Norman Keith “Norm” Breyfogle, a comic artist known as one of the premier Batman artists of the 80s and 90s, with a wide and varied career ranging from Archie to Whisper, passed away Monday at the age of 58.
Over a thirty-year career, Norm worked for DC, Dark Horse, Marvel, Valiant, Malibu, First, Archie, Speakeasy, Markosia, Angel Gate Press, and (we’re proud to say) ComicMix. He co-created the Batman characters the Ventriloquist, Ratcatcher, Zsasz, and Jeremiah Arkham, Prime for Malibu’s Ultraverse and owned his own character Metaphysique.
On December 18, 2014, Norm Breyfogle had an ischemic cerebrovascular accident that cut off blood flow to part of his brain and reduced his control of the left side of his body, cutting Norm’s career tragically short. ComicMix put a benefit book together to help defray his ongoing expenses, The Whisper Campaign, which reprinted his first monthly job in comics, with new contributions from numerous pros that were also fans of Norm and his work.
Many people are leaving remembrances for Norm on the website of his funeral home.
Our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and fans.
This week we wind up our discussion about the 6th volume of DC’s reprint of my (and Kim Yale’s) run on the Suicide Squad. We’ll be discussing the final story in the book; it was issues 48 and 49 and featured Oracle, a.k.a Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl crippled by an attack from the Joker. She then re-made herself into the go-to information broker in the DCU. Well, Kim and I re-made her but you get the idea.
This story brings back another character from the Squad, Simon LaGrieve who had been the Squad’s shrink. He and Waller had not parted well and now he was the head of the Institute for Metahuman Studies (the IMHS). La Grieve was doing Waller a favor in treating two members of the Squad who were hurt in the previous story and in return, had a favor to ask of her.
There was a character in Firestorm (which I had also been writing and from which I also got the IMHS) named Cliff Carmichael who was Ronnie (Firestorm) Raymond’s nemesis. I’d inherited the character and, to be honest, I didn‘t much care for him so I decided he was a sociopath and he wound up at the IMHS.
There at the Institute, thanks to two dunderheaded scientists, Cliff got a hold of the late Thinker’s helmet. (I’d killed off the Thinker in another Squad story.) He used the helmet to analyze the helmet itself, create a series of microchips that he had inserted in his head – along with a computer port – and became a real cyberpunk. He gained the ability to interface with any computer and, oh yeah, could create a field within which he could grab control of another’s person’s brain. Doncha just love simple, easy, straightforward backstory?
Minor digression: The two dunderheaded scientists were named Pangloss and Caius. Pangloss is named for a character in Voltaire’s Candide and there’s a Doctor Caius in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. I do that from time to time; borrow names from other literary works. Simon LaGrieve was named after Simon LeGree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He carries no other traits with that odious character but I did it as in in-joke for myself related to Belle Reve prison which had been the Squad’s HQ for much of the series.
Belle Reve is also the book’s connection to Tennessee Williams, being the same name as the plantation that Blanche DuBois and her sister Stella had been raised on in A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche lost it and my conceit is that it was bought by someone who lost it to the government which then built a prison on it. That’s why the prison is in the swamps in Louisiana. (There’s your bit of Squad trivia for the day.) A plantation should have an overseer and that’s how Simon LeGree became Simon LaGrieve. End digression.
Carmichael, a.k.a. the new Thinker, was now stalking Oracle. Why? Because LaGrieve asked Oracle to help set a trap for the escaped Thinker. The idea was to introduce a virus that would wipe the chips in his brain but the plan backfired and now the Thinker is stalking Oracle to punish her for her part in the scheme. And LaGrieve wants the Squad’s help in stopping Carmichael before he can do it. Of course, Amanda agrees; she and Oracle also have history.
Not really a spoiler alert: Waller succeeds and Oracle survives but not before the Wall also tries on the old Thinker’s helmet. Carmichael with that kind of technology was scary; Waller with it? Brrrrr!
The cover to issue 49 is also one of my faves in the series and one of the great ones featuring Babs Gordon. Drawn by Norm Breyfogle it just has Barbara in her wheelchair pointing a gun out in the general direction of the reader. There’s a bat symbol behind her, a determined look on Bab’s face, and a one-word balloon: “Smile.” Definitely a reference to the Joker who put her in that wheelchair.
There’s some hits and misses in the story. To show the first confrontation between Oracle and the Thinker, we had it take place in cyberspace. The look was heavily influenced by the movie Tron (the first one). It’s interesting but also now a bit dated. Don’t blame Luke McDonnell and Geoff Isherwood who were the artists; they were simply following the instructions of the writers. In fact, don’t blame Kim either; I think this was my big idea.
There are only a few members of the Squad available for the mission: Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, and a hidden Atom. We carry over the gag from the previous story that Boomerang’s and Deadshot’s luggage is lost by the airlines, largely due to Boomerbutt. Deadshot is not pleased and Harkness is getting real nervous.
