Archive for Obituaries

Rest in Peace, Sir Terry Pratchett

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Yesterday was tough, wasn’t it? If you’re anything like me and several million other fans of fun, geeky, glorious literature, you found out around mid-morning that Terry Pratchett, author best known for the Discworld series of novels, had died. And after that, you spent the rest of the day in a severe funk, if not going to hide somewhere so you could safely cry at work.

I don’t think I can reach any unusual heights of eloquence here. I can’t tell you any stories about him you haven’t heard. There are people who’ve actually met him and worked with him who can do that, and you should seek them out and read them, because they’re remarkably good and moving. I can’t tell you about how reading Pratchett’s novels changed my life, because I was already a sci-fi and fantasy-loving geek when I read my first Discworld novel — but there are a lot of people who had their lives transformed by his books, and you should seek them out, too, because they’re also good and even more moving.

I can tell you that I haven’t read all of Sir Terry’s books, but I’ve read a lot, and I’ve loved most of them. And though I know so very many people who love his books as much as I do, it’s also vastly frustrating how little known he seems to be outside of his fanbase. Even those who aren’t readers of horror know Stephen King; even those who aren’t readers of science fiction know Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury; even those who aren’t readers of fantasy know Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. But Pratchett wasn’t just a funny fantasy writer — he was also one of the grandest wordsmiths on the planet — yet most of my officemates at work had never heard of him. That’s terrible, and I don’t know how to solve that.

I am, in fact, sorely tempted to go grab handfuls of my favorite Discworld books and force them on people — but my favorite books — “Small Gods,” “Reaper Man,” etc. — wouldn’t make the best introductions to the Discworld. But some of the earlier books are maybe a bit too chaotic and could turn off neophyte fans. I have no solution, and it frustrates me terribly.

Perhaps the best solution is just to keep evangelizing about how good his books are, and let those who are open to his style of humor and wonder and epic glory… discover for themselves.

I think I have to close with a line — one which has been strongly affecting me throughout the day — from one of Pratchett’s best and oddest characters: WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT FOR THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?

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Live Forever, Ray Bradbury!

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Ray Bradbury has died.

What this boiled down to, personally, is that yesterday was not a very good day for me.

Ray Bradbury has been my favorite writer for as long as I can remember. I don’t know that he was every considered a very hip writer — I’ve worked at too many jobs where I mentioned his name to coworkers and got a lot of blank stares in reply. But I know that he’s pretty solidly beloved by science fiction writers, fantasy writers, horror writers, just about every writer under the sun. I’ve loved the stuffing out of him since I was a little kid. I never got to meet him, I never exchanged mail with him, but I always thought of him as a personal friend — it always amazed me that everything he wrote felt like it had been written with me in mind. And more than likely, most of his other readers felt the same way. That’s an amazing gift.

I’ve been trying to remember what my first Ray Bradbury story was, and I’m pretty sure it was “The Homecoming,” which was the last story in a book called “Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum” that I read when I was a kid. And really, “The Homecoming” is very nearly my favorite of Bradbury’s stories — it’s about a normal kid who lives in a family of monsters and his sadness that he’ll never really be part of them. It’s a lyrical story, like so many of his other stories. It’s beautiful and poetic, funny and creepy. It’s a valentine for all of us who grew up identifying with the monsters and counting down the days to Halloween. And it’s also intensely sad. The last few hundred words are about the saddest you’ll read.

My favorite of his novels is doubtlessly “Dandelion Wine,” which is absolutely one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Its description of a Midwestern summer is so perfect that for years I’d re-read it every winter — I needed a dose of that Bradbury summer to get me through the cold months. But now is a good time to read it, too. Read it through the summer, go for walks in the woods, enjoy your ice cream and new sneakers. Ray Bradbury’s summer is something that should never end.

Ray got kinda weirdly political in the past few years, but I could never bring myself to hold it against him. He gave me “The Homecoming” and “Dandelion Wine” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “The Martian Chronicles” and “There Shall Come Soft Rains” and “Kaleidoscope” and “The Halloween Tree” and “The Small Assassin” and “A Sound of Thunder” and “The Toynbee Convector” and “The Pedestrian” and “The Fog Horn” and “Zen in the Art of Writing” and “Hail and Farewell” and “Last Rites” and “The Murderer” and “The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair” and “The Anthem Runners” and “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” and more and more and more and more. I can forgive almost anything for someone who’s given me so much.

