact. My visit there would see me purchase my first hard cover book as this was the first time I saw value in one thing as opposed to many things.
My first paycheck, my first visit to a bookstore to buy my first hardcover book and the first time I saw value in one thing as opposed to many things?
You’re thinking I was either:
- Really stupid
- An illiterate adult
- A really stupid illiterate adult
- All of the above
It’s E, none of the above. Why is E not listed? Why’d you think it had to be one of those? Yeah, right.
I was 10. I said it was a lot of year’s earlier, sheesh.
This was the first day I was going to work in my cousin’s studio. My cousin, William T. Williams, is one of the 20th and now 21st century finest artists. Don’t take my word for it; Goggle him or check out the Janson History Of Art for the last 20 years or so.
I was going to work every Saturday at my cousin’s studio because I’d shown an interest in art. But the real reason is my mother and cousin had cooked this up to keep my ass off the mean streets of Rockaway Queens during the weekends and summer.
I was told I would get paid at the end of my day, a day I spent learning how to carry a painting. Trust me, it not as easy as you think, especially when some of the paintings were twice as big as me.
My cousin handed me my day’s wages and I made a huge mistake when I took the money. It taught me one of many lessons I’ve learned from him – but that’s another story. The moment I had that $10 bucks in my greedy little hands, visions of dozens of new comic books danced in my head.
That was the most money I’ve ever had at one time and nothing was going to stop me from overdosing on candy which I’m sure would include Black Cows, Now & Laters, Mike & Ike’s, Red Hots and Blow Pops. Yeah, back in the day they knew how to name the stuff that one day we would regret ever eating…not!
My plan was to binge on all that sugar love while reading my 50 or so new comics I was sure I could now afford. My cousin suggested we visit a bookstore with my newfound wealth.
“They got comic books?”
“I’m sure they do.”
That’s all I needed to know. On the way he asked if comics were the only books I buy. Nope, in fact I’d just brought my first paperback, 101 Elephant Jokes, a paperback costing an entire 25 cents, so there.
The 8th Street Bookstore did have comics but they were unlike any I’d ever seen before. The Furry Freak Brothers and Fritz The Cat captured my attention because there were a lot of naked people (and cats) having sex in black and white. For a moment I couldn’t care less that there was no Batman, Avengers, Spider-Man and the like. When I was told I was too young to buy them, all I wanted was to get the hell out of dodge, quick, fast and in a hurry.
Then I saw it!
I saw it and after finding the color section within this hard cover goldmine, I had to buy it, but there was wee bit of a problem. All In Color For A Dime cost $11.95, which was more than the $10 bucks my cousin had paid me for working in his studio. There was another problem, if I somehow managed to get the other $1.95 that left no comic book or Black Cow money. When my cousin handed me the two bucks I completely forgot about the candy and the comics, I can’t explain it but I just had to have that book.
Imagine what kind of impact that must have had on me. 10 years old giving up comics & candy for a book costing all the money I had in the world.
Almost Two Decades Later:
Yet another first, I find my “dad” when Don Thompson comes into my life.
It was also the first time I totally lost it upon meeting someone. I squealed like a little girl when I met Don at the old Chicago Comicon with his wonderful wife Maggie.
Maggie, bless her heart, reassured me it’s all right as I could not stop apologizing for my enthusiasm and downright giddiness. Don, along with Dick Lupoff, were the masterminds behind All In Color For a Dime, so to me, he was a god.
I’d spent countless hours reading All In Color and it became and still is one of my most prized possessions. Somehow, at 10 years of age I knew that book would change my life. When I met Don and Maggie, who at the time were the editors of the weekly The Comics Buyer’s Guide (CBG), I knew they would also. CBG was their baby, they were more than the editors and the face of the publication, they were its the heart and soul.
Those two wonderful people became two of my most cherished friends, valued advisors and are directly responsible for my writing career, which has lead to my own imprint among other things. Picture This was the name of the weekly column I wrote for CBG starting way back in 1989 or 90 (I think) don’t quote me on that but I know I started before Peter David.
Peter’s column, But I Digress, went on to become a must read for the entire industry and is considered the gold standard of weekly comic book opinion columns. Nobody even remembers Picture This (PT) and even I can’t recall what the other column name I wrote under before or after PT at CBG.
Forget This, does seem really close.
But I digress…
Don & Maggie, along with their kids Steven and Valerie became like a family I never knew I had. Every big move I made in comics I’d seek council from Don and Maggie. When they met me I had just began working in comics. Before comics I was a full time illustrator, my comics industry involvement was pretty much hanging around with Denys Cowan at conventions and comic book stores.
Someone must have spiked Mark Nevelow’s Diet Coke or had blackmail photos of him because Mark, the editor and supreme overlord at DC’s groundbreaking new imprint Piranha Press, gave me the assignment to illustrate ETC, the first offering from Piranha.
