Going Way Back

Comics aficionados take note: the formidable Martha Thomases has returned to the sequential art playing fields. Ever a booster (both personally and professionally) of the art form she loves, Thomases has recently taken on the mission of making sure the world knows about ComicMix (about which I’ll say more later).
Martha is a longtime friend of Eddie’s and mine, as are her husband John Tebbel and their talented offspring Arthur.

Arthur didn’t yet exist, of course, when I first met Martha and John at a Cartoonists Guild gathering a year or so after my 1977 move to New York. They were then co-editors of a magazine called Comedy, a publication that, alas, didn’t last remotely as long as it deserved to.

Martha, John, Eddie and I quickly discovered that we were on similar wave lengths and a friendship was born. As for Arthur’s emergence, I fondly remember the phone conversation during which Martha informed me than a new family member was in the pipeline.

"I’m pregnant!" she announced.

"That’s great!" I enthused.

"Glad you like it," she replied. "You can babysit."

As you can see, I’ve had several decades to observe the Tebbel-Thomases household in action. John is a writer who knows more than I will ever know about the history of animation, and Arthur in young adulthood is demonstrating that his parents’ language skills have been effectively passed along by both nature and nurture.

Friendship and collegiality aside, It’s Martha who has had the most concrete impact on my own career. She was well-positioned to do so, being the publicity chief at DC Comics at a critical juncture.

And what a whiz she was at communicating her own enthusiasms to the media. I will always count as one of her signal achievements her success at charming New York Newsday into devoting its complete third page to full-color coverage of the "Death of Superman." That was quite a triumph for me to come upon while page-flipping over my morning coffee. I mean, Newsday was no rinky-dink publication. Bill Moyers once edited it, for God’s sake!

Supe didn’t stay dead, of course (do they ever, these planet-hopping men of steel?), but for a few shining moments, thanks to this and similar coups across the mainstream media landscape, Americans who had scarely noticed the comics shops sprouting among them were suddenly contemplating the uncontemplatable about a fictional being they didn’t even realize they still gave a damn about. Some even bought a copy of the comic book under discussion. Could it really be "true"? Could a superbeing croak?

Superman dead was a seller. I give Martha points for making sure the world knew to buy it.

Martha was also the mole at DC Comics who in 1990 planted a fateful, (if thoroughly counter-intuitive at the time) notion in my mind. Knowing that I was at loose ends creatively with the run of my comic strip Wendel having drawn to a close at The Advocate, Martha suggested, "Why don’t you think about doing a graphic novel for DC’s new experimental imprint Piranha Press?"

Her suggestion led me to compose a book proposal about a self-absorbed gay guy coming of age down south during the civil rights era (I can’t imagine where that idea came from) for submission to Mark Nevelow, who was then the guiding editorial force at Piranha (which later became Paradox Press, but that’s another story). It took months, but my proposal eventually led to a signed contract, after which a certain fringe cartoonist from the underground comix world found himself living on DC’s money while Stuck Rubber Baby slowly wrestled its way onto paper.

It took me years to complete my graphic novel (click here if you wish to immerse yourself in the sordid details), but Martha didn’t wait until publication date was near to begin building buzz at every opportunity. "Howie is working on a graphic novel that’s going to blow you away," was her frequent remark at social gatherings even as half the book still remained to be drawn. And if you consult SRB‘s afterword you’ll see that Martha and John were among the Cruse loyalists who came to my novel’s rescue when it looked in danger of being aborted by personal bankruptcy, providing emergency funding by buying original SRB art sight unseen (and often not yet drawn).

Martha also pointed me toward Prometheus Books when I was hunting for a publisher for The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth. Again, her intuition bore fruit. Martha and John are not mere comics wonks, I should add. Their political passions always on target, they were quick to join the ranks of Eddie’s and my straight allies at gay pride marches and Eddie enjoyed their vigorous support when he ran for the New York State Senate in 1998.

Martha left DC a while back and the comics industry was poorer for the loss of her energetic advocacy. But now she is applying her skills to the online branch of the medium, having signed on as the Director of Corporate Communications for the aforementioned ComicMix, a new web site whose launch coincided with this year’s New York Comic Con. The site, edited by mainstream comics veteran Mike Gold, is now funneling a steady flood of comics-related news and commentary into comic fandom’s insatiable cyber-maw.

Martha herself will write occasional columns for the site (see her first "Ain’t I A Woman" entry), and I discovered while browsing that Arthur Tebbel is going to be chipping in occasionally with columns of his own (see "X-Men strand Gen Y"). Will Arthur’s dad John also join the ranks of ComixMix commentators? Only the Shadow knows.

Here’s to longstanding friendships! Above: see the Thomases-Tebbel household enjoying the company of the Sedarbaum-Cruse household on a recent Christmas day and as we all looked twenty years ago when we were "mere children."

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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0 Responses to Going Way Back

  1. Rockin' Rich says:

    There ought to be more Martha Thomaseses in this world! She rocks!