NASA’s latest Mars lander, InSight, successfully touched down on the surface of the Red Planet this afternoon, surviving an intense plunge through the Martian atmosphere.
What you may not know is that Insight Studios, run by Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel, got to Mars back in 1983 with First Comics, edited by Mike Gold. The entire series was collected in a trade paperback by IDW in 2005.
Real life imitates comics again! And congratulations to everyone at NASA!
Are you tired of all the comics-related movies this summer? I didn’t think so, but I do understand why some of the movie critics are. These poor bastards see a couple hundred movies each year, they have little choice over which ones they must review and after a couple years, the daily smell of hot popcorn must become cloying.
Still, a couple of these writers have become complete assholes about it. Fine, fine. It is a great tradition among the professional critic set to cast their noses so high in the air you’d think they’d drown in a drizzle.
Having just seen The Killing Joke in a real movie theater – that part was cool – I’m only a couple days away from seeing Suicide Squad at the New York City screening. I’ll be joining my friend, frequent-collaborator and fellow ComicMix columnist John Ostrander, creator of Amanda Waller and the concept of The Suicide Squad.
This will be a highly personal experience for me. John and I have been friends for 45 years now, which speaks highly of his astonishing tolerance. Amanda Waller and Company first got on their feet in my apartment in Evanston Illinois before I returned to DC Comics in 1986. John and I were plotting the Legends miniseries and, since Bob Greenberger was my assistant way back then and he and John had been kicking some ideas around we decided Legends would provide a great launchpad for the Squad.
We really weren’t sneaking John in through DC’s back door, although that image pleases me. When Dick Giordano offered me the job of senior editor, he was hoping that I would bring John and some of my other First Comics collaborators to the company, or, in many cases, back to the company. This was no surprise: it was exactly the same deal, with the same hopes, that DC’s then-executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld made with Dick when he was editor-in-chief at Charlton nearly 20 years previous.
John and I met because we were comic book geeks. We both were at a party dominated by people in Chicago’s burgeoning theater scene, which gave us the likes of John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, David Mamet, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna. In fact, John co-wrote the play Bloody Bess that starred Franz and Mantegna. When I arrived, the party’s host recognized me and semi-snarlingly said “Oh, we have a couple of other comic book fans here” and I was escorted to a lonely couch where us fanboys couldn’t infect the others. John was sitting on said couch, and we hit it off immediately.
Friendships come and go; the really good ones can exist forever and endure long periods of limited co-existence. I am lucky to have John in my life as a constant – our friendship never lacked personal contact despite my moving from Chicago to New York, back to Chicago, and then back to New York (well, Connecticut, really). John has also moved around, calling Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey and now Michigan his home. We share emails almost daily, phone calls frequently, and in-person visits whenever possible (in the comic book racket, that can be with alarming frequency given the now-12 month convention season), often over amazingly great barbecue. John and I have shared our good times and our bad, the worst of which for each of us being the death of our respective wives thirteen years apart.
John Ostrander has always been there for me, and that is why I am looking forward to the Suicide Squad premiere.
David (Matthew Broderick): “Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War.”
Joshua/WOPR: “Wouldn’t you prefer a good game of chess?”
David: “Later. Right now let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.”
General Beringer (Barry Corbin): Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.
McKittrick (Dabney Coleman): I don’t have to take that, you pig-eyed sack of shit.
General Beringer: Oh, I was hoping for something a little better than that from you, sir. A man of your education.
Officer: Sir, it’s the President.
McKittrick: What are you going to tell him?
General Beringer: That I’m ordering our bombers back to fail-safe; we might have to go through this thing after all.
David (Matthew Broderick): “Is this a game or is it real?”
Joshua/WOPR: “What’s the difference?”
Wargames (1983), Directed by John Badham
Last week I watched Wargames on one of my cable channels, which was a weird bit of synchronicity because just a few days before, February 18th to be exact, the New York Times ran a very interesting article about that point on the graph where fiction and reality meet. It was called “‘Wargames’ and Cybersecurity’s Debt to a Hollywood Hack.”
