Weekend Without Bernie – Michael Davis, From The Edge

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Michael Davis writes for Bleeding Cool,

This past weekend a giant of entertainment left us. Chuck Berry was 90 years old, and I must admit I would from time to time wonder if Little Richard, Chubby Checker or Chuck were still with us.

I’ve not only had the pleasure of meeting each of these legends I spent time with them. I worked in the music industry running the film and television arm of Motown Records for a click. Although a fantastic dancer unbeatable in a lip-synch battle, I have no real musical talent, and at Motown, I had almost zero to do with the core business.

Didn’t matter, Motown provided me access to anyone and everyone in the music industry. The music business can be very much like you see in TV and movies.

Sex, drugs, rock and roll complete with groupies’ wild parties and wilder people. What you see in the media does indeed happen, folks. Been there, done her, got video. I have, in my musical narrative played many roles. What you may find hard to believe is this to some is commonplace and necessary to do their jobs.

I’ve seen a record company executive put coke on his expense account. I’ve done that as well, but my coke came in a bottle. On occasion, I’ve been cast as a witness- alibi- go between- victim- judge- jury- referee- bodyguard and bodyguarded. I’ve had some crazy days and nights.

NONE as crazy as when I met Chuck Berry.

I planned on telling that tale today, but as John Lennon kinda said; ‘life is what happens while you’re making up shit to stall so as not to write something that will tear your heart apart.’

This was to be the week I went back to running different articles on Bleeding Cool and Comicmix. I don’t like running the same article on both sites I tried running some articles part one here part two there and vice versa but neither Richard Johnson or Mike Gold over at Comicmix said rather or not that was ok.

I like the idea of funneling readers between both sites. I think it’s a win-win, but I fixate on rather or not it’s OK and nobody wants to tell me it isn’t. Oh, I’m told who is not my bitch, but I’d better leave that be less I risk saying something that will not end well.

Yep, still stalling.

If you’re wondering why I just don’t tell the Chuck Berry story, I don’t blame you.

That story is a perfect mix of real life craziness comics and return to the swagger that will inevitably invoke my haters on BC to chime in with why they hate me.

But as much as I like pushing people’s buttons to tell that story before I related this story would be inappropriate.

OK, enough stalling.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Bernie Wrightson died last weekend. For my money, Bernie was just a big a star in comics as Chuck Berry was in music.

Swamp Thing #7 guest-starring Batman turned me on to Bernie’s work, and in turn, I took a significant leap in my education, and I do mean education when it needs it most in grade school.

I never wanted to draw like Jack Kirby although I loved Kirby’s art. As a kid who loved to draw, I never thought I that I copied artists. When I would copy from comic books, I’d copy characters, not artists. It didn’t matter who drew it if the character was in an excellent pose that’s what my grade school mind was telling me I was copying.

When I discovered Bernie, all that changed and Batman swinging across the pages of Swamp Thing #7 changed it. I had to draw THAT WAY. I kept that book as part of my never trade and would kill you your mother sister father dog and cat if you even asked me.

When Ronnie Williams bullied me though 2nd and 3rd grade, I had finally had enough when he took my Fantastic Four # 73 in the 4th grade. I picked up a metal backed wooden chair and cracked him over the head with it.

If it had been Swamp Thing #7, he took from me my weapon of choice may have been the Saturday night special (a cheap handgun) my sister jokingly said I should use on Ronnie. My mother acquired the gun to keep in the house after a series of robberies in our building.

She thought Sharon my sister and I didn’t know where she hid it. We knew, under the mattress along with the shells. Everything my mother hid we found.

Parents that’s what kids do they find shit so get a fucking gun safe.

Another stall.

I just want this fucking pain to go away, and anger may help, but I can’t get there from here so my apologies.

This article is as hard a thing for me to write as any tribute I’ve ever written.

Bernie’s artwork made me read comics that had no superheroes in it and by read, I mean READ look at the words try to pronounce them and figure out what they meant. I was already becoming a decent reader from the horrible how the fuck do I spell ‘I’ student I was.

