Tagged: Kim Yale

Mindy Newell: Ruminations, Ramblings and Rumblings

So what’s in Mindy’s head today?

I haven’t been to a convention in a long, long time, but reading about some of the ComicMix crew’s sojourn to Baltimore (here and here) lit up my temporal lobe – that’s the part of the brain responsible for memory, for you non-biology majors out there. James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Captain, the engines canna take it” Scott of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701) in the “green room” at ICON spilling his coffee all over my new outfit and his gentlemanly response as he went to wipe my chest and then blushed, stopping himself just in time. London in 1986 – walking through London with Archie Goodwin, Mark Gruenwald, Louise and Walter Simonson. Meeting Neil Gaiman and John Wagner. Forgetting that I met John Higgins and then marrying him 17 years later. The British Museum. The Tower of London. Breakfast with Mike Grell and Tom DeFalco. Toronto: sitting on a panel with Chris Claremont. Chicago: Meeting Kim Yale and John Ostrander and Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar. Michael Davis in the audience lending support and trying to fluster me (“Number Nine. Number Nine.”) during the Women In Comics panel. Hanging out at the pool with a bunch of comics pros and getting such a great tan that my coworkers back home thought I had gone to the Caribbean for the weekend. Sitting next to Julie Schwartz at the DC booth. Being followed into the bathroom by a fan wanting an autograph.

Over at The League Of Women Bloggers on Facebook, I found out about a troll who has been sexually harassing and threatening women pros and their families on the net. As I said there, “I would like to know why it took Ron Marz and Mark Millar (and kudos to them for doing so) to take the asshole on. Having never been subjected to the troll’s attacks, I was ignorant until I read about it here. However, I will say that if I had been attacked like this, I would not have stayed quiet. (Anyone who knows me should not be surprised.) I would have taken him on, language for language, and if it had continued, I would have contacted the authorities. So, girlfriends, I do have to say…why didn’t anyone who was being attacked by this asshole not take him on? My graduate paper for school was ‘Horizontal, Lateral and Vertical Violence in Nursing.’ It’s a worldwide phenomenon in the field. What this trolling ogre has been doing is the same thing (and it occurs on the net in nursing, too.) And every peer review paper I read, every person I interviewed, said the same thing – those who are attacked in this manner must come forward. It’s the only way to stop it.”        

Reading comics as a kid taught me the meaning of “invulnerable” and that the sun is 93,000, 000 miles from Earth. (Thanks for the editor’s notes, Julie!) It opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of “life out there” and the wonders of the universe. It taught me that guns are bad and life is precious. It taught me to love reading. I mentioned this to daughter Alix’s husband, Jeff, who is a professor in the City University of New York system and teaches remedial English, suggesting that he use comics as part of his syllabus. He’s looking into it.  If he can get into his office. The key the administration doesn’t open the door. Ah, CUNY.

Conspiracy moment: It might be my writer’s brain, but can’t help having a suspicion that the release of The Innocence Of Muslims (the video that launched horrific demonstrations against the U.S., Israel, and the Western world all over the Middle East, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and resulted in the deaths of our Libyan ambassador and three others) was an act of Al Quada, especially as it occurred on September 11, and especially as Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over as head of the terrorist organization, released a message on the net calling for an uprising. Laugh if you must, scoff if you will, but I won’t be surprised if the New York Times reports that a link was found by our intelligence agencies.

The Giants lost their opening game. They deserved to lose. They looked horrible. Their offensive line is non-existent. For this I missed Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention?

Martha Thomases’ fashion police column last week made me want to see a spread featuring the very fashion-forward women of comics. Hey! New York Times! How ‘bout it?

La Shonah Tova, everybody! That’s a big Happy New Year to all of you!





Mindy Newell: I Am So Tired Of This Bullshit

Just read Emily’s column (which is here) about her, uh, misadventures as a woman who loves comics.


Next year will mark twenty years since I first wrote Jenesis for DC’s New Talent Program. And for the last twenty years everything that Emily said last week has been said ad nauseum by me, Kim Yale, Mary Mitchell, Jo Duffy, Marie Javins, Gail Simone, Joyce Brabner… and the list goes on. Every woman involved in the comics world – writer, artist, colorist, letterer, inker, reader – has experienced the overt and covert misogyny typified by Emily’s experience in that comic book store. Every one of us has been on a Women In Comics panel once, twice or more during our professional lives. We’ve all talked about changing people’s attitudes, fighting the good fight, gaining respect. The faces on the panels, the faces in the audiences, they all change, but in truth, nothing changes.

It’s all the same old guano, just ladled out of a different tureen.

I’ve always said that the comics world is a microcosm of Hollywood, and we’ve all heard or read the stories of what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood: the struggle for respect, for work, for equal pay (well, maybe except for Meryl Streep). But now I’m thinking, maybe I’ve been wrong. I’m thinking right now that the comics world is a microcosm of American society.

