One Fan's Opinion: Issue #82

Fri, August 17th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

Savage Dragon & Mighty Man sketch by Wieringo.
Can you believe it? Mike Wieringo just passed away.

How is that even possible? It just doesn't make sense. Other comic book creators that passed away, I could understand - they were old or feeble or abused themselves by smoking or drinking or aiming small firearms at themselves, but Mike?

Mike was a healthy guy - Mike was a vegetarian, Mike was physically active, Mike was a non-drinker, a non-smoker. He was the kind of guy insurance companies would drool over - a perfect candidate for a long and healthy life. They'd anticipate collecting premiums for decades with no fear of having to pay out. And yet - miraculously - bafflingly - Mike Wieringo passed away.

Wow.

I got the news from Mike's brother Matt. He'd sent a cryptic e-mail, which included a phone number and when I called I got the news.

I was pretty taken back. Shocked even.

I'd been talking to Mike about him writing and drawing a short story for an anthology Bruce Timm and I were putting together. Mike was going to dust off one of his childhood creations and write and draw an eight-page adventure. I'd talked to him at some length about doing an "Art of Ringo" book, I thought Matt might have been recruited by Mike to help put the pieces of that together - I certainly was not prepared to hear that Mike had a heart attack and had passed away.

Damn.

A sampling of "Flash" covers by 'Ringo, which included an opportunity to play homage to one of the great covers of all time.

Mike was a great guy - an enthusiastic guy - an optimistic guy - and a curious guy. And I don't mean "curious" as in "odd," but rather "hungry to learn." Mike was an intense fellow in his own wide-eyed way. When you talked to Mike he gave you his full attention and he was genuinely interested in what you had to say and he asked you questions and valued your input. And it wasn't that I was his mentor and he was the student or anything - I think he was that way with everybody. I think Mike was a person that wanted to take in life and learn and grow not just as an artist, but also as a creator and human being. He was trying to sort it all out and was all too eager to hear what other people's take on life was.

Mike was a generous guy. Mike drew covers to books that he liked and wanted nothing for his efforts. He drew them because he wanted to help out and show his support. Mike did a dandy cover for "Invincible." He did another for "Lions, Tigers and Bears." Mike was a big "Invincible" fan. He

just loved that book. He was a big "Savage Dragon" fan as well and he'd ask me the kinds of questions that only a person who was intimately familiar with the book would ask. Mike was a comic book fan.

And Mike was a hell of an artist. He drew a great Spider-Man, a powerful Superman and he made the Fantastic Four come to life.

These four "Fantastic Four" covers by Mike Wieringo created one long, single image of the team and is a favorite cover set amongst his fans.
I didn't know Mike that well. We'd talk at shows and occasionally e-mail back and forth. Mike was an extremely active participant in the forums over at www.imagecomics.com and he'd pop into numerous threads to chitchat about this thing or that. Mike had a very gentle way about him. He'd always put a person at ease. He was very humble and respectful and pretty much everything you'd want from a comic book creator. It's hard to imagine anybody not liking Mike.

Mike was born, as the story goes, on June 24, 1963 in Italy and he was raised in Lynchburg, Virginia. Mike drew his own comics as a kid, creating a number of superheroes and writing and drawing their adventures in a series of unpublished mini-masterpieces. Years later, on his blog he'd wax nostalgic about the characters he'd created and he'd often mention how he wished to have done more with them as an adult the way I did with my childhood creation the Savage Dragon.

Mike went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, and graduated with a degree in Communication Arts and Design.

Mike broke into comics as a penciller in 1991. A couple years later he was drawing "The Flash" for DC Comics, working with writer Mark Waid. Mike co-created Bart Allen, a.k.a. Impulse, with Waid, who proved to be a popular addition to the Flash's cast. So popular, in fact, that he was rewarded with his own ongoing title.

It was around that time that I first met Mike. By that point Image Comics was up and running and Mike was angling to draw an issue of a book I was doing called "Vanguard." Mike's stuff at that point wasn't as strong as it would become and it took some serious convincing on his part to get me to agree to give him a shot, but by that point Marvel and DC were knocking like madmen at his door and "Vanguard" wasn't faring as well as I would have liked. In the end Mike went elsewhere, but I printed a drawing he'd done of Vanguard in that book's final issue to give readers a glimpse of what might have been.

Mike seemed like a kid, but he was only a few months younger than I was. In terms of comics I'd been at it for quite a bit longer than he had - I'd broken in when I was 19, Mike was 28 when he landed his first paying gig.

His youthful exuberance would stay with him until the end.

Mike signed his work "'Ringo." He drew a short run on "Robin" at DC following his run on the Flash and a miniseries at Marvel featuring Rogue of the X-Men. Mike became the regular artist on the "Sensational Spider-Man" at Marvel, teamed with writer Todd DeZago.

And then came "Tellos."

Mike liked the characters at Marvel and DC, make no mistake - but he loved doing creator-owned stuff. Mike wanted to create. Mike had a passion for spinning his own yarns and it showed. Teamed once more with DeZago the two gave the world their epic fantasy series "Tellos."

"Tellos" was a tale of pirates and talking tigers and danger and innocence. It was a stunningly gorgeous coming-of-age adventure set in a magical realm filled with flying ships, beautiful maidens and breathtaking vistas. It was his most personal work of his career and his passion for it was infectious. But fantasy is no easy sell in the ever-competitive world of comic books and despite a strong and loyal following, Mike and Todd had to throw in the towel after too few issues.

Mike returned to DC Comics for a stint on "The Adventures of Superman," teamed with writer Joe Casey. Mike returned to Marvel to work on the "Fantastic Four," reunited with "Flash" scribe, Mark Waid. So well-received was their run that the threat of their run ending prematurely prompted a letter-writing campaign that forced the company to reconsider. At the time Mike was ready to move on, but the outpouring of affection from his adoring readers made him feel obligated to stick with the book a while longer.

Mike penciled the "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" after that. Mike had a natural feel for Spider-Man and the web-slinger took on a new life in his hands. Mike's work never felt forced. He seemed to draw everything equally well, with casual ease. He was a natural storyteller and an accomplished draftsman. Mike drew a number of other small projects as well.

All the while Mike was biding his time for his next creative venture - a return to doing what he did best - creating characters of his own to breathe life into.

The "Tellos Colossal" hardcover was to be both a reminder of what he had created and a taste of what was to come. Mike had many more tales to tell and he eagerly waited for the day when his exclusive contract at Marvel was over, so that he could go back to telling his own, more personal stories. Mike and I talked often about creating comics. He wanted, more than anything, to tell his own stories. He wanted to create his own worlds and our lives are that much poorer for his abrupt departure from ours.

Mike Wieringo died of a heart attack at his home in Durham, North Carolina, on August 12, 2007. He was 44 years old. He was survived by parents Cecil and Shirley Dean Wieringo, and brother, Matt.

Mike was a great guy, a terrific talent, and a good friend. I didn't know him that well - not really - we'd shared a few meals, engaged in a few conversations, traded quips on the message board and talked about tomorrow. I didn't know him that well and yet taken altogether it feels like I did. He was a constant part of my life since our first contact back in 1993. I'm going to miss him a lot and all of us will miss what might have been - the many exciting stories he would have created had he lived and will remain forever untold due to his passing.

Damn it.

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