So, my house burned down.
Now, this was a while back so don’t get too weepy on me. It burned down in 1991. And because I worked at home and because I wasn’t home at the time of the fire, I lost everything.
Every piece of art I ever owned. Every drawing that I’d ever done as a kid. Every comic book including every one of my dad’s comic books that he bought when he was a kid.
And it was really strange.
It wasn’t the kind of situation where I was all devastated and blubbered like a schoolgirl. The whole neighborhood had been burned down in this gigantic firestorm– 2000 homes went up in flames, 25 people died. And we weren’t there so we missed the frantic packing and collecting valuables and keepsakes to shove in the car and the clog of cars desperately trying to get the hell out of there.
We were at my girlfriend’s brother’s house. His firstborn was turning one-year old and there was a big gathering of friends and family to wish the little fellow a happy birthday. After the event we turned on the TV in hopes of catching “The End of the Game” and instead caught The End of our Neighborhood.
We weren’t allowed back into the area for a couple of days. We spent that first night at birthday party central and settled into a hotel back in Oakland shortly thereafter.
It was very strange driving into our neighborhood in the back of a police car. It had the same underlying structure– all the hills were still hills– but it looked completely different. It was eerie. And I got a strange “not quite sure where I parked the car” sensation.
When we arrived at the house– or rather, the remains of the house– we were greeted with the site of a fireman standing in what was the kitchen squirting water in what was the living room. It was gone. Everything. And we couldn’t find a trace of most anything. My girlfriend managed to unearth a few items– a jade Buddha, a figurine of a metal horse, but I couldn’t find a thing. There were these strangely textured metallic globs where my CD collection should have been and rows and rows of neatly stacked ashes where my comic book collection should have been, but nothing remotely salvageable.
I wished that I had looked at the comics that I’d drawn as a kid more recently. One of my first purchases post-fire was a blank sketchbook in which I tried to draw every character that I could remember from my old childhood comics. A good chunk of those characters would eventually work their way into the pages of Savage Dragon– some pretty much intact.
I called up my editor at Marvel (Danny Fingeroth) and explained the situation. I didn’t have my plot anymore or paper or reference or pencils or pens or rulers or ink or a drawing board– or a room.
Danny packed up a mess of reference, pens, paper, zip-a-tone, my plot and other essentials and another editor (bless his heart) Terry Kavanagh sent me a healthy stack of issues of “Marvel Comics Presents” as well as a few “Marvel Masterworks” collections. Luckily, I had sent off every Spider-Man page that I had been working on a day or two before the fire. Unluckily, I had on hand an entire issue of a fill-in story I was working on for “X-Force.” Xeroxes had been made of my rough pencils, but I had labored on them considerably since and all of that effort was lost. It was a story that would never be completed. The only evidence of it having ever been done was a single panel that ran in one of the letters columns.
I felt a strong desire to buy comics. I needed some comics.
What to buy…what to buy…
“Watchmen” was an essential part of any comic book collection as was “The Dark Knight Returns.” I remember buying up a good chunk of John Byrne’s “Fantastic Four” run and a few other books. It’s very weird to start over. You don’t really think about what books really matter to you until you have to start over again. You don’t think about what books are essential and what ones are taking up space.
Our insurance company was great (Farmers, if you must know). While a lot of folks got the shaft following this event, Farmers really stepped up to the plate. Our insurance adjuster had taken us aside and suggested that we account for over half of our policy limit and then write on the paper that, “our damages far exceeded our coverage.” He said that they would cut us a check for the full amount of the policy. I ended up accounting for the entire limit (remember, I had tons of old comic books from the ’40s and ’50s and a lot of original art) and then writing, “our damages far exceeded our coverage” on it and Farmers came back and asked “by how much?” After I’d accounted for everything, Farmers cut an additional check to cover the damage over and above our policy limit. It was as though we had the most successful garage sale ever and couldn’t stop selling everything, including all the stuff we wanted to hang on to.
As the years have gone by I’ve slowly accumulated a ton of stuff. I’ve bought mountains of comics and tons of original art. And while I couldn’t replace individual pieces because they were one-of-a-kind items, I have been able to get a lot of things that I dearly love.
But I miss those old comics I drew as a kid and I really wish I could flip through them one more time. I still have the occasional dream where I “forgot” that I leant one or two of them to a friend, but no such luck.
I’ll go to a convention and think, “Do I need that comic or do I still have that comic?” A lot of times my memory of a given book will be so vivid that I can’t be sure.
And the loss of these comics has made writing this very column problematic. I don’t recall every bit and piece of trivia as well as I ought to. Sometimes I’ll rattle off an issue number that proves inaccurate or overlook an event that failed to make a big enough impression (in talking about comics pricing, recently, I’d completely forgotten about the “DC explosion” back in the ’80s (or was that the late ’70s?) and the “DC implosion” which followed.
I had in mind writing a long column about how DC’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was a colossal failure as a way of seamlessly streamlining their universe– how so many stories thereafter were tainted with a “did this happen or didn’t it?” stink as histories were tossed out, revived or altered following that blessed event, but my reference material from that time is woefully inadequate to do the subject justice. I could, and perhaps should, go on about “All-Star Superman” and “All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder” and bellyache about the same thing, how they’ve essentially started in the middle, with far too much back stories left completely nebulous, but it’s not really the same, and besides, with “Crisis on Infinite Earths” we’ve gotten to see how things have played out over the years while the “All-Star” books have had just a handful of stories published to date, so I can’t be sure how adequately they’ll pull things all together.
You’ll have to pardon me for the occasional memory lapse from time to time. There were a lot of comics that I never re-bought– a lot of books that I didn’t feel that I needed to own once more. But this will give you all an opportunity to catch me screwing up on a regular basis and point out what an addle-brained nincompoop that I am so it has its benefits as well.
So, I’m reminded of the fire on an almost daily basis.
It’s been 14 years now. There’s a new house where our old house used to be and it’s been enough years that we’ve had to repaint and fix stuff that’s worn out. I married my girlfriend and we’ve had a couple kids (two boys, ages 11 and 8).
Life goes on.
And as far as I can tell, that beats the alternative.
But that’s just one fan’s opinion. I’m willing to concede that I could be wrong.
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