Wargames, if you don’t remember – and I would be very surprised if you don’t, my fellow geeks – was a 1983 movie which starred Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, a high school student who is failing every class but also happens to be a genius computer geek in an era when it was not yet totally cool to be a high school computer geek. He accidentally hacks into the Cheyenne Mountain security complex known as NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and its super computer WOPR (War Operations Plan Response). WOPR is programmed to run numerous nuclear war scenarios and their outcomes, but David, a computer game “connoisseur,” believes that he has hacked into a games manufacturer’s R & D system, and decides to play global thermonuclear war, which is listed along with other strategy-learning games such chess, backgammon, checkers, and poker. But the computer “doesn’t know it’s a game,” as David desperately tries to tell the military. WOPR is counting down to Armageddon.
Anyway, the article tells the story of how, on June 4, 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan watched the movie at Camp David. The following Wednesday, Reagan met with his national security team and 16 members of Congress to discuss the upcoming meeting with the Soviets about nuclear arms. There he asked if anyone had seen Wargames, gave a synopsis, and if such a thing was possible. Coming on the heels of his Star Wars speech in which he asked scientist to develop “laser” weapons that could shoot down Soviet (or other hostiles) ICBMs from space, everyone in the room was thinking, to paraphrase, “There he goes again.”
But as the meeting disbanded, Reagan held back General John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and told him to look the possibility of someone breaking into the nation’s high security and top-secret computer systems.
One week later, the General returned to report that the President’s question wasn’t so off the wall and out of the box at all. In fact, to quote the New York Times, what the General actually said was, “the problem is much worse than you think.”
Reality imitating fiction.
There must have been something in the air in 1983, for that was also the year that Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg hit the comic book shops. Published by First Comics – which was co-launched by Rick Obadiah and ComicMix’s own Mike Gold – Flagg takes place in the year 2031. The U.S. government and the boards of major corporations have moved to Mars, and the Soviet Union has collapsed because of Islamist fundamentalism. The new center of power is the Brazilian Union of the Americas and the Pan-African League. America is ruled by the “Plex,” an amalgamation of the U.S. government and corporations. The population of the United States is centered around massive centers of commerce termed Plexmalls; the “Plexus Rangers,” including former television star Reuben Flagg, enforce the law.
Okay, the U.S. government is still in Washington. The Soviet Union did collapse in 1991, but Vlad Putin’s “wannabe” Soviet Union has problems with the Islamic fundamentalists living in the border states. But, can you say “Citizens United?” The 2010 Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission case, brought before the Supreme Court – which voted 5-4 in favor of the plaintiff – changed the landscape of our political system. Although it was originally meant for non-profit corporations, the principal has extended to private corporations – our First Amendment right to free speech as been convoluted to money as people. As in, to quote Mitt Romney, “Corporations are people, my friends.”
So I watch the 2016 Presidential campaign with a besotted eye. It does seem like some dystopian science fiction movie or comic, doesn’t it? The Republican candidates are cursing like roughnecks, complaining about television make-up, throwing bottled water at each other, tweeting and trolling like sociopathic adolescents, and a billionaire head of a corporation is leading the polls. The Democratic candidates are a woman suspected of murder and of e-mailing top-secret information on a public server and a socialist Jew from Brooklyn who isn’t Larry David.
And the current President is keen on sending a manned mission to Mars.
When I get asked by earnest neophytes how to break into comics, my pat answer is “With a pick and a crowbar through the roof in the middle of a moonless night.”
Somewhat less than helpful, I know.
The truth is that I don’t know how to break into comics. I don’t think most of you can go the path I took. I had an old friend – Mike Gold, who you may have seen hereabouts – and he knew I loved comics and he had liked something I had written for the stage and offered me a chance. When Mike had first gone to NYC to work for DC Comics, I pressed on him a sample script I had written for Green Lantern. He dutifully did but the script didn’t go anywhere and it shouldn’t have. I was very keen but very raw in those days (although I did use elements of it eventually; writers are forever cannibalizing themselves).
Fast forward a few years. Mike left DC to return to Chicago and eventually co-found First Comics with Rick Obadiah. The first comic that First Comics was going to print was an adaptation of the play Warp!, produced by the legendary Organic Theater of Chicago. The play trilogy described itself as “the world’s first science fiction epic-adventure play in serial form”. The director and co-writer, Stuart Gordon, freely acknowledged that he was very influenced by Marvel Comics. (We’re talking late 60s, early 70s Marvel. The primo stuff.)
