Health Care Comics

Comics, Plug, Work

I’ll be debuting a new print project this month, Health Care Comics! Published by The Journalist’s Resource (a project of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center), the 32-page comic features three recent stories of mine: “Empathy 101” (2023), “Vaccinated at the Ball” (2022), and “A Tale of Two Pandemics” (2020).

All three pieces in Health Care Comics deal with issues of health equity. I explore and explain an array of recent public health research, drawing on peer-reviewed articles, my interviews with their authors, and additional sources. The authors, activists, and teachers themselves appear as characters in the stories.

All three stories appeared online on The Journalist’s Resource (JR), but in Health Care Comics this is the first time they’ll be collected in print. As ever, I’m grateful to my amazing editor at JR, Carmen Nobel, for making this project happen.

I’ll have copies of Health Care Comics at the excellent one-day festival at the Brooklyn Independent Comics Showcase (BICS), taking place on April 13 in Industry City, Brooklyn (natch).

Being that H.C.C. is a Harvard U./Creative Commons project, I’m not allowed to sell the comic, BUT I can offer it as a giveaway with any other purchase of my work. And I’ll have plenty of other items for sale at BICS, including recent issues of The VagabondsKeyhole 25, and of course my books A.D.The Influencing Machine, and A Few Perfect Hours

So come to BICS and say hi: further enticements to attend are the planned presences of my old pals Dean HaspielWhitney Matheson, and Nick Bertozzi, who will be debuting new work as well! Remember: April 13, 2023, at St. Mark’s Comics in Industry City. Here’s a link.

Ed Piskor (1982–2024)

Life, Tribute

I’m not sure what to say about Ed Piskor except that it is all so sad. I knew Ed — albeit peripherally — and it’s a big deal when someone in your circle dies — especially at their own hand.

I don’t know enough about the situation with the young cartoonist to really weigh in. Ed’s suicide letter and the background of COVID isolation, etc., provides more context, but I can definitely see that he came off as a creeper. And that behavior is a real problem in our industry.

But what I really inferred from Ed’s letter was that his entire ego and identity were unhealthily tied to his life as a cartoonist. Last week, when it appeared that his livelihood was being taken from him, it must have felt like EVERYTHING had been taken from him. And that’s what led him to take his own life.

It’s hard for me to reconcile this with the Ed that I knew, because I was only really acquainted with him at the very beginning of his career. Ed reached out to me and Dean Haspiel back when HE was the young cartoonist, only 21 years of age. He was just starting to work with Harvey Pekar and he wanted to connect with us to know what our experiences were with the famed curmudgeonly writer.

We could see why Harvey was attracted to Ed’s talent — his artwork was so clearly influenced by underground luminaries like Crumb and Shelton. (Piskor’s work always reminded me a bit of Derf’s: they both took their weaknesses — drawing relatable people — and made it their strengths.) Even at that tender age, Ed struck me as someone who was all-in on the cartoonist life — for better or worse.

Ed, Dean, Harvey, and I all ended up together a few years later at SPX 2005. We did a panel together, and I drew the SPX program cover that year, featuring Harvey signing books for fans – and Ed, Dean, and myself as bobbleheads. (There had been a Harvey Pekar bobblehead sold in conjunction with the American Splendor movie, which I guess is where I got the idea!)

That was when I first met Ed in person, which was a bit of a surprise. His hip-hop getup of a ball cap, Public Enemy T-shirt, and dark glasses struck me as a pose. Was it ironic or serious? In reality, he seemed shy and insecure (in other words, like every other cartoonist). I came to see Ed’s outfit as his “convention uniform” — maybe his way of protecting himself from feeling too vulnerable when he emerged from behind the drawing table?

I kind of lost touch with Ed after he did Macedonia with Harvey. I really dug his Hip Hop Family Tree stuff, but I haven’t followed his work since then, other than to remark how prolific he was and how much he grew as an artist. (Dean and I interviewed Ed for our American Splendor podcast back in 2019, but that was the first time I had interacted with Ed in probably ten years.) And I never saw how he was around women and female fans.

The portrait of Ed that emerges from his letter is of a guy who only felt at home when he was making comics, or talking about comics on his YouTube show. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t appear he had many, if any, strong human connections — romantic relationships, family — to keep him on track both during and after COVID. The isolation of COVID was real! I thank my lucky stars every day that I had Sari and Phoebe during those years.

