Sometimes even the best efforts fall sadly short, and this week the comics community lost a member recently rescued from its fringes an from cancer as police confirmed yesterday that Stephen Perry has been murdered.
A talent who brought his passion for classic adventure serials to both mainstream and indie comics of the ’80s and children’s animated TV series, Perry was born in 1954 and by the age of five had taken an interest in writing after discovering a 1923 Underwood Manual typewriter (a brand he’d continue to write on throughout his career). After gaining an early interest in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, Perry was introduced to comics via a schoolmate who gave him a copy of “Fantastic Four” #4. Making comics soon became his life’s ambition.
Perry attended college at Johnson State College in Johnson, VT in the early ’70s where he continued to write short science fiction tales for publication as well as his own stage plays. It was there that the writer met aspiring artist Steve Bissette, and the two became fast friends. After Perry helped convince Bissette to apply to transfer to the Joe Kubert School for Comic and Cartooning Art (in its inagural class, no less), the pair began crafting their own stories for the comics market first with 1976’s indie anthology “Abyss” holding their first professional work. The two creators continued to pitch to publishers together and separately, and Perry soon had an in at Marvel Comics where he wrote short stories for titles like “Epic Illustrated” and “Bizarre Adventures.”
By the early ’80s, Perry had sold a creator-owned series to Marvel’s Epic imprint: the Native American-themed sci-fi mashup “Timespirits” drawn by Tom Yeates. While the series never set the sales charts on fire, it was well received by readers and saw itself republished in graphic novel form in Europe. He also penned a variety of other comics including a brief revival of “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents” with Steve Ditko. Perry’s last original comics work was the jungle adventure “Salimba” drawn by Paul Chadwick for Blackthorn Comics.
Around this time, Perry was referred to animation legend Jules Bass through friend and EC Comics artist Al Williamson. Bass had just greenlit Ted Wolf’s idea for an adventure cartoon about alien catpeople. “Thundercats.” Perry was one of six writers anchoring the show’s initial episodes under the watch of “Little Orphan Annie” writer Len Starr. For the series, Perry created several characters including the big game hunter Safari Joe – an archetype he admitted to using in several of his series including “Timespirits.” Later, Perry contributed to the Rankin/Bass production of “Silverhawks” and penned Marvel Comics issues of comics based on both TV shows.
Success was short lived for the writer, who found his work drying up towards the end of the ’80s for various reasons. Perry took a job at a traveling carnival for a number of years, but as regular work failed to materialize, the writer ended up at a low point living in his car with his five-year-old son Leo before being diagnosed with bladder cancer last year. Through the efforts of Bissette, Perry received help from the HERO Initiative who covered his medical expenses and helped him get back on his feet.
The writer had appeared this year at MegaCon and was working on selling the rights to “Salimba” to About Comics publisher Nat Gertler for an eventual collected edition when two weeks ago he went missing alongside his two roommates. They have since been found and held under bond as Florida police confirmed yesterday that the remains found earlier this month.
Though he’s gone, Perry’s friends have continued to eulogize him online with Bissette penning a series of blog posts on their friendship and working relationship. “This communal effort, along with a harrowing near-death experience after a particularly grueling surgery a little over a month ago, awakened Steve to a new sense of self-worth and appetite for life that he hadn’t expressed in over two decades,” Bissette wrote of Perry’s last days. “God, I miss him.”
UPDATE: Jim McLauchlin of the HERO Initiative released the following statement to CBR News: “Steve was the kind of guy you certainly wanted to help. Despite his circumstances, he was charming to a fault, and very generous. He desperately wanted to give something back to Hero. I remember he got invited to a Star Trek convention in Florida the week after he had massive, invasive surgery to remove cancerous tumors. He wanted to go there, set up a table and stump for Hero. It took repeated efforts to talk him out of this. I essentially had to say, ‘Steve, don’t be a dumb-ass. You’ve just had freakin’ surgery. Stay home. Relax. Rehabilitate. You’re an idiot if you spend three days at this event eating convention center hot dogs after you’ve just been cut open.’ He finally agreed to stay home, but that’s just the kind of guy he was.”