I had hit the big time and just knew after ETC, the comics’ world would bow at my feet. I would show these ‘artists’ just how to do a painted comic book!
Err, nope. Did not work out that way. The reviews were mixed; when they were good they were great. One reviewer wrote that ETC was ‘”one of few books which deserved the deluxe format and the price.” Like I said, when they were good they were great. When they were bad, ouch. Well, I knew CBG would have a positive review.
Don Thompson wrote a review handing me my ass.
That broke my heart and he knew it. He spent a couple of hours on the phone with me explaining what was right (very little) and what was wrong (that took the two hours) with the book. After talking to him I was a much better artist.
Maggie on the other hands dismissed ETC entirely. That dismissal was not a grueling review but a personal insight she shared with me. “Michael, there will be other comics, that’s not what’s needed in this industry. What’s needed is your mentor program. What’s needed is what you’re doing there.” Don co-signed soon after, adding to a growing library of wonderful advice I’ll never forget.
If not for those two, my Bad Boys Studio (before Diddy) Mentor program may have ceased to exist. I was looking for more time to do comics and cutting that was looking pretty smart until Maggie and Don set me straight.
Before I accepted the position of President/CEO of Motown Animation & Filmworks I once again sort council from Don and Maggie. I flew to Iola Wisconsin (population 0 black folk) and spent a wonderful day with my “mom & dad.” It would be the last time I’d see my adoptive father.
May 23, 1994.
My wife (still now ex) came home to find me wailing like a wounded animal. Seeing this, started her crying also, convinced yet another tragedy had taken yet another member of my family.
She was right; the news that Don had died destroyed me for a few days. I’ve seen a lot of death in my life and when it happens I cry. Sometimes I sob so uncontrollably I’m amazed it ever stops. There are those who think men crying are a sign of weakness. Where I’m from, any black man crying is branded a little bitch or worse.
I cry for those I love. I cry for those I need but lose or leave. I cry when people I love hurt me. The day I had to leave Milestone 2.0 I cried. Like a little bitch I cried. I have no pride when it comes to pain in my life so I cry. If I didn’t cry I’d be the crazy motherbadsword some people think I am. Don’t get me wrong; I am a crazy motherbadword but only to those who come at me with malice and cruelty.
There was no malice and cruelty intended by M2.0. Yes, I was hurt and I cried over the lost of a dream. A dream I worked towards only to see it realized then fade away then vanish. People all over the industry are still waiting for the war I’m going to bring. News flash: I don’t live a life where I have to avoid something or someone for fear of a lawsuit or fear of losing face.
When things go south in my life I always (after pricing hit men) reach out to those whom I’m having the problem with. Especially if there was once love there. That’s a lesson many in the black entertainment space should learn. Often when I’ve reached out, I’m ignored.
What have I done when ignored? If for whatever reason those at odds with me refuse to even acknowledge me, then I move on, I leave it alone. Those who have squandered their chance to be kind and civil will one-day regret it. That’s not bravado, that’s the truth. The truth is those who create but don’t face the problem are always, always the worse for it.
Karma, my dear friends, Karma can be a real badword.
Don Thompson broke my heart with that review. It really wasn’t even the review, it was my hero, my ‘dad’ crushing me, that is what hurt most of all. I can’t comprehend on any level reaching out to Don after that heartbreak and Don ignoring me. He wouldn’t and neither would Maggie. I was thinking just that about Don on the eve of the 21st anniversary of his death.
March 23, 1994, that’s when I wanted my article on Don to run but couldn’t finish it. Thinking about him with all the badword I’m dealing with brought a new wave of sadness followed by a torrent of tears. Then, I was just angry. Angry at the last two years of my life, angry at Don for leaving but most of all angry with myself.
Indeed, I felt the most anger towards myself. Considering a final solution to my world of pain that I’m sure Don would find deplorable made me angrier and once I had that thought about Don an abundance of fury was undone as I imagined disappointing the rest of my departed family.
I was ashamed and my humiliation fueled my anger and I certainly couldn’t write about my “dad” angry. So I waited and wrote other things where my anger would be better served. I returned to this remembrance in the middle of the night weeks later, hoping I’d be able to finish my tribute and pay my respect to Don’s memory.
And I will. Don is still helping me. His light is still guiding me, his council easing some of my pain and some of my anger. I knew this for sure when Maggie tweeted me at the exact time I’d just written her name.
My regular readers will notice “badwords” instead of my usual bad words. That’s because there’s a pretty good chance Maggie may show this to some people who don’t know me. Like any good son I’d like to make mom proud. The knowledge she has a black son will likely be shock enough profanity would be too much. ;)
I love you, mom, more than any words I can say. I miss Don more than any words I could write.