Yes, Ed made some unquestionably bad choices… but nothing actually criminal, right? He was troubled. We all are. And I don’t imagine that his accusers feel that what he did was worthy of him dying! Yet that is where we sit today.

# # #

Carol Tyler — who knew him better than I did — had some wise things to say about all this.

Vaccinated at the Ball

“Vaccinated at the Ball” given a Graphic Medicine award

Publicity, Work
An actual trophy!!

On Saturday I was excited to witness my comics journalism story, “Vaccinated at the Ball,” being given the 2023 GMIC Award for outstanding health-related comic projects (short-form). (GMIC stands for the Graphic Medicine International Collective, and the award was announced at this year’s GMIC conference, held in Toronto. I watched the ceremony on Zoom.) 

I knew the story had been short-listed for the award, but the competition was very stiff, with four other excellent pieces under consideration.

This is what the judges had to say about “Vaccinated at the Ball”:

The judges loved this comic. Josh Neufeld’s graphic journalism is performed with masterful skill. In this piece, he manages to create a brilliantly engaging graphic essay that draws the reader into the action while avoiding excessive narration or resorting to talking heads. The story sets modern-day anxieties about COVID vaccination against historical government malpractice in a way that sympathetically articulates the viewpoint of the vaccine skeptics while reinforcing the importance of vaccination in combating the pandemic.

I’m so grateful to have won, especially because this means more eyeballs on the story, which focuses on COVID vaccination in Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community, particularly house ball celebrations. The piece celebrates the work of UIC nurses Randi Singer, Natasha Crooks, and Rebecca Singer; healthcare advocate Noel C. Green; and of course, house ball legend/activist Jahari Stamps.

I’m thrilled to be sharing the award with my amazing editor Carmen Nobel and her organization The Journalist’s Resource, which commissioned the piece. One of the things I’m most proud of about “VatB” was that it was published under a Creative Commons license, which enabled it to be freely republished by, among others, the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday section — in print!

I’ve been interested in the form of graphic medicine (GM) for a while now — I’m still amazed that there’s an annual academic conference devoted to GM (and has been for over a decade now!). It just so happens that four of the last five comics journalism pieces I have done fall under the label of GM: “Supply Chain Superhero,” “A Tale of Two Pandemics,” “Kansas City and the Case for Restitutional Medicine,” and of course, “Vaccinated at the Ball.” And I’m currently at work on a new piece, on the topic of empathy and medicine. So being recognized by the GM community really means a lot. Thank you, GMIC, and thank you to the late Herbert and Nancy Wolf, who helped develop and sponsor the award.

Congrats as well to the long-form GMIC Award-winner, Ronan and the Endless Sea of Stars, by Rick Louis and Lara Antal.

Rachel Pollack, 1945-2023

Life, Tribute
Rachel Pollack's website, circa 2002.

I was saddened to read the other day that Rachel Pollack had passed away. Rachel was a fiction writer, an expert on the tarot, and a beloved teacher, but I basically knew her as the writer of Doom Patrol and as a client.

Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, just when I was beginning to curtail my consumption of most genre comics (i,.e., I wasn’t going to the comic shop every week), I still made a point of reading Pollack’s Doom Patrol (with notable art by the brilliant Richard Case and then later the equally brilliant Ted McKeever). Taking over the title from Grant Morrison, Pollack’s Doom Patrol dove headfirst into stories on the LGBTQ+ experience and religion — while remaining delightfully WEIRD in that special Doom Patrol way. During Rachel’s run, she created mainstream comics’ first transgender superhero, Coagula.

Some years later, through a mutual acquaintance, Rachel became a client of my “boutique” web design business. (One of the ways I made money as a freelancer in the period 1996–2003 was by designing simple websites for various small businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists.) At that point my own comics career was still very much a passion rather than a “going concern,” and it was exciting to be working with an actual comics professional (even if Rachel was no longer working in comics).

I designed Rachel’s first website, “The Shining Tribe,” which is where I discovered that she had all these other specialties. (Thanks to the Wayback Machine, we can go visit her old site — it all looks so quaint now!) She and her later-to-be wife Zoe Matoff were so pleasant to work with, and Rachel, I think, was charmed that she and I had a comics connection; she always made sure to ask me about my own work and offer encouragement. (At one point she even floated the idea of me illustrating a tarot deck of hers, but I didn’t think my particular style would have been a good fit for that type of job, so I turned it down.)