I was – and am – a huge fan of Warp! Heck, I was a huge comic book geek at the time as well. Peter B. Gillis was hired to adapt the play but I got a call one day from Mike (who was now supreme editor and High Poohbah of First Comics) asking me if I would like to try my hand at writing an eight page back-up story.
Of course, I said yes.
And so began the process of picking one of the characters from Warp!, figuring out a story, working out the plot, breaking it down into page and panels, doing it and re-doing it, learning the tricks of the trade as I went. I had written plays which are similar to comic-book scripts but comic book writing has its own practices and demands. I’d write it up, Mike would give me notes, I’d re-write it, I’d get more notes and so on until one day Mike finally called me and congratulated me – they were going to use my story as the back-up feature in the first issue of Warp! which was going to be the first comic published by First Comics.
“Oh,” I replied, “great. Uh … do I get paid for this?”
“Of course, you sap,” Mike replied and gave me the page rate.
As a side note, I’ll mention that at that point I hadn’t written anything for a year or more. I felt I had a bad case of writer’s block. I discovered that there’s nothing like getting a paycheck to dissolve a writer’s block.
I went on from there to write more back-ups. Then I got Mike Grell’s Starslayer as a regular assignment and from there I originated GrimJack thus creating my career or sealing my fate, whichever you prefer.
The fact that I have a career is largely Mike Gold’s doing. As my first editor, he taught me not only the tricks of the trade but how to be a good writer. When Mike returned to DC, he brought me with him. Thanks to Mike, I got the job plotting Legends which was the first big DC crossover following Crisis On Infinite Earths. It may not sound like so much in these days of constant company wide crossover events but it was big back then. (Len Wein did the dialoguing and John Byrne did the pencils.) At Mike’s suggestion, we debuted Suicide Squad in the pages of Legends.
Mike also famously drafted me into doing Wasteland (we brought Del Close along). It was Mike’s idea and I wasn’t sure about it or at least my doing it at first. However, Mike is persuasive and I’ve learned when Mike has an idea to just say yes; at the very least, it will be interesting and potentially it will be some of my best work (as with Wasteland).
Mike has also been a very old, very loyal, and very good friend.
It boils down to this – if you like what I’ve done with my career, hey it’s all due to me.
The most disturbing thing that happened to me in comics – non-violent, that is – occurred more than 30 years ago during the early days of the real First Comics. In fact, it didn’t even happen to me directly. It happened to then-associate editor Rick Oliver. That’s how disturbing it was to me.
We had published a story, damned if I remember what it was, about evil robots doing what evil robots do – murdering humans and generally raising a ruckus. That’s been a popular theme over the years, and if you think about it that’s just what Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates were talking about last August when they were talking about the dangers of artificial intelligence. As an aside, any time that kind of brain trust agrees on anything, I pay attention. But I digress.
A gentleman called us quite perturbed that we published such a story. Actually, perturbed isn’t quite the right phrase. Hysterical would be more accurate. He went apeshit because we did a story that violated (actually, ignored) Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. In case you’re not up on such things, those laws go exactly like this:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
An admirable plot device, and Dr. Asimov held to it consistently for decades… in his fiction. Fiction. He never said it was science fact. Actually, he did say he wasn’t the guy who came up with it, that it was something writer/editor John C. Campbell said to him in December of 1940. On the other hand, Editor Campbell claimed that Author Asimov already had the Three Laws in his mind. But I digress. Again.
If this were an in-person conversation at a comic book or a science fiction convention, the caller would have been arrested and taken to a mental ward for observation. Seriously; he was that upset. When Rick told me about the call, I had newfound gratitude for Alexander Graham Bell.
Most of us understand that there are whack jobs out there (I’m sorry I don’t recall the politically correct phrase for “whack jobs”), and we’ve all seen more than a few hanging out around our Great Comic Book Donut Shop. This gentleman didn’t recognize that the Three Laws were merely a good idea and a great fictional plot device. Hell, he didn’t even recognize we had yet to create robots that are useful enough to need the Three Laws. Today, even drones have human controllers.
