Baltimore Comic-Con XTRA: Mike Wieringo Tribute

A group of Mike Wieringo's friends gathered last Saturday afternoon at Baltimore Comic-Con to share memories of the late artist. Illustrator Cully Hamner ("Blue Beetle"), writer Mark Waid ("The Flash", "Fantastic Four"), writer Todd DeZago ("Tellos", "Sensational Spider-Man") writer/artist Scott Kurtz ("PVP") and Marvel editor Tom Brevoort sat alongside a portrait of Wieringo, who was just 44-years old when he died of heart failure on August 12.

Fans in attendance learned not just about Wieringo and his life, but also about his best friends; the ones telling stories about past adventures, inside jokes and snippets of industry gossip. Todd DeZago explained that the panel had cried much since then, but they wanted to share their experiences and stories. "Mike was a wonderfully generous person with a lot of beautiful and wonderful ideas," DeZago said. "He didn't think his work was half as good as it was and we would beat him in the head over it."

DeZago, who said Wieringo was his best friend, told the crowd that Wieringo was a vegetarian who worked out every day. The panelists found some levity in the irony. "When I die," Mark Waid said, "I expect to have a cupcake in one hand and a vodka tonic in the other, facedown in a hooker."

"I'll be lucky to get out of this con alive," Scott Kurtz said. "Mine will be the expected death."

The panelists shared how they all met Wieringo. Kurtz said he met Wieringo during one of his first convention experiences as a professional, and that Wieringo knew of and was enthusiastic about his "PVP" project. Mark Waid was instrumental in Wieringo getting his first work on "The Flash." Cully Hamner got in the business at about the same time as 'Ringo, and explained that he was about 22 when he met the late artist and was just about to get his first professional work when "this big, grey-haired friendly looking guy" came to him for a portfolio review --Hamner's first.  Hamner said he opened his portfolio, closed it and handed it back to him. "I said 'what are you coming to me for?'" Hamner recalled. "His work was better than mine." The two exchanged business cards and not long afterwards Hamner received his first fan letter-- from Mike Wieringo. "Mike was the only person I ever knew that I could spend two hours on the phone with; just making each other laugh."

Later, Hamner recalled, "We would hang around for a couple of days and drive over to Charlotte, NC and we'd get into an 'SNL' or Jerky Boys bit, something that would just get us. Then, for the whole weekend, we would just drive it into the ground!"

"He was someone I could be myself with," Kurtz agreed.

DeZago explained that he'd met Wieringo through Mark Waid back in the 1990s. The "Tellos" co-creator actually grew up with fellow writer Scott Lobdell, who Mark worked with at that time on "X-Men."  At a Marvel retreat, the company gave toy disc shooters out to its talent. "I knew how obnoxious Scott was, so I told Mark, 'if you put a silver dollar in one of these it would go through Scott's head like butter,'" DeZago said. "And we've been friends ever since!" Waid had come over to Marvel to work on "Sensational Spider-Man" with Wieringo but was unable to do the first issue, so DeZago stepped in. "We did the first issue and it got a good response," DeZago said. "Then Mark wound up not being able to do it, so Marvel-- not wanting it to seem like a bait and switch-- asked Mike who he'd like to work with and he said he'd have a good time with me."

DeZago explained that by the time their Spidey run ended, the two had discussed their interest in 'The Lord of the Rings' and fantasy, leading to their creator-owned book "Tellos.""He loved animals and artm" DeZago said. "He loved art. Anyone that was doing something that was in any way heartfelt or at the height of his craft, Mike appreciated."

"He really did change a lot of the way comics were drawn in the '90s," Waid said. "He dragged craft kicking and screaming back into comics."

Waid also said many artists' nightmares would be drawing a county fair, parade, nightclub, or a baseball stadium, but when Waid put a baseball stadium in an early issue of "The Flash," Wieringo had no problems. "It was great," Waid said.

Cully Hamner revealed one project the Marvel-exclusive Wieringo had been working on around the time of his death: an arc on "Punisher: Max." At first Hamner had thought --like he had with Spider-Man-- that Wieringo was probably not right for the series. "But looking back on it, he probably would have pulled it off," said Hamner.

The panel said Wieringo was looking forward to more fun work in the future after completing his Marvel contract. "He would complain, 'nobody wants cartoony, nobody wants fun, nobody wants me!'" DeZago said. "His characters had a bounce to them."

Scott Kurtz said that during the "Fantastic Four" run, he remarked to Wieringo, "In one panel, the Thing can be mean and in the next panel you want to hug him." Kurtz added that he complimented Wieringo on drawing Sue Storm "as a mom; you draw her as a MILF!"

DeZago explained that Wieringo's brother Matt e-mailed him the night Mike died. "I read it and I couldn't talk," DeZago said. "I ran to my girlfriend and pointed to the screen. It's so surreal that the person you were just talking to a little while ago, you can't talk to him anymore." DeZago explained the desperate hoping that mourners go through, that somehow there'd been a mistake. "How can this not be true? We're in comics so we come up with ways. My first thought was the temperature in Raleigh was over a hundred and he'd had the air conditioning guy over at his place every day that week. I thought that maybe Mike wanted out of his Marvel contract so bad that the air conditioning guy dropped dead and Mike took his place."

DeZago explained that once his Marvel commitments were completed, Wieringo was to collaborate with DeZago on another series of "Tellos" funded by the movie version's producers. "It is a shame and a shock" DeZago told fans. "He was a wonderful guy who loved comics and I guess that means he loved all of you."

During the panel, Waid announced that he, writer/artist/inker Karl Kesel and DeZago will pay tribute to Wieringo in an upcoming issue of "Spider-Man Family." 

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