I stopped updating Rachel’s site around 2003, which is around when my freelance life picked up with work closer to my heart: comics and editorial illustration. I hadn’t thought much about Rachel Pollack in the years since, so when I came across her obituary in the New York Times, a lot of memories came flooding back. One of them was about the manner in which Rachel took over as writer for Doom Patrol. As she had already been already hired as the writer, but was basically unknown in the comics industry, Rachel and the editor came up with a clever ruse to announce her takeover of the title. In the guise of a fangirl, she started writing letters to the editor that were published every month in the letter column, “Doom Sayers.” She started off by announcing her intention to become the title’s writer one day — “Someone once told me that most comics writers started out writing letters…” Her letters were truly wacky and hilarious — at one point she suggested that Barbara Bush should join the Doom Patrol, and in another, she announced that she “used to have a secret identity. Well, actually I gave up the public identity and kept the secret one, which was a lot more fun.” Apparently, a number of people — myself included — thought she had been hired based on her letters!

The Times‘ obituary (written by George Gene Gustines) also taught me one fundamental thing about Rachel that I’m embarrassed to say I NEVER knew: that she was trans. I mean, given the content of her writing on Doom Patrol, I should’ve guessed, but I’m obviously pretty clueless. And, as she was quoted as saying, comparing when she transitioned (in 1976) to now, “The big thing that’s changed, an astonishing change, is that transgender people are now visible,” she said. “Society recognizes that this is something people can be. Obviously, there is a strong reactionary element fighting change, as always, but the difference is remarkable.” And the truth is that Rachel had a VERY public identity, one which touched a lot of different people in a myriad of ways.

My deep condolences to her family, friends, fans, and of course to her widow Zoe.

Michael Friedman: Adventures in Reality – The Civilians 2023 spring benefit

Illustration, Plug, Tribute

For many years now, I’ve been an associate artist with The Civilians, an “investigative theatre” group founded by the brilliant Steve Cosson. The Civilians combine their own research and reportage with musical theatre to create productions on such topics as climate change, paranoia, loss, evangelical Christianity, the porn industry, and New York City itself. Their work is both thought-provoking and highly entertaining.

So what role do I play, you ask? Well, I don’t really sing, dance, or act, so I stick to my so-called strength: drawing. Over the years, I’ve illustrated Civilians programs, announcements cards, album covers, benefit cards, flyers, and even a comic adapted from a monologue from their play Gone Missing.

In 2017, the company tragically lost founding member Michael Friedman, the composer and lyricist for so many of their productions. Ever since, then I’ve been illustrating album covers for the “Michael Friedman Collection” — nine albums of songs from Civilians musicals for which he wrote the music. (You can see four of those covers in the image above, and you can listen to the entire collection here.)

Well, tomorrow, Monday, April 3, The Civilians are holding their 2023 spring benefit, celebrating their Michael Friedman Recording Project. Here are some more details:

“Join us on April 3rd, for a star-studded One-Night-Only Concert at City Winery in Manhattan, celebrating the Michael Friedman Recording Project and honoring Kurt Deutsch and Ghostlight Records. Enjoy an amazing evening of music that will make you laugh, cry — maybe both — with many of Michael’s most beloved songs!

The event will feature brilliant performances from Andrea Daly, Andrew Kober, Colleen Werthmann, Grace Field, Heath Saunders, Jonathan Raviv, Kristin Stokes, Luba Mason, Maya Sharpe, Mike Cefalo, Nedra Marie Taylor, Nick Blaemire, Rebecca Hart and Trey Lyford, Jennifer Blood, Akron Watson, Vaibu Mahon, Steve Rosen, Perry Sherman.”

And here’s a link to the event — tickets are still available. Personally, I can’t wait!

Victor Navasky (1932–2023)

Life, Plug

Thinking about Victor S. Navasky (July 5, 1932–January 23, 2023), the longtime editor and even longer-time public face of The Nation magazine, who passed away last week. He was a towering figure in journalism, and his life and career have been documented by people much more qualified than me. But I have some personal memories to share.

It was 1990. I was a year out of college, searching for direction, and I wrote a desperate plea to The Nation, a sort of moral compass for me back then. I begged for a job — any job — and even though the magazine didn’t have any openings, Victor agreed to meet with me. Despite his vital obligations in putting out a weekly magazine, he was so kind and patient during the interview, crinkling his eyes in a sympathetic smile as I expressed my existential crisis. 

And somehow he created a job for me! At first, I was the magazine’s jack-of-all-trades — my duties included everything from helping with the magazine’s classified ads section and selling back issues and T-shirts to putting fresh toilet paper in the bathroom — but I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be in the door and apparently steering my life in the “right” direction. 

