On a shelf above my computer, I keep various writing books. McKee's "Story," The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, Strunk and White, and, of course, Merriam_Webster. Among thsee books is a venerable tome entitled "The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics." Tonight, I met the man who wrote it, Denny O'Neill.
For the non-geeks among my readers, Denny's something of a legend. He's been a fixture of the comics scene since the mid-60's; among his triumphs are the post-Adam-West re-imagination of Batman that brought the character back to his roots, and the landmark "socially relevant" issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow that broke serious new ground in what superhero comics could do and say. (Both, by the way, created with the art of the equally amazing Neal Adams.) He also edited the Batman line for 15 years, overseeing some of the most crucial stories in the evolution of the character. And, in between, he picked up enough to become one of the foremost authorities on the creation of comics.
For close to an hour and a half, he regaled me and my fellow students in Danny Fingeroth's comics writing class with an amazing dissertation on the evolution of iconic characters. It contained information I "knew" intellectually, but fit together in a way that redefined the emotional content. I mean, I'd heard the term "meme" before tonight, but I don't think I really understood it. And he did it all with a style and energy that reminded me why I fell in love with words, pictures, and superheroes in the first place. It was a rolling juggernaut of a speech, taking detours and pointing out interesting sights along the way; I learned more than a bit about the history of genetics and 60's culture.
I think the best things I learned, though, were not in the words he said, but in the man himself. He's seen and been through so much, and come out the other side a better man. His life has been hard. It's still hard, to some degree, but he's made it through and become a better person. He's 67 years old, still learning, still vibrant, and willing to drive 30 miles through the year's last gasp of harsh winter weather to impart a fraction of his knowledge on some wide-eyed kids with dreams. He's living proof that it can happen. It's not easy, but it can happen. And, like I once believed that a radiactive spider could make me stronger, cause girls to like me, and cure my vision, I now believe that the dream can come true for me. As comics have often told me, anything is possible.
So thanks Denny, and thanks Danny, for an evening that taught me maybe just a little more than you expected.