After all, this is an America in which a female law student is called a whore on a nationally syndicated radio show because she wants to be able to get birth control pills through her insurance plan. An America in which the House of Representatives just voted for the 33rd time to repeal the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – which improves women’s access to maternity care, covers birth control without the need for a copay, and bars insurance companies from continuing to discriminate against women. An America in which women in the military who are raped are told to “put up and shut up.” An America in which women are told to hold an aspirin between their thighs – Bwha-ha-ha! That’s a humdinger! – to avoid pregnancy.

And it ain’t just comics or Hollywood. Female nurses – that’s me, folks – make 86.6% of what their male counterparts make, even with the same experience and education. And women in general still make $0.77 on the dollar compared to male earnings.

So what do you do about it? Don’t vote for Romney, that’s for sure. No way is he gonna improve women’s rights.

But what about in the comics world? We’re not quite at the level of law or medical school, where female students now dominate the classrooms, but women are more prevalent than ever in the field, as readers and creative folk. And most of them, I am willing to stake money on, are involved in comics because they love comics, not because their boyfriends or their fathers or their brothers dragged them to a comics shop or to the San Diego Comic-Con.

In other words:

I am woman,

Hear me roar,

In number too big to ignore….

Sorry, I forgot, this is the post-women’s liberation era.

Seriously, my advice to Emily and every other woman out there when confronted with a misogynistic geek?

Laugh at ‘em.

And watch their paraphernalia –

Well, to paraphrase George Constanza:

“The water was cold! It’s shrinkage!”

TUESDAY MORNING: Michael Davis Post-Con

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Emily S. Whitten Post-Civil War


John Ostrander: Details, details, details

There’s an old maxim that says “God is in the details.”  So is a story and especially in comics.

I’ve said and I believe that a good writer can write any character. I don’t have to be African-American to write an African-American character; I don’t have to be female to write a good female character. Gail Simone, for example, writes terrific male characters. So did Kim Yale. Our own Mindy Newell does a terrific job as well with this. What you have to be able to do is have empathy and to understand what is universal – the common humanity. If you don’t connect with your characters, neither will the reader.

All that said, there is a need for what is called the telling detail. Something specific that helps the reader feel the story you’re telling is based in some kind of reality. You can do research and come up with a ton of details but not all of them are necessary for the story. It may be necessary for you as the creator to know them but they’re not necessary for the reader to understand the plot or the characters.

It’s what I call the “iceberg theory.” The bulk of an iceberg is underwater. That bulk is necessary for the part of the iceberg that shows. In the same way, you need to know a lot about the characters, the setting, the story but only a certain percentage of it needs to show. So you select which details help make the story real and convincing to the reader. Those are the telling details.

A writer needs to be able to describe the scene to the artist; likewise, the artist needs to pick the details that he or she will draw. An example is what the character is wearing. That is how the character chooses to present him or herself to the world and that says something. What Peter Parker chooses to wear as Peter Parker says something about him just as what Bruce Wayne wears as Bruce Wayne says something about him. They shop in different places. The look, the texture and the drape of an Armani suit is going to be different than something from Wal-Mart. The reader may not be consciously aware of those changes but, if those details are not there, if everyone dresses the same, the reader is going to pick up on that as well. It will feel false.

What we choose to wear says something about us. You may think that doesn’t include you; many guys – and sometimes I am one of them – will say they just pick what is clean, or cleanest. That, however, does say something about that person and how they wish to be perceived. Do you have a power tie? Do you wear something special when going to meet someone important? What are you projecting about yourself? How do you want to be perceived? It’s true in our lives and so it should be true in our stories as well.

In the past few decades, many people have opted to become walking billboards for a particular brand. It might be a cola company or a sports team or even a comic book character or comic book company (be sure to buy your GrimJack stuff at the ComicMix store, btw – end of shameless plug). By wearing that apparel, we claim a tribal affinity. Stuff like that used to be given out as free advertising; now you have to pay real bucks for them – and sometimes its not cheap – to say you belong. It becomes part of the wearer’s identity. Details like that matter.

When I taught classes at the Joe Kubert School, I tried to make the students think about character design, the costume. It’s not just a matter of what “looks cool” or is easy to draw. The character is telling something about themselves when they choose what they wear. It is a choice they make that says something about themselves and what they are trying to project. At least, they should.

When Jan Duursema, my partner of many Star Wars stories, draws the martial arts fights or sword or lightsaber fights, there is an authority there because Jan herself has studied martial arts, including swordplay. Jan thinks out her locales as well and includes all kinds of information in the background.

