Monday, May 24, 2010

Stephen Perry, RIP.

I don't know exactly where this will go, but I know I have to write something, and the words are coming even harder than usual. I sincerely hope this is premature, and if that turns out to be the case I'll gladly take it down. It's gonna ramble, too, so please forgive.

In 2003, I wrote a longish blog post extolling the virtues of the short-lived mid-1980's Epic Comics series Timespirits. At some point a few months later, I had become part of a collective comics blog called "Four Color Hell" (I had completely forgotten about that blog!), and re-posted the Timespirits piece there, where it came to the attention somehow of the series' co-creator and scripter, Stephen Perry. He sent me an email on April 5, 2004:

To the 4 color hell guy: thanks for the kind words. I should like very much to bring back Timespirits, first as a reprint for the generation that has come since I left comics, and then as the continuing series I had always envisioned. The Timespirits graphic novel "Doot Lives" never was published, and the script remains in a drawer, along with many other adventures of Cusick. I've tried to contact Tom (Yeates) but this is only the third week I have entered into the world of the internet -- surprised anyone remembers. After whoring on Thundercats and Silverhawks, and losing a major motion picture deal, I bummed and, while writing all these years, have published nothing since 1991.

Well, of course, I was excited to hear from him like that, so I replied, and we exchanged a couple of emails back and forth afterwards. Mostly just small talk type stuff, a little about the series and so on. I didn't hear from him again until February of 2006, when out of the blue he emailed me to let me know that things were looking good for Timespirits to be collected and published again, and to ask me if I'd mention it here, which I did. Another couple of emails went back and forth, and that was it. About a year later, after seeing no TS collection, I asked him how it was coming along, and he told me that they had had issues with the printing, among other things, and didn't know if it would happen or not. Disappointing, but that stuff happens. After that, I heard little else from him save for an occasional forwarding of some political-type email or somesuch, no more than a couple...and thought nothing of it until I saw Steve Bissette's urgent update and appeal in his behalf with its dismaying news. I wanted to try and do something, anything, and eventually I sent along a small amount, nowhere near what I would like to have sent, thinking that something was better than nothing. After the first contribution I made, he emailed me expressing gratitude and filling me in on what had happened since the last time we exchanged emails, and his tale was horrifying. Shocking. I was heartsick for days after reading it. It was worse than Bissette had let on in his post. I briefly considered doing some sort of illustration, perhaps to auction on eBay and raise some money for him, but alas as so often is the case the plan came to naught. While I didn't have a lot of money to contribute, I did remember that the Hero Initiative was around to look out for comics creators who had fallen down on their luck, and I emailed Gail Simone, who I knew had worked with them before and might be able to tell me how I could get the HI involved. After I had sent her one of Perry's emails so she could read for herself how bad it was, she contacted them herself and got Perry a little assistance. May she be blessed for getting involved. I was very happy to hear this and hoped that perhaps things might be looking up for him and his little boy...but that turned out to not be the case. After that, I continued to get the occasional email from Steve, updating me on his status and occasionally asking for money; I did send a little more, just a drop in the bucket. Eventually, it looked like he was going to get the medical treatment he needed, and he sounded optimistic and ready to write again. But, the surgery and its aftermath went horribly wrong, and his life devolved into what surely sounded like a living hell, which culminated in the terrible news reported over the weekend. His last email, with the subject line of "Farewell" (the preceding one was named "Death"), was so depressing I couldn't reply. I didn't know what to say or do, and I regret not trying to come up with something now. Who knows- he might not have been able to have read it anyway, but at least I would have tried.

I don't want to come across as self-serving. Perry and I were only acquaintances, and Internet acquaintances at that. We all have them here, some of us more than others- people we interact with frequently and in a friendly manner in chat rooms and Twitter and whatnot, but have never met, and most likely never will. My admiration for his work began and ended with Timespirits, a comics work which moved me more that I can reasonably explain (and I know that Thomas Yeates probably had a lot to do with that as well). I'll come out right up front and admit that while I did read, and promptly forgot, a lot of his other Marvel stories in publications like Bizarre Adventures and Epic Illustrated, I freely ignored other work like the Thundercats and Silverhawks stuff, based on cartoons my son watched and not especially interesting to me. Figured he was paying the bills by doing that; little did I know back then. But there was just something about the 'Spirits comic that grabbed my imagination and emotion like few others have. All this said, I was delighted to have known Perry as well as I did, and was honored to help in the insignificant way that I did. I always hoped that I'd be able to buy new comics that he had scripted, and perhaps someday attend a convention in which he would be a guest. After this past weekend, though, this is unlikely to ever happen. Until the grisly remains are identified as his, there's always a slim chance he'll be found or will turn up...but since the police are already treating this as a homicide case, I'd say that's very unlikely. I worry about his young son going forward; from his emails, (and I want to be diplomatic and not make insinuations I can't prove or back up) I'm not sure that his situation is the best for him right now. I hope that concerned parties keep an eye on this. I also hope that Stephen, if he is indeed gone, is in a better place now, free from pain, where he can write to his heart's content. I am, and was, proud to have been his "Internet friend".

