At Comic-Con International in San Diego last month, writer J. Michael Straczynski announced his decision to leave the world of comics and focus his talents in another medium. After spending almost two decades in comics, writing titles ranging from “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Thor” to “Rising Stars” and “Superman: Earth One,” Straczynski’s announcement surprised fans. In a piece published by Newsarama, the writer explained his decision to change careers and detailed a health problem that secretly plagued much of his output over the last decade.
Straczynski first mentions that he has shifted careers many times before, going from a reporter to a radio correspondent to a journalist before giving up news and switching to being a writer. He then wrote for animated series like “The Real Ghostbusters” before jumping to live-action, where he wrote for “Murder, She Wrote” and “Babylon 5.” He then began a career as a comic writer, with his own series “Rising Stars” and a lengthy run on “Amazing Spider-Man.”
Along the way, he started to fall with more regularity and noticed that his eyes were getting tired faster than normal. After seeking help, he was diagnosed with early-onset cataracts as well as Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy, a genetic disorder that kills the cornea cells that wick away moisture and leaves the eye cloudy with a “texture closer to that of a leather wallet.”
“I hadn’t realized how bad it had gotten because the process is slow and incremental,” wrote Straczynski. “Without any way to compare it to normal vision, I just accepted what I saw as normal, ascribing any problems to fatigue or eye-strain.”
The combination of cataracts and Fuchs made treating either one of the problems difficult. “Given the huge complications involved in a full corneal transplant, I opted to wait,” and Straczysnki lived with incredibly blurry vision for eight years. This dramatically slowed his production of material.
“Where I had once been able to turn out three or four comics per month in addition to whatever else I was writing, now I struggled to write even one comic per month, and sometimes failed to get even that much done. Every time I thought I could manage it, I’d get a ways in then just couldn’t keep up. Some who followed my work assumed that the slowdown was due to a sloppy work ethic, or getting bored and waddling off. But the truth was that I simply couldn’t see the computer screen.”
During this time, the writer notes that he only told a few people of his condition, including his agent, then Marvel and DC editors-in-chief Joe Quesada and Dan DiDio.
“Then a new, experimental procedure came along: DMEK, short for Descemet’s stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty. A DMEK corneal transplant only replaced the two-cell-thick layer affected by the Fuchs, and though there were risks, it was possible to do both that procedure and the cataract lens replacement at the same time. DMEK was so new that anyone who received the procedure was automatically part of a study group to determine long-term results.” Straczynski traveled to Portland, Oregon where he received surgery on both eyes. “Seven days after the first surgery, I was seeing 20/25. The next surgery had similar results, with no side-effects or complications. As I write these words, I’m seeing better than I’ve seen in my entire life: 20/25 in both eyes. I can read license plates, see the leaves on trees…every day I’m astonished by the new-found beauty of the world.”
Now able to see again, Straczynski began planning his next projects, but he was hit with a familiar desire to stretch out and try something new — novels and plays — rather than return to comics.
“That was the moment I knew that the comics phase of my work was over,” wrote Straczynski. “As was the case when I left journalism, there is no animosity here, no stomping-my-little-foot, no I’ll show you! It just was, that’s all. I could try to fight it, but I knew from experience that such attempts never end well. So over the following months I turned down new assignments, finished several outstanding assignments, and began wrapping up the Joe’s Comics titles (‘Sidekick’ was next-to-last to be finished, and the scripts of the last two issues of ‘Dream Police’ are done with #11 coming out this month).”
Straczynski then made the announcement during last month’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. “From here on out the time I would normally spend writing comics for companies eager to publish them will be spent writing novels that publishers may never buy, and plays that may never get produced,” writes Straczynski. “I will be starting over from scratch, from absolute zero.”
You can read J. Michael Straczynski’s entire statement at Newsarama.