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by Raine Szramski, now available.
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This past Thanksgiving weekend, while in front of the television, I caught myself getting a little giddy watching Santa arrive in both the Macy’s Parade and the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s always a special moment that, somehow, officially ushers in the Christmas season.
Santa Claus was the first hero that I ever idolized. This is probably true of almost any kid brought up in a culture that endorses his mythology. Santa has a lot in common with superheroes, a simple origin story, unique abilities, a specific costume, and an honorable mission. The only difference is that Santa is real…sorta.
Most kids know that their favorite superhero is just a character created for their enjoyment, but it takes a while to convince a kid that Santa might not be real. In fact, most of us adult types put a lot of effort into insuring that our children buy into the reality of the jolly old elf, in part, because it rekindles the joys we remember having in our own childhood and we want to make sure our children have the same, if not better, experience.
Santa gives us insight to the subject of accessibility which has been a recent topic for discussion about comic books and the characters found within. The overriding position being that most comic characters that are now decades old, some with seventy years of adventures offer no simple jumping-in point for new readers who may be intimidated by the tremendous burden of trivia laden continuity.
Comic characters over the years have bounced around alternate universes, infinite realities, and been subjected to aberrations instigated by time travel. Some story arcs are just a fresh approach by a new creative team with a different perspective of the character. Do all these alterations make the characters any less accessible?
Santa Claus or some variation of the character has been around for hundreds of years and has been the subject of many a cultural makeover effecting everything including his name, his costume and his adventures. Country to country the concept of Santa is similar even though the details may differ, he is a benevolent being who brings toys to all the boys and girls of the world on Christmas. Santa Claus is almost universally accessible.
Here in America the concept of Santa is most clearly defined by Clement C. Moore’s 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas better known today as T’was the Night Before Christmas. Santa is a jolly old elf dressed in a fur trimmed suit that drives a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer and he comes down the chimney to deliver toys while we sleep.
Many stories have added to the lure of Santa, establishing his home at the North Pole, his most famous reindeer, Rudolf, and adventures from battles with Martians to tussles with Mother Nature and her boys Heat Miser and Snow Miser.
Children even learn to accept that Santa has “helpers” that dress like him to find out what kids want for Christmas and those helpers come in all shapes sizes and colors.
The iconic superheroes, like Santa, all share the ability to be simply defined. For most of them their name says it all, combined with a simple colorful costume, there is no doubt what the character is about. The creators of the major comic heroes gave us classic origin stories that define the characters into perpetuity just as Moore did for Santa.
Those origin stories are the root that every other story featuring that hero derives from. Readers will always have accessibility provided the characters uphold the most basic canon established in the origin.
What makes good comics about superheroes work is the creator’s ability to generate a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. All heroes give us something that we want to believe in like truth, justice and the American way. We want to believe that good will always triumph over evil just as we want to know that, if we are good, Santa will always deliver. Our desire to believe in these qualities allows us to believe that a man can fly and so can those eight, tiny reindeer!
Making Comics Because I Want To
Another Thanksgiving is gaining on us and this year there seems to be less and less to be thankful for. The economy sucks, the world is in turmoil, and everyone is miserable. Boy, I can’t wait for Christmas! I think I’ll ask Santa for a “happy pill.”
I am generally an optimistic person and have often been accused of living in “Gerry World” by my family and friends for my unwillingness to be dragged down by life’s burdens. I am a firm believer that everything is relative. I have a hard time complaining about life in our country when I compare it to the standards of living in an economically devastated place like Darfur.
I remember a time when I was having a particularly bad day, the car had broken down and I was stranded in the middle of nowhere with my son who was getting very upset by the situation. I shared with him two fatherly bits of advice: “shit happens” and never say, “it can’t get any worse.”
Years later we look at that experience and laugh, both at how we managed to get through that micro-crisis in one piece and at how many times since we have needed to refer to those two particular life lessons.
My theory of relativity was tested when I read the recent web post Tragic Tale, a lengthy, nine-page, article that details the tragedy that has befallen legendary Marvel Comics writer Bill Mantlo whose most notable works were The Micronauts, Rom Spaceknight, Cloak and Dagger, and The Incredible Hulk along with a huge array of other titles. Mantlo was struck by a hit-and-run driver while rollerblading in New York in 1995. He has been left, brain damaged and stranded by the system in a nursing home, forgotten by the legion of fans that for many years found joy in his work.
