At its best, comics is like a family, where people in the field are known by their first names by fans and peers alike. Jerry, Joe (well, several Joes, actually, but context always makes it clear which one), Will, Bob, Bill, Stan, Jack, Steve, Marie, Carmine, Len, Marv, Flo.
Irwin Hasen was my friend, just as he was a lot of people’s friend. Of course, millions of people knew Irwin through his comics (Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Wildcat, the Fox, and, of course, Dondi). But because he had no children and no local relatives, Irwin’s friends and companions were his cartooning contemporaries, the cartoonists he mentored, and a steady stream of admirers, thirty to fifty years his junior, who crossed his path in various ways. Some were fans, some fellow comics pros. Some were descendants of his contemporaries, seeking information about and connection with their parents or grandparents through Irwin, who had known them all.
Irwin was always a jolly presence at the local New York Big Apple conventions, which is where I first encountered the man (as opposed to his work, which I’d been seeing since I was a kid). But it was on trips to Allan Rosenberg’s conventions in New Jersey where I got to really know him. Ken Wong would drive me, Irwin, Arnold Drake and Jim Salicrup out to those cons, and that’s where I got to spend time with Irwin and Arnold—talk about a ride with history!—and discovered the mischievous marvel that was Irwin Hasen. When not gossiping about some comics figure present or past, Irwin would drift off to sleep, and I’d wonder, “Did Irwin just die?” But then he’d respond to something one of us said with a hilarious one-liner and we’d know he was not only alive, but kicking.
Over the past ten or so years, Irwin was hospitalized several times with various conditions, often dire and seemingly fatal, all of which he rebounded from, until the final one on March 13th. No matter what, though, until the end, his grip was always strong, clinging to life like he clung to a pencil to express his vast creativity. Any number of times I figured I would never see him again, and time after time he bounced back, sometimes better than before, since the doctors would have cleared up whatever was causing him trouble. It was amazing to behold.
For instance, last year, Ed Steckley, president of the Manhattan chapter of the National Cartoonists’ Society wanted to do an event honoring Irwin. I told him I thought that Irwin’s event days were over, but to not take my word for it. “Let’s go to Irwin’s house and you’ll see for yourself.” Well, we went to Irwin’s, and he was totally up and on, energetic and crystal clear. Ed’s Irwin event was held at the Society of illustrators, and Irwin enjoyed every minute of being the center of attention, entertaining the large crowd that turned out to honor him.