Monday, August 20, 2012

Artist & Writer

I took last week off from the blog to get some time to focus on my new day job. Nothing too exciting to tell about it so I'll leave that for you to imagine on your own. Or if you see me in person you can buy me a drink and I'll tell you a story about it.

If I'd been around last week I would have noted the passing of two giants in the field of fantastic fiction: Joe Kubert and Harry Harrison. Both made their marks on me for the same reasons but in very different ways.

Kubert is best identified with Sgt. Rock, the leader of Easy Company, the roughest, best fighter's in America's Army during World War II. I like Rock as a character and a leader, but the war stories never really did it for me. I don't know why. I've tried them several times over the last twenty years or so and the artistry is excellent, the stories are good, they're just not for me. I've never been a big fan of war comics, anyway, even the SF ones. Rather, Kubert - for me, at least - is better identified with two superheroes: Hawkman and Ragman. 

Hawkman was in the Justice League, but it was his origin story in DC Comics Secret Origins TPB in the 70s that got my attention. Kubert's art was just so dynamic, straddling that realistic/Neal Adams style and a the more cartoony work of some of his other peers. (And I use that term loosely. Kubert didn't have many peers, artistically.) His work at the time was exactly what a superhero comic should have been. At least for me. 

His Ragman was big because I saw so much untapped potential in that character in the too-short-lived eponymously named series that Bob Kanigher wrote. Being Jewish, (not me, Ragman) I was fascinated by Ragman who was just SO different from every other superhero on the racks at the time. When I wanted to write comics, I did a proposal for a Ragman graphic novel that could have led to a revival of the character at the time, but it was rejected and I used the story somewhere else. 

In all, Kubert had more influence on me as a creator than anything else. I didn't try to draw like him or write like him but I saw the energy in his work and that was what inspired me. I'm sad I won't have any more new comics to look at and appreciate, but he left behind a most impressive body of work and he will be missed.

Harry Harrison, on the other hand, hit me between the eyes with his satiric Stainless Steel Rat series. The ineffable Jim diGriz, with his quick wit and brilliant skills as a thief worked his way deep into my psyche as a teenager. I got a collection of the first three novels from the Science Fiction Book Club back in the early 80s and devoured it. When subsequent books were released to the SFBC, I bought 'em and read them, too. I loved Harrison's dry style, the quick pace of the books and the adventures were stirring. diGriz falls in love at the same time I was becoming interested in girls and I thought that maybe things would kind of work out the same way for me. 

(I was a kid. A teenager. Sue me.) Of course they didn't. The novels weren't real life, but they were convincing enough for me to get lost in. The unfortunate effect was that I didn't really seek out any other of Harrison's works, like the great Make Room, Make Room! until much later in life. I stopped reading Harrison when I got hold of a copy of Bill the Galactic Hero, which didn't do anything for me. I thought I'd outgrown the author. I kept the SSR books, though.

Knowing that I'll never be as amusing as Harrison has kept me from trying to put too much humor into my stories. Telling jokes is one thing, being able to write them down and hope they make others giggle or even guffaw is something else, entirely. I'm not sure I can do it. What Harrison's influence over me is that he gave me respect for the craft of humor, of the light touch. I don't have it and I may never but that's okay. Not everyone can be Harry Harrison, but I'm lucky enough to know two writers who do have as light a touch as him. I'm learning from reading their works how much can be done, and appreciating the work they put into being amusing. 

So thank you, Joe. Thank you, Harry. You were part of my youth and my adulthood. I'm glad you were. I'm sad you're both gone.