He desperately needed to get a life… and probably some lithium. But he represents a danger that we see in all of us who are passionate about our hobbies. You see this sort of thing at media conventions all the time – fans who are disappointed that actors aren’t as familiar with their work as they are. Plenty of times I’ve heard fans say that one actor or another was stupid (or worse) because he/she/it didn’t remember some minutia from a teevee series from many years past.
So. Why am I reminded about this now?
Simple. The fourth Republican debate was on teevee last night.
My friend and the man who co-founded First Comics with me 34 years ago, Rick Obadiah, died Sunday night. He was at the gym, and when he got off the treadmill he had a massive heart attack and was dead before he hit the floor.
Sorry for the abruptness. That’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m not going to write this as a traditional obit. I’m really sick of doing that, Rick was too good a friend and, besides, I’m alone in a Holiday Inn in Richfield Ohio right now.
I will tell you that, in addition to being First’s founding publisher, Rick had been an advertising executive and was the former producer for Stuart Gordon’s Organic Theater Company, having worked on such plays as Warp and Bleacher Bums as well as the television and movie adaptations of the latter.
Most recently, he was the president of Star Legacy Funeral Services company – the folks who, among other things, compress their clients into artificial diamonds or shoot their ashes into space. All that was actually pretty cool.
Rick had a fantastic sense of humor and would have appreciated the irony in his dying at the gym. Of course, he also would have pointed out that he would have preferred not to be dead. And Rick would have been shocked to see the incredible amount of responses on my Facebook page his passing received in such short period of time. People remember First Comics – the real First Comics.
Last year, Rick reread a lot of the old First titles and was pleased to see how well they held up. He took a lot of pride in that, for which I am very grateful.
Rick’s funeral will be on Friday August 21, 11:00, at the Derrick Funeral Home 800 Park Drive in Lake Geneva WI.
This Sunday, August 23, we will be doing a special tribute to Rick at our Chicago Comics History panel at Wizard World Chicago, at 12:30.
Last weekend, while my column was here, I was not. I was an invited guest at WonderCon out in Anaheim, CA, and I had a great time. It reminded me of San Diego Comic Con (who owns WonderCon) back before SDCC got so huge and overwhelmed with media stuff. WonderCon was mostly about comics and that felt very cool.
My duties were pretty light – two panels and two hour-long autograph sessions and one video interview. I didn’t have a table (my own fault) so I had a chance to walk around unfettered and unsupervised and see what I wanted. I didn’t realize fellow ComicMix columnists Jen Ernst and the Tweeks were also in attendance or I would’ve made an effort to get together with them and say hello and exchange stories about Mike Gold.
One of the big impressions I had was the sheer amount and quality of cosplayers in attendance. Every corner of fandom was there – comics, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, every sf movie or TV show you could think of. Some were mash-ups of different groups, such as Princess Merida (Brave) as a Jedi. I was dazzled.
What I initially thought was an interesting cosplayer turned out not to be a cosplayer at all. A guy with a bullhorn outside the security gates was haranguing everyone; turns out he was a Westboro Baptist-type preacher going on about sin and Jesus and the devil; I wasn’t listening very closely. Side observation: why do so many of these preacher types go on about the devil so much? They talk more about him than Jesus, it seems to me.
Anyway, his church also had some placards up with red letters against a yellow background with variations of “Jesus is Lord.” My second day there I saw one such sign inside the security barrier and wondered how they got past the guards. Then I realized it was being held by a Stormtrooper, probably from the 501st, and in red letters against a yellow background it said, “Vader is Lord.” Well played, 501st; well played.
I got to see some of my fellow professionals during the Con; my fellow Legends scribe Len Wein was there and we exchanged heart surgery notes. I had a triple bypass last October but Len had a quadruple bypass only six weeks before. (He’s so competitive.) I would not have been at the Con in his shoes and I hope all the fans really appreciated his being there. Len is one of the nicest guys in the biz and goes that extra mile for the fans.
Dan Jurgens stopped by while I was having breakfast on Friday ,which was nice. I later stopped by his table and we shot the shit about some of the old days at DC.
