There's a cliché that a person is not truly dead so long as they're remembered. In my glass-half-empty way I add that it means that nearly everyone dies because few people remember anyone past their own grandparents or great grandparents, a handful of celebrities and historical figures notwithstanding.
Well, I recently got the glass-half-full version of one of my favorite people. The great Sheldon Mayer. Not just one of my favorite people in comic book history, but one of my favorite people. I wrote an article on my web site calling him the most important person in comics, but once we became friends enough for me to feel comfortable calling him every so often, he became a mentor, as well.
I was just beginning my writing career and he gave me advice, but mostly taught me using the Socratic method of asking me questions so I could figure things out for myself and realize that I already knew how to write and what makes a good story; I just didn't know that I already knew. He had me use my ability to analyze other people's work on my own. They were lessons that lasted forever. I was being trained by one of the best editors in comic book history.
His granddaughter 'Chelle (pronounced “Shelly”), is on facebook and she was enjoying me telling personal Shelly Mayer stories on fb. We became facebook friends and kept saying we'd have to meet up. Stuff kept happening to prevent that until one day there was an exhibit of Irwin Hasen's work near-by and we met at last. I looked at her photos on facebook so I'd recognize her and recognized her instantly.
We hung out most of the evening and for two hours afterward, sitting in a place near the subway until it closed. I told Sheldon Mayer stories to her and she told stories about her grandfather to me. It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. We also talked about other people in the comics industry and how they impacted or were impacted by Sheldon Mayer.
She showed me her latest sketchbook and asked me what I thought he would say and I had to admit we mostly talked writing (and history), not art, so I couldn't answer that question very well other than his oft-repeated comment about using the fewest lines possible . For those few hours and afterward, including now as I write this, Sheldon Mayer was wonderfully alive.
I don't mean it in a mystical we-could-feel-his-presence way, but in a “a person is not truly dead so long as they're remembered” way. I miss him now as much as I did when he died in 1992 and I couldn't go to the funeral because of the vagaries of car rental rules (“No, you can't pick up the car a day early”).
A regret concerning Shelly came back to me, too. When I was writing for Defiant in 1994, Jim Shooter's comic book company, he was talking about his legacy tree, that he was one of the few people then working in comics that was trained by three of the all-time great editors: Mort Weisinger, Julie Schwartz and Stan Lee. I almost had Sheldon Mayer in my legacy tree, beyond being my teacher. I was offered an assignment at DC Comics, but didn't take it because I didn't like the editor's attitude toward the art form. I was in my early 20s. I complained about it to Shelly and any of my friends who'd listen, and Shelly never urged me to do the assignment anyway ('Chelle thinks he probably said some-thing one way or the other, but only once). But if I had turned in the script, I could have showed him my work and had his input and I'd have been the last writer to have the great Sheldon Mayer editing my scripts! What an opportunity I wasted because of anger at that editor.
As I write this, I continue to remember my phone calls with him, his appearance at my convention Fireball in 1978 (my entire staff fell in love with him, especially the female staffers, and he saved the Gardner Fox Guest of Honor speech), and of course his amazing comics. He was one of the best editors in the history of the art form and, while Watchmen is my favorite short series, he wrote AND drew my all-time favorite long series, Sugar and Spike, which explored culture through the eyes of two people just learning EVERYTHING for the first time. He observed the strange things people do without thinking, in ways similar to the way George Carlin did. A stranger-in-a-strange-land series done with great observation, intelligence, humor, imagination and delight.
Which describes my conversations with Sheldon Mayer. I miss him.
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