Victor was never a director mentor to me, but he embodied the spirit of the place. I learned so many things from him just by observing his manner and the way he dealt with his people. I thrived at The Nation, where I made a bunch of great friends and contacts, and eventually became director of reprints and syndication. I also learned how journalism and fact-checking work, and I credit that formative experience with setting me on the path to my eventual (current) role as a journalist.

And no doubt the best thing that happened at The Nation was that I met Sari Wilson, who began her own post-college career as an intern there. The rest, as they say, is history! 

I left The Nation in 1992, setting out with Sari on our round-the-world backpacking adventure (which led to us living in Prague, then Chicago, then San Francisco, then Provincetown, and finally, nearly a decade later, back to New York City). At the farewell party for me, Victor gently ribbed me about how far I had come in my two years there, and even jokingly took credit for connecting me with Sari. But it wasn’t a joke: if he hadn’t taken “pity” on me and given me a job that didn’t exist, Sari and I would never have met.

I ran into Victor here and there in later years — when Sari and I were back in NYC for a visit, and a couple of times upstate in the Berkshires. And he was always the same: avuncular, sharp-eyed, and happy to see how my life was progressing. I’m happy he had a good long life, and I’m grateful our lives intersected at such a key juncture in mine. He will be missed.

Andor: a Star Wars TV Show for Grownups

Geek, Plug, Review

I can’t believe how good is Andor, the Star Wars TV show that debuted in September on Disney+. It’s a Star Wars show with no lightsabers, no Jedis, no Force-users of any kind—and it’s all the better for it.

The show, which stars Diego Luna, reprising his role as Cassian Andor from Rogue One, is a Star Wars show for grownups. In tone, Andor is closer to excellent adult science fiction shows like The Expanse and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica than any of the other Star Wars offshoots. (To prove it’s “for grownups,” the show even has a sex scene—well, as close as you get to a sex scene in a Star Wars story…)

Andor is created by Tony Gilroy, who took the James Bond genre and gave it a more grown-up sensibility with the Jason Bourne film franchise. (Gilroy was the co-writer of Rogue One.) I feel like Gilroy did a lot of research about oppressive regimes and revolutionary movements before launching this show, and that he has a lot to say! Ostensibly, Andor is about the growth of the Rebellion, which eventually leads to the events of Rogue One and the original Star Wars (“A New Hope“), but it’s really about how revolutions happen in the real world. The show is about the Empire and its oppression, but it could just as easily be about England and the American colonists, or Batista’s Cuba before Castro, or any historical resistance movement.

In previous Star Wars stories, we’ve been told that life under the Empire is “bad” (and in Star Wars, of course, we do see the Empire blow up an entire planet), but Andor digs into what everyday life is like for ordinary citizens: the Empire’s partnership with exploitative mega-corporations who rape the land and abuse their workers, a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and an ultra-punitive judicial system—and ruling above them all the far-off Emperor (who is never seen in the show).

Do you know Reds, that epic Warren Beatty movie about American radicals—including John Reed, Louise Bryant, Eugene O’Neill, and Emma Goldman—of the early 20th century? I remember watching it back when it came out in the early 1980s when I was too young to follow most of the story. I remember thinking, “This is an adult movie.” (And I was able to understand it a lot better once I was a college graduate.) Well, believe it or not, I feel the same way about Andor.

The show is set in the period after Star Wars Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, when the Empire has established itself and totally wiped out any legitimate opposition. Former Separatists—the “enemy” in the infamous Star Wars prequels—make up some members of the resistance, but other figures are involved too: factionalists like Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker), and current politicians like Mon Mothma (an excellent Genevieve O’Reilly)—future leader of the Rebel Alliance—who masquerades as an ineffectual socialite Senator but is deeply engaged with funding the resistance. Stellan Skarsgård is stellar (sorry, couldn’t resist) as an undercover rebel mastermind, the one who sees the potential in Cassian.

Andor does a really good job of portraying how fraught is life when you’re part of a revolutionary movement—how hard it is to trust your comrades because all it takes is one counter-agent to bring down the whole movement and send everyone to an awful fate.

The show’s characters—even the “baddies”—are complex. There are no heroes, just people trying their best to follow their beliefs. And then there is the main character, really well portrayed by Diego Luna, who’s trying to figure out what his beliefs are. Cassian Andor’s back story is fascinating, touching on issues of genocide—a continual theme in the show—but also explaining his “Spanish” accent.

