Monday, 4 March 2013

Gene Day (1951-1982)

Gene Day
(from The Comics Journal #77, November 1982)
The life and the work of Gene Day. To me, to most people, the two were interchangeable. It is very painful for me to write this now that the life and work are at an end. I have lost a mentor, a supporter, a cherished friend and my sanctuary from things that go bump in the artistic night.

Gene worked for hours at a time, pausing infrequently to eat and even more infrequently to sleep. He desired perfection in all that he did. It is hard to believe that I won’t someday read his Shadow book for Fantagraphics, see the definitive Gene Day Batman, thumb through a new Gene Day Indiana Jones book. I’ll never be able to listen, enraptured, to his album of synthesiser music he intended to publish in the spring.

If he had lived to be a hundred, though, there would have been countless unfinished Gene Day projects. Gene wasn’t happy if he didn’t have at least a half-dozen projects underway. A couple of weeks before his death, we talked for almost two hours on the phone; me cross-hatching a background for the cover of Cerebus #43 and Gene inking small background figures. I would often save such "one-handed" work for these times, as did Gene. He spoke of the future, of his upcoming tasks as he always did – enthusiastically, unafraid – filled with that untiring desire for perfection. We had made tentative plans to work on a Batman story together now that he was at DC, talked of recording some additional synthesiser background music for Cerebus the Radio Show.

Gene never slowed down, never paused to catch his breath before plunging into his next work. Had he found a publisher who would have doubled his wage, he would have seen it as an opportunity to increase his output, plowing the extra money into another publishing venture, a portfolio, a revived Dark Fantasy, an underground comic. He would have found it inconceivable to cut back his production and take some time off.

He was relentless, Gene was, a consummate entertainer and, in a field so often known for its whiners, its prima donnas, its buck-passers, the consummate professional.

Sadly, like so many other who were privileged to call him friend, I thought he was superhuman.

He had told me many times that he wanted to die at the drawing board, pursuing the perfection he always felt to be far from his grasp, the perfection he could never see in himself, but which was always there in my eyes. His life was a testament to his will, lived in the manner he chose, and no one deflected him from the path once chosen. I feel sorry for the people who never met Gene. I feel sorry for the people who knew him only briefly or who only met him in a convention art room or comics shop. To see Gene in the house he loved, with those he loved, Gale and Danny, hunched over the drawing board he had hammered together in his early teens out of scrap wood, and seated in the old kitchen chair on the worn cushion (the only place he could truly, comfortably draw), surrounded by model airplanes, comic book figurines, magazines, photo references, stacks or artwork and works in progress; to see him there was to know him as the Lord of the Manor, the King of All he Surveyed, the Master of his Craft, the Enthusiastic Student, the Ardent Practitioner. The beacon of creativity.

The beacon is, sadly for us – for all of us – gone now. The light remains; the resolute spirit, the gentle humor, the awesome dedication, the voluminous output.

If you wish to honor his memory, do good work. If you would follow in his footsteps, do your best work. If you wish, one day, to reach the same lofty plateau of excellence and individuality that he showed us all, never be satisfied with what you have done and always look forward to your next task, resolving to do better.

I miss him more than I can say. My heart goes out to everyone who feels the loss, everyone who was touched by his work, by his personality, by his creativity.

We’ve lost a publisher, a patron, an editor, a writer, a penciller, an inker, an illustrator, a colourist, a designer, a collector, a fan, a reader, a friend, and an inspiration.

If you feel the loss, now, wherever you are – create something. Write a story, draw a picture, create a costume, design a character, paste up an ad, sketch an outline.

If you can’t do that, encourage a struggling amateur, applaud a professional, buy a fanzine, or just write an enthusiastic letter to an editor of a comic book that you enjoy.

It’s the only tribute that would have mattered to him.

Goodbye Gene.

Howard Eugene Day (1951-1982) was the Canadian comic book artist best known for Marvel Comics' Master of Kung Fu and Star Wars series. Dave Sim credits Gene as his earliest and most influential mentor, and the inspiration for his own self-publishing efforts. From 1985 to 1986, Deni Loubert's Renegade Press published four issues of Gene Day's Black Zeppelin, an anthology series primarily featuring stories and painted covers Day completed before his death of a coronary on 23 September 1982 at the age of 31. From 2002-2006, Dave Sim and Gerhard created The Day Prize, an annual award given to a comic creator chosen by them from the exhibitors at SPACE (Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo) held in Columbus, Ohio. In February 2009, the Shuster Awards received permission from Gene Day's widow, Gale, and brothers to name the annual Gene Day Award For Self-Publishing in his memory. Gene was inducted into the Shuster Hall of Fame in 2007.

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