Honoring Comic Book Creators #whiletheylive

Tom Brevoort removes his hat to pay tribute

Following the sudden death of writer Dwayne McDuffie last month, Marvel Comics Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort has begun a touching weekly ritual on Twitter. Every Wednesday afternoon, he selects a member of the comics creative community to honor while they are still alive to enjoy the praise. Using the hashtag #whiletheylive, Brevoort encourages everyone on Twitter to join in the tribute by sharing personal memories of the creator and their work.

“The idea, quite simply, is rather than waiting for a member of our community to keel over before we say nice things, we instead do it while they’re still alive, and can appreciate the outpouring of love,” Brevoort tweeted last month to kick off the first #whiletheylive Wednesday.

That first week focused on artist Gene Colan, who worked on Iron Man, Captain America and other classic Marvel comics of the 1960s. Colan has had health problems but continues to work to this day. Yesterday’s #whiletheylive recipient was writer/editor Jim Shooter, who was editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics from 1978 to 1987, and later editor-in-chief and creative architect of the fondly remembered (and recently resurrected) Valiant Comics. Others are artist Neal Adams (known for visually stunning runs on comics such as DC ComicsBatman in the 1970s), John Byrne (writer/artist known for historic runs on The Uncanny X-Men, The Man of Steel and others), writer/editor Denny O’Neil (known for his trendsetting work on Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and other DC Comics), and artist Russ Heath (known for the Playboy comic strip Little Annie Fanny and countless war comics for DC Comics in the 1950s).

You don’t often see an outpouring of support and community like this in other industries, especially when there isn’t some kind of marketing push or uncontrollable event (like a death) behind it. All too often we take for granted the treasures that are still with us, and it’s about time we let them know how much they mean to us. It’s a wonderful gesture that I hope Brevoort and others continue. I also think it’s a wonderful ongoing tribute to Dwayne McDuffie, who didn’t get nearly enough credit and praise for his contributions to the industry while he was alive.

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16 comments

  1. What a load of self-serving crap.

    If you want to honor a creator, offer him/her work. (If they’re unable to work, they’ll let you know.) Or offer them health care coverage!

    And honoring certain people (such as Byrne and Shooter) whose chronic disrespectful behavior toward fellow professionals is well-documented, is a fucking joke.

    Besides, if you think that old pros like Russ Heath have Twitter account, guess again.

    Sorry to be so irate, but this sort of “stunt-respect” accomplishes absolutely nothing.

  2. I just noticed that photo of Tom Brevoort’s hat. Did this accompany the press release? If that’s not a clue to how self-promotional #whiletheylive is, I don’t know what is!

    More appropriate would be a photo of Brevoort “talking through his hat”.

    Or John Byrne taking a shit in it.

    1. No there’s no press release, at least to my knowledge. I’ve just noticed Tom doing it on Twitter every week. The picture is Tom’s profile pic on Twitter. Going by the file name used, I’m assuming he just took a picture of his own hat with his iPhone.

      I definitely hear what you’re saying about a lack of concrete benefit from doing this, and how a company like Marvel could honor these creators in ways more beneficial to living in the real world. It’s a great point.

      But I think it’s a good gesture and could expose these creators to newer readers who might not know these people, and could indirectly result in work. Yes, it’s a little thing. But the worst thing that happens is people on Twitter get warm and fuzzy thinking about an older creator for a few minutes. I don’t mind that.

  3. I’ve been in close contact with Russ as he recovers from knee replacement surgery. As far as I know, he’s completely unaware of him being a recipient of “respect” from the folks behind #whiletheylive a month ago.

    Yeah, that’s the sort of bogus “good deed” that #whiletheylive is accomplishing.

  4. Most comic readers these days don’t seem to give a damn about the past…unless “the past” refers to the last five minutes. What they ARE concerned with is the next big multi-title mega-“event” and how much their WOLVERINE collection is worth…

  5. I couldn’t agree more Scott Shaw!

    While both Marvel and DC have occasionally given the odd job to a great classic writer or illustrator, they have also been guilty of denying them work based on their style or age.

    Many of these guys are still able to turn out top notch work, and their great skill lies fallow, while some barely able to draw newcomer is gifted with work they aren’t capable of and don’t deserve.

    And the time to offer creators health care and retirement benefits. Though with the recent political ire against collective bargaining in the news right now, I don’t see that happening.

    1. Sam, thank you for commenting.

      I don’t think this small gesture erases what Marvel and other publishers have done to creators in the past. But there are Marvel fans that hang on every word Tom Brevoort and Joe Quesada and others at Marvel say, so him spending an afternoon directing attention to them can lead to readers discovering them.

      I’ve gotten emails and Facebook messages thanking me for helping people learn about comics, so there are people out there who don’t know about this stuff but want to dig in and discover stuff.

      Little things like this can add up. Does it fix anything by itself? Does it make past transgressions go away? No. But it’s certainly going in a better direction.

      The comments are well taken, though, and I’m glad to hear others’ thoughts. I would be ecstatic if Marvel announced that they were retroactively taking care of all of the classic Marvel artists that made the company what it is today. If only…

  6. It’s a nice gesture as far as it goes. It would be a lot nicer if some of the appreciation and respect offered was in the form of something green and wallet-sized.

    But barring that, what Tom ought to do is collect all the comments made about each artist, print them out on good old-fashioned paper, and pop them in the mail so that the honoree could see what’s being said about them.

  7. Well, there you go. Leave it to the comic book industry to take even the simplest and most well-intentioned gesture, and turn it into a handful of crap.

    Scott, I’m sorry you don’t care for what I’m doing. You can feel absolutely free to not pay attention, to not retweet, to not anything. And, on the flip side, you’re free to actually undertake any action you’d like to honor and commemorate these and any other creators you wish to (and as I know you’ve done in the past.)

    This isn’t a Marvel thing. There is no press release. This isn’t about me other than that I’m the person in a position where I could potentially make this happen. My friend Dwayne McDuffie passed away suddenly, and there was an amazing outpouring of good wishes towards him and his work–much of which was never said while he was still alive to hear it and know about it. He went to his grave, I expect, having no full understanding of just how many people his work and his life had touched. And that’s a sad thing.

    And in fact, so many people expressed, as we always do, that they wish they’d gotten a chance to tell Dwayne how his work and his life and behavior affected them when they had the chance to that I thought it’d be a good idea to try to carry that principle forward for others for whom it is not too late. That’s the sum total of what this little movement is all about; nothing more, nothing less.

    I’m sorry that my attempt to honor the great living practitioners of our medium while they are still among us offends you so. As I said earlier, you’re under no obligation to participate or even pay attention in any way.

    Is it an empty gesture? Maybe. But it’s something. And it comes for an honest place. Thanks for stamping all over it, and making me question even continuing with it. because clearly, its absence will make the world a better place. Shame on you.

    Tom B

  8. Well, it turns out that Tom Brevoort is genuine in his intentions regarding honoring the greats. I’m an idiot and have apologized accordingly. Again, sorry, Tom.

  9. Scott, apology accepted, and thanks for being stand-up about this. As far as I’m concerned, the matter is over.

    Tom B

  10. I’d like to thank both of you, Scott and Tom, for talking this out openly and with maturity. Obviously both of you care deeply about the comics industry and the people that make it magical. Thank you both.

  11. MAYBE the gesture is shallow and self-serving. I dunno. But, a guy has a nice idea and does a nice thing that very well could be a sincere gesture and people wanna diminish that because the company he works for “SHOULD” treat people better? TOM is not Marvel. He just works there.

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