Flying With My Father
After more than two decades writing comics, I recently had something happen for the first time. I saw my father on a page of comic art. I saw my father as a boy, I saw my father as a teenager, as a young man, as an old man, all drawn by the great Rick Leonardi.
It was a slightly disorienting experience, having my father staring back at me from pages I’d written. Disorienting, and utterly exhilarating.
I wrote the story for a comic called “8 Percent,” a charity book that benefits pancreatic cancer research. A full 100% of the cover price, plus all digital proceeds, go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The story is about my father, who died of pancreatic cancer 18 years ago.
My dad grew up in the Great Depression — I was a late-in-life baby for him and my mother — and survived duty in World War II as a tail gunner in a B-24J bomber in the Pacific theater. He flew a full slate of 36 missions, including a few close calls that are recounted in the comic. But he couldn’t survive pancreatic cancer, which took him in a process of ugly, slow wasting.
“8 Percent” is the brainchild of Allen Cordrey, whom I met when he came by my table at the Cleveland Comic Con last year. Allen generously donated a number of items, including pieces autographed by Stan Lee and Neal Adams, to the “Comics for Tots” auctions I run every holiday season to raise funds for Toys for Tots. When Allen asked if I might be willing to contribute a story to a project benefitting pancreatic cancer research, he had no way of knowing that my father had perished from the disease. Allen lost his own father to pancreatic cancer earlier this year. I said yes, of course.
The central framework for most of the stories in “8 Percent” is a world in which 92% of the population has terminal cancer. The stories have a superhero bent, and creative teams include Tom DeFalco and Richard P. Clark; Vito Delsante and David Benarski; and Allen Cordrey and Cory Hamscher. Artists Darryl Banks (my co-conspirator on “Green Lantern”) and Alan Kupperberg contributed pin-ups, and J.M. DeMatteis wrote a foreword about losing his mother to cancer. You can read J.M.’s beautiful, poignant piece on his website.
My 10-page “Dreams of Flying,” though, is a bit different, because I wanted to tell the real-life story of my father. I asked Allen if he’d be okay with me going “off model” from the established parameters; he told me to tell the story that was important to me. So that’s what I did.
I reached out to Rick Leonardi, of “X-Men” and “Cloak and Dagger” and “Spider-Man 2099” fame. I’ve worked with Rick a number of times, including “Green Lantern vs. Aliens” and the Darth Vader vs. Darth Maul story in “Star Wars Tales,” as well as the current “Korak the Killer” weekly strip at the Edgar Rice Burroughs site. Rick falls into the “great artist, great guy” category, and I’m happy to call him a friend. In addition to being one of the best, most unique illustrators in the business, Rick is also an aviation buff. I knew there were other artists who could pull off the story, but none who would could match Rick’s passion and devotion to authenticity.
Rick immediately agreed to draw the story, calling it a “sacred duty.” I sent him all the reference I could put my hands on, digging through boxes of old photos, bound volumes of mission logs, as well as online photos of the plane my father’s crew flew. Certainly I’m not an unbiased observer, but Rick’s pages are some of my favorites of anything I’ve ever written — graceful, expressive, beautifully composed.
I mentioned the story to my friend Andy Lanning, a fan of Rick’s art as well as a damn fine inker (not to mention an excellent writer). Andy also signed on immediately. My go-to letterer, Troy Peteri, agreed to take on the story, and Allen offered up Ross Hughes as colorist. Ross worked closely with Rick, establishing a palette for the story, getting every detail just right, and producing a beautiful job. Darryl Banks did a pin-up of my father that accompanies the story. One of the great pleasures in comics is the opportunity to work with your friends, and I owe everybody involved in the story a huge debt of gratitude.
Having the pages arrive in my inbox gave me a sense of connection… or maybe re-connection is a more apt description… with my father. I’m proud of the story because of the people I worked with. I’m proud of the story because it’s going to raise money to fight an insidious disease. But most of all, I’m proud of my father, of the kind of man he was. I’m so glad this story gives me a chance to share him with you.
The official release of “8 Percent” will be at next weekend’s Dallas Comic Con. I’ll be signing the book at booth A220 on Friday and Saturday (I won’t be at the show on Sunday). The book will also be available at Indy Pop Con in Indianapolis on May 30-June 1, and possibly other conventions through the year. You can also order the book directly at Allen Cordrey’s Vanbreed Studios site
The issue features covers by Richard P. Clark, Chris Ehnot and an 8-bit cover by Matthew Waite. More information on the “8 Percent” project, including regular updates, can be found at the Vanbreed Studios website. Thanks for any support you can give us.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it’s pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes “Witchblade” and the graphic novel series “Ravine” for Top Cow, “The Protectors” for Athlitacomics, his creator-owned title, “Shinku,” for Image, and Sunday-style strips “The Mucker” and “Korak” for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.