Greg Pak

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.

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 6/24

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?
Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this week that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.
Disclaimer: While it may seem like it, I do not live in the future. For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1 – $19.99
By Frank Miller and Jim Lee
240 pages; published by DC Comics; available at Amazon.com

The talked-about hit Batman story by modern master Frank Miller (BATMAN: YEAR ONE, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) and artists extraordinaire Jim Lee and Scott Williams (BATMAN, SUPERMAN) is now available in softcover format! Lee and Miller join forces to tell a new version of Dick Grayson’s origin in a high-octane tale that unfolds with guest appearances by Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Black Canary and more! This volume collects issues #1-9 of the explosive series! Plus a Jim Lee sketchbook and a variant cover gallery.

This is either a train wreck or a satire that actually got away with using the source material it is satirizing. Or it’s Frank Miller either completely losing it or giving Batman fans the biggest middle finger ever. Or some combination therein. Very tempting.

Goats: Infinite Typewriters – $14.00
By Jonathan Rosenberg
176 pages; published by Del Rey; available on Amazon.com

It’s not as if one decides to wake up one day, argue existentialism with livestock, and fly a spaceship to the center of the galaxy to meet, greet –and eat – God. It just sort of happens. At least it does in the world ofGoats, the cult-hit webcomic wherein a clutch of brave if baffled barflies (including humans, chickens, and a cyborg goldfish) hit the interdimensional bricks to save the multiverse from certain doom kicked off by a cosmic computer glitch. You can’t make this stuff up–unless you’re one of the monkeys tapping on infinite typewriters who controls all reality. You’ll see…

To sample this web-comic, check out Goats.com (nice score on the domain name there, Mr. Rosenberg). It’s been running since December 12, 2003. Weird silliness. Comics does it good.

Low Moon – $24.99
By Jason
216 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

The acclaimed graphic novelist Jason returns with his most eagerly awaited book yet, thanks to the inclusion of the title story, the world’s first (and likely last) chess western, originally serialized in 2008 in the New York Times Sunday Magazine “Funny Pages” section.

This 216-page hardcover book features five yarns — all brand new with the exception of the aforementioned “Low Moon,” which is collected into book form for the first time.

The new stories lead off with “Emily Says Hello,” a typically deadpan Jason tale of murder, revenge and sexual domination. Then, the wordless “&” tells two tales at once: one about a skinny guy trying to steal enough money to save his ill mother, and the other about a fat guy murderously trying to woo his true love. The reason we follow these two parallel stories becomes obvious only on the very last page, in Jason’s inimitable genre-mashing style.

“Early Film Noir” can best be described as The Postman Always Rings Twice meets Groundhog Day. But starring cavemen. And finally, “You Are Here” features alien kidnappings, space travel, and the pain and confusion of family ties, culminating in an enigmatic finale that rivals Jason’s greatest twists.

Funny, poignant, and wry, Low Moon shows one of the world’s most acclaimed graphic novelists at the absolute peak of his powers.

Don’t let the use of anthropomorphics fool you into thinking this is some kind of funny animals goof for kiddies. Jason is sly and brilliant. Highly recommended.

Outlaw Territory Volume 1 – $19.99
By various
240 pages; published by Image Comics; available at Amazon.com

Outlaw Territory is a collection of stories from a rougher and grittier time in America. Tales of the old west from some of the best and brightest writers in the industry, lavishly illustrated by amazing talent both new and experienced. This book is sure to appeal to fans of such television and film as Deadwood and 3:10 To Yuma, as well as the work of No Country For Old Men author Cormac McCarthy.

Western comics used to be very popular and there used to be a lot of them. Here’s are a bunch of modern takes by a whole host of talented creators: Greg Pak, Joe Kelly, Khoi Pham, Dean Motter, Joshua Ortega, Steven Grant, William Simpson, Ivan Brandon, Andy MacDonald, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Max Fiumara, Johnny Timmons and Michael Woods. And check out that cover by Greg Ruth. Here’s a 5-page preview.