A big issue in this story is whether or not Barbara, who knows that the Thinker is after her, will shoot him. And who does she really want dead? For me, that’s the most vital part of the plot.
The story resolves with Waller getting uncharacteristically physical, basically beating the crap out of the Tinker. Actually, it’s very satisfying, I think. And Oracle agrees to resume her relationship with Waller and the Squad.
Oh, and we also set the stage for the double-sized issue 50 which will be reprinted in late November when the 7th volume of the Squad TPBs come out. Volume 6 will be out around May 23 and now you have all the background dirt on these stories. The Squad should always have background dirt.
We’re proud to announce the cover artist for the hardcover edition of The Whisper Campaign… David Finch!
David Finch is known to comics fans far and wide for… oh, where do we start? He’s drawn Batman, Justice League of America, Avengers, and is currently drawing Wonder Woman for DC. He’s been a fan of Norm Breyfogle’s since his work on Prime for Malibu, and was thrilled to help out. He’s also making the original cover art available as a perk to add to the money raised.
So get yours now— as of this writing, we’ve only got 215 hardcover copies left!
Today we are five days into the New Year, and I hope that for all of you 2015 has been rocking.
As Martha mentioned in her latest column, January is the traditional time for making resolutions. Well, I’m not much for making resolutions generally, and January is my least favorite month. It’s drab and dull and boring, a big letdown after the “holiday season,” with not much to look forward to other than lousy weather and 31 days to get through until February – not that I’m so nuts about February, except that it’s short and the days are just beginning to get noticeably longer. But, back to January.
There should be a national holiday in the middle of the month, “National Doldrums Day” to break up the monotony. All right, if your birthday or wedding anniversary or some other personal celebration is in January, I apologize, but there should be something for the rest of us, don’cha think?
Also, I’ve always thought that resolution is a funny word to use when referring to a new start or a new promise. As a writer, resolution means the end of the story’s conflict or problem, as in:
The Guardians of the Galaxy are no longer criminals, their crimes having been erased. Quill opens the last present he mother gave him, a cassette of her favorite songs, and also discovers that he isn’t fully human; his father came from an ancient, but unknown, species. They board the rebuilt Milano, carrying a sapling of Groot.
And as an operating room nurse, resolution refers to the clarity of an image from an MRI or X-ray, as in:
Surgeon: “The resolution sucks. I can’t see a fucking thing.”
X-ray Tech: “What the fuck you want from me? Goddamn C-arm is about 100 years old and the hospital is too cheap to buy a new one.”
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a verbatim conversation or not.
It’s actually September that feels like the beginning of the year for me (and I would guess most of you) thanks to the indoctrination of the American school system… and perhaps just a bit due to the Jewish New Year occurring in the fall.
But of course resolution also means “to make a decision,” which accounts for how crowded my gym gets right after New Year’s every January – and also around April or May, as the summer nears – as people “resolve” to lose weight and/or get buff. Which is another reason why I hate January. The Body Pump class is so damn crowded and just try getting on the treadmill.
And the other thing about resolutions in January is that, let’s face, they’re so often the exact same ones a person made the year before.
“Okay, I mean it this time. I’m going to:
Fill in here.
Fill in here.
Fill in here.
Fill in here.
Fill in here.
Hey, why should I embarrass myself by repeating the same old same-olds?
Check back here next year for my 2016 resolutions.
• • • • •
But there is one think I’m going to do this year; in fact I’m going to do it as soon as I’m done writing this and sending it off to Mike to edit.
I’m going to donate to the Norm Breyfogle Medical Stroke Fund. See that box over to the right?
Make a resolution to click on it as soon as you’re done reading this.
Make a resolution to donate as much as you can afford, even if it’s only $1.00
If you are still hungover, you have my sympathies. If you have never been hungover, you get an evolving mixture of envy and pity. No matter. The new year is upon us.
This is the time of year when some of us, nagged by memories of elementary school homework assignments, make resolutions to improve ourselves in the year ahead. In general, my resolutions involve drinking more water and tossing more cat-toys (Selina likes to play “fetch”), but one change I made last year was awesome and I’d like to recommend it to you.
Every week, when I go for my weekly comics fix, I try to find at least one new book to try. I don’t manage to do it every week, but I bet I sampled 40 new titles last year. Some I didn’t like, but spending 15 or 20 minutes reading something different is not a horrible fate.
It’s easy for me to try something new because I’ve been reading the same (more or less) superhero comics for nearly six decades. Lots of titles that has been accepted by cooler people than me for decades is new to me. Still, there are books that were new in 2014 that I’ll be sticking with.
As you may recall, my budget can stand this experimentation because I’m no longer buying books that aren’t fun anymore. For me, fun books have different perspectives. Anything can happen.