I was beginning to like reading, but all I liked to read were comics. Bernie’s work on House of Secrets (HOS) which I sort out had no superhero in it.

Seeking out that book was dangerous and enlightening. I lived on Beach 58st in Far Rockaway Queens. I got my comics from a mom and pop store on Beach 51st.

There was another store on Beach 40th and one on Beach 77st. Yeah, that’s a lot of beaches. All stores were a quick bike ride away but only (B51) was in my hood. If I wanted to go to the others, I risked a beat down or worse my bike stolen.

So, I walked. Looking for more of Bernie’s art was well worth a black eye.

Nowadays you hop on the computer, and you can find anything. Back in my day, I had no idea if there was even any other Bernie art out there. I had no clue what Swamp Thing was I purchased the book because I saw Batman on the cover.

I mentioned Bernie’s art helped my education here’s how. My sister had a cheesy romance novel paperback which featured a cover font very similar as was the title to House of Secrets.

I thought it was. Because there were no superheroes in the comic somehow my mind thought it was possible this featured some Bernie artwork.

When I discovered it didn’t and had NO ART at all, I did the unthinkable.

I read it anyhow. All I can tell you is my little mind was blown.

Who knew there could be that much adventure and excitement in a book where nobody was drawn? All I had to do was skip all the girly parts, and I had discovered a new love, paperbacks.

Then I found Conan in paperback no girly parts to skip over and Frank Frazetta on the covers. From there I began reading hardcover books and spent my entire first paycheck ($10 bucks working for my cousin) on a hardcover book, All in color for a dime.

Bernie started all that.

Years later…

Denys Cowan and I were leaving DC Comics in 1988. We were going to grab a bite to eat. As we were departing in walks this guy. “Hi, Denys,” the man said. “Hey!” Denys said.

“Bernie, I want you to meet my friend, Michael Davis. Michael, this is, Bernie Wrightson.”

I lost what little mind people think I have.

Bernie was there for a meeting and was rushing. I did something I have only done three times in my life, and he was the first; I asked for an autograph.

I’ve met some of the most famous people in the world and only asked for an autograph three times. Each time I had something for them to sign. Jack Kirby signed a comic book, James Brown a CD cover.

I had nothing for Bernie to sign I didn’t care I just wanted something to remember the moment.

I didn’t get it.

Bernie apologized but was late for a meeting, so he ran in.

That stung.

All though our meal Denys kept telling me what a great guy he was and not to worry I’d see him again yadda yada yadda. I was thinking; yeah right.

I realized with a start while looking for something for Bernie to sign I’d left my portfolio upstairs at DC. I told Denys I’d be right back and hurried to get it. When I entered the office there by the statue of Clark Kent was my case and coming out of the door to the inner offices was Bernie.

THERE WAS A GOD!

“Hey Bernie!” The voice came from behind him calling him back.

AND HE HATES ME.

I grabbed my case left the reception area to wait for the elevator which quickly arrived with a ping!

Hey hold it,” Someone said. I was in no mood to hold the elevator and make small talk with someone, and for a moment I considered being a dick but slapped the door to make it recede nevertheless.

Here you go,” Bernie said with a smile. He reached in and handed me a sheet of DC stationary with his autograph and a quick ball point pen picture of Batman.

He then ran back into the offices. I never even got a chance to say; thanks.

Bernie and I became friends over time and as such would grab a bite at a convention or a NY deli if we ran into each other in Manhattan.

As always, he would brush it off my gushing over him with sincere thanks but clearly didn’t think he was such a big deal.

Then I ended all of that and started to refer to him as simply Mr. Living Legend. I didn’t think he liked it, so I stopped.

The last time I saw Bernie was walking the SDCC convention floor with Wayne Brady. When we ran into Bernie, I introduced Wayne with a “Wayne, this is Bernie Wrightson.” Bernie put his hand on my shoulder gave me an affectionate squeeze and said; “That’s Mr. Living Legend, get it straight Michael.”

Wayne who LOVES comic books said gleefully; “Yes sir, you are indeed a legend.”

A legend, yes, without a doubt.

Also an inspiration to a poor Black kid the man he became and the one he hopes one day to be.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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