Many people were shocked and devastated by the news which was delivered with an agenda to illustrate, through Mantlo’s experience, how the Health Insurance Industry and Federal Healthcare Reform does not work in America. The story was embellished a bit to accentuate the author’s point but none of that changes the fact that Bill Mantlo’s life has been ruined by a tragic accident and his existence has been reduced to a pale shadow of his former boisterous self.
Ladies and gentlemen, anyone who has ever enjoyed a Bill Mantlo comic, anyone who has ever worked with Bill Mantlo and anyone who has ever considered themselves a comic creator or enthusiast, please, this holiday season, please, remember that one of our own, a member of the comics family, needs us. Bill Mantlo needs to be remembered, not just for his contribution to comics but for still being human. Bill Mantlo’s body may be broken, his brain may be damaged, but he is still a person with rights to dignity and a need to be loved and respected.
Like many people who call themselves comic creators, I have a need to work a full time job to pay the bills and provide health benefits for my family while I pursue my interests here at CO2 Comics. I have worked in a long term healthcare facility for a number of years as an Activity Professional. It is my job to ensure that people like Bill Mantlo enjoy whatever quality of life they are capable of. I put smiles on their faces and help to make their existence as bearable as possible. I do this by respecting them for who they are, today. Though I do not know Bill personally and have never had the opportunity to meet him, I know from my own experience what kind of life he is currenrtly living.
Not everyone is as lucky as Bill Mantlo to have had the opportunity to entertain an adoring audience around the world with his writing. While we can all be sad that Bill may never write again or enjoy the life he once had we can all give back to him a sample of the joy that his work gave to us simply by sending him a greeting card this holiday season or writing him a short note of friendship or a thank you. This may sound trite but in a healthcare facility something as simple as mail is a big deal.
Mail is required by law to be delivered immediately to residents. For someone like Bill, who may not have a lot of personal interaction with staff, an extra visit a day by a warm bodied person delivering mail has a big impact. It becomes an even bigger deal when someone, wether it be staff or a family member takes the time to help him read his mail. I personally enjoy delivering mail to my residents because I know that it is another opportunity for me to impact their day and get to know them better.
I have been in contact with Bill’s brother, Michael Mantlo, and he is excited about the idea of Bill getting mail sent to him at the healthcare facility. Michael stresses that there be NO requests for autographs, correspondence, or art from Bill since it would be difficult and frustrating for him to respond to them, also he asks to please send nothing legal, financial or solicitous. A simple short note of appreciation and well wishes will go a long way!
Please DO NOT send money, clothes, gifts, original art or anything of value as they may be stolen, damaged or destroyed. Photocopies of fan art or comic covers would be fine and encouraged since Bill seems to respond very positively to images of comics, especially ones that he worked on.
Please send any mail to the following address:
c/o Queens Nassau Nursing Home
520 Beach 19th Street
Far Rockaway, NY 11691
It is important to note that although the Tragic Tale article painted a devastating picture of Bill’s existence at the nursing home, his brother wrote me, “the facility is not really as bleak as the writer of that article made it out to be. Bill’s room is pretty basic, but that is by both necessity, and choice. Bill has “trashed” his room (sometimes severely) many times, and wants no part of a radio, TV or phone. I had provided all of those to him, at one time or another, and all have either been destroyed by him in a fit of rage, or he has demanded that they be removed. After 19 years, I have learned that it is far better to acquiesce to Bill’s demands than to enrage him. No one benefits from his angry explosions, least of all Bill.”
Michael has also sent me a few recent pictures of Bill that show him smiling and happily enjoying the company of family members who had come to visit.
Nobody likes nursing homes, they can be a depressing place that people envision you go to to die. The reality is that nursing homes are where people that cannot take care of themselves or whose family are not adequately equipped to care for them properly go to live. The facility is their home and they are protected by the same rights that we all have. Some facilities are better than others but all are made better when people step up to the plate and show the residents that someone cares for them.
My wish for Bill Mantlo this holiday season is that he has a reason to smile everyday and that he knows that he is not forgotten. So please, send him mail, if you are religious, pray for him and maybe, just maybe, Bill will experience a miracle and at least feel a little bit more human everyday.
Thanks, Bill, for the happiness you gave me as a young comic reader. The Micronauts was one of my favorite comic books!
Making Comics Because I Want To
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