It may be that this is the year that the industry is taking the same message to heart. I mean, there has been a part of the comic book business that published unconventional stories by unconventional creators since at least the counter-culture of the 1960s. And it’s not unusual for writers and artists associated with the underground to get a gig above, and vice versa.
What is unusual is for these writers and artists not to be straight white men. After years and years (and decades) of talk, there is finally a significant segment of the creative community that can get pregnant, or not, depending on circumstances and choice. Along with more women who write and draw, there seems to my (perhaps inaccurate) eye also be an increase in the number of female editors, assistant editors and associates.
It doesn’t seem to me that there has been a parallel increase in visible participation by people of color, but the subject isn’t going to meekly go away anytime soon. I think that now, more than ever, we need creators who can bring a non-white perspective to the “good guys/bad guys” dynamic of so much comic book plots.
Another excellent resolution for the new year is to commit yourself to the growth of our industry, both at a retail level (including libraries) and a personal, helping level . Our industry is not alone in the commercial arts in treating talent like so many disposable widgets, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stand for it.
Just because it’s that time of year – and you know what I’m talking about and don’t pretend you don’t – don’t for one second think that I’ve become some sentimental goo brain and if you do think that come over here and I’ll make you a damp spot on the rug. Or at least give you a stern look. (Or at least consider giving you a stern look at some future date, maybe in an alternate universe.)
But despite my loud and proud misanthropy, there are a few things, as we creep past the solstice, that make me believe that there’s really no reason to be ashamed of my species. Leading the list this week, if there were a list, would be the comic book community’s response to Norm Breyfogle’s misfortune. Norm, who I’ve long considered a storytelling artist, suffered what seems to have been a bad stroke that left his drawing hand disabled. I wondered how his colleagues would respond. Splendidly, is how. Within 24 hours, the comics folk had raised over $20,000 and flooded the emails with offers of help and messages of support. Norm has a long way to go – months of therapy and sundry other problems to be solved – but at least his fellow storytellers have given him a start.
Then there was the movie brouhaha. As most of you surely know, cyberterrorists threatened nine-eleven type action against any exhibitor who showed The Interview, a comedy about an assassination plot directed at North Korea’s national big cheese, Kim Jung Un. At first, all parties caved, including the flick’s producer, Sony. Ah, but now the happy ending. At virtually the last minute, over 200 smallish, independent theaters got exhibition rights and showed the picture over the weekend. And it was made available for streaming on three Internet venues.
This has very little to do with The Interview. Might be a good flick, might not, might be somewhere in between. But what’s important here is that those who championed the movie refused to be bullied. Anyone who’s had extensive dealings with bullies – teachers, let’s have a show of hands – will probably testify that bullies can’t be appeased. You can’t get rid of them by simply meeting their demands. They don’t really what they’re asking for, they want the power that got it for them. Give it to them and they’ll just want more. Under the threats, they’re probably scared and that’s sad and pitiable, but irrelevant. You can feel sorry for a rabid dog, but you still have to stop his attack.
A final note and then I’m gone for the rest of the year: Norm Breyfogle still needs help. There’s a link on the ComicMix home page. Please give him some. Oh, and if any of you even dare to accuse me of being a nice guy…
We are a community. We are fans, enthusiasts, historians, role players and practitioners of one of America’s true native art forms… and a member of our community needs a helping hand.
Over these many years, most of us here at ComicMix have worked with Norm Breyfogle. He’s best known for his work on Batman, although (since this is my column today) my favorite of his work was on Eclipse Comics’ Prime. He also co-created the award-winning Archie: The Married Life with our pal Michael Uslan and has tons of credits as an A-list comics artist.
Norm suffered a major stroke. He’s still with us, thankfully, but he’s paralyzed on his left side – of course, he’s left-handed. Norm spent a week in intensive care, which tapped out his savings, and he’s got months ahead of him in a nursing home getting physical therapy. It’s too early to tell if he’ll ever be able to draw again; my guess is, right now he’d settle for being able to walk again.
Like a great many comics freelancers, Norm had no insurance. I won’t get into the comics industry politics behind that; this isn’t the time for that. But needing insurance and being able to afford it are two different things, and I know from personal experience that for a guy Norm’s age – he’s 54 – adequate health insurance can run over fifteen grand a year, and that doesn’t count pre-existing conditions and that assumes your health record doesn’t make coverage impossible no matter what the price. I won’t get into the health care politics at this time either.
So I am asking you to help a good guy out. Yes, there are a lot of comics people who have found themselves in this position, and I know nobody wants to play pick-and-choose under such circumstances. You’ve got to take it one person at a time, one day at a time.
Please don’t look at this as a guilt-trip. Lots of folks have the desire to help but not the financial wherewithal. And, of course, tomorrow is Christmas and with gifts, family functions, office parties and the like we’re all kind of tapped out. But if you’ve got something – anything – to help Norm out, please give it a thought.