I also met up with Barbara Randal/Kesel/Kesel Randal/Randal Kesel/whatever. We ran into each other outside the Convention Hall and that is a very difficult trick to pull off. The odds against meeting anyone you know at one of these things is astronomical.
Barbara, I and my late wife Kim Yale were good friends back at DC when Kim worked there and it was still headquartered in NYC. Barbara has hardly changed at all and that should be illegal. I myself am old and weathered and show my years as any decent person should.
I went to a panel that Barbara was moderating called “What Does an Editor Do” which was fun, quick paced, and informative. A really good panel. During Q&A I asked her and her panelists who was an example of a good editor in the past. Barbara nailed it with her answer: “Archie Goodwin.” Boom! There it is. Great writer, great editor.
I also met some other professionals for the first time – Marc Andreyko and Tom King. Marc you may know from his version of Manhunter, which starred Kate Spencer. Kim and I had worked on a Mark Shaw Manhunter series so that gives us a bit in common.
We were both hanging around the Con booth for different reasons and I was trying to think of some way of introducing myself without sounding like a dweeb. Evidently, he was doing the same and we finally broke the ice and had a great conversation.
You may know Tom King from his current work on Grayson as well as his novels. He came up to say hello and introduce himself during one of my autograph sessions. A really nice guy and I enjoyed meeting him; he confessed he was a little nervous about meeting me. (I can give him names of people who can tell him how and why I am not so impressive.) I told him stories about how I dweebed out in meeting some of those pros I revered (Jack Kirby, John Broome, and Will Eisner). Tom and I got along fine after that.
Both Tom and Marc mentioned how my work on Suicide Squad really impacted them. That always surprises me when I hear that. These guys are hot, young and very good writers. All false modesty aside, I’m sometimes surprised that people remember what I did; I was just trying to do my best at the time. Like I always do.
The two autograph sessions went very well. Both lasted an hour each and I was busy right through each hour. I got to chat with some of the fans and see some of my old work which was sort of like seeing old friends. A couple of the fans had my very first work which was an eight page story in the back of the first issue of Warp, the first comic from First Comics.
The two panels were fun. One was my solo panel – all about me, a subject I know fairly well and can talk endlessly about. It was a relatively small crowd so I had them all move down to the front of the room and I sat on a chair in front of them and we just chatted. I told stories, held forth about writing, and everyone seemed to have a good time.
The other panel was about working on Star Wars and the room was packed. I shared the podium with several of my fellow workers and we fielded answers from the crowd. Towards the end, I asked the audience a question, one that I felt went to the very heart of Star Wars.
Did Han shoot first?
The answer was a deafening “Yes!”
A good Con, all in all. I want to thank everyone connected with it and thank them for inviting me and taking really good care of me. I had such a good time I’m hoping to go back. If I have the money, I would pay my way.
And for those who know me, you know that’s a high compliment.
I’m a Bruce Springsteen fan, and of course Bruce taught us all how to count to four (One… One – Two – Three – Four!) So I’m pretty good at math, until I get to whatever number is past four. But the number before four is three, and that’s the number of seasons in which I haven’t been able to cross the convention floor without being stopped by somebody to ask what’s up with the new First Comics.
Here’s the bird’s-eye lowdown: I don’t have a clue. I’m not part of the effort. I never was. I did write a tribute for the 31st anniversary edition of Warp, and I helped procure the services of Frank Brunner to draw the cover – go figure; he only drew the insides – and I fussed with my pal Rick Obadiah’s tribute piece because I enjoy fussing with Rick’s work.
But that’s it. I prefer working with publishers that actually distribute their work to the public, and that’s the question that’s most often asked of me. They sell their stuff at some conventions – Chicago’s C2E2 and, I believe, both the San Diego and New York shows and probably others. There I chat with art director Alex Wald, one of the truly gifted backroom people in the comics business and, by the way, a really nice guy, and Mary Levin and I wave and smile at each other, and that’s about it.
Yes, I co-founded First Comics along with Rick Obadiah way back when Godzilla was merely a flaming hatchling. I left the company at the end of 1985, which was prior to Godzilla’s entering adolescence. The lizard needed the room, and I gave him mine. Now he’s making stupid money off of a movie he’s barely in… but I digress. A lot.
