Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mike Wieringo




This week has been one of the most difficult of my life. My friend, Mike Wieringo died suddenly on Sunday night at the age of 44.

I've been trying to write this for three days, but have been having difficulty putting the words down, so forgive me if this rambles...

Mike and I were friends for 13 years, both having broken into DC Comics the same year. Just before I was hired to ink Steel, I was in New York, showing then DC assistant editor Ruben Diaz my inking samples, looking for work. During the first few minutes I was there, Ruben asked me if I wanted to see something really cool, and of course, I said yes. He proceeded to open a flat file drawer containing Mike's first several pages of The Flash #50, his very first monthly work for DC! Ruben told me the work had just come in that day, and he was so excited by the art that he decided to show some guy he didn't even know, who was only there looking for work. I was extremely fortunate, and immediately floored by what I saw. They were beautiful pages, and at that moment, I knew I had to ink Mike's work someday...

Fast forward a year or so, to 1994's San Diego Comic-Con. I had been inking Steel for DC for nearly a year, and attended the Con for the first time. I knew Mike was going to be there, and I made it a point to seek him out to tell him how much I admired his work. I was surprised to find this gray-haired guy with a young face and a great smile, sitting with his cohorts from Artamus Studios, a North Carolina based comics studio. Jeff Parker, Chuck Wojtkiewicz, Craig Gilmore, Casey Jones, Chris Kemple and Mike were all together at a table along the far end of the exhibition hall, and to a man, they were all great guys who made me feel so welcome in their midst, Mike especially. He invited me to come sit behind the table with him and talk, and to park my heavy portfolio. We spent a lot of time together that weekend, and it never ceased to amaze me how such a talented guy could be so humble. I had told him about seeing those first Flash pages, and knowing I had to meet him, and he was just embarrassed by the praise. Mike was like that. He was never satisfied with his own work, although it was always of the most professional quality, and more important, always fun looking, no matter what he was feeling.

Back then, I spoke with Mike about once a week or so, by phone, and we always spoke for no less than an hour. I don't remember any of what we talked about then, but we always had a good time, and I always looked forward to the next convention, where we could meet up again and hang out. I don't recall if the next time he and I saw each other was at a New York show, or at San Diego again, but I recall going to an art dealer, looking to trade some of my Steel pages for some original comics art, and I was very excited to find a page and a cover by Mike available. Well, I made that trade, and excitedly ran over to find my pal Mike to show him. He cringed when I showed him my prizes, and asked me why I'd wasted my work trading for those. That was Mike though. Never liked his own efforts. I told him they were great, and I just wanted to own some of his work. The cover was beautiful, of course, but I told him that the reason I got the interior page was because on it, Mike had drawn a character that to me, looked like him... and I thought that was neat. Mike said he didn't even realize he'd done that, but we had a laugh about it. Here's a detail of that page, showing the comics version of "'Ringo.":



I asked him if he would sign the cover for me, so he did, but he seemed surprised that I wanted him to make it out to me, rather than just sign his name. I told him I wasn't planning to ever sell it, and it would mean more to me to do it that way, so he did. The cover is below. You'll note that this was before Mike started signing his work with his now-familiar "'Ringo" signature.


When DC Comics did their Zero Hour event, Mike and I were still talking by phone pretty regularly. I was (and still am) a big Flash fan, and I admired the double page spread Mike drew for that issue. I went so far as to tell him that if he ever wanted to part with it, I'd love to buy it from him. Well, the next time we saw each other at a show (probably San Diego, as usual), Mike just gave it to me. He wouldn't take anything for it, despite my protests. I know he could have sold that spread for a lot of money, but that wasn't what Mike was about. Again, if it made someone else happy, Mike was determined to do it. Below is a scan of the spread.


Over the years we spoke less frequently by phone, but continued our friendship via email, and by seeing each other periodically at shows. I remember when Mike's cat Butch died, I called him to offer my sympathy, as our cat Tucker had died not too long before. As anyone who knew Mike knows, he was a huge animal lover, and Butch's death affected him greatly. We wound up talking for a couple of hours, and it was probably the most profound conversation he and I ever had. Mike and I shared a lot of thoughts that day, and I'll always treasure that memory, sad as it was.

