Advances in medical science and increases in general health knowledge have seen the oldest living generation live full, healthy lives right into their nineties. These fine folk have endured some tremendous upheavals in their lives, but have soldiered on through, and a large amount are still incredibly productive members of society.
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing WW2 veterans who took part in bombing raids over Europe, and was amazed at how hale and hearty these men were. Despite being well into their nineties, they were still full of sharp insights and strong handshakes, and rattled off vastly entertaining stories of bailing out of flaming planes at 30,000 feet and hiding from the Gestapo in barn lofts, surprised that anybody would be really interested in their tales.
After a comic career steeped in creativity, it is heartening to see the likes of Joe Kubert still producing work. Some of the storytelling in the recent Tor miniseries he did was a little clumsy to the modern eye, with unnecessary captions and a fairly pedestrian plot that ended abruptly, but his art still carries the vigour and life that has been the hallmark of Kubert's long career. The last phase in his career has seen Kubert strip back his art to the bare minimum and while his storytelling can still get a little meandering, his line is as strong as ever, pulling in the eye with his scratchy simplicity. The Sergent Rock series in Wednesday Comics was marvellous in its giant, bold strokes, but books like his recent look at a pivotal moment in the Vietnam war are raw and powerful.
And by God, at least Will Eisner was at it to the end. The Protocols of Zion didn't really work, but at least the old fella was stretching his skills.
It’s so sad to see so many of these bright and vivacious personalities pass away, but artists and writers and editors and letterers and secretaries that were there when the medium was born have now left behind an awesome body of work, and can leave this life knowing they left their mark.
But while we've become used to the creators of comics golden age slipping away quietly, usually with a fair look at their mighty accomplishments and a cute (and often moving) anecdote from the likes of Mark Evanier, it still hurts to lose those from the next generation. Creators like Steve Gerber and Dave Cockrum were almost perfect symbols of the seventies age of reinvention and reinvigoration. Even without working together, Gerber's wordy creepiness lives in the same glorious genre ghetto as Cockrum's science-fiction wet dreams. Steve could make you feel tremendously sorry for a muck monster with no brain, Dave could make you believe the Starjammers really were a galactic legend.
We've lost both in recent years, and the comics world has become a tiny bit less interesting for this loss. Both were still producing some fine work in their twilight years, and were also getting to that wonderful age where you can say what you like, because you don't really give a damn what anybody thinks anymore. The cruel hand of time has taken away any future stories these gentlemen may have given us, both off the page and on.
But even though every death is a tragedy, a loss of somebody still in their prime can be heartbreaking. In the last couple of years, several artists, including Mike Wieringo, Mike Turner, Seth Fisher and the previously honoured Johnny Hinkleton have all been lost far too soon. Wieringo built up a solid amount of work with his groovy super-heroics and was gone at 44 - a real shock. Wieringo was somebody who was always on the cusp of something truly remarkable. He certainly managed to keep sone good shit going, and left behind some beautiful comics, but his last work was some of his very best. He was getting better all the time and there is a real tragedy in the fact that he never got to take his talent to its ultimate level.
Michael Turner’s unique approach to anatomy and painful posing didn’t receive as much critical love as Wieringo’s work, but he obviously found an audience who loved his work. Judging by the mournful eulogies that greeted his death in 2008, Turner faced his end with grace, dignity and humour, and that’s far more important that the length of Supergirl’s ribcage.
The death of Seth Fisher – who tumbled to his doom from the roof of a club in Osaka – was another real tragedy, because he was a truly unique talent. While there are plenty of up and coming artists willing to emulate Turner’s success by following in his footsteps, Fisher was the type of idiosyncratic artist who carved out his own piece of comic culture that nobody could ever fully occupy again. Like Wieringo, Fisher had done a number of extremely worthy projects and was really primed to do something truly career defining.
All gone now. All that potential, all that life and vigour, gone and the world really is not quite as good without them, The latest Indiana Jones movie had more than a few dodgy moments, but it also had one stone-cold classic line when Jim Broadbent points out that they’re reached the age where “life stops giving us things and starts taking them away”, a single ray of truth hiding amongst the big explosions and flailing fists of fury.
We will see more of these wonderful talents taken over the coming years and tragedy isn’t confined to the old. Unique perspectives on the world will flare and die, and while many will live to a happy and content old age, others will be lost, just as they get going.
The world goes on, and new talent comes through with its own take on everything, but that never makes the pain of what’s been lost any easier.