I have no claim to the trademark and no equity in the company, which may or may not be the same company as it was when I was there. Overall, I spent more time at DC Comics and I have a similar lack of equity. This is not a problem at all.
I’m not pissed at people who assume I’m involved – actually, I’m kind of honored. But it does get annoying after the tenth or twentieth inquiry. This is why I’m employing this chunk of bandwidth to set the record straight. We’ve started the 2014 summer convention season, and I’ve committed to several more shows in addition to the three I’ve already done this season. See? I said I’m a Springsteen fan.
The really nice thing about all this is that Rick and I have resumed an old First Comics tradition (that’s the first First Comics, not to be confused with First Second Books or, for that matter, the Fifth Third Bank). The first First Comics was founded under the principle that, if you’ve got to have a business meeting, it should be over a truly great meal, and, generally, an unhealthy one at that. Rick’s a New Yorker living in the greater Chicagoland area, I’m a Chicagoan living in the greater New York area, so we get together about three or four times a year. Probably not more, but being a Springsteen fan, I have no way of knowing.
The cool part is that I turn Rick onto great Chicago restaurants, and he turns me onto great New York restaurants. All of these places involve supplication to massive platters of beef. I fully expect a PeTA picket line when I get off the commuter train.
This is a tradition that I’ve tried to port over to ComicMix. My four-color comrade Martha Thomases has been trying to get me to improve my diet – not by edict, but by example. Please do not tell her it’s slowly working. I now actually eat fruit!
I remember during my first tenure at DC in the 1970s company president Sol Harrison took me to the (now closed) Ben Benson’s steakhouse in midtown Manhattan, and publisher Jenette Kahn and I ate regularly at the fabulous Warner Communications dining room in Rockefeller Center, among other such joints. The food was fantastic.
So, in case you ever wondered – and if you have, you really need to get a life – I’m in this business for creative fulfillment, for not always having to act like an adult, for enjoying numerous great and enduring friendships… but, mostly, for the food.
An unusual convergence of historical dates of different emotional resonances for me occurred this weekend – the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and what would have been the sixtieth birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale.
Like many Americans, I remember where I was when I heard the news of JFK. I was in my history class at Quigley Preparatory Seminary North near downtown Chicago. The word that the President was shot came over the loudspeaker used for school announcements, followed a little later by the news of his death. I was stunned, in denial. I remember little else of that day. I think school was closed and we were sent home.
Kim’s dad was a Navy chaplain and they were living on-base at the time. She later told me how she was at school off-base and had to hurry back. The base was going into lockdown after the assassination and if she was outside when the gates closed, she wouldn’t have been able to get home. That was her tenth birthday.
For me, I place the days of my youth between two sets of gunshots – the ones that killed JFK and the ones that killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980. I was 14 for the former and 31 for the latter. Both gave me a slightly darker sense of the world around me and the country in which I lived. Both events inform my writing to this day.
The day after Kennedy was killed, a new TV series was launched over in the UK – Doctor Who. The series tells of the adventures of a time-traveling alien Time Lord and his (usually) human companions through time and space. When William Hartnell, the original actor playing the part, became too ill to continue the series, the producers came up with a key concept to the longevity of the series: when a Time Lord faced the death of his mortal body, it can “regenerate” into a wholly new form and, even more significant, a different character. Most important, there’s a whole new actor with a new interpretation of the main character. That, I think, has been key to keeping the series fresh and vital.
I met Kim through Doctor Who. I loved the Doctor and wanted to be the Doctor. I also knew that the odds, then or now, of an American ever playing the part was virtually non-existent. However, I was an actor in Chicago and a sometimes playwright and less often a producer. So I conceived of an idea of getting the rights to put on a play version of the Doctor in Chicago.
I managed to arrange a meeting with show runner John Nathan-Turner during a combined Chicago Comic Con and Doctor Who Convention (sometimes referred to as the Sweat Con since the hotel’s air conditioning unit proved inadequate to the number of people attending and outside it was a 106° Chicago August day). John Nathan-Turner brought along Terry Nation (creator of the Daleks for Doctor Who) and Mr. Nation brought along a lovely young woman with big eyes, curly hair, and a megawatt smile who was his assistant for the Con. That was Kim.
