Empty chairs

Empty chairs 150 150 Paul Levitz

With the recent run of deaths of comic creators from the generation who worked from the ’50s onward, it occurs to me that depth of emotional reactions from those of us who came into comics may use some explanation. Like so many out there, we had grown up on the work of folks like Steve Ditko and Russ Heath, who were consistent presences in our comics spinner racks every week or two. But not to diminish the grief of those of you who only knew these folks through their work (and getting to know Steve, for example, was a hell of a challenge), but these were members of a VERY small community that my generation was admitted to in the late ’60s and early ’70s. My best estimate is that there was only enough work going around in 1972 when I started for about 200 full time jobs or solid freelance existences in American comics, and although there were always a number of folks who weren’t full timers, most comics were done by people for whom this was the primary source of income. Most of the folks (90% perhaps) were in the NY metro area in the days before FedEx (much less digital), and besides working together, shared studio spaces, apartments, poker games, volleyball and softball in Central Park, dinners and movie nights.
Think about how small a community of 200 is…maybe a graduating class in suburban high school? While not everyone hung out together (Marie Severin never sketched me, to my great regret, Russ and I had sort of a nodding acquaintance since he was one of the few who had departed New York by then, and I didn’t do a eulogy posting for Gary Friedrich because we didn’t even meet until years after he left comics), but everyone knew everyone, and had both creative and personal feelings for each other. And most of us were together for much more than the four years of high school. So when one of us goes, it’s not just the loss of their magic from our reading pleasure, it’s the reaper standing by the desk that might have been next to ours in class.
I was extraordinarily lucky as a young man to get to work with some of comics’ first generation, and to become friends with many people who were a decade or more older than I am. But it feels awfully weird to look around that community in my head and count the empty chairs, and I don’t think I’m the only one feeling that way.
If you “only” miss these folks for their work, thanks for your sympathy and for your support whether from buying their work years ago or donating to Hero Initiative. But if members of the community get a bit weepy, maybe this will help you understand why.