When I first met My Mary Mitchell and she showed me her portfolio, I was floored by the amount of telling detail in the panels. Her heroine’s bedroom looked like someone’s bedroom – there were details in the pictures and what the woman hung on the wall that made me think of her as a person. A few panels later, when the woman was walking down the street, there were all kinds of people in the panel, all different body shapes, all wearing different clothes. The clothes reflect what the weather is as well.

Mary also was conscious of the buildings in the background; like any real city, there will be different types of buildings one against another. It gives a visual texture. Too many artists draw a generic background and that makes the story a generic story. Cities are characters in the story; New York is different from Chicago which is different from Memphis or Detroit or Los Angeles or Portland. I’ve been in all those cities and you can tell.

It all matters. The storytelling needs to be universal and, at the same time, it all needs to be specific. It may sound like a contradiction but I’ve found throughout my life that truth lies in the seeming contradictions. God is a contradiction; he/she is in the details and so is the story.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Kim Yale.

Kimberly Yale, as you know, was John Ostrander’s wife, and it was John’s beautiful tribute to her in his column WWKL? last week that has inspired me to write about her and our friendship.

Kim and I met over 20 years ago at a Chicago ComicCon when she chaired a Women In Comics panel to which I had been invited. I was a real newbie to the biz, wondering what the hell I was doing there, and completely awed to be meeting the real people behind the names on the splash pages of my favorite comics. So I was incredibly shy – yes, hard to believe, but completely true – when I went into the room where the panel was being held and walked up onto the dais. I didn’t know anyone…or at least, it felt like that. Although I do believe that it was Michael Davis  who had promised to come to the panel to cheer me on. Was it you, Michael?

This woman about my age with beautiful red-blonde hair and who just radiated confidence and energy came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Kim Yale. You must be Mindy Newell. I am so happy to meet you.” I was flabbergasted. “How did you know that?” I said. “Oh, a little birdie told me,” she laughed. (Never did find out who that birdie was.) She introduced me to two of other panelists, Trina Robbins and Joyce Brabner – and they knew who I was, too! We stood talking as conventioneers started filling the room, and I started realizing that I wasn’t such an oddity after all. These were all bright, intelligent women who loved comics just as much as I did!

So the panel started, and we all introduced ourselves, and Kim, as chair, started the discussion with a question that I honestly don’t remember, but my answer was about how Supergirl – the original Supergirl – was such a powerful message for little girls growing up in the 50s, being Superman’s secret weapon and all. After the panel, Kim came over to me and said, “I absolutely loved what you said about Supergirl. I am so glad you’re in this business.”

That was the start of our friendship.

I lived in New Jersey, with the Big Apple outside my windows. Back then Kim and John lived in Chicago. Back before there were cell phones and calling plans, my phone bill zoomed up into the stratosphere with long distance calls to the Second City. I was going through some hard times, and Kim was always there for me, even when it was pushing towards the wee hours. (I’m pretty sure Kim’s bill went up, too.) When Mike Gold recruited Kim for an editor position at DC, she and John moved to Connecticut. Still long distance, but waaaay cheaper than calling Chicago. And, of course, I saw her in the office.

Some things I remember and hold close to my heart:

I was dating a guy who was going to Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. Kim suggested that we meet at their house for a weekend – which was pretty much at the halfway point – and she and John would vamoose.

Kim and I were doing the Sex And The City thing, just two women sharing lunch and gossip and deep-down secrets at a terrific Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from DC one afternoon when all of a sudden Kim mouthed something to me. I’m a terrible lip reader and I didn’t have a clue what she was saying. “Huh?” I said. She mouthed it again. I said, “What?” again. This time as she mouthed the words, she discretely pointed her finger over my shoulder. The restaurant was loud with lunchtime clients, and I could barely hear her. This time, I said, “Kim, I can’t hear you. What are you trying to say?” Kim was exasperated; she whispered, “Tony Bennett is right there.” I said, in a very looooouud voice, “Tony Bennett!!!! Where?” Mr. Bennett turned around and said, “Right here, ladies.” I was mortified. He was laughing, and Kim was hysterical.

Kim and John sharing the Passover Seder at my parents’ house. Kim’s clear voice reading from the Hagaddah with interest and passion.

Kim calling me to tell me about some physical things that were going on with her, and the fear in her voice, and asking if she should go to the doctor.

John calling me to tell me that the doctors had discovered a second lump in Kim’s other breast while she was on the table.

Going to see Kim at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital.

Kim telling me that she was going to beat this thing.

Kim looking so beautiful in her hats and scarves when she lost her hair from the chemo.

Kim at Morristown Memorial.

Sharing an intimate moment between John and Kim in the hospital a few days before….

Getting a call from John that I had better come right over.

Seeing Kim on the hospital bed set up in their living room, because she could no longer get upstairs to the bedroom.

Kim sick, wracked with pain, weak – dying – and yet still so beautiful and at peace.

