How the Medical System Screwed Over One Comic Book Creator… and How Comics Tried to Help

Mantlo: A Life in Comics

LifeHealthPro has a lengthy article taken from the November 7th issue of National Underwriter Life & Health Magazine covering the heart-breaking story of comics writer Bill Mantlo. For Marvel Comics, he co-created the super-hero duo Cloak and Dagger, which is currently being developed as a TV series for ABC Family, and the sci-fi oddity Rocket Raccoon. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, he also wrote Spectacular Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, over 500 issues total. As the article details, in the early ’90s, he had become a public defense attorney for a non-profit until he was severely injured by a hit and run in 1992. For a moment, it looked like he would have a miraculous recovery, but through a series of bullying and manipulation by his insurance company, he ended up losing the ground he’d regained and getting stuck in what amounts to a nursing home. Bill’s brother Mike Mantlo has been running his affairs since the accident, and as you’ll read, it has not been an easy journey. That might be one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever written. Please read the article.

I reached out to some of the people who have been involved in various fundraisers and also Mike Mantlo to get some additional details.

In communicating with Mike, there were a few points of the article that he felt were inaccurate, and I offered him the opportunity to offer up his side for the public record.

Regarding the contentious selling of Bill’s comic book collection, which served as his archive and research library for his prolific work with Marvel, Mike told me that Bill had sold it prior to the accident. According to Mike, “he himself sold it off around 1986 to finance the cottage”.

As the LifeHealthPro article states, that cottage is another matter of controversy with the family. Mike stated that Bill never owned it outright, but shared ownership in a co-op. “Bill’s ex-wife was given 3 opportunities to assume the debt remaining on the mortgage that Bill bought her out of, but reneged 3 times with the bank.” Mike added, “I was forced to sell it to a friend of another co-op member through a ‘short sale’, just to get the asset off of Bill’s ledger so he could qualify for Medicaid”.

The final point he wanted to make was regarding the life insurance issue. “There was never any $100,000 life insurance policy that was surrendered for cash.” He pointed out that “if there had been, the state would have seized any funds” for Bill’s Medicaid coverage.

In 1994, Mike Mantlo set up a fund to help raise money to cover the ongoing expenses of Bill’s care. Recently writer Greg Pak (Incredible Hulk) wrote a wonderful tribute about Bill Mantlo’s influence on his own writing and included a link to Mike’s fund through PayPal:

I also checked in with Jim McLauchlin of The Hero Initiative. It was somewhat perplexing and disappointing to read in the LifeHealthPro article about The Hero Initiative’s apparent confusion over their own contributions. However, when I briefly spoke with McLauchlin, he said he had provided lots of information for the article. As he recalled to me, his contact with Bill’s brother was initially around 2002 and 2003 when the organization was still very young. This 2009 interview with Mike Mantlo confirms that The Hero Initiative provided the first support of any kind from the industry:

I had to struggle to fight his insurance company from cutting off his benefits, and the comics industry didn’t really step forward until many years later (probably because Bill had left it in the mid-80′s to become a lawyer). It was only when [The Hero Initiative] (comic book professionals support group) was formed in the late 90′s-early 00′s, that any assistance, or (financial) support came through. They deserve a lot of credit, as does Tony Isabella, who’s been the biggest champion of Bill’s throughout this whole ordeal.

The Hero Initiative is a great organization that has done crucial work to provide financial support and employment opportunities for comic book creators in dire need. The structure of the organization requires that requests for funds or assistance comes from the recipient or their family. McLauchlin stated that he hasn’t heard from Michael for about 3 or 4 years. I asked Mike Mantlo about whether he was considering re-approaching The Hero Initiative for additional support, but he said it wasn’t something he was planning on doing.

I will always be indebted to them for their kindness. I do not intend to approach them again, as I feel their mission is to assist all comics industry professionals that are in need, and I know their funds are stretched pretty thin with the many people they help (Ed Hannigan being the latest example that i was aware of). Bill would have wanted these funds shared equally, and I support his wishes in that regard.

Artist Ed Hannigan collaborated with Bill Mantlo on Spectacular Spider-Man and in creating Cloak and Dagger. Below is a video of Hannigan talking about his career, his struggles with multiple sclerosis, and how The Hero Initiative has helped him.

As The Hero Initiative’s Jim McLauchlin expressed to me, Bill’s story is tragic and it is indicative of issues that go beyond him and beyond comics. As health care reform takes full effect in 2014, we’re likely to see more of this topic on the national stage.

