Karl Kesel is well-regarded by fans and pros alike for his wide and varied career in comics, as an artist and as a writer on books like “Final Night,” “Daredevil,” “Superboy” and “Harley Quinn.”
Outside of comics, Kesel has been equally busy. Three months ago, Kesel and his wife Myrna welcomed a new addition to their family. Baby boy Isaac, or Zack, was born May 10 and adopted by Karl and Myrna through Open Adoption and Family Services in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. Although Zack is currently happy and healthy, he was born a drug-affected baby. Zack’s birth mother was addicted to heroin when she found out she was pregnant, leading her to wean herself off the drug by switching to the less harmful methadone. Unfortunately, Zack was born with methadone in his system and immediately following his birth had to go through six weeks of detox in the hospital.
Zack is home now with Karl and Myrna following the success of the six week detoxification, but a six week stay in the hospital isn’t inexpensive, even for an infant. In order to pay for his son’s medical bills, Karl Kesel has earmarked his entire collection of Silver Age Marvel Comics to be sold through Blastoff Comics, with the proceeds going to help pay for his new son’s medical bills.
Kesel took time out from being a new parent to speak with CBR News about the new addition to his family, the circumstances of Isaac’s birth and adoption and how the creator is going about selling comics from the past in order to help give his son a future.
CBR News: Karl, first, congratulations on the adoption — you and your wife must be thrilled to expand your family.
Karl Kesel: I have to say, it’s really great. The best day of my life was when I met my wife, but getting Isaac is the second best day of my life.
What are you and your wife enjoying most so far about being a new parent?
I just really enjoy him! He’s a really enjoyable kid. He does have his tantrums and moments, but generally, he’s very happy. I get to make up songs about his different stuffed animals and he seems to tolerate that, at least. I will admit, my wife Myrna is a saint. She’s taking most of the sleepless nights on herself, but that’s going to have to change because next week he’ll be three months old and her maternity leave is over.
Well, that’ll certainly bring some new challenges for you.
Oh, yeah. [Laughs] I will say, obviously, we’re thrilled at being parents, that’s why we adopted, but it’s a lot more fun and satisfying than I expected.
What’s more challenging, writing “Superman” or raising a child?
Well, I’ve had a kid for three months. [Laughs] It’s hard for me to say. I’m sure there’s a lot of challenge in raising a kid, especially when you get to 14 and he knows more than I do — or at least thinks he does. I remember those days when I knew more than my parents.
Tell us a bit about the situation you and your family are in and how you came to the decision to sell your substantial Silver Age collection.
We looked into adoption and we were using an organization called Open Adoption and Family Services located here in Portland, Oregon. That means you have an ongoing relationship with the mother and father — if he’s involved — and in Isaac’s case, both are involved. One of the things [the organization does] is ask about your comfort levels to certain things. You can be very specific about the type of child you’re open to. You can say, “I only want boys.” There’s a rumor among the waiting parents that there was actually a waiting parent who was only interested in twins, which do show up every so often. They also ask you about race and one of the questions has to do with what level you’re comfortable with drug exposure. They even break it down.
Myrna and I, through going to meetings and seminars that Open Adoption put together, became very comfortable with most drug exposure except alcohol, which is extremely damaging to children. Because of our age — I’m 53 — we did not feel we were in a position to take on a child that might need care through his adult life. But a lot of the other drugs, like heroin or meth, the chances of serious damage are actually relatively small and I would say mostly things that can be dealt with — cross your fingers, knock on wood, there’s no guarantee, obviously — but we felt the percentages were very much in our favor. We were very open to a drug-affected baby, except where alcohol was concerned. So, we got a call about this child who’s mother had been using heroin and as soon as she found out she was pregnant, she switched over to methadone, which is the best decision she could make at the time. Going cold turkey could have let to a miscarriage with the cramps and stuff from withdrawal.
Isaac was born, sadly addicted to methadone, and had to go through withdrawal, which is a long and I’m sure not fun process. It took about six weeks for him to be weaned all the way off the methadone, and some of those weeks were very tough. He was very inconsolable; we couldn’t soothe him, clearly he was agitated. He was on a morphine treatment during that time period, but each day, they cut that back just a little bit more and so his body had to pick up the slack and clean himself out a little more. It took about six weeks, but now he’s just a kid. He’s a very happy kid and seems to have no major effects from the drugs. There might be some learning disabilities later on. The doctors have told us we might not really know until he enters school. We might find he has a little trouble with math, with reading or something like that. Right now, he seems to be very, very normal. We’re extremely happy. He brings a lot of joy into our life.
The only thing is, after a six week hospital stay, it’s really expensive because they oversee the administration of that morphine. It’s really expensive, so we are selling my Silver Age Marvel Comics collection to help pay, I’m selling my past to gain a new future.