John calling to tell me she was now truly at peace.

Kim’s memorial service, where I honored her by partaking in the bread and wine during the Mass. The minister understanding why I did it. The guests who knew I was Jewish completely shocked.

The spreading of her ashes in the garden under the flowers she had planted.

And in the present…

Sometimes, often, I know Kim is hanging around, keeping me company.

Kimberly Ann Yale.

A woman who ran with the wolves.


My friend.

TUESDAY: Michael Davis



This week marked fifteen years since the death of my sometime writing partner and lovely wife, Kimberly Ann Yale. Since here we talk about pop culture in so many different forms, I thought I would pose myself a question – WWKL? What Would Kim Like? What has come out since her death that she would really have gotten into?

Let’s start right here – on the Internet. First of all, she would have loved ComicMix and probably would have had her own column here. Kim was a terrific essayist – much better at it than me, I think. She was thoughtful, she picked words with care and grammar and punctuation really mattered to her. Me? If it gets past spellchek, I’m good.

In fact, I think Kim would have been all over the Internet. She would have had a blog or two or three, she would have been answering other peoples’ blogs, she would have been Queen of Facebook. Facebook was invented for someone like Kim. She would have had a bazillion friends on FB. I would have had to pry the computer from her.

Kim was also big into monsters and horror, vampires being her especial faves. I think she would have favored True Blood over the others because of the sex and the melodrama and the Southern-fried aspects of it all. (Kim’s mom was Southern and Kim fancied herself as a Southern belle. Kind of hard to do when you’re born up North but her mind worked it around.) The Dark Shadows movie starring Johnny Depp? Eeeeeeeeee! She would be camped out for it right now.

I think both The Walking Dead comic and TV series would have sucked her in but she would have been tickled by Shaun Of The Dead. Kim had a terrific sense of humor and the world’s most infectious laugh. Trust me – if you were a stand-up comic or doing a comedy in the theater, you wanted Kim in the audience.

I wonder what she would have made of Cowboys And Aliens? She was the one who got me started watching westerns and they were among her favorite genre films and, of course, adding sci/fi to it would have really intrigued her but I’m not sure what she would have made of the execution. I only give it two stars and I think she would have agreed (Kim also worked as a movie critic back in Chicago for a small suburban newspaper, so she could really knew how to dissect a movie.)

On the cowboys and spaceships mode, I think she would have been into both Firefly and the movie tie-up, Serenity. And Nathan Fillion would have led her to the Castle TV series (she also loved fun mysteries and strong female characters).

Then there’s Doctor Who. Kim and I met at a Doctor Who con (actually, a combined Doctor Who / Chicago Comic Con) and she would have rejoiced at the Doctor’s return. I think she would have liked David Tennant’s Doctor the best; she would have described him as a “creamie” – as in cream your jeans. However, she would have liked all three incarnations that have come out since the series’ return and, as a writer, would really enjoyed Stephen Moffat’s writing and now running of the franchise. She would have also liked his take on Sherlock Holmes and on Jekyll and Hyde. I stopped watching the latter during its first season; not because it wasn’t good but because it really creeped me out too much.

On movies, she would have been amazed and ecstatic with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and would, as Mary and I are doing, been waiting impatiently for The Hobbit movies coming out. Viggo Mortensen would also have been counted as a creamie.

She would have been fascinated by how CGI made superhero movies possible and what happened as a result. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, especially The Dark Knight, would have sucked her in and, come Hallowe’en, she would have dressed up as Ledger’s Joker, no question in my mind about it.  I think, however, she would have been even more taken with Inception – Kim had an active dreamscape and tried to spend as much time in it as possible so the movie’s setting would have fascinated her.

She would have liked Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man (less so the sequel) not only because he was so good (and he was) but because she was also a sucker for redemption stories and Downey’s reclamation of his career would have stirred her. She would also have really liked Chris Hemsworth as Thor (creamie) and the whole Captain America film and she would really be anticipating The Avengers, not the least because Joss Whedon is helming it.

I could go on much longer but I think I’ve tried everyone’s patience enough. I may be just projecting onto Kim what some of my own likes and dislikes are but it refreshes her memory in my own mind and heart, keeping the flame alive. She was full of life and she would have brought that with her into the future. Like all those we treasure, she lives on in me and in all those she loved and loved her.

Memory doesn’t die with the body, and neither does love.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell



It’s spring training for baseball, a time when even Cubs fans can be hopeful despite knowing that, sooner or later, this year’s team will break our hearts as every Cubs team has done for over a century. Truth is, if the Cubs ever won the World Series, their mystique would be gone. Their legend is based on being losers.

