Friday, September 14th, 2007
My earliest memory of Artamus Studios was on a bus, coming back from a convention somewhere, somewhen (this was very early 90’s). Chuck Wojtkiewicz and I were talking about how we should start a studio in NC Chapel Hill area. Richard Case already had a studio space in Hillsborough (the neighboring town) and we could base things there. I was very enthusiastic about the idea, and, as I remember it, this is how the idea of Artamus was born. Chuck and Richard got together and the thing was done. The founding members (as I remember it) were Chuck, Richard, Mike, John Lowe (successful inker now with SCAD in Savannah), Jeff Parker (artist and now big-time writer), and Craig Gilmore (of Morbius fame). I had a desk in the first studio, but moved to “associate member” (i.e., freeloader) shortly thereafter, as the one-hour drive to get to the studio was a killer for me and I was not able to be there day-to-day. But I stayed as closely involved with Artamus as was convenient for the members there, and have always felt sentimentally that I was a part of their incredible group, later to include master painter Scott Hampton, amazing pencilers Casey Jones and Rob Haynes, and even Dave Johnson for a time (among others). I have many fond memories of visiting the studio with Randy Green, one of the nicest and most talented people a person could know.
One of those wonderful days, in the wild heydays of the early-mid 90’s, I was visiting Mike in his little room at Artamus. I always enjoyed these visits, because it was crazy fun to see Mike’s new work and always very inspiring to talk with him. Mike definitely had a share of the success the early 90’s offered comics creators, and he was always opening plump royalty checks or getting strange offers…Every day in Artamus, something intriguing would happen. I remember one incident that I always found very amusing and illustrative of how Mike thought about his job and life in comics. We were talking and it came up that one of the major companies had offered him an all-expenses trip to Australia to do a comics convention in Sydney. I was like, “Wow, that will be cool! When are you going?” Mike casually looked at me and said, “Going? Why would I want to do that?” Now, so far as I know, Mike hadn’t been out of the US in years, and he’d never been to Australia. And, of course, Mike would have loved Australia and seeing this strange place from Crocodile Dundee on the other side of the world. The point he was making was that he would have to leave his drawing board, leave Artamus and comics, and take time off. The point was that he loved his job so much, and/or that his job required such singular focus and schedule discipline, that even the motivation to take a free holiday in Australia was not remotely tempting. I relate this story to show a bit of why Mike was so fantastically productive in his artistic career, and a little bit of what it takes in terms of mental focus to be a monthly comics artist. Of all the “professions” I have any real familiarity with, I think only Medical Doctors have anything like the life-absorbing career that comics demands. Comics artist commonly work every day in a week, typically 12 hours a day, without much in the way of vacations (these are notoriously impossible to schedule), which is usually a convention anyway, which is technically more work. It is a thing you must love, but you will often hate, and there’s one thing you hate the most: the loss of time to spend with family and friends. The difficulties in sustaining normal relationships are very real. The amount of beautiful life that you have to subsume to produce the quantity and quality of work to be a serious creator in comics is consistently heartbreaking. For all our loved ones out there, I think I can speak for Mike as well in this, because it was something he and I often discussed: Forgive us. It really *isn’t* a choice, it’s a strange type of calling…I think Mike and I always thought of ourselves as comics creators from some of our earliest memories. If it was torture to do the work, it was more torture not to. And I think Mike and I also understood, especially as we sank into the lifestyle of serious creators, how rare and precious time is with our family, even more so for having much less of that time to spend than we would have liked. Anyway, in retrospect, I read all that into that single response of Mike’s to my question about Australia.
PS: I’m very glad, that, on the release of Tellos, I believe Mike did do some real traveling, into Europe I think, with Todd Dezago. I know Tellos was very popular in Europe. I know I sold more of our originals from Tellos to people overseas than to people in the US.