The show is also surprising in that it chooses to portray a selection of true believers from the “other side”—members of the Empire like Syril Karn and Dedra Meero (played respectively by Kyle Soller and Denise Gough, both excellent in their roles). Their stories in the show—intimately tied to the plot—provide an inside look at the Imperial bureaucracy and the hurdles faced by those who, through their own independent thought, struggle to be heard and respected.

Obviously, I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the original trilogy scores of times, and continue to rewatch the Disney sequels, and, yes, even the benighted George Lucas prequel movies. To me, Rogue One, despite some flaws, was an excellent film (despite my shock, when seeing it the first time with my then-nine-year-old daughter, to discover that it was an unexpectedly violent war movie). And for the most part, I really enjoyed Solo-–of all the later movies, it best embodies the goofy energy of the first Star Wars film, and I thought Donald Glover was spot-on as Lando Calrissian. I’m a Mandalorian fan and have seen the other Disney+ live actions shows (though Obi-Wan was very mixed and The Book of Boba Fett felt like a total waste of time). I loved the Clone Wars animated show, and also enjoyed Star Wars Rebels. I still rank The Empire Strikes Back as one of my top ten movies of all time.

However, I’ve never read any of the “expanded universe” novels or dug deep into the Star Wars mythos beyond the movies and the various live-action/animated shows, so I don’t know if other writers had ever brought such dimension to the franchise. But Andor seems like the best kind of science fiction: filled with new worlds, new civilizations, and impressive visuals, but at its heart tied to struggles and issues we identify with here on Mother Earth.

Anyway, my point is if you tend to dismiss the Star Wars franchise as essentially childish fantasy tales (which is not wrong!), but you’re a fan of adult sci-fi, then consider checking out Andor.

Note: I’m writing this without having read any of the show’s reviews or comparing notes with any fellow Star Wars/sci-fi fans. So I have no idea how the rest of the world has received Andor. Do you like it? I’m also writing this before watching the season finale (which came out today), so no spoilers, please! There’s a lot of plot to resolve, and lots of characters whose fate lies in the balance, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out…!

The Giants are retiring Will Clark’s number 22 jersey. I think they should also retire Jack Clark’s number 22 jersey.

Life
My version of Jack Clark’s 1984 Topps baseball card, drawn some years back.

On July 30, my beloved San Francisco Giants will retire the number 22 jersey of Will Clark. It’s a well-deserved honor for an iconic Giant of the 1980s and early 1990s. But my question is why can’t the team also retire the number 22 jersey of Jack Clark, an iconic Giants of the 1970s and early 1980s? The two Clarks are not related, but their stats as Giants are comparable…

I owned this giveaway plastic cup for many years.

As a Giant from 1975 to 1984, Jack “The Ripper” Clark played in 1,044 games, slashing at a rate of .277/.359/.477 for an OPS of .836, with 163 homers and 595 RBI. During that time he added 60 stolen bases and 497 walks. He made two All-Star teams (1978 and 1979) and came in fifth in the 1978 NL MVP race. During a notoriously down offensive period for baseball, he was in the top ten in home runs in the National League three times as a Giant. He was a solid right fielder with a strong arm, showing up in the top five in outfield assists three times. The guy who “Lit the Spark of Candlestick Park,” he generally hit third for the team.

A scant two seasons after Jack Clark was traded away, the team promoted another player named Clark and gave him the same number 22 jersey. As a Giant from 1986 to 1992, Will “The Thrill” Clark played in 1,160 games (104 more than Jack), slashing at a rate of .299/.373/.499 for an OPS of .872, with 176 home runs and 709 RBI. During that time he added 52 stolen bases and 506 walks. He made five All Star teams (1989–1992) and finished in the top five in the NL MVP race four times (1987–1989, 1991). A good first baseman, he won the NL Gold Glove in 1991. Will generally batted third, and is famous for homering off of Nolan Ryan in his first Major League at-bat, and destroying the Cubs in the 1989 National League playoffs.

So, yeah, although Will’s stats as a Giant are undeniably better than Jack’s, both were highly productive number 22s. And both Clarks’ final career statistics are remarkably similar, with each finishing with the same career OPS+ of 137. (Will had a higher career batting average, but Jack hit more home runs.) The main difference is that Jack’s most productive years came in the five seasons after he left the Giants, while Will’s best years were with the Giants.