I haven’t been the only person to note that the chronicler of Mars died just after the transit of Venus. I can’t have been the only one to wonder that he died just before a summer like the one he wrote about in his Green Town stories. I’m certainly not the only person who’s remembering his glorious tale about how a carnival performer called Mr. Electrico inspired him by jolting him with electricity and shouting at him to “Live forever!” Because he will. I know it. You know it.

Thank you, Ray, for everything you’ve done for us. Thank you for being our friend. Thank you for living forever.

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RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Well, here’s some deeply depressing news.

Comic writer Dwayne McDuffie has died much, much too young of unspecified causes.

McDuffie’s work is what got me reading comics again while I was in grad school. I had a friend in the dorms who was reading Milestone Media’s comics — which McDuffie helped found back in the early ’90s — and I got hooked hard on the “Blood Syndicate” series.

He wrote all the first few issues of all of Milestone’s initial releases, including “Blood Syndicate,” “Static,” “Icon,” and “Hardware.” He also wrote comics ranging from “Fantastic Four” and “Justice League of America” to “Deathlok,” “Damage Control,” “X-O Manowar,” “Legends of the Dark Knight,” and “Beyond!”

In addition to comics, he was also a writer and producer for animated cartoons. He developed his Milestone character Static into a TV star in “Static Shock.” He also wrote tons of great stuff on “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited.” He worked on the “Ben 10” cartoons and wrote the script for the animated adaptation of “All Star Superman.”

Obviously, you don’t go and found a company like Milestone — dedicated to furthering a multicultural and multiracial approach to comics — without caring a lot about racial relations in America — and that both helped and hindered him. He got lots of positive press and was very well respected by people who cared about diversity in comics. But it made him a target for other people who liked to see comics as a “Whites Only” zone.

The last of his work that I got to read was his run on “Justice League” a few years back. It started off great and got derailed by editorial mandates from on high. I think DC didn’t treat him right — gave him the title just so they could get their hands on Static and a few other Milestone characters, then ran him off when they had what they wanted.

I never knew him personally, but I loved his work. He’s got my thanks forever, because he got me back reading comics again.

Raise your mugs high, people. To Dwayne McDuffie.

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Thriller!

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No, wait, that’s not it.

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That’s not it either.

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Ah, there we go.

Well, gee, that was weird, wasn’t it? Like pretty much everyone else around my age, I grew up listening to Michael Jackson. The “Thriller” album really is just about the most perfect pop album ever, after years of amazing pop-soul hits with the Jackson 5. And the guy made some of the best and most iconic music videos ever. I think the “Thriller” album my sister and I bought when we were kids is still around (It’s stored at my parents’ house, ’cause they’ve got a stereo cabinet that was built for storing vinyl albums. Come to think of it, they’ve got an actual fer-realz record player, and none of us kids do), not that we’ve listened to much of it in ages. I’ve got the song “Thriller” on my Halloween mix-tape, but that’s about it.

Of course, I’ve avoided thinking about MJ in years — pretty much for the same reason I avoid thinking about Carrot Top, Andy Dick, Amy Winehouse, the Coreys, or anyone on reality TV — why waste precious brainspace on someone whose existence has become one long, painful slog of embarrassment?

So yeah, an awful way to go out, after a really awful decade of seemingly non-stop, self-inflicted humiliations. I’ll try to dwell on the awesome stuff he did instead

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Dungeons and Dragons co-creator dies

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I had an unusually busy week, which meant far less time than I normally get for surfing the ‘Net. So I didn’t find out ’til this morning that Dave Arneson, the guy who co-created “Dungeons and Dragons” with Gary Gygax, died back on April 7.

David Lance Arneson, who helped trigger the global phenomenon of role-playing games as co-inventor of “Dungeons & Dragons,” has died at the age of 61.

A statement on the game’s official Web site, wizards.com, said Arneson died Tuesday evening “after waging one final battle against cancer.”

Arneson “developed many of the fundamental ideas of role playing: that each player controls just one hero, that heroes gain power through adventures, and that personality is as important as combat prowess,” the statement said.

I’m a bit bummed that I didn’t even know that Arneson was ill. Gygax died just a little over a year ago — that seems like a really short space of time to lose both of the guys who created the modern roleplaying game.

Hats off, folks.

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The Death of Science Fiction’s Greatest Fan

Forrest J. Ackerman has died at age 92.

