When you're a columnist type writing about popular culture and this season rolls around, invariably people ask for something about looking back on the high spots, or a year-in-review, or gift guides, or... you know, sum-it-all-up stuff. Big picture.
Here's the trouble-- our big picture in 2015 was pretty miserable. My wife and I spent most of it dog-paddling like mad to keep a roof over our heads and her medical stuff covered. Any and all entertainments we had time for were either through the kindness of friends, review stuff folks sent us, or bargain-bin finds. Time after time we had to cancel out on this or that because of illness or lack of funds. Now it's Christmas morning as I write this and Julie's still sound asleep, wheezing a little because the flu has come around to hammer us one more time. (It's something we've been fighting on and off since the beginning of the school year, because I teach in public school and nobody keeps kids home sick any more, so we catch friggin' everything. From roughly October to February, my classroom feels like a plague ship.)
So. Once again we canceled plans. Our Christmas is going to be mostly about staying home; a lot of Vicks and hot soup. At this point I'm largely of the Luke Cage school of thought-- Christmas is an expletive.
It's not just us. Bad news seems to be coming from a dozen different fronts. Two good friends passed away this year, after losing battles with lingering illnesses they were way too damn young to have. Others had financial disaster strike. In the last two days we've been beseiged with appeals from people in need-- not strangers advertising holiday charities, but actual friends in dire straits putting up GoFundMe pages and other similar hail-Mary passes from half-court trying to head off one crisis or another. Then there's the friends fighting chronic medical stuff. We understand how debilitating that can be because we spent most of this year talking to doctors about helpful measures we MIGHT be able to undertake if, y'know, insurance came through. Which was in question for most of this year because on the last day of 2014, Julie was abruptly laid off from her job and that set off a cascade of misfortune we spent the rest of the year digging out from.
I'm not complaining about the appeals. We are a community and communities help each other. People helped us when we were drowning, and so now it's our turn. (Because clearly we're all just taking turns in the dunk tank of disaster this year.) We've done what we can. We totally get it.
It's been difficult not to snarl at people innocently trying to wish us Merry Christmas, though. Merriment has not been on the menu.
Truthfully, I loathe Christmas anyway. Growing up with the anti-Waltons down in Dysfunction Junction, it was just something we tried to get through without too much bloodshed or drunken mayhem, and comparing notes with other folks from my town in the years since, I discovered we sure weren't alone in that. So Christmas sentiment has largely eluded me. I always thought Pottersville looked a lot more viable than Bedford Falls, and as for A Christmas Carol, Burr Shafer summed it up for me years ago.
That's actually how we evolved our tradition of Fugitive Holidays, getting the hell out of town and going off the grid somewhere for a few days till it was all over. This year, though, that was out of the question; disposable income all went for medicine and car repair instead. One more gripe for the the list.
Except... here's the weird part. I woke up this morning filled with... if not Christmas spirit, at least a little optimism.
For one thing, seeing everyone rally around Don Perlin after his surgery just makes me happy.
We kicked in a little but what made my Grinch heart grow three sizes was seeing how MANY people pick that up and run with it. Because of our community getting the word out and everyone trying to chip in, they hit the goal in two days. God bless Clifford Meth for putting that together and bless all of you that dug in for that. If you haven't, please consider it. Hitting the goal is great but every little bit helps, there's no guarantee at this point that further procedures aren't necessary. Trust me when I tell you that it's goddamn terrifying to be faced with medical issues when you are constantly fighting with insurance people; costs balloon up so fast you literally can go from being moderately well-off to being underwater after a week's worth of hospital procedures-- even if it's just tests and they haven't figured out what's wrong. As a system it makes no sense. It's no wonder the rest of the world thinks this country is insane.
