I'm one of the lucky ones. I had the great opportunity to work with Mike day after day for nearly 10 years, to see him grow into the great artist he became, and to become the best of friends.
He was always so encouraging, always giving other artists a boost, or giving the kind of great constructive criticism that made you want to make it work. Because he loved the art of comics so much, and really appreciated when the efforts paid off. Here's a sample email from Mike, after I started working at Red Storm but was still finishing comics commitments by night, and we were like ships passing at the studio, checking out what we'd done during the other's shift...
I checked out the page you did yesterday--
Man, it's really awesome...! I know you already had the layout done, but
did you trace that entire thing up in the brief time you were here
yesterday? If so, that's really impressive. I love all the added texture
and lighting you added from the simple layout you had.
I'm starting to really enjoy -- (although I still don't LOVE the work I'm
producing I don't HATE it like a lot of the stuff I've done in past)--
working really quickly. Not laboring over things and drawing them in a
quick and gestural manner seems to help bring out stuff that I never did
That's what I see in what you're doing too. Is it because we're older and
wiser...? Or we just don't give as much of a shit anymore...?
We used to talk about stuff like this all the time. Talked at length about artists work we'd just discovered who embodied the energy and comprehension that really made a comics page sing.
I was lucky too, to have had the opportunity to ink Mike on his run of Sensational Spidey, and to meet and befriend Todd along the way. Mike made inking a pure joy, every line made for a reason, full of energy and character. To capture such personality with so few lines is deceptively tough, but Mike made it seem so easy. I think largely due to the fact that he was so empathetic, so compassionate, and had such a great feeling for the dramatic.
His compassion for animals is well known, by any that read his blog. His love and dedication to his cats. But also to all animals. The reason he chose to stop eating meat, was more a decision about why no animal should suffer for him to sustain himself, than it was about health reasons. In the last couple of years at Artamus, one of the other tenants would sometimes bring her dog Moe upstairs. This quickly became a highlight to our day, when we heard the tippy-tap of dog feet on wood flooring, and we'd yell out "Moe-bus!" as he stuck his head in our door. Mike always had a bag of treats for him, and he'd hang out with us for part of the day. And when my dog Nugget died, you'd have thought it was Mike's dog that died that day.
I know its a cliche, and I've heard many people say this this past week, but he was like a brother to me. We had our own short-hand language, catch phrases we'd repeat ad infinitum that just got funnier with each repetition (at least to us it did). We would listen to books on tape together, our stories, and sure enough there'd be another expression that would become part of our repertoire. If we were working on Sunday we'd listen to the Panthers games, and I'm glad he finally made it down to Charlotte to see one live. I watched Super Bowl 38 with him at his house, thinking it would be just another boring Super Bowl except for the commercials, and wound up watching the most exciting one as the Panthers and Patriots bounced back and forth in the 2nd half before Vinatiri ended our dreams of a Carolina win.
Its amazing how many brothers Mike had in this way, and its a true testament to him.
Mike was there to see my kids when they were a few days old, to see them grow up and was always happy to see and joke around with them.
He was the one that called me at the studio the morning of 9/11, and we watched the towers fall on my little b/w tv, filled with disbelief, anger and shock.
Which is how I've felt most of this past week. Still can't process that he's gone. Angry because I want to understand how it could happen, but it doesn't change the fact that he's not just a phone call or drive down the road away.
We're all gonna miss you, Mike.