As baseball season is upon us, and tonight is the Academy Awards, I want to look back not only at the game but at my favorite baseball movies. For my taste, there is something better about baseball films than there is in films for any other sport. There’s a duality to it; baseball is played by teams but it comes down to individuals – batter versus pitcher.

So here, in no particular order, are my favorite baseball films. I’m not saying they’re the best but they are my faves and I think every one of them is watchable. These aren’t the only baseball films I like and the list may not include your faves but there’s only so much space.

Moneyball stars Bard Pitt in his Oscar nominated role; the nomination is well deserved although his pal, George Clooney, will probably beat him out for the award. The movie does not deal with the game per se but with the business behind the game, focusing on Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane as he attempted in 2002 to win the World Series despite having very little money to work with. At the same time, it has most of a baseball film’s tropes – a team that has little chance, a maverick at the center of the story, a shot of redemption and so on. It comes at everything from a different angle but very worthwhile.

The Natural. Okay, it’s pretentious, it’s overwrought in places, heavy on the symbolism, Robert Redford at the start of the film is too old to be playing a rookie phenom and maybe even the score is over the top. For me, it works. When Roy Cobb hits the light-shattering home run at the climax and the Randy Newman score comes to its symphonic heights, I get chills. I stumble on it on the tube, I watch it all the way through. Great cast, too.

Bull Durham. Great comedy, great romance, sexy as hell, and terrific performances. Focusing on a minor league team is a great idea – players on their way up, players on their way down, players who aren’t going to get any better than this. Human, humble, great baseball scenes, loopy as hell. Costner, whatever else you may think of him, is almost always good playing an athlete and especially a baseball player. He does another great job playing a baseball player in a supporting role in The Other Side Of Anger. This is my second fave baseball movie.

A League of Their Own. “There’s no crying in baseball!” Tom Hanks, that line, and that scene alone merits the film’s inclusion here. Incredible cast overall – Geena Davis, Hanks, David Strathairn (almost always a MVP no matter what movie he is in), Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Jon Lovitz in what may be the film role I most enjoy him in. Or enjoy him in at all.  The movie also covers a story I didn’t know about – a women’s professional baseball league in the 1940s while World War II was on. A little sentimental here and there, but first class. Makes you wonder why there isn’t a womens’ professional baseball league today. Maybe we haven’t come a long ways, baby.

The Comrades of Summer. I’d be surprised if most of you knew this one. It was a made for TV movie in 1992. Personal bias – it stars Joe Mantegna who I knew back in my theater days in Chicago. Great guy and a wonderful actor. In this movie, he plays Sparky Smith, a resentful and recently fired baseball manager in the States who gets hired by the Soviet Union that wants to field a team for the upcoming Olympics where baseball will be a competitive sport for the first time. He’s resentful, the players are largely untrained and well nigh hopeless and the odds are long. Classic baseball film material. Aside: there’s a Russian street hustler, Voronov, in the movie who contributed more than a little to my creation of Vilmahr Grahrk in some of my Star Wars stories for Dark Horse.

Field of Dreams. My favorite, hands down. I came at it sideways. When it was first released, I had no interest in it. Then I heard the soundtrack playing in a friend’s car. I didn’t klnow what it was and my friend identified it for me. James Horners’ score for this film is one of my top five favorite scores of all times. Beautiful and haunting. The film hit one of the rerun movies houses in Chicago (the old Three Penny Cinema of fond memory; it’s now a rock joint called Lincoln Hall) and I wanted to see how the music worked with whatever the film was about. So Kim and I went.

Knocked. Me. Out. It has the element of mysticism that The Natural strived for but not so heavy handed. It has James Earl Jones playing a J.D. Salinger type character (in the book by W.P. Kinsella – it was called Shoeless Joe – from which the film was adapted, the character is J.D. Salinger) and Burt Lancaster in a warm and wise small part. Once again, Kevin Costner is the main character, Joe Kinsella, which he handles with humor and heart.

The film is about baseball, yes, and James Earl Jones has a terrific speech towards the end about the importance of baseball and the dreams it has. It’s about redemption and long odds and, most importantly, fathers and sons. The ending is perfect. “Want to have a catch?” I think every father-son relationship is imperfect (yes, probably every father-daughter one, too) and I tear up every time when that final scene plays out. It ends in hope and beauty – just as every baseball season begins in hope and perhaps some beauty.

There’s a few more I’ll mention in passing – the TV version of Bleacher Bums (not the movie version), performed by the original Organic Theater cast including the aforementioned Joe Mantegna. This is the definition of what it means to be a Cub’s fan. “No one ever went broke betting against the Cubs after the Fourth of July.” Soul of the Game about the Negro Leagues just as Jackie Robinson was about to break the color line. Delroy Lindo, Mykelti Williamson (currently seen in this season’s Justified) and Blair Underwood as the young Jackie Robinson. Great stuff. Dennis Quaid in The Rookie. Sort of The Natural without all the mystical hoohah. And the musical Damn Yankees for Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston, and the song (You Gotta Have) Heart. That’s baseball right there.