But I believe the main reason Will’s jersey is the number 22 the Giants are retiring is that he is a much more beloved figure in San Francisco. A garrulous character, after his playing career he returned to the Giants as an advisor and “ambassador.” Jack, on the other hand, is known as a temperamental, irascible fellow — he left the Giants on bad terms with the manager, and didn’t make a ton of friends on later teams he played for either.

My 1988 photo of Yankee Jack Clark.

Don’t get me wrong — I have great affection for Will Clark. But for me, Jack Clark was the man. I became a San Francisco Giants fan in late 1978, and he — along with a declining Willie McCovey — was the heart of the Giants’ offense in those early years of Giants fandom. For the most part, the team was pretty mediocre during those years, but Jack could be counted on to produce. (Game-winning RBI used to be considered a reliable metric of “clutch hitters,” and Jack was always a league leader in that category.) Because of him, number 22 became my favorite baseball number (yes, that’s a thing.) I was practically heartbroken when the Giants traded him away, and I followed the rest of his career with great interest. (I still have pretty much all his baseball cards from every stop along the way.) After many years, I got to see him in person again when I was in college in Ohio when, as a member of the New York Yankees, he came to play the then-Indians. (Clark only played one year for the Yanks — because he pissed off the manager.)

Here are the stats of both Clarks — as Giants — added together: 2,204 games with a slash line of .289/.366/.488, 2,312 hits, 339 homers, 1,304 RBI, and an OPS of .854. That’s a pretty good career!

To sum up, I think it’s great that the Giants are retiring the number 22 in honor of Will Clark. But how cool would it be if they invited Jack Clark to come to the ceremony and gave him some due as the first Clark to wear the number with distinction?

My 2020 cutout wearing the no. 22 Clark jersey.

P.S. Full-disclosure side note: two Giants’ players actually wore no. 22 longer than did either Clark — Don Mueller (1948–1957, ten seasons) and Hal Lanier (1964–1971, eight seasons)! Mueller, an outfielder, was a .296 lifetime hitter but had virtually no power, with a career OPS of .712. Lanier was a light-hitting infielder. So there is that.

My Letter to Roger Angell

Life, Tribute

The great baseball writer Roger Angell passed away today. He had lived an impressive 101 years. You can read his obituary in the New York Times. This is a slightly edited letter I wrote to him in 2002 (back before my beloved San Francisco Giants won three World Series in five years). I think it still makes a nice testimonial to his work and what it meant to me during my life…

Dear Mr. Angell,

Your books have given me so much joy over the years. They seem to be about so much more than just baseball. For years now I’ve been meaning to send you a “thank you” letter, but I always feel as if I have so much to say that I’ve intimidated myself! So I figure the best thing to do is just start, and see where it takes me. First off, I’m a 34-year-old cartoonist living in Brooklyn. When I first came across your work, I was a 12-year-old pipsqueak living with my mom in San Francisco. So that’s over twenty years ago! 

My parents were divorced, and my dad lived in New York, and in the summer of 1977, he introduced me to baseball, by playing catch with me every day after work, taking me to a couple of Yankee games (and teaching me to keep score!), and watching the Yanks with me on TV. By the time I returned home to San Francisco and my mom, I had fallen hard for the game. I started out as a Yankee supporter, but I evolved into a huge Giants fan. Sure, the Yanks were great, with their two recent world championships and all, but they were 3,000 miles away. And who could resist the Giants’ magnificent trio of Willie McCovey, Vida Blue, and Jack Clark? I remain a Giants fan to this day. I still root for the Yankees, too (since the two teams are in different leagues), but when push comes to shove, I favor the Giants by a broad margin. 

It was tough being a Giants fan in the early 1980s, when I moved with my mother back to my birthplace of New York. For one thing, in those pre-Internet, pre-sports radio days, it was nearly impossible to get the West Coast scores until late the next day. So frustrating! Secondly, all my friends were Mets fans, and despite both teams being pretty awful, my “pals” found nothing more enjoyable than razzing me about every Giants loss—especially when it came at the hands of their beloved Mets. But, what can I say? I’ve always been an underdog sort of guy, and given the Giants’ perennial also-ran status, that makes them pretty irresistible.