Fan as in fanatic. Fan as in fancier. Fan as in fantasy lover. Forrest J Ackerman, who died Thursday at 92 of a heart attack in Los Angeles, was all these things and many more: literary agent for such science fiction authors as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Curt Siodmak and L. Ron Hubbard; actor and talisman in more than 50 films (The Howling, Beverly Hills Cop III, Amazon Women on the Moon); editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and creator of the Vampirella comic book franchise. But each of these trades was an exponent of his educated ardor for science fiction, fantasy and horror, and his need to share that consuming appetite.

The Scifipedia, an online biographical dictionary, defines Ackerman first as “American fan.” That’s good enough. As much as almost any writer in the field, he created a devoted, informed audience for speculative fiction. If he didn’t coin the term “sci-fi” — Robert Heinlein used it first — then by using the phrase in public in 1954 he instantly popularized it (to the lasting chagrin of purists, who preferred “SF”). Forry, as everyone called him, was the genre’s foremost advocate, missionary and ballyhooer. His love for the form, stretching back more than 80 years, godfathered and legitimized the obsessions of a million fanboys. His passion was their validation. He was the original Fanman.

I wrote about Uncle Forry just a month ago, when it looked like he’d be leaving us in days. As it turns out, the cards and well-wishes from his own legions of fans helped him rally for an extra four weeks.

If you’ve ever been to a convention, whether for comics, horror, sci-fi, Star Trek, you name it, you’re one of Uncle Forry’s kids. If you’ve ever dressed up in costume as a character from fiction, you’re one of Uncle Forry’s kids. If you’ve ever spent an evening geeking out with friends about something awesome in a comic book, in an old science fiction story, in a horror movie, you’re one of Uncle Forry’s kids.

Mugs up, folks. Here’s to Forrest J. Ackerman.

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RIP Michael Turner

 

Comic artist Michael Turner as died after a long battle with cancer at the way-too-young age of 37.

I’d love to make this just a plain, pure tribute to the man, but I don’t think that’s gonna be possible. Honestly, I just didn’t enjoy most of Turner’s artwork. I mean, it was obvious that he had really strong artistic chops. Look at this cover he did for “Teen Titans.”

 

I think it’s just beautifully done. Yeah, you get a little Buttcrack Theatre from Starfire, but it’s far, far from the worst art we’ve ever seen of her. The rest of them, Cyborg, Raven, Superboy, Robin, Kid Flash, Changeling, even the all-too-frequently-fetishized Wonder Girl, they all look great.

But Turner would also produce work like this:

 

That’s preliminary artwork from one of the “Justice League of America” covers from last year, and it got rightly and loudly criticized by almost everyone. It’s emblematic of a lot of my problems with Turner’s style — heavily plasticized figures, bad anatomy, vacant and identical faces on women.

And I’m gonna stop with the criticism right there. From everything else I’ve heard of him, Turner was an enthusiastic, good-natured, fun guy to be around, who didn’t deserve all the pain from his health troubles, and who definitely did deserve a tremendous amount of respect for continuing to produce artwork even after multiple painful surgeries. Just about everything about his life story is pretty inspiring, and his death, like Mike Wieringo’s last year, comes way, way too soon, and is going to be very keenly felt over the coming years.

Raise your glasses, folks. Here’s to him.

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Why So Serious?

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Why so serious? Probably because Heath Ledger’s dead.

Heath Ledger was found dead Tuesday at a downtown Manhattan residence, and police said drugs may have been a factor. He was 28. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Ledger had an appointment for a massage at the Manhattan apartment believed to be his home. The housekeeper who went to let him know the masseuse had arrived found him dead at 3:26 p.m.

The Australian-born actor was nominated for an Oscar for “Brokeback Mountain,” where he met his wife, actress Michelle Williams, in 2005. Ledger and Williams had lived in Brooklyn and had a daughter, Matilda, until they split up last year.

Ledger was to appear as the Joker this year in “The Dark Knight,” a sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins.” He’s had starring roles in “A Knight’s Tale” and “The Patriot,” and played the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in “Monster’s Ball.”

So from the looks of it, the last time you’ll be able to see Heath Ledger in a movie is going to be in the Batman sequel this summer. You’ve seen him in the trailer for “The Dark Knight,” right? Looks incredible. It’s a bummer that we won’t be able to see him in anything else — I had him picked as picking up his first Oscar in the next coupla years…

Any of y’all see this coming? I sure didn’t. Ledger seemed like a guy who’d gotten his act together. To go out as a disposable bad guy in a comic-book movie just doesn’t seem right.