I think what unites all these films is a sense of redemption and of hope.  You need hope to get through life, even if you know better, even if you know that, in the end, your heart will get broken. Again. That’s what you have at the start of spring training, that this might be the year. Miracles happen. The Cubs might do it. I like myself better when I hope.

As the fabled Cub Ernie Banks used to say, “Let’s play two!” Batter up!

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

JOHN OSTRANDER: Christmas Treasures, Part 2

Last week, I told you about the first Christmas for my late wife Kim Yale, and myself. Now I’ll tell you about our last.

That night Kim really wanted to go to Christmas Eve service at our church. Redeemer held it at 8 PM to enable those who were very young and very old to attend. We got an evening pass from the hospital so Kim could go and the church made arrangements to accommodate her – they had a bed, a screen, and some members of the church who were trained nurses took over. In fact, once I got Kim there, all was taken out of my hands and I only had to sit there.

We left before the service was over; Kim’s energy had flagged and I needed to get her back to her hospital bed. Joe and Mary were there as well and we planned to open presents and then watch A Charlie Brown Christmas together. I had spent a lot of time and thought and some expense trying to get Kim the best gifts I could but about half way through it, Kim abandoned the present opening. She no longer had the energy or interest; it has been expended on the Christmas service.

She wanted to see the cartoon and Mary and Joe took her into the TV room. I told them to start without me.

Truth is, I was angry. That’s not something they tell you about when you’re a cancer patient’s caretaker. Sometimes you get angry – at the situation, at the cancer, and even with the patient. You wind up giving a lot to them and they may not have a lot to give back. Kim took the energy she had and spent it on that Christmas service and had nothing left for me and I was hurt and I was angry and I was exhausted and I, by God, was not going to watch that damn TV special with her. It was mean and petty of me; not my finest moment.

Mary came back to say that they were waiting for me and I gruffly said I was not coming. They were to start without me. Mary carried back the message.

A little later, Kim herself came in, very tentative, very fragile. She said she couldn’t watch the shows without me. “Aren’t you coming?” I looked at her and she was so sweet and scared and brave. The anger melted away. How could I be mad with her? What was I thinking? This was Kimmie, this was my love, this was our last Christmas together, and she wanted to watch Charlie Brown and Grinch with me just as we always did. What the hell was I thinking? How could I be so petty and spiteful and mean? It was Christmas and it was all the Christmas we would ever have together. I put my arm around Kim and we went to watch our Christmas traditions, her head on my shoulder.

We spent Christmas day together as well, the four of us, and around dinner time Joe and Mary and I went out to see what we could find to eat. All that open in downtown Morristown was an Indian restaurant. I thought of the end of A Christmas Story, where the family winds up at a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Like them, we had a very fine Christmas meal of foods that I never had for the holiday before. All was calm, all was bright that evening. I had friends; I still had Kim. It was the worst and sweetest Christmas at the same time.

After the first of the year, I insisted that the doctor give Kim the prognosis himself or I would tell her. She and I never kept secrets like that from each other before and I wasn’t going to start now. He did, she did decline, and by the first week in March, she was gone.

Physically. She was and is still in my heart.

The traditions we make are important. Not simply the ones that are handed down to us, although those are important as well. It’s the ones we choose for ourselves that are the most important and the most memorable, I think. No Christmas, no Holiday season, is more important than the one we have now because now is all we really have – tomorrow is only a hope, not a promise. Whatever the season means to you, celebrate it. Even when it seems dark, there is still something to celebrate.

Io Saturnalia! Happy Hanukah! A Splendid Kwanza!

Merry Christmas. May your days be merry and bright.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

JOHN OSTRANDER: Christmas Treasures, Part 1

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… or so the song goes. Except when it’s not.

I have my Christmas favorites on DVD or TV that I watch every year. They include A Christmas Carol (the Reginald Owen version and the much better Alastair Sim version as well as, oddly, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol which adds songs and does a pretty fair job of summing up the story in less than a half hour), It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and the cartoons – How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Karloff beats Carey hands down) and, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

And, a day or so after Christmas, I add in Bad Santa just to wash all the treacle away. Your choices may differ and that’s fine – these are mine.

My best Christmas was probably the one when I proposed to my late wife, Kim Yale, on Christmas Eve. I had bought the ring and I was pretty sure she would say yes but I was still nervous. Kim and I opened presents on Christmas Eve so I mapped out my strategy. My gifts included a Tim Truman sketch of GrimJack (one of Kim’s faves and part of our becoming a couple), signed by Timbo and carrying the Gaunt message: “You’ve done right by my pal so far, sweetheart. How about makin’ it permanent?”

