February 23 2014

The Tragedy of Bill Mantlo

Bill Mantlo grainy

If you read more than a few Marvel comics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you are almost guaranteed to have read an issue written by Bill Mantlo. Even if you didn’t read comics back in that time period, you have recently been introduced to his work as he was the creator of Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer.

Bill Mantlo wrote over 500 issues of various Marvel comics between 1974 and 1987. He eventually went to law school and passed the BAR and went to work as a public defender. While he continued to write for a while, he eventually focused strictly on his law career.

On July 17, 1992 he was rollerblading home from work, a 3-mile trek he took every day to stay in shape. When he was merely four blocks from his house he was struck by a car, and slammed his head into the windshield, severing his brain stem. The driver left the scene and has never been identified.

For 22 years he has been in various care facilities, and while in the early years he showed some signs of recovery, he eventually slipped backwards and lost all the progress he made. He is now confined to a wheel chair and can only speak in single words or very short sentences.

If you care to read the entire tale of what Mantlo has been through, there is an excellent, and lengthy, piece published by LifeHealthPro that can tell you everything he has been through, and the position he is now in where his insurance had long ago run out. His entire life has been sold off to pay for his bills, but those funds have also dried up.

Mike Mantlo, Bill’s brother, is now his legal guardian and has taken care of his brother for over two decades. And as one might expect, Mike could use some help.

Bill Mantlo comic drawingFollowing the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, the plight of Bill has resurfaced. I remember hearing about it in the early days, but had not heard anything in years. For that, I feel horrible. Why should I feel horrible about the plight of a man I have never had the chance to meet? Because he most definitely played a hand in making me who I am in today.

Mantlo was the driving force behind the Micronauts and ROM comics. At the time, just about every toy line received a comic book, and most of them, to be frank, were horrible. However, Mantlo took time to build intricate stories that went far beyond making sure a toy company sold more units. In the case of both those series, he created characters and concepts that are used to this day in Marvel comics. In the case of the Micronauts he created the Microverse, a location still used in stories, and even went so far as to dream up alphabets, new worlds and more for a toy line that had absolutely no backstory.

In particular I can remember the Micronauts being one of the first series to ever make me think about comics as more than just people in tights beating up on other people in tights. The series dealt with a band of rebels trying to overthrow an oppressive regime that many people were happy to just sit idly by and not speak up against. For that time in comics, especially one published by the big two publishers, it was heady stuff.

It made me look at comics in a different way, and it made me fall that much further in love with the medium. I most definitely can say Bill Mantlo played a part in shaping what I have done in this life from owning a comic book store to meeting some of the legends of the industry, it all came from him making me look at them in another way.

When I read the articles published this past week about his condition, I found myself being drawn to them again and again, and I finally had enough and I made a donation to Mike to help in Bill’s care. How could I not? How could I not help a man that gave me so much joy as a child and also made me think about the art of comics and the world as well.

Every few years something comes up that I feel passionate about enough to write a post on this site and ask you to make a donation. The last time was the Fukishima disaster in Japan, so I clearly do not make a habit of this. Please, if you’ve ever read anything written by Bill Mantlo, if you’ve looked at Guardians of the Galaxy and thought how awesome Rocket Raccoon looks, take a moment, and donate to help the man and his family out.

While I am sure some of you are thinking, “But what about the royalties he must be earning?” If only that was the case. While you can argue endlessly about the merits of the system, in the old days of the comics, anyone who worked on comics was an at-will employee. That means anything they created belonged to the company. To be honest, no one thought twice about it. Back then there was no merchandise, no TV shows, no movies, no t-shirts emblazoned with the characters. If you worked in comics in the 1970s into the early part of the 1980s, you did it for the love of comics. So, no, sadly Mantlo will not be receiving any big checks from his creations.

Please, if you can, donate to assist in the care of Bill Mantlo.

Bill Mantlo in care

Images graciously provided by Mike Mantlo.

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