Baseball seemed to answer so many questions for me during that period of my life. Back in San Francisco, I spent more time than was healthy parked in front of the radio (we didn’t own a television), listening to Hank Greenwald and Lindsey Nelson give the play-by-play, as I kept pace, keeping score on my own custom-made scorecards. I got endless satisfaction from the stats, the computing of averages, and the comparisons of players from one era to another. There was comforting reliability to baseball statistics: the whole world fit into these little boxes, everything had a scoring symbol or a slot to fit into, and in my itinerant youth (my mom, a college professor and artist, took me with her to jobs in San Diego, San Francisco, Halifax, Vancouver, and finally, in the summer of 1980, back to New York), this dependability meant a lot. 

I always loved playing baseball, too, although I never got very good at it. In San Francisco, the neighborhood kids and I were crazy about our version of stickball (with a wooden bat and an old tennis ball). And even my two or three years of Little League ball were fun, although I wasn’t much of a hitter (and not much better as a pitcher). 


Until I came across The Summer Game, my exposure to baseball writing had been confined to juvenile fiction and simplified biographies of stars such as Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio. You know the kinds of books I mean: bland histories where every chapter offers a life lesson. Or the fictional stories, which always seemed to be about that terrible Little League team that over the course of a long summer comes together, bonds, and goes on to win the championship against incredible odds. 

Well, stumbling across The Summer Game (sometime in 1978, I believe) was like opening my eyes to a whole new world. You brought the lyricism of the game to my attention. Even though I was far too young to really appreciate the beauty of your prose, your easy, colloquial style, your love of the quiet moments between the actions, your appreciation of the weather, the stadium, the fans around you: all of this was captivating to me. I’ve re-read your books many times over the years, from my adolescence in New York, to my college years in Ohio, and during even a stint in Prague, the Czech Republic! Since then, I’ve lived in Chicago, back in San Francisco, and now am back “home” in Brooklyn, always with your books in tow.

When I first read your books, I was absorbed by the inside-baseball; the quotes from the stars, the feeling I was vicariously getting to know these superstars (and benchwarmers too). Even at age 12, I was an avid reader of the sports pages, and it seemed to me that the players quoted in there didn’t have the ability to form complete sentences, rarely anything other than the typical clichés about giving “one hundred and ten percent,” taking it one day at a time, etc., etc. But when you spoke to those guys, they seemed real: thoughtful, opinionated, humorous, human. 

And of course I loved the way you brought the big games to life, your annual recap of the pennant races, the playoffs and the World Series. It didn’t matter if I had followed every game myself. Somehow you brought those moments back, capturing the drama, the tension, the whole atmosphere. I realize now that it wasn’t the suspense of the unknown that I craved, but the sense that during those moments, this game was the content of my entire world.

Over the years, as I’ve re-read The Summer GameFive SeasonsLate Innings, and Season Ticket, I’ve come to appreciate your abiding humanism, the way you continually embrace the changing playing field of major league baseball. In the face of greedy players & owners, astronomical salaries, stadium scandals, contraction, and the nearly endless postseason, your love of the game and its participants has never waned. Somehow you’re able to express your concerns, to plainly state why you think the most recent “innovation” does the game a disservice, and yet maintain the generosity of spirit and perennial optimism to know that baseball—the game itself—will persevere. Nay, triumph!

I feel like I’m just going on and on, so I’ll cut this short. I hope this letter brings you some satisfaction—It’s the least I can do to repay you for all the wonderful hours of enjoyment and education you’ve provided me all these years. 

Thank you again; as always I look forward to your next baseball piece in The New Yorker.

Sincerely yours,

Josh Neufeld

George Pérez, 1954–2022

Life, Tribute

Jeez, what a month of losses this has been. Personally, I’ve lost two family members and, now, two major influences in my art career: first Neal Adams back on April 28, and now George Pérez, who died of pancreatic cancer on May 6. Pérez was only 67 years old.

Pérez art on a Firestorm story from 1980.

I was 13 years old when I first discovered Pérez’s work—on DC Comics’ dynamic (Marvel-style) superhero team comic The New Teen Titans (probably the title that Pérez is still most associated with). I was immediately taken by the energy of his dense, detailed artwork. 

Talk about chops—this was a guy who drew the heck out of each page on which he worked. (And he drew thousands and thousands of pages!) When I think of his work, I picture one of those crazy, crowded city skylines, often shot directly above. Or his group fight scenes, with every character doing a specific action. Or the particular way he would draw a face in chiaroscuro, with that little spot of light under the eye on the shadowed side. He could draw crowd scenes and detail better than anyone.