Then she got a specially made teddy bear (Kim was huge on teddy bears) that was a  GrimJack teddy bear and he was holding a poem from me, a sonnet that would up with my proposal (I made her read it aloud) and as she finished reading it, I brought out the ring. Kim took a dramatic pause (she was great at dramatic pauses) that were the longest seconds of my life but then she said “Yes!” and we off to the races.

That was our first Christmas together. The hardest one was our last.

Kim had breast cancer and she was dying of it. I knew that but she didn’t; her cancer doctor had called me with the news but insisted I not tell her. It might make her give up, he insisted. So, for a while, I went along with that.

Kim was in the hospital a lot at that point; her immune system was in bad shape from the chemo and the radiation. She didn’t like being there alone so I spent a lot of nights there with her. It wouldn’t have been possible without our friend, Mary Mitchell, who spelled me many nights. We were joined later on by my friend Joe Edkin, who would spell us both.

It was trying some times. People would come to visit and Kim would rally her energy, putting on what we referred to as “the Kimberly Show.” This is no criticism of our visitors, who gave lovingly of themselves and were very welcome, but afterwards Kim would have no energy left for me, Mary, and Joe, and sometimes that was hard.

It came to a boil at Christmas. Holidays bring out the best and worst of us. Kim’s final Christmas brought a bit of both in me.

More next time.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

MICHAEL DAVIS: Who to Blame, part 3

Please read last week’s article before this final installment.

Maybe, just maybe Grell wouldn’t ask me. I mean he had yet to speak one single word to me in the two plus hours I was in his room.

No such luck. After Grell asked everyone in the room he turned to me.

“What did you think?”

All I had to do was lie. Why didn’t I? I didn’t because lying to me is never an option. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I think lying is such a terrible thing, it’s because I have a horrible short-term memory. I’ll never be able to support a lie once I’ve committed to it.

In other words, if I lie about something and the subject ever comes up again I won’t remember what I said originally.

“It’s not like me to sleep with a man on the first date,” said the very beautiful woman.

“It’s not a first date if I’ve known you forever.” I said with my best Billy Dee Williams voice.

“We just met yesterday.”

“But in my dreams I’m known and loved you forever.”

“You…you love me?”


The next morning I said goodbye and said I would call later that day so we can have dinner and talk about our new life together. 

Two weeks later…

“Why haven’t you called me??”

“Who is this?”

Now, here I was faced with lying to Mike Grell a man whose work I loved. I thought long and hard about simply saying I liked the movie. I mean what did I have to lose? I’d most likely never see him again. He was not nice to me at all when we first met and the show did suck.

Then I thought about what Denys Cowan told me about Grell when I told him I was invited to watch Sable in Grell’s room. “Mike Grell hunts.”

“Really? What does he hunt?” I asked wanting to know every thing about the idol I was about to meet.

“It’s not what he hunts.” Denys said. “It’s what he hunts with.”

“What’s that?”

“Grell hunts with a bow and arrow.”


I didn’t (still don’t) know a lot about hunting but I instantly recognized just how bad ass you have to be to hunt with a bow and arrow.

So now I’m scared as shit to lie to Grell.

What would happen if I said I loved the show and then someone asked me the same question later and I told them the truth and Grell found out, hunted me down, choked the life out of me and then shot me with an arrow?

Hey, stranger things have happened to me.

I decided not to lie. He asked again, “What did you think?”

“I like the comic book better.”

Yeah, sometimes I’m a fucking genius.

“So do I.” Said the man who would soon become my close friend, he added, “Let’s get something to eat.”

So, there I was at dinner with Mike Grell (sitting right next to him) John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Denys (who finally showed up) and tons of other comic professionals that I was totally jazzed to meet.

I was in Heaven. During dinner, Mike and I talked and after finding out I was an artist he asked to see my portfolio.

The next day changed my professional life.

I showed Carol Kalish my portfolio and she gave me a cover assignment for Marvel’s Open Space anthology. I then met with Mike Grell and after showing him my work he made a call to Mark Nevelow. Mark was the brand new editor of Piranha Press, DC Comics new mature reader imprint.

I’ve always been smart when it comes to seeing and seizing opportunities. That doesn’t mean I have not blown some opportunities. Just because I have a knack for spotting them and acting does not exempt me from screwing something up. Been there done that…often. Not this time.

I was to spend another two weeks in Ohio hanging with Denys at a friend of his house. I cut my trip short so I could get back to New York to work on the Open Space cover and meet with Mark Nevelow. I met with Mark and was commissioned to do Piranha’s first project, ETC.

I mentioned in part one of this series that I was about to accept a position running the Art Department of a prestigious prep school. When Mark gave me ETC I changed my mind. It wasn’t just the project that changed my mind, it was the people I met at that Mid-Ohio Convention and my unchanged love of comics I’ve had since I was a kid. The people I met were so wonderful to me that I decided to take a leap towards the dream I was right about to simply let go.

