A Personal Note, If I May

I think I met Russell Steele three times. He worked in the film and TV industry, part of the horde of behind-the-cameras technical and business staff who support most productions. Russell plied his trade on motion pictures such as Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Phantom, and The Sum of All Fears, as well as such TV productions as Agent Carter and the current version of Hawaii Five-O.

He was also the college roommate of one of my oldest friends (and Gene Colan’s biographer), Tom Field — which is why, when Tom sent me a message early Sunday morning that Russell had passed away at age 53, it gave me pause and has since prompted me to pen these few words.

Just a few months ago, in August, I traveled back to central Maine to share an afternoon with this motley crew (I’m the motley fool in the middle, wearing the black shirt):

The Duck Soupers (abridged). At right, back to front: Dave, Mike, and Tom. At left, back to front: Doug, me, Walter. Missing from Photo: Lee, and Howard, who left us in 2014.

We’ve known one another since 1979, you see — four decades of friendship (a few years longer than that for Mike and I, but that’s another story). We’ve had marriages, some children born and grown, a few divorces, some changes of jobs, some changes of addresses, a few health scares, and an illness that took one of us, our old pal Howard, far too soon, as I’ve previously discussed here.

What brought us together was comics, and specifically the comics shop Duck Soup (first of its kind in Vacationland), which Doug opened at the end of the ’70s. It was there we met, it was there our friendships formed, and those relationships have long outlasted the shop. But to mark our fortieth, we went back to the town where it all began, we lunched and talked and laughed, and then we went across the street to the present-day cigar store that once was Duck Soup, our favorite place in the world.

Doug now designs and sells Tarot Cards, and you can see some examples of his work in this YouTube link … but if you watch (or fast-forward) to the 8:45 mark, you’ll see the three-minute tribute-in-video Doug produced to mark this occasion.

Which brings me back to Russell Steele, and an obvious point, but one which occasionally bears repeating, as I’m about to do here.

Russell is gone now, which means he and Tom will never mark their own forty years of friendship. That reminded me how important it is not to lose sight of the fact that none of this — none of us — lasts forever, and it never hurts every once in a while to hug your dear ones just a little tighter, to remind your closest friends how much you love them, to express your appreciation to those who have aided or inspired you.

To those Duck Soupers who gathered in August, and to the two of you who couldn’t be with us — I not only love you all like brothers, I owe you my eternal thanks. You kept my interest in and expanded my knowledge of the comics artform for a whole lot of years, helping me to be ready when The Library of American Comics was ripe to be born.

And to all of you visiting this space — my sincere thanks, for your support of LOAC; for caring as much as Dean, and my friends, and I do about comics; and for indulging me during this introspective moment.

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