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The Tragedy of the Great American Hero

Richard Jewell, 1962-2007

Five’ll gitcha ten, you don’t remember who this guy was. Heck, there are people who would really prefer that you forget him. He’s an embarrassment, a reminder of their own failure and foolishness and hate.

And you might be wondering why the guy running the comic book blog is writing about a guy you’ve never heard of.

Let me refresh your memory.

In 1996, Atlanta was playing host to the Summer Olympics. Big money, big TV audience, big publicity. The U.S. picked up 101 medals. Muhammad Ali lit the torch in the opening ceremonies, and everyone thought that was pretty much awesome. Kerri Strug injured her ankle and still landed a near-perfect score on the vault. Kurt Angle, before he became a professional wrestler, won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling with a severely injured neck.

Richard Jewell was a nobody, overweight, unremarkable, unsuccessful, living with his mother. He got a job as a lowly security guard at Centennial Olympic Park during a concert on July 27. He noticed a stray knapsack lying under a bench, got suspicious, called it in, and started moving people away from the area. Three pipe bombs inside the knapsack exploded, killing one woman and injuring 111 people. A Turkish cameraman died of a heart attack while rushing to film the incident.

Jewell was hailed as a hero who certainly prevented the deaths of dozens of people. But after four days, the FBI decided he might be a suspect. They tipped off the media. And for the next several weeks, while the feds repeatedly searched his mother’s house, many media companies all but declared him guilty of the bombing.

The FBI eventually had to announce that he wasn’t a suspect, and the press slinked away, probably looking for some small cute animal they could stab. Jewell had gone from nobody to hero to villain… but instead of being hailed, again, as the hero of the Olympic Park bombing, he just went back to being a nobody. He had trouble getting jobs because many still believed he was the bomber. He got settlements from the New York Post and NBC, though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution fought his suit clear ’til his death.

Turns out the bomber was a psychotic “Christian Identity” terrorist named Eric Rudolph. Rudolph later bombed a lesbian bar and two abortion clinics, setting secondary bombs that would target police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. When the cops finally identified him, he went into hiding for over five years. When he was caught, he took a plea bargain solely to avoid the death penalty. He’s expressed no regrets, and he sends out letters that are generally considered harassment against his victims and incitement for his supporters to commit more violence. He’s scum, a racist, and a terrorist, and I’m thoroughly happy that he’ll die in prison.

Last year, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue officially commended Jewell for his heroism. I gotta tell you, from what I’ve read, Perdue hasn’t been the greatest governor around, but when I heard that he’d done that for Jewell, my admiration for him jumped sky-high. He got the chance to take a guy who’s been dumped on by life, despite the good he’d done, he brought him back before the public, and said, “This guy’s a hero. Give him the respect he deserves.” That’s a beautiful thing to do for someone. It doesn’t make up for all the crap he’d had to put up with, but it was great to see that someone remembered him.

Jewell was diagnosed with diabetes early this year, and his kidneys were failing. He died on August 29th. The media reported his death, but too many omitted their parts in trying to put a hero in prison.

If we lived in the Marvel Universe, Captain America would’ve shaken Richard Jewell’s hand on national TV, lectured us about our fickle loyalties, and made sure Nick Fury gave Jewell a good job in SHIELD. If we lived in the DC Universe, Batman would’ve cleared Jewell in two days, had Rudolph in custody in three, and the Wayne Foundation would’ve made sure Jewell and his mom spent the rest of the rest of their lives comfortably well-off and suitably respected by everyone.

We live in the real world, where people have fan websites for murderous terrorists like Eric Rudolph, and where there are no statues honoring heroes like Richard Jewell.

That’s insane, and that’s all there is to say about it.

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Gone Too Soon

Comic artist Mike Wieringo is dead of a heart attack at 44. That’s way, way too young for us to lose such a wonderful talent.

Mark Waid is a guy who’s worked with a lot of different artists. This is what he had to say:

I could spend the rest of the day writing and writing and writing to explain how empty this makes the world and I wouldn’t come close to getting it across. Mike’s artistic style quietly influenced an entire generation of artists that followed. I could never get it into his thick, humble head in what regard he was held by his fellow professionals. Mike was a member of a very small club of illustrators–among them, Alex Toth, Michael Golden, Kevin Nowlan–who were so revered by their peers that the brilliance of their work was never a matter of debate.

Any time I saw Mike’s characteristic “‘Ringo!” signature on the cover, I knew I was going to get a beautifully and excitingly drawn comic.

He’ll be sorely missed.

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