Looking at his work now, I recognize that the casual observer might not necessarily appreciate Pérez’s art; it can be stereotypical “comic-y” in its reliance on overly muscled, sometimes stiff, characters, and exaggerated “camera” angles and poses. But what set Pérez above all the hacks who emulate that same style was the passion he put into every page, his attention to detail, his devotion to craft, and his love for the form of comics.

As instantly “blocky” and recognizable as his work was, it was also refined in surprising ways. He really cared about differentiating his characters. With so many other comics artists, the basic features of the main characters were the same—without the costume or the hairstyle you might not be able to tell Robin from Kid Flash from Changeling; or Wonder Girl from Starfire from Raven. Not so with Pérez, who clearly thought about the shape of each character’s face and the proportions of their features.

And of course, he loved to draw strong women. His female superheroes looked as powerful as the men—you could believe that Wonder Woman could lift a tank or Starfire could blast through a wall with her powers. 

From that moment I first saw Pérez’ art on Teen Titans, I was hooked on his style, and for many years made it my mission to track down his work, including his earlier run on The Avengers—even those backup Firestorm stories in The Flash!

And he was so damn prolific. Whereas other artists struggled to keep up with a monthly book, Pérez thrived under the heavy workload. In one stretch in 1981, he was drawing both the Teen Titans AND the Justice League—both team books with tons of characters! Not to mention that he was frequently commissioned to illustrate covers for other books (which led to me buying comics in which I had no interest just to savor his amazing cover art).

There were also the odd side projects which showed up from time to time: who remembers his awesome self-inked short stories in Pacific’s Alien Worlds #7 and Vanguard Illustrated #6? (As much as I appreciated Romeo Tanghal’s inks on Pérez in Teen Titans, I loved it when Pérez inked his own pencils—so much more detail!)

Pérez-inspired art of mine from my high school days.

Pérez—along with John Byrne and Frank Miller—was a huge influence on my own comics work at the time. I studied Pérez’ artwork, read his interviews when I could find them, and savored the fact that he was a New York City kid like me. In high school, I drew my own superhero comics, and you can clearly see Pérez’ influences in my work of the time. (In fact, I aspired to one day draw The Teen Titans when Pérez retired!) Without his example, I would never have drawn this crazy one-point perspective cityscape in my high school comic, Blade. There are so many other examples from my comics and sketchbooks of the time of me emulating Pérez’ style—someday I’ll dig them up and display them here…

As the years went by and I went to college, still dreaming of becoming a superhero artist, I continued to follow Pérez obsessively—highlights of his work from that period include the groundbreaking limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, his landmark work as writer/artist on Wonder Woman, and his memorable stint on The Infinity Gauntlet miniseries. (Recent movies and TV shows like Avengers: Infinity War, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl all featured adaptations of stories on which Pérez worked.)


By the mid-1990s, I was transitioning from drawing superhero comics to what I do now—making comics about real people and real life. I pretty much stopped buying superhero comics, and lost touch with Pérez’ career. I draw a different kind of comics now, but those early influences never really go away, and even nowadays I find myself thinking of his work when I draw a detailed city scene or try to find the most dynamic angle from which to frame a shot.

I never got the chance to properly meet George Pérez, or to let him know how much I loved and had learned from his work. The one time I saw him in person was at a comics convention where we crossed paths. I was already getting published in the “indy comics” world by that time, and felt self-conscious about going up and introducing myself to someone who was now in a “different camp.” Plus, he was already surrounded by admirers. I remember just standing there at the con, watching him interact with his fans and taking in the fact that we were both there at the same time.

I usually make it a policy to send “fan letters” to those who have served as “mentors from afar”—I did so with writers like Roger Zelazny, Roger Angell, and Roger Ebert (all Rogers!), and even baseball announcer Jon Miller. But I’m sad to say I never did with Pérez. The closest I came was a fan letter I wrote to—and had published in!–“Titans Tower” (the Teen Titans letter column) in 1984; I like to think that George read it…

Even though I hadn’t followed Perez’ work in recent years, I was saddened last December to hear of his cancer diagnosis. And I was amazingly touched by the letter he wrote to his colleagues and fans, where he announced that he would not be seeking treatment, and instead would be spending his last few months with his family. It turned out that this superstar artist was a brave, inspiring human being as well.

I’ll end this piece with a message for other aspiring artists: his New York Times obit mentions that when Pérez first started getting published professionally, he really struggled with rendering perspective and anatomy. It’s a testament to how hard he worked that those features later became strengths of his; a lesson that every young artist should take to heart.

Thank you, George, from me and on behalf of all those readers whose lives you enriched through your example and your work.