Two more things: first, when I sent a money order to him last year, I also enclosed the original to the quick pencil sketch I did of the Timespirits, link above, since it looked like I was never going to do it up right. In return, after complimenting the drawing (he said "Not Yeates, for sure, but not too awful"- high praise to me!), he asked if I'd be willing to draw a 2-3 page TS story if hr wrote one for me. I told him that I didn't want to make promises I couldn't keep, but I would try. For the first time anywhere, here is the story he wrote (and I've cleaned up the spelling and such just a bit):

Tentative Title: The Arrow Heard Round The World

Cusick is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean at a thermal vent collect a weird sea animal that lives in the extreme water heated by magma. He needs this critter to finish a potion that will save the planet ...

We go into flashback panels here to tell what has happened, to tell the bulk of the story:
Doot is practicing with a bow and arrow, shooting at a target of some sort. (George Bush photo? Cheny? Osama? Something funny.) He has shot a lot of arrows and is reaching for another one in a quiver.
Cusick is appearing, to shout: NOT THAT ONE!
But he is too late, Doot has let the arrow fly.

The arrow will not stop at the target. In fact ... it WILL NOT STOP AT ALL ...FOR ANYTHING!
(This arrow is, in effect, an idea stolen from the first Men in Black movie. In MiB Will Smith is brought to HQ for the first time and he knocks that little ball from it's mooring, and the little ball, over the next twenty seconds, careens around HQ smashing through everything and bouncing all around until Tommy Lee Jones stops it. That thing, Jones explained in the movie, caused the Eastern Seaboard blackout in 1979.)

Our arrow is the same concept. Once released ... it will not stop, smashing through everything -- targets, walls, cars, bridges, buildings, mountains ... as Cusick and Doot chase it, Cusick trying to throw a potion on it that will stop it -- which he does and the potion does not work, at which point he remembers he needed one final ingredient for the potion -- which is a little critter found only at the thermal vents at the bottom of the pacific.

We've wrapped to the thermal vent by now, and the potion is complete, but Cusick and Doot still can't catch the arrow -- it has gone right through the center of the earth and Cusick picks up Doot and the chase at the point of its emerging.

It should cause tons more damage before Cusick and Doot finally are just about to catch it as it heads toward some famous theater or arena or something like Madison Square Garden or the Hollywood Bowl or something ... a name is on the marquee.
Cusick manages to throw the potion on the arrow just before it zooms into the theater ...
to hit ...
in the head.
The last panel is, yes, Steve Martin, with his banjo and the stupid "arrow through the head" as he performs, with Doot and Cusick in the wings.

That's it.


How cool is that, anyway? I laughed out loud when I read the revelation at the end. I'm not sure exactly who owns the copyright to these characters, so I'll just say they're © Thomas Yeates and let it go at that. Perhaps this falls under the Creative Commons thing (which I've ever understood all that well). I tried to be true to my word, but except for a couple of hastily scribbled attempts at laying out the opening scene, I did not live up to my promise, sorry to say.

Finally, I want to post some Timespirits pages that came to mind, months ago, when I first heard of Perry's plight, and echo somewhat the hopes of those (this may be presumptive of me, but I hope anyway) who knew him and loved him. In these pages, we see the aftermath of their final battle with the Spirit Eater on a mountain in Tibet; an unfortunate result is the death of Doot, Cusick's young companion and fellow Timespirit. Something must be done with all the souls the Eater captured, including Doot's, and the High Lama knows what to do. Apologies if I spoil. Click to view them bigger, of course.

The last page, below, of not only this issue but (as it turned out) the series as a whole, and one of the absolute best endings I've ever read in a comics series, never fails to move me, and I find it hard to express exactly why. Each character featured in the previous seven issues- Three Birds and the Bloodless Ghebe, Princess Pey and Tubal Carrin, the human/dinosaur spaceship captain and her prehistoric ancestor, which Doot encountered on a trip to the past (long story); Thorneypaws and her manager (no Hendrix, though), the High Lama and the Yeti Spirit Eater, all come out and take a bow. Then, they turn (and it's implied that the applause is louder and louder) back to the curtain, expecting someone else (again, implied, Doot and Cusick and perhaps the Talking Fish, last seen in Cusick's frying pan) to come out and take their turn...but no one comes. It's left for Three Birds, Doot's unfortunate brother from the very first issue, to have the final word: a shrug. I thought this was absolutely brilliant.

Goodbye, Mr. Perry, if such this is. I hope you have found peace.

For more: Steve Bissette, part one and part two. Also, Nat Gertler, Rich Johnston, and Mark Evanier.

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