Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mike Wieringo RIP

It's taken me a few days to get into my head what I wanted to write about the tragic death of my buddy Mike, or "Ringo" as most everybody called him. Mike was the first friend I've had die, and also one of the guys in my generation of artists that I knew personally who seemed so healthy, vibrant and always getting better with each job. I had just gotten a encouraging e-mail from Mike, a comment about the Mummy painting I just finished Saturday night and talked with him by phone a bit over a week ago. One of our usual talks where we went on until the batteries in my phone gave out.

Death makes you confront life. Mike's death certainly has done that I think in a way that says a lot about Mike. Mike was it seems, everybody's friend, like a big kid brother. The news of Mike's passing from what appears to be heart failure was like a brutal slap, sharp and it still stings, deep, and it will for a while. I know for many who knew Mike, they all feel the same, that it's just so wrong. It also makes me a bit angry I have to say as well. Angry that such a good guy went out like that. It's not right. But the outpouring of love for the guy is really apparent all over the world and web. You want to find as reason why, that's what we do when we are hit so hard by something so bad, you want to try and have it make sense, but you can't. There is no sense to it, but it is the flow of life and now entering my mid 40's I realize that this will happen. It's just that you don't expect your friends to die, you expect them to always be there, immortal. I clearly see that isn't true.

I had come to know Mike pretty well in the last 6-7 years or so. We talked at least once a month by phone and very often, sometimes daily via a private e-mail in a group I run just for my pro comic pals. Through that forum many more pros got to know Mike as well. We shared a lot, and not just art, but philosophy about life too. Mike and I had many such talks, about him being a vegan, why he decided to become one, and it wasn't just for health reasons. It had a lot to do with moral almost spiritual reasons, I had been a vegan for a brief time in the 80's myself, but I gave it up. Mike didn't want to participate in the brutality of the meat industry, and I certainly see why. We also talked a lot about cartooning in a much broader sense than just what the babymen like, the Marvel/DC superjock stuff. His Spider-man art will ever remain a highwater mark and his work on Tellos will continue to inspire even more. I know Mike really wanted to do more Tellos and there wasn't a time I didn't encourage him to leave the big two and go do it. In fact the last conversation we had was just about that, about how you have to be happy now, don't put things off, take the reigns, steer the ship, go do Tellos. We both loved the cartoonier type stuff, a lot of Euro cartoonists and Mike was always very encouraging to me as a brother artist, but more importantly--he boosted others, especially younger artists. Mike would regularly post kudos and props on many other forums encouraging and praising the work of young-up-in-comers. Again this shows the great guy Mike was. He didn't hold people at arms length or "badge scan" as many pros do. You didn't have to be in "Wizards Top 10' to be Mike's friend, get a pat on the back or to hang with him.

Ringo was one of the first guys I wanted to interview for Draw! and the best thing about that for me was a selfish one, it allowed me to get to see stacks of his art, his real art, his sketches, which were fantastic, way better even than his awesome comic work. In his sketches he was totally free to do what he wanted. It's often said that an artists sketchbook contains his or her best work, and for me this certainly was the case with Ringo.

Mike and I both love animals and he was super supportive and so nice when my dog Buster died this March. We shared that love of animals and I think because until recently with me meeting and now being engaged to Echo we were both single guys, working at home, long hours spent at the drawing board. Your pets then become even more important to you. Mike was even concerned about the neighbor's dog, even though it seemed like a mean dog and would bark at him, he worried if the dog was out in the heat, rain or cold.

I have to say one of the highlights of my career was getting to ink him in the last few years on Spider-man and the last job we did, a Spider-ham story. Being able to ink an artist's work puts you in a very intimate position with that artist. That is a unique collaboration. In art you usually don't have such a collaboration, most artists don't collaborate on a painting; art, unlike music, is often a solo expression. When you ink an artist's work you feel his drawing, you
understand what he's about when you ink him. You draw what he drew. You can feel his thoughts and emotions, his statement as it were. How he's gone about solving a problem.

I've inked a lot of artists in my career and Mike's work stands in the top handful of guys I've inked. It was such a pleasure to work on his stuff and I always found myself agreeing with the way he drew things--and that is such a pleasure, such a joy. One of the saddest things is we don't get any more great art from Mike, at least not on this plane. But through his art he will live on and I know inspire many, many more cartoonists, and that is immortality in a sense.

Nobody has a bad word about Mike, and in this business, let alone in life, and that is a rarity. I don't think Mike knew how much he was loved and admired. He was so humble and a bit insecure and maybe those qualities are what allowed him to continue to grow in a business that does not encourage 'changing the formula". I know he was often not happy on jobs or what he was offered, sometimes hurt by this, but the fact is you could never tell that in the drawing that he was anything less than 110% into it. He drew with the same passion he had for comics as a kid, that showed through in every line, every figure.

I believe that Mike's in a better place now, not in the sappy Angels with Wings shit, but a better place where our energy goes, like tuning the dial to a clearer
station. A higher vibration. Ringo was always going to do something "after this' or "after that", he had offers too. Now it's too late--there is only now. I can clearly hear his voice and his laugh in my head and the good fun and art we shared. This is a small biz and in that we all have a small batch of buddies and friends. I heard Mike was feeling sluggish, down, maybe it will turn out he had a blocked artery, or just a bad heart, but that won't matter to us now.

Tomorrow my buddy Jamar and I will travel south to say goodbye to our friend Ringo together and attend his viewing, mermorial and share the grief and love with a lot of Mike's friends and family.

He will be missed and through his spirit and his wonderful warm personality and as well as his art he will be forever loved.


Mike Thompson said...

Beautifully written. Mike W. was definitely a modern master of comic book art. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mike. Hard to believe he's gone.

Craig Zablo said...

Well said.

tgreaper said...

Mike, well put. I know I will Miss Ringo.

Marc Manley said...

Sorry for your loss. I am sure he will be missed and remembered by many.

Kelly said...

Man, I'm so sorry for your loss. I didn't realize you knew him this well when I was talking to Echo about it last night. You were indeed lucky to have had the time you did with him and what you've written here makes me a little sad that I wasn't as fortunate in that regard. I wish I'd had the chance to meet and get to know him. I trust your judgement in choosing friends--you picked Echo, right? I think I would have liked him too.
Again, I'm very sorry for your loss,

Kelly said...

oh, and by not knowing as much about this as I should have after talking to Echo, I mean it's because she was stuck in traffic while on her way to get you at the airport--you heard about it, I'm sure, cops, flashlights, parking lot....
She didn't get the chance to tell me the whole story.