That must be such a positive thing for you; to be able to have these comics that give your son a new future.
Yes. We don’t have a lot of money in the bank, like a lot of cartoonists, but we do have that to draw from. So, that’s what we’re doing. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’ll just solve all those problems. [Laughs]
Were Isaac’s symptoms something you and your wife had been able to fully prepare for before he was born?
Well, we did not know we had been chosen until he was born. We were actually called and told we’d been picked and that he had been born that morning. We met him when he was one day old and signed papers and gained custody on the first day.
In an ideal world, the way it works is, theoretically, we’re chosen by the birth mother or birth parents a few months before the birth so that you can develop a relationship and prepare yourself. Our preparation with Isaac was all in the abstract. We certainly knew what might happen with a drug-affected baby, but it was all really abstract. We hadn’t been saying, “Oh, we have a drug-affected baby coming in to our house, we have to get ready for it.” The thing that shocked me — and it’s just my own naivete — I had heard about a six week withdrawal period from methadone, but I assumed that would happen at home. It never occurred to me that it would have to happen in under medically-supervised conditions.
Looking back, like I said, I was totally naive. They’re not going to give you a jar of morphine and send you home.
Do you recall what your thoughts and reactions were when you were initially informed to the extent of Isaac’s condition?
Because of the [Hippocratic Oath], we could not be told what the exact situation was until we signed the papers and became his legal guardians. Until those papers were signed, there was a hope he would actually be coming home right away. We were actually told we would be bringing him home the day we signed the papers. Once we signed the papers, then the doctors could be, I guess you could say, a little more honest about his situation. They eased us into it. From our research, we knew about the six-week period, but then we were told he would be coming home with us the very first day because he wasn’t showing any signs [of withdrawal]. Well, of course he wasn’t showing any signs, because at that point he still had methadone in his system.
They said, “We want to keep him for 48 hours to monitor him,” and my wife and I stayed with him 24 hours a day for those first 48 hours. You could see he was becoming agitated, less consolable. They have a way of grading this — I’m not sure what to watch for, but the nurses certainly knew what to watch for. When they get to a certain numeric grade, then they start administering the morphine. So, even though we knew about that six week withdrawal period, we went into it thinking, “Oh! He’s okay.” And we were eased into realizing it would be a six week wait. It all happened so fast, I have to say it is kind of a blur and you’re stunned by what’s being thrown at you. We just kept having to re-calibrate.
As somebody who loves comics as much as you do, is there a particular comic, issue or storyline you’re particularly looking forward to introducing your son to when he gets older?
There are so many. I will say, by the way, that while I’m taking my share of Zack duty, looking after my son and giving my wife some time away from that, I’ve actually already begun to read him comics. He is, I think surprisingly, fascinated by the pictures or the colors or whatever. The first comic I read him was “Memorial,” the IDW miniseries that just came out that my good friend Rich Ellis drew. I hadn’t finished the miniseries and I wanted to finish it! [Laughs] So I said, “Zack, why don’t I read you the last three issues of ‘Memorial?’], and he was fascinated by it. It was a really good comic, so I think that was a good introduction.
Of course, I’m really looking forward to reading him some “Terry and the Pirates,” because I’m a huge “Terry and the Pirates” fan. Also, the “Fantastic Four” stuff, which I think is just phenomenal — especially the Lee/Kirby era. I just think there’s a lot of stuff I was just fascinated with as a kid, so I have to assume Zack will also be.
So, Zack is his nickname. How did you arrive at his name?
My wife Myrna was very interested, for some reason, in a short, snappy name. She was very interested in the name Jack originally, but we actually had some friends who just adopted and named their son Jacob. I just thought that was a little close. I liked the name Jack too, because it was kind of a nod to Kirby without being “Kirby.” But because of our friends, I didn’t think that was the right way to go. As we were thinking of names, Myrna constantly was attracted to Max or Jack or very short, snappy names like that. We had a little name book we were going through and when we got to Isaac, it listed Zack as a nickname. Once again, Myrna was very interested in that and she really responded to it.
We liked Isaac because Biblically, Isaac is the son given to Abraham and Sarah when they’re old parents — and Myrna and I aren’t the youngest parents. So we thought it was very appropriate.
Beyond purchasing part of your SIlver Age collection, is there anything fans and readers can do to help show their support?
I hadn’t really thought of that. I just assumed anybody who wanted to help could find a comic they liked and buy it. I don’t know. If someone really wanted to, they could go to my website. There is a donate button — but I would really recommend that they look at the comics and get something for their effort as my small way of saying, “Thank You.”
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
He’s a really cute kid. Really, really cute. [Laughs]
The Karl Kesel Collection is currently on sale at Blastoff Comics.