Not long ago I mentioned that if a particular creator didn’t go bat crap crazy like Frank Miller, he should always be given the benefit of the doubt creatively. That got me thinking about the various level of crazy in comics. There is everything from the normal Human frailties like depression, so common in creative types to rabid nutbaggyness that only a special few endure. Or are these people just misunderstood and disliked?
The classic comics equivalent to Miller’s increasingly extreme views was Al Capp. Best known for the strip Lil’ Abner, Capp’s talent was matched only by his increasingly conservative and even hateful politics as he grew older. He was universally loved as a cartoonist and nearly as disliked as a human being. Deliberate clashes with people he viewed as liberal or too far left, sexual scandals (including criminal charges in Wisconsin), run ins with talk show hosts and even a confrontation with John Lennon and Yoko Ono captured on film from the “bed in for peace” ensured that anyone that knew more than just his professional work would find him hard to like. In today’s media saturated environment it is unlikely he would have maintained his general popularity. I am regularly reminded of him every time I drive in Arkansas. In the largely nonexistent town of Marble Falls, stands the crumbling remains of Dogpatch USA, a failed theme park of his popular characters home. Was he crazy? I can’t really say, but he was clearly someone who was extreme and anti-social in many ways. Extreme viewpoints are often branded as crazy to discount them, but Capp seemed to relish his status as a mean old man for much of his life. Today his work is forgotten by all but serious admirers of comics and cartooning, which is unfortunate because he was a very talented man, just not a very nice one either.
On a sadder end of the spectrum was Wally Wood. One of the finest illustrators in the medium, Wood suffered health issues that contributed to depression and alcoholism. While never diagnosed with much of anything officially, many who knew him considered him a deeply troubled man. Wood killed himself in 1981 after kidney failure and a stroke had left him severely limited. One of the most admired names in comics and illustration, there are few in the industry that cannot claim some kind of influence by Wood on their work.
General public perception weighs heavily in most creators life stories. I doubt Frank Miller is anything more than poorly understood. Like Capp before him, Miller’s opinions are not always popular, but they don’t make him crazy. It is when the work is affected that fans look more harshly on the creator. Holy Terror was just awful. In every way it was just Miller venting fear and frustration. This is nothing new in comics today since 9-11, but many creators have managed to do it so much better that Miller has begun to creep people out.
In a current context there is Rob Liefeld. His recent tweets as he ran out the doors of DC in a huff are certainly adding fuel to the fire that there is something very off with Rob. While you can debate the level of talent, I think anyone would have assumed he would always find work in comics based solely on his name, but the fervor with which he has burned bridges lately make many doubt his motives. As of this writing he has tweeted that he is retired from comics. For now sure, but he will be back, I’m sure. The reasons for the departure are what have left many scratching their heads.
While there are many that question the sanity of Dave Sim, I have to say I am not one of them. I question his give a damn. I really don’t think he cares that much about what the world thinks of him and his lifestyle choices. The religious stance he has taken in the last few years and his perceived misogynistic opinions have made him something of an outcast. I think he prefers the solitude. Based on his writings and interviews he has given, I think he would be fine having only the bare minimum contact with the rest of the world as long as he can still create comics and commune with his God. Nothing wrong with that, if that is what fills your life and makes you content. He is one that I met years ago at a signing. His “rock star” attitude was not a nice thing. I imagine he is a nicer and better person the way he is now.
Thanks to his interest in the “expanding earth” theory, Neal Adams is often branded as crazy, which bugs me. Since when are contrary opinions and beliefs crazy? At what point will we start considering anyone that believes in invisible sky Gods (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) crazy? Having spoken to Mr. Adams at shows, he is in my opinion, no more or less crazy than any creative person I have met. 500 years ago, people who believed the Earth to be round were crazy. While I don’t share Mr. Adams’ opinion on the formation of the Earth, and doubt that science will prove him correct, I don’t think calling someone crazy for believing in a theory is any better than calling them crazy for believing in a God. His work in support of creators’ rights has earned him some enemies in the field, but I doubt anyone serious can fault him as a creator or a good person.
Then there is Steve Ditko. Is wanting to be left alone and not in the public eye crazy? Again as with Adams, I think the political and social views he once spoke of have condemned him to a degree. Since he has not been a public figure and avoided interviews for the last 40+ years, Ditko has added to the mystery surrounding himself and added fuel to the fires of speculation.
I have even heard people call Howard Chaykin crazy. I have begun to believe that just not following the mainstream is what gets many of these creators the looney label. I have never met Chaykin, but I would love to get that chance. There are few creators in the industry today as vibrant and creative, and I bet he is just a hoot to talk to.
It is amazing what one overblown story can do to a creator’s reputation as a person. Mike Grell has never really been able to escape the gun on the table incident from his days doing books at First comics. The story has been so over reported and so miss-represented that many seem afraid of him at cons. This is the view that seemed to be in the line I was standing in at a con a couple of years ago, waiting for him to sign a book. While it was only a small group, can it really be just an isolated opinion? Having spoken to him, he is just a guy. He likes or liked guns. That is really all anyone should take from the story. He was a very nice fellow and not all that scary. Quite a small guy compared to what I had expected too.
There is also someone who has developed quite an odd reputation since his death. William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, had an interesting outlook and an even more interesting home life. He lived with his wife AND his mistress and the children by each. Crazy? Well, who knows, but it is interesting to me how he is spoken of almost entirely in the context of his marriage now, rather than his professional work.
I’m sure there are some I am missing. If you think of any, speak up! It might be fun to start a little debate here.