Mike Mantlo isn’t the only one remembering Bill. Over a year ago, Bill’s daughter Corinna Mantlo and her brother Adam Pocock set up the Facebook page The Bill Mantlo Project to pay tribute to their father and attempt to rebuild a complete library of Bill’s work. Eventually, they also hope to set up a non-profit scholarship fund to help kids pursue an education in art and writing. As the Facebook page mentions, “Bill was lucky enough to attend public art high school in NYC and then Cooper Union for a virtually free college art education, but many aren’t as lucky.” Friday night, I reached out to Corinna for additional details but by press time had not received a response.

As briefly mentioned in the LifeHealthPro article, during the last decade there have been other efforts made to pay tribute to and raise funds for Bill Mantlo. It started with Sleeping Giant Productions in partnership with Mike Mantlo producing Mantlo: A Life in Comics, a book which covered Bill’s life history and career (disclosure: I donated to help cover some production costs). While now out-of-print, it can be downloaded at Wowio.

I checked in with David Yurkovich of Sleeping Giant Productions to see his response to the article.

I wasn’t aware that the article was being published. My priorities over the last few years have shifted away from comics (ie, now a parent, new job, etc), which has left me with little time to devote to the medium. Even the Mantlo portal of the Sleeping Giant Creations web site has become terribly outdated, I’m afraid. But as the saying goes, you can only do what you can do. The article was heartbreaking. Obviously I’d known about Bill’s condition for a while, but my understanding was vague and limited. Bill Coffin’s article appears to have been exhaustively researched, both from a personal and health industry perspective. The costs associated with Mr. Mantlo’s care are staggering. I would have been interested in knowing more about the “new medication” that, for a time at least, improved Bill’s cognition and activities of daily living. If the drug was working, why did the physician in charge suggest doubling the dosage? Why wasn’t a small, gradual increase suggested? All water under the bridge now, I suppose.

As difficult as it was to read the stunning details in Bill Coffin’s article, I’m glad that he wrote it and that it saw publication. The vast majority of comics fans really have no idea whatever became of Bill Mantlo. The struggles he’s had to live with, not to mention the struggles his family have had to endure, really underscore the need for serious healthcare reform in the US.

Regarding any future plans for fundraising, Yurkovich told me the following:

There probably are [plans for more fundraising]. Bill has a legion of fans world-wide. Ideally I’d like to see Marvel step up to the plate and produce a Bill Mantlo Visionaries hardcover collection or an Incredible Hulk Omnibus containing Bill’s amazing run on that series, with a percentage of proceeds going toward Bill’s care.

In addition to Mantlo: A Life in Comics (pictured at the top of this article), the art show Rom: Spaceknight was put on by Floating World Comics in Portland, Oregon. They exhibited and sold new artwork of the cult favorite Rom character in which Bill was so involved. Walt Simonson (Thor), Jeffrey Brown (Incredible Change-Bots), and Guy Davis (B.P.R.D.) were among the artists that contributed. Finally Wowio reached out to Mike Mantlo to issue a digital release of Bill’s original graphic novel and comic book series Swords of the Swashbucklers, although that unfortunately does not appear to be available anymore.

My hope is that the LifeHealthPro article has inspired renewed interest in helping Bill Mantlo and that some of the above projects will see renewed interest and support. If you’re not comfortable with PayPal (above), you can also mail a check made out to Michael Mantlo to help with costs of Bill’s care:

Michael Mantlo
26364 East Pintail Road
Long Neck, DE 19966

Please help, if you can.

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8 comments

  1. thanks for the follow up about bill and also his brother being allowed to set the record straight on things like the comic collection and the cottage. sad that a comic legend and genius like bill is in the state he is in with thanks to the health care system no chance of maybe due to cost getting a chance to maybe make at least progress enough to have some what of some life again. also agree marvel should step up and help bill like releasing an ombibus of his work all they legaly have the rights too unlike rom and micronauts.

  2. Thanks for the follow-up, Corey. It’s people like you who help all of us to never forget people in need.

    If it weren’t for Greg Pak and your diligence, I’d have never known if I could donate money for Mr. Mantlo’s care.

    Kudos.

  3. Thank you, Corey Blake. On behalf of Bill, and our family, you have our utmost gratitude for helping keep Bill’s situation in the public eye. I can only hope, like you, that Marvel will ever “step up to the plate” and honor Bill’s humongous contribution to their history.
    And to any, and ALL of your readers who have reached out to help Bill, I offer the most heartfelt THANK YOU for their kindness!
    BILL MANTLO’s name is etched in the annals of comic book history…..FOREVER!
    And that’s as it should be!
    Peace to all,
    Mike Mantlo

    1. You’re very welcome, Mike. Thank you for letting us help in whatever way we can.

      I noticed Marvel is putting out a second hardcover graphic novel reprinting Cloak & Dagger stories written by Bill Mantlo in March 2012. It might be a long shot, but I hope some of that money makes it to Bill.

      My best to your family.

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