To describe Kim as a Doctor Who fan doesn’t begin to describe it. She was also very knowledgeable on all things Time Lord and I used her an a consultant as I developed the script. Nothing else developed at the time; Kim was married and I don’t fool around that way.
We became a couple only later, after the play project had folded and her marriage had broken up. My romantic life at that point was, if anything, even worse than my theatrical career. I’d given up dating; I hadn’t seen anyone in almost two years. It just seemed too painful to try. Kim and I had kept in touch and she was also a big fan of my work on GrimJack, the comic book I had created for First Comics.
I should note here that Doctor Who was an influence on creating GrimJack. It might seem that the two couldn’t be less alike but one of the things I loved about Doctor Who was that you could do any kind of story. They did horror, they did Westerns, they did everything and I wanted to do that with GrimJack. In that sense, he was my Doctor. Later, we showed he could even reincarnate. There is a darkness to the series that I can, in part, trace back to the assassination of Jack Kennedy.
Kim wrote to me about a specific issue of GrimJack that had affected and resonated with her; I found it a little strange that she would write since we lived less than a mile apart and she had my phone number. I told her this and she replied that some things were best expressed in writing. What can I say? I’m a writer; I understood that. Kim was a writer as well. That night was the night our relationship changed. That was the night we started to become a couple.
It’s just coincidence, I suppose, that the three dates are in such proximity to one another. We assign meaning to dates, both as a people and as individuals. It’s an accident that the significant anniversaries of the assassination, Kim’s birthday, and the launching of Doctor Who are in conjunction this year. The connections that I see, that I feel, among them are mine. We are all the results of the various events that have happened in our lives and none of them occur in a vacuum. This weekend, I remember and honor three that were significant to me.
Ever since we resumed our sundry weekly columns I’ve asked our writers to keep their focus on our popular culture in general and, as often as possible, on comics in specific. I have no problem linking the events of the day to our culture; indeed, that usually brings a nice contemporary perspective to our cheap thrills. At worse, it makes for a fun rant.
I commend our ComicMix columnists for their faithful cooperation and effort. And so, now, I’m going to violate my own edict. I’ve done this little rant ever since those hallowed days of the real First Comics three decades ago. Somehow, I even managed to get away with it at DC Comics. So, true to my Ashkenazi roots, I am going to maintain this tradition.
Next Tuesday is election day. In telling you this, I’m assuming your teevee set is broken. We get to pick us all of our Congresspeople, a third of our senators, a petulance of governors, a shitload of local officials, and, oh yes, a President of the United States. All are important in that each winner will have his or her foot on our necks and his or her hands in our pockets. We are given the holy right to choose our oppressors.
“But Mike,” you might say (if you’re being polite), “if they’re just going to oppress us, why should we bother?”
Because somebody is going to win. Good, bad, and otherwise – and it will be good, bad, and otherwise – as of this writing either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is going to win. You might think they are both jerks. Maybe so, but one of those jerks will be sworn in as President this coming January 20th. That’s an absolute fact.
And odds are overwhelming that the winner will be choosing the next member of the Supreme Court. Maybe the next two.
You know the Supreme Court. The folks who are the last word on all of our laws and who, for years now, have decided a great many things by a one-vote margin? Yeah, those folks. They even decide elections. Whoever wins the election next week is likely to bring about a fundamental change in our nation’s laws and procedures, one that will have an effect for decades and decades to come.
Are you opposed to abortion? How about our medical care laws? Corporations-as-people? Super-PACs? Incarceration of marijuana users? Next Tuesday is your big chance to put your left foot in, your left foot out, your right foot in, and shake the nation all about.
I do not care whom you vote for. Well, that’s a total lie; of course I do. But that’s not the point here. No matter whether you’re smart enough to agree with my politics or you’re some kind of stalking Neanderthal, this Tuesday get off your ass and vote!
If you decide not to do so, you lose your moral right to bitch. And that, dear friends, is among the greatest of all pleasures.
Next week, back to life’s more important matters.
Mike Gold is ComicMix’s editor-in-chief, and this was a bone fide editorial.