But this time, at least for the moment, it looks like the good guys are winning. The reason this delights me so much is because Don Perlin was never a rock star artist, he never really got his turn in the spotlight as the Hot New Thing.... but this demonstrates that fandom appreciates him anyway. Don Perlin drew a lot of books that a lot of us loved and it pleases me that so many people are trying to pay that back. The two-part Moon Knight story in Spotlight is still one of my favorites; that got me through a really bad weekend when it came out, I think I reread it five or six times over those two days.
(I was in bed with the flu, as it happens... which brings us full circle.)
It's not just the Perlins. Tommy Hancock, the man behind Pro Se Press -- he put out those incredible Black Pulp and Asian Pulp anthologies, among others-- has had rough sledding lately too. Medical bills, of course.
Our community came through again. Ron Fortier at Airship 27 wanted to do a benefit book; it's out this week. And it is AMAZING.
From the press release-- Earlier in the year we learned that New Pulp writer/editor/publisher Tommy Hancock was suffering from congestive heart-failure. A relatively young family man, this was a dangerous condition that threatened not only Tommy but his entire family. Almost immediately after this news was made public, several members of the New Pulp community began putting their heads together to see if anything could be done to help the Hancocks.
“Jaime Ramos proposed the idea of doing a benefit anthology,” says Airship 27 Productions Managing Editor, Ron Fortier.
“It was such a great idea, I realized it needed to get done and we began planning such a project.” The first thing Fortier did was bring aboard his partner in Airship 27, Art Director Rob Davis. “There was no way this was going to fly without Rob handling the book’s overall artwork and design.” Fortier then went to Hancock and informed him of their plans. With Hancock’s blessings, he then posted an ad on Facebook explaining the project and seeking submissions from both writers and artists. “It was always our intention to do this as a traditional pulp tome and thus artwork would be a major element in the final product.”
Much to Fortier’s surprise, and delight, the first creator to volunteer his assistance was Douglas Klauba, one of the finest artists in the field. Klauba volunteered to paint the anthology’s cover once the book was assembled. “Honestly,” Fortier confesses, “I was in shock. Doug is an amazing artist and his offering to do the cover was very much an omen that we were about to put together something truly unique.”
Within 48 hours after posting his recruiting ad, Fortier had received 57 commitments by New Pulp writers while 36 artists in the field signed on to do the illustrations. Amongst these creators were some of the most popular New Pulp writers and artists in the field. In fact, getting so many promised stories in just two days, Fortier begrudgingly realized he and his associates were being handed a giant book and he publicly closed the admission call. “It was crazy,” he recalls. “Fifty-seven stories in just two days! Of course there were naysayers who warned me we’d never get all of them. They were right, we got 62 instead.”
One of those is me. Another one was Adam Garcia, the man doing all those amazing Green Lama books; Win Eckert, the man giving you those terrific new Wold Newton Universe stories about Doc Savage's daughter; Chuck Miller, who's done a variety of awesome new pulp novels (and back in the day, the genius fanfic Gotham X.) And so on and so on. It's HUGE. A who's who of modern pulpsters. Check it out.
Amazon link is here, or if you'd rather get the PDF ebook version, that's here. I'd really recommend the PDF-- it's just seven dollars for eight hundred pages of pulp goodness in all genres, AND every cent goes to Tommy and his family. I'm enormously proud to be a part of this effort not just because Tommy Hancock is a good guy and deserves a hand, but because the book itself is a showpiece project. Plus I got to do another Black Bat story, which was big fun. I hope you'll check it out. Good book, good cause.
With all that, I am feeling, well, somewhat less Grinchy this particular Christmas morning, even spending it under a blanket reeking of mentholatum. Although 2015 was a rough ride for so many of us, we at least hung in there and were able to really be a community when it counted. I'm taking comfort from that, and from the fact that 2015, thank God, is almost over and things are finally looking up a little.
So happy holidays to you, whatever particular ritual you observe. I'm going to let my man Luke Cage close us out...
What he said. Sweet #%&%$!! Christmas, cats, and I'll see you next year.