It’s horrible to say it that way. “He passed,” is a phrase I cannot use, although I recognize that others take it seriously. “He died” sounds active, like he went and did it. I say it horribly because that’s the way I feel about it.
The date was June 28th-ish, a few days ago as I write this, just a couple of weeks past as it’s posted here. You can read about the comics, gaming, zine, and general connection in previous blog posts: K.C. Ryan and Looking for a hero. I can’t bring myself to summarize it now. You can also see Ben Bellot’s excellent piece at Facebook for the real eulogy. I am not good at them – what follows is something else.
I met Mike in person during the summer of 1989. I didn’t know he had disabilities and first saw him standing with arm-extender crutches at our first meeting, with the bodily twists and and proportions that suggested multiple sclerosis. But it wasn’t MS actually, as he casually mentioned a while later during our wide-ranging and frank conversations; at the time (when he was about 25, like me), I don’t think they even had managed to name what-all it was. Basically all sorts of things going wrong or off-scale, whenever. Complications. He told me he was already way past the anticipated death-date. He smoked, he drank, and why not. His long-running Champions character, Doctor Jackal, needed little interpretation – and it’s a testament to Mike, creatively, that he adored his character’s flaws and travails far more than needing him to be continually validated.
The Clobberin’ Times people met regularly for the San Diego Comics Convention, something I didn’t have time or money for during the 1990s.
And what, I dunno, a decade later, maybe more, here’s Mike looking a bit cleaned-up among them:
I bet some people reading this and seeing the photos are saying, “I could go for that guy.” Yes, you could. Women loved him, deservedly so (and how common is that?). Men respected him on sight. Did you ever meet one of those wryly humorous, sarcastically wise biker types? Who look thirty-eight years old at high school graduation and basically stay that way for fifty years? Who let loose a lazy phrase without fanfare and you suddenly realize it nailed the whole conversation to the wall? Mike was one of those. I never heard him raise his voice, but no one, ever, would dare speak over him or disrespect him in any way. He was shockingly vulnerable and seemingly indestructible at the same time; Californian Gen X in the way that Hollywood will never, ever know.
He was in-and-out of the emergency room and/or intensive care throughout the past year. I never did inquire as to whether there was a name for whatever-it-was, or for the syndrome that led to the plethora of complications, but I hung on each visit, via Facebook, with all those pictures of utterly-smitten nurses. Yes, Mike was iron and had blown smoke at his own execution date decades ago, but still. Nothing that brought him into those places was any good.
Here would be the place to articulate some insight for gaming, for comics, for society, for very arc of all humanity, in Mike’s name. I don’t have it. All I have is an absurd, selfish grunt of annoyance that he did not get to see Adept Comics. Which isn’t about him at all, but about me and the crazy things we think when larger and stronger emotions are so loud that I block them out. I can feel them like a cloud, at arms’ length. I’ll feel them for real, as my own emotions, later, maybe a lot later. Insulated and choked-off, what’s left of my mind says, “Fuck, man! He would’ve loved the comics!”
Some eulogy. I should drink a beer, or read an early 80s crap Marvel issue, or dig out the old Clobberin’ Times again and find a good piece he wrote to scan for you. I’ll be doing that latter in later posts.
True: my son Erik (8) just came down to tell me to go to bed, by which he means, he can’t sleep and wants me to go up with him. “Aren’t you done with your work yet? You should save work for tomorrow.” I told him I had some sad stuff to finish and would rather do it when the kids weren’t here. “OK, I’ll go up,” he said, not wanting to see any sad stuff. “I’ll be there,” I said, still insulated, not feeling it. “I’ll just find a couple more pictures of my friend.”
That sentence did it. I guess the cloud settled in faster than I thought.
Links: The F Word (Mike’s online zine about the Forte game)
Astute readers have probably noticed that the “next” contents have been a little borked lately. I have the scheduling back under control now.
Next comics (July 14): One Plus One
Next column (July 17): Sense, coincidence, nonsense, and consequence
Posted on July 10, 2016, in Absent friends, Clobberin' callback and tagged Mike O'Connell. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.
Ron, thanks for writing this and sharing your thoughts on our good friend Mike. The section needs group picture was from 1998 as that was my first trip to SDCC and the first time I had met the gang in person (I am on Mike’s right and it was taken in his and Aaron’s apartment).
Holy shit, Ron.
“They can’t figure out what it is but it’s slowly killing you” is the cruelest disease.
I’m sorry, for you, and for everyone who knew and loved him, and whose lives he made richer. Which is many, many people, it sounds like.
There are words we use – “condolences”, “sympathies”. As your post well demonstrates, Ron, the words are horrible, but they are also what we’ve got. So knowing that they are inadequate, but hoping they are not useless, I offer you condolences, and my sympathy. Sadly, nowadays, the last time I felt something like what you’re feeling is … not so long ago.
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I’m sorry to hear about your friend. I don’t think I can add much on top of what Gordon said, but I sounds like Mike had good company.