Denys Cowan invited me to The Mid-Ohio con. I met Carol Kalish who gave me a cover assignment and became a great friend and adviser. I met John Ostrander who invited me to meet Mike Grell. Kim Yale kept me from fleeing Grell’s room. Mike Grell called Mark Nevelow on my behalf. Mark Nevelow gave me the ETC series.

I decided to stay in New York and work in comics.

The people above are whom you can blame for me working in comics.

I wrote this with young artists and writers in mind.

Most of you have no idea what I’ve done in comics because I don’t illustrate many comics. The fact is I’m known mostly as a deal maker in the industry. You may not know me but I’m quite sure you know some of the creators that have come out of my mentor program or some of the work I’ve done in TV or The Black Panel.

Or maybe not.

Here’s what you should know if you really want to have a career in comics.

Talent is great.

Desire is wonderful.

Having a dream and sticking to it, priceless.


None of the above will matter if you don’t try and build relationships with good people. I’ve said it a zillion times, I know good people. I’ve pulled off some unbelievable shit in my career but without good people in my life it most likely would have still been shit but that’s about all.

Myr. Grell, Mr. Ostrander and Mr. Nevelow my sincere thanks to you kind sirs.

Ms. Yale and Ms. Kalish, you will never be forgotten and my thanks to you as well.

To every young creator, I leave you with this:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”

Mark Twain



JOHN OSTRANDER’s Rules of Engagement

Let’s talk about writing fight scenes. Nothing to it, right? In this corner we got character A, in that corner we got character B, the bell rings, and they proceed to beat the poo out of each other until someone falls down. Simple, right? You just point the artists in the general direction, tell them how many pages they got, and collect your check. What could be more simple?

I’ll admit, I’ve pretty much done that some times. If I know the artist real well, I’ll give plot points that are to be covered and let them work their magic. However, I only do that if I know that the artist and I are on the same page about how fight scenes should go.

The fact of the matter is, fight scenes need not only to be choreographed, they need to be plotted and written. They need to build. Above all, they should serve the story and not simply be there for some random violence. The purpose of the story is to reveal character and so also is a fight scene.

The real question in any story is what does the protagonist want and how badly does he want it? It reveals who he really are as opposed to who he thinks he is. My late wife Kim used to play scenarios for me and ask me how I would feel or what I would do in such and such situation. I always told her, “I don’t know. Ask me when we get there.” All I could have told her what was I thought I would feel or do or how I hoped I would react. The truth is, those are all bound up in your idea of who you are. You don’t know until you’ve been there. Past experience may be an indication but it’s not a guarantee. Circumstances are always a little different and there’s any number of contributing factors that can alter the outcome.

In any scene (and that includes a fight scene), what a character does is determined by what they want. What is their goal? Usually there is more than one objective and sometimes these objectives are contradictory – we’ll talk about all that some other time – but let’s say there’s one essential goal that drives the protagonist. It’s not something they would like or they sorta kinda maybe want, it’s something they want. It is something that defines them. It is something they must get, must achieve, must save, must protect.

The opponent – the antagonist – is what’s in the way. It could be a person, it could be an army, it could be a wall, it could be a hurricane, it could be anything. In a regular scene, the objective could be relatively small but, in a fight scene, it usually comes down to something pretty primal.

The goal also can’t be easy for the protagonist to get. If the goal is to get through the wall, you look for a door. If the door is locked, you look for a key. If you don’t have a key, you try and kick it down. If the door’s re-enforced, you try to blow it up – or you give up. If giving up is not an option, then the protagonist has to find a way.

Notice there was a progression in the wall sequence. We try what is easiest first – rule of human nature and what’s true in real life should be true in our stories. You want the scene – any scene but especially a fight scene – to build. It gets harder for the protagonist as it goes. You blow it all in the first punch then you have nowhere to go and neither does your story. The protagonist has to struggle; it’s the only way we get to see who they really are. No struggle, no revelation. No point to the story.

Take boxing as an example. You have the champ and in this fight he goes up against a palooka. The palooka goes down and out in the first round. The fight is over and who cares? Palooka keeps getting up and coming at the champ and, win or lose, you’ve got Rocky.

Violence isn’t necessarily about two characters beating the poo out of each other, either. There’s emotional violence as well. Read or watch Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolff for some first class emotional violence. It can be small scale, it can be Grand Guingol, but violence – emotional or physical – creates conflict, tension, and reveals character.

Fight scenes, if you have them, are part of the story and they have to tell the story or they’re a waste of time and space and the reader’s attention. A good fight scene is about something. That’s what we’re looking for – and that’s what we have a right to expect.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell