Month: November 2011

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.

The Magic Meathands and Held2gether team up!

This Saturday, I’m performing with the Magic Meathands at the Mary Pickford Studio. It’s our Tag Team Comedy show where Held2gether kicks off the night. Improv comedy (that means we make it up but in a really funny way.) Come on out and have some laughs.

Show starts at 8 PM, tickets are $7.

RSVP on Facebook, if you like.

Experience A Day of Sunsets

My contribution to the first Day of Sunsets; others posted much prettier (and more traditional) sunset pics

A Day of Sunsets is an open Facebook group created by my friend Glenn Blakeslee where members post their local sunset once a month. What ends up happening is a beautiful reminder of our global community. No significant photography skill or equipment is required, so anyone can participate. Even if you have a cloudy day, obscured horizon and crummy phone camera (like me), as long as the sun is setting and you took it, it’s all good. It doesn’t take much time and the pay-off is you get to look at pretty pictures of sunsets. Unless of course you think nature is lame.

I asked Glenn how this came to be, how it’s gone so far and where he sees it going.

For the past few years I’ve taken sunset pictures and posted them on Facebook, mostly for the ego stoke. If the photo is of the sky -sunsets, clouds, the moon or Milky Way- people always ohh and ahh.

A friend suggested that she take one of the sunrise from her home on the East Coast, and then we’d have sunrise and sunset, east and west, for a single day. I’m more than a little obsessed with time and hidden processes, so to expand that to an international search for sunsets seemed like a natural. The idea still took a little while to percolate.

The group had its first Day of Sunsets last month, on Saturday, October 22.

The first set was pretty amazing, and a little ego-shattering. I was humming along in my own universe, thinking I was the only one who paid attention to certain things, only to discover that the love of sunsets was nearly universal. Somehow they strike a chord somewhere. Now I’m a small fish in a big pond. Some of the shots that rolled in… I ran out of adjectives.

The second one is coming up this Saturday, November 19. So now’s the time to join before it becomes a humongous internet sensation.

Once the dataset has grown, there are a lot of neat things that we can do for archiving and display. Imagine a complete day of sunsets pinned to a longitude and latitude grid, and being able to browse it… talk about hidden processes!

Glenn wants to maintain the group’s original concept to capture a single day of sunsets. But for those that want more, he also set up Sunsets Unlimited, where members can post and view pictures to their heart’s content.

Occupy Wall Street and Comics: Documenting a Movement

Occupy Comics poster

Turn on the news or check online news sites, and you’re bound to see coverage of Occupy Wall Street, a series of demonstrations protesting corporate influence over our culture’s systems of government and finance. It’s essentially a reaction to what is perceived as class warfare perpetuated by a significant minority of powerful individuals and institutions (referred to as the 1%). (So much media coverage is focused on protracted confusion at the movement’s purpose, so in case you’d like to know more, Rolling Stone has an editorial by Matt Taibbi that gets into it deeper, and of course there’s always never-wrong Wikipedia.)

Whether you think the movement is just a bunch of lazy hippies or a crusade against big banks, it’s got people’s attention. Over 100 cities in the US have local versions of Occupy Wall Street, and more than 1500 have popped up in cities around the world. This has not gone unnoticed by the world of comics.

Occupy Comics is an anthology currently raising funds for the movement through a Kickstarter campaign. Coordinated by writer/director Matt Pizzolo (Godkiller), the comics will first be released as digital comics and individual comic book issues, and then collected and reprinted as a hard cover graphic novel. All creators and production staff have agreed to donate their salary to Occupy Wall Street to help pay for supplies during the winter months. An impressive line-up of comics creators have already committed to contribute, such as The Walking Dead‘s Charlie Adlard, 30 Days of Night‘s Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joshua Hale Fialkov (Tumor, I, Vampire), and Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School founder Molly Crabapple. From the Kickstarter page:

This book is intended to be a time capsule of the passions and emotions driving the movement. We are comic book & graphic novel artists and writers who’ve been inspired by the movement and hope to tell the stories of the people who are out there putting themselves at risk for an idea. What is that idea? Most of the media will tell you the idea is a vague and befuddled mess, but movements don’t coalesce around vague, befuddled messes. We hope that through the medium of comics we can share some of the ideas and experiences driving this movement.

All of the writers, artists, business executives, and the publisher are being paid to produce this book… and they ALL are donating 100% of their revenue (not profits, but ALL monies they receive) to the occupiers. They want to support the movement through the winter by providing warm clothes, heaters and bathrooms if possible, and other amenities.

One of the anthology’s contributors is Susie Cagle, a comics journalist who has provided non-fiction comics for McSweeney’s, Alternet, Truthout and other publications. She has been attending one of the west coast versions, Occupy Oakland. As a member of the press, she has a bright orange press badge visibly hanging from her neck. Despite this, she has twice been swept up in aggressive police action, once getting hit with tear gas, and once getting arrested along with other press and legal observers. Occupy Oakland has been one of the more unstable Occupy sites, perhaps most notably when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, a former Marine and member of Veterans for Peace, suffered a fractured skull when he was hit by a projectile apparently fired by the Oakland police. During Susie Cagle’s 15-hour detainment at two different jails, she witnessed mistreatment of arrested protesters by the Oakland police. She was charged with failure to leave the scene of a riot and was instructed not to return to the demonstrations until her December 5th hearing or she will be charged with a felony. She plans on returning to continue work on an illustrated history of Occupy Oakland.

Of course, not everyone is supportive of Occupy Wall Street. Frank Miller, once a vocal supporter of creator rights (he was among the first to join in an attempt by comics artists and writers to unionize in 1978) and unafraid to call out corporations on their greed and poor treatment of comics creators (Miller was a vocal supporter of Jack Kirby’s efforts to regain his original artwork from Marvel Comics). But after 9/11, he was was seemingly reborn as a devout supporter of the War on Terror above all other concerns. His most recent release, Holy Terror, is a wish-fulfillment of a Batman-esque superhero crushing the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and it has been met with criticisms of anti-Islamism. In response, Miller admitted that he knows “squat about Islam”, but this hasn’t stopped him from criticizing the entire religion and populace of the Middle East on terrorist extremism. So it isn’t entirely surprising that he posted to his website last week a rant against the Occupy Wall Street movement, stating that participants should instead enlist to help the War of Terror.

“Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.

Speaking of nostalgia, that “harm America” argument is the same one used to discourage Vietnam War protesters and other Woodstock-era demonstrations, including the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

For a response to Miller’s statement in comics form, see this special edition of Ty Templeton’s Bun Toons web-comic, which observes that “it was an oddly out-of-touch moment to tie the ‘War on Terror’ to a clichéd list of old school anti-hippie slurs” to a rather pointed caricature of Miller.

First Time Comic Convention Goer Reviews Comikaze Expo

The Comikaze Expo debuted at the Los Angeles Convention Center at the beginning of November. This brand new comic book convention joins a crowded field to get a major comic con in the city. Many have come and gone over the years. Will this be the one that sticks? Guest-blogger Cindy Marie Jenkins attended Comikaze and shares her thoughts.

Cozying up to Alex Leavitt's laptop

I truly went to this on a whim. A friend threw it out on Google+ and I thought it sounded like fun, and a low-key way to introduce myself to attending conventions. For various reasons in my storytelling world, I need to stay involved in the larger industry.

So I went expecting….what, exactly? The website gave detailed information about the panels and that was encouraging. I knew I would have to decide between some very interesting topics. Scanning through the guests and vendors, I found a lot of brand names or people that I knew and looked interesting. The Guests of Honor, though, left a weird taste in my mouth. I am new to the details of this industry, but I had no idea that the Nickelodeon show “All That” fell into geek culture.

Yeah, that’s because it doesn’t. They were the main attraction though. Stan Lee – very cool – and Elvira – a respectable mainstay, I’m guessing?  – also headlined. I can understand needing a more mainstream attraction like an “All That” Reunion except that, actually, I can’t. Again, I’m new to conventions, but in what alternate universe should Stan Lee be overshadowed by “All That” at a comics convention?

That aside, the event itself was fun. I didn’t know there was a program which is good because they apparently ran out of them in the first hour. I had printed the panels, but no map to the floor. That’s not a big deal; I could wander around the room to decent effect. However, at the entrance they only let people inside two at a time, which left a little excitement to be desired. Translation: way too orderly an entrance to rouse anticipation. It felt like we were being let into a museum.

Jane Espenson *swoon*

On the comics note, I noticed I’m more inclined to risk $1-10 for an issue rather than pick up a free one; most likely because I don’t want to seem like a swag free-loader. Also, cheaper trial issues assured I had enough money for a few of them, rather than blowing my whole budget on one new title to try. That feels more in the vibe of a convention, so new audience can experiment with what they read. I have already enjoyed many of the titles and webseries I found there since last weekend.

The two panels I attended were definitely the most interesting parts of the day. The first was run by Alex Leavitt from USC Annenberg on otaku and the role of anima, manga and otaku in Japanese culture. He braved through a largely visual presentation with no projector, thanks to the Expo simply not providing him one, according to Leavitt. We crowded closer to his laptop, which was actually quite a lovely setting, and we saw the visuals if not the video well enough. Poor young Leavitt also battled the consistent overwhelming cheering of the “All That” Reunion. Overall we got the gist of the topic; I do wish he’d delved deeper into the very interesting examples he gave. I learned what otaku means and have a better idea of how close their geek culture is to ours. We are the world. I would have liked more meat.

The next panel I attended was Character Studies: Geek Girls in Popular Culture, with Jane Espenson, Amy Berg, Cecil Castellucci, Sarah Watson, Sarah Kuhn, Jessica Mills and Stephanie Thorpe. Moderated by Amy Ratcliffe. (Here is a general conference pet peeve: why are panelists’ Twitter addresses not listed anywhere? I missed one of my favorite Twitter personalities, Black Nerd Comedy, because of no program/map, and wasn’t lucky enough to catch his tweets about the event*).

Back to the panel. I am now the biggest fan of Jane Espenson, but that doesn’t take much. She’s awesome and a role model for many of her fellow panelists. This panel was kept kind of upbeat and light, which wasn’t hard with six women incredibly happy with their lives and work. A very humorous moment came when the ASL Interpreter was asked what the sign for “D20” is. She made a motion like rolling a die, and then was careful to demonstrate the difference between that sign and one not quite as G-rated.

These guys are seriously my favorite from MAD magazine of yore

CosPlay fascinates me, but my only venture into it involved east coast renaissance faires so I could show off my sword. At Comikaze, I snapped a few shots while others posed, and had a hard time asking for anyone to pose just for me. The one character I did have the guts to ask was an absolutely stunning Witch King of Angmar; however, by the time I found my courage, his helmet was off so he can eat lunch with his son. I didn’t want to intrude on the Witch King’s lunch. I do wish I’d gotten that picture.

Since one of the biggest reasons I attended was to get a sense of the culture and be prompted to read or watch new stories, Comikaze Expo earns a rousing success. In no particular order, I discovered the League of Extraordinary Ladies, Reed Gunther, The 36, reMind, Shelf Life (had known about through Yuri Lowenthal & Tara Platt but prompted to watch after seeing writer on panel), Awkward Embraces (another I heard enough about but actually watched all of Season 1 yesterday), ran into Comediva again after an intro at the Broad Humor Film Festival (they win for best hook to get people to their booth), Jefbot, The League of S.T.E.A.M. (donated to their kickstarter for Season 2 but first time seeing them in person. They get the best carnival barker award), Americana: The Book Series, Elizabeth Watasin, Jody Houser, Eliza Frye, the Winner Twins (haven’t checked out yet but they self-describe as “identical twin teenage dyslexic scifi authors”), and Olivia Dantes.

A few cool combinations of art and social good, which is a very public crusade of mine: The Winner Twins tour the country with Motivate 2 Learn, “a nonprofit inspiring students to read, write, overcome obstacles and teach their creative writing method.” Princess Leah postcards were everywhere, asking for donations towards medical bills to help a young baby Leah suffering from a mysterious illness; lastly, the California Browncoats have fun fan memorabilia and artist-donated fan calendars that go to different charities. Check them out – support art – help a cause. Everyone wins!

Mandalorians vs. The Leage of S.T.E.A.M.

There were definitely first-year problems. I’m a novice to conventions but not to events or performance, and rather than dwelling on the criticisms I know they’ve received (thank you Facebook), I want to offer some solutions.

*Continue of pet peeve:
Help tweeting loudmouths out and reap the promotional benefits: put the event hashtag everywhere and encourage all speakers, vendors, etc, to post their Twitter addresses as a sign. Point everyone to your business and give them all the tools to help a vendor, and direct everyone following the hashtag to find vendors and artists of their choice. I mostly found out at least ten of my friends were there thanks to the #Comikaze hashtag, and although most intermediate Twitter users pick up on it, encourage its use with signs.

Overall, the flow felt adequate and kind of like an indoor swap meet. I do wonder why more like-minded vendors aren’t placed together. Is it a quandary over competition? I bet if I’d walked through all five steampunk vendors at once, I would have bought something. Ditto for independent comics section. Has this been tried at other conventions and discarded? The autograph area was packed together for sci-fi specific actors, but that left poor Claudia Wells (original Jennifer Parker in Back to the Future) all by her lonesome and way on the other side of the hall. I wasn’t looking for signatures myself (although “The Voice for The Archies” Ron Dante almost got me to buy something), but I can’t imagine the original girlfriend of Marty McFly means much by the time you pass the Lasik Eye Surgery booth, take a left at the guy selling all his Star Wars memorabilia, and finally get to hers.

These pumpkin sculptures were way more impressive when I thought they were real pumpkins

I will absolutely return next year, with a larger budget and more room in my schedule for panels. It’s looking good that many of the titles and series I’ve enjoyed since our introduction are keepers, so the artists get more fans. Multiple crafts vendors got my attention and money, but special artisan beauty goes to Sev’s Wood Crafts, “Where one good turn deserves another!” according to his card. I’m writing about scribes right now, and had a massively difficult time not buying half his stock instead of paying my student loans. The very happy purchase I did make was a dragon-shaped bookmark, created out of turkey vertebrae transformed into beads.

That, plus encouragement for female writers garnered during the Geek Girls panel, was well worth my time and budget. I am confident they’ll listen to the very vocal feedback to improve next year.

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Cindy Marie Jenkins admits her childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan. She works as a Storyteller and Director of Online Outreach for Social | Impact Consulting LLC. Current writing found at the Blue Dragon Scribe Shoppe and MYTHistories. @CindyMarieJ. She is a big fan of beer. CindyMarieJenkins.com