Mike was always giving of his time and efforts, and because of this, I was fortunate to finally work with him on a few different projects. The first was for a custom comic, of all things. My pal John Gallagher, was doing a comic book for a shopping mall chain's kids club, and wanted to have Mike do the cover, so we asked, and Mike came through. He happened to be between assignments at the time, so he was happy to do it, even though it wasn't anything big-name. He always thought it was cool to be able to do something for kids, and thought it would be fun for us to work on it together. So, after ten years of friendship, that was finally my first opportunity to ink Mike's work. Here's the cover, which will soon be framed and hanging in my son's room:


When Hurricane Katrina hit the south in August of 2005 it was just before the Baltimore Comic-Con, and con organizer Marc Nathan, John Gallagher, and I decided we wanted to do something to help in the relief efforts. So John and I put together a sketchbook to sell at the show, with profits going to charity, and John called Mike to ask him if he'd be willing to do the cover of the book for us. Mike said he'd already been thinking of an image all day, and within the hour, John had a sketch from Mike in his email, and after another 45 minutes, he had a fully inked and colored piece. Just another altruistic 'Ringo gesture. Here's that cover, as Mike sent it to us:


A few months later, when John and I were doing our 2006 Buzzboy Free Comic Book Day comic, John again asked Mike if he would do the cover, and as usual, Mike came through. Mike routinely did covers for indy comics he liked, and would never take payment for them. If you read all the 'Ringo tributes online, you'll find virtually every small press creator who asked Mike to do a cover got one, and Mike did them all for free. Between his paying assignments. He felt it was his way of supporting the independent comics community. Below is a scan of Mike's pencils and then the finished inked version of the Buzzboy cover. You'll see that Mike's work was so perfect, it really only needed to be traced, and so that's essentially what I did. It was the last time I was lucky enough to work with Mike. The poster of this also hangs framed in my son's room.



I mentioned above all of the tributes that people have posted online, many from folks who were far closer to Mike than I was. But then, Mike made everyone feel like a close friend. I'd urge anyone to seek all of those tributes out, and take the time to read about what a wonderful person Mike Wieringo was. You can start here with the Newsarama announcement of Mike's death. Be sure to look at the 20 pages of follow up posts, from almost 500 people. Then, please go read my good friend Todd Dezago's blog. Mike was his best friend, and I know Todd would appreciate the support. Finally, make sure to look at Mike's own blog, where you'll find some of the most beautiful sketches, and thoughtful insights around.

It's incredible how many lives Mike touched, and I'm certain he'd be shocked to see the outpouring for him, being the innately humble guy he was. The services are this Friday, and my wife and I will be driving down to North Carolina to say one last goodbye, and to be with those that knew and loved Mike, and remember our friend.

We lost a wonderful human being this week, and I'll miss my friend. We all will.

Sincerely,
Rich Faber
August 15, 2007

5 comments:

Brian said...

Thank you so much for sharing your memories and wonderful stories of Mike. I'm sure they will mean a great deal to both his family and his "brothers" Todd and Craig.

Tim said...

Of the myriad wonderful tributes, this is one that really floored me. I met Mike a few times, knew of his selflessness and kindnesses, but did not know he did most of those indy covers for nothing. As for the two-page Flash spread, wow. My condolences to you and my thanks for sharing.

James said...

Rich-

I worked at the little restaurant a few doors down from the Artamus studio back in the 90s. For my birthday one year, Mike gave me a page from one of his Flash comics. As I've been grieving with others who knew him, I came across your blog and the images you have up, and I'm pretty sure that I have the page before yours in the Flash #87. The Christmas wreath is there, but the portrait that sneaks onto my page is of Richard Case.

I mention this as a tribute to Mike's generosity and to how much influence one good person can have in the world. I still can't believe he's gone.

Bobby Timony said...

I never met Mike, but his work has had a profound influence on the choices I make as an artist. He always seemed to me, to be as good an artist as I always wanted to be. I wish I could have met him, so I could embarrass him with my gushing praise.

He was one of my favorites.

Rich Faber said...

Brian, Tim, James, and Bobby,

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, and for posting. I appreciate all the comments.

Mike is never far from my thoughts, and it's nice to read so many people were moved by him and his art. What a tribute to the wonderful person Mike was.

Tim, I'd love to see that page sometime. Do you have a scan?

Best,
Rich