This is the twentieth of these columns to see print in the year 2000. So far, I have written eight obituaries for — in
order of disappearance — Mark Hanerfeld, Pat Boyette, Gil Kane, Charles Schulz, Jim Varney, Nick Arnold, Stanley Ralph Ross and Alfredo
Okay, that's plenty. No more dying until at least January of 2001, everybody!
I shouldn't have to say the following but, apparently, I do: When someone in or around our industry dies and I don't write an obit
column on them, it does not mean I didn't care about them or didn't think they were important or anything of the sort. What it means is that I
didn't feel I was the right man for the job.
You got that? Doesn't mean the dearly departed didn't achieve great things or wasn't a spiffy person. Just means I didn't
feel I had anything to say about them that was worthy of publication.
I've attended five funerals or memorial services this year. As a result, I've compiled a brief list of rules that I insist be
followed at my funeral, should I have one.
I have no idea if I will. On the one hand, I see the wisdom of those who believe them to be colossal wastes. A guy I knew
had it decreed in his will that there would be no ceremony or public mourning of any kind. Instead, he wanted those who knew him to donate to
the American Cancer Society, what otherwise would have been spent on a ceremony, transportation to get to it, wardrobe, flowers, etc. As a
result, the charity received about $30,000, which strikes me as a much better place to put the money.
I might go for that if I didn't have such cheap friends.
On the other appendage, I have attended funerals that, while they (of course) didn't do a thing for the Guest of Honor, had some value
to the mourners. The event gave them a sense of closure and release...and a chance to share memories with others of like depression.
So I can see both sides of the argument and I hope, before it becomes moot, I can make some sort of decision on what I want done with
me. I'm also considering a third option: Having my corpse interred in a big Mylar Snug, brought to the San Diego Con, and laid out on a table
in the Dealer's Room. I might go for that if I weren't afraid of turning up in the next Overstreet Guide under the heading of "Dead Pros
with Little, If Any, Value."
Anyway, if there is a funeral for me, here are seven simple rules that I'd like to have followed. And I'm counting on every one
of you to check and see that these are heeded, as I may not be in any position to...
1. Talk About Me. If it's a funeral for me, I expect all eulogies to focus on me. I'm the dead guy, remember.
At the services for the noted TV writer and raconteur Stanley Ralph Ross, a semi-famous actor got up and launched into a rather long
anecdote that, at least at first, seemed to have nothing to do with the late, great Mr. Ross. We were all sitting there and wondering, "Where's
Stanley? When does Stanley come into this story?" On and on, the actor went, talking about himself and also about his career, which was
deader than the guy in the box behind him.
Finally, at long last, Stanley made an appearance in the yarn, but it was a brief one, about the length of a Hitchcock cameo. It
was like, "And — oh, by the way — Stanley was there when this happened..."
I understand the problem: You're at a funeral, you're expected to speak about the Dearly Departed, you want to express how much they
meant to you and make it personal. So you're going to talk about your feelings about them and your experiences with them, which means you're a
part of it.
Also, for most people, delivering a eulogy is a new experience...although I am getting way more practice than I'd like. And I
also suspect that this TV star, facing an industry crowd with a lot of famous comedians in the house, felt some pressure to get laughs. He
therefore chose a story he thought might do that and forgot that Stanley Ralph Ross had only the briefest walk-on in it.
All understood. It's easy to veer unintentionally away from the subject at hand. Still, if it's me in the coffin, I expect
most of the attention.
2. Watch your language. This one will especially apply if my funeral is held in a venue with any sort of religious
décor or if any member of the clergy is on the premises.
I am a big believer in Freedom of Speech. I think it's ridiculous for a grown person to be upset by so-called "dirty
words." Before the day these rules have to be invoked, I hope to see all of America wake up and end the pointless linguistic quarantine of a
handful of words. They are, on balance, words that are quite useful for purposes of communication, especially when one hits one's thumb with
That said, there are places where certain language is inappropriate. I never told my grandmother the story about the two sailors
and the nun. Matter of fact, I think I'd be embarrassed to tell Larry Flynt the story about the two sailors and the nun.
Stanley's funeral was in a big chapel decorated, albeit sparsely, with religious symbols, and a very eloquent rabbi led the house in
assorted psalms. Then, a couple of the speakers got up and seemed to forget they weren't at an adults-only Friar's Roast.
I couldn't see the rabbi from where I was seated so I don't know if he flinched or laughed or just what his reaction was. But I
know it discomfited a lot of those present to hear the "f"-word used repeatedly in front of a Man of God...and there were children present, as
well. People at a funeral are uncomfy enough and don't require any additional rattling.
Actually, I'd just as soon my funeral be devoid of any religious trappings and that no Person of the Cloth be in attendance. My
spiritual beliefs are complex and in a constant state of flux...and I figure, by the time I go, it'll be too late for anything a rabbi might say to
make much of a difference.
3. No impressions of the deceased. You can tell stories about me but, when it comes to the part where you quote something
I said, say it in your own voice. No one wants to hear your lousy imitation of me. (Well, actually, I don't, and I put this one in
just in case it turns out that I can hear. You never know.)
This rule does not apply to Frank Welker.
4. No "celebrations of life." Here's an important rule. Anyone who gets up and uses any permutation of the
cliché, "celebration of his life" will be fined and will have to pay five dollars to every other mourner in the hall.
5. Call the roll. I've attended many funerals for folks in The Arts — TV, movies, comic books, animation, etc.
— and at each, everyone wants to know, "Who else is here?" All through the observance, you see folks craning their necks, glancing about,
whispering to one another that So-and-So is seated two rows back...
Let's get it out in the open. At the beginning of the service, someone should get up in front and read a list of everyone who's
present. Each person could perhaps stand or wave or yell, "Yo."
But no applause. Remember: It's about me.
So call the roll, and introduce any latecomers as they arrive. Then everyone can stop wondering who else showed up and they can
enjoy — if that's the proper word for it — the memorial. This ties in with #7, below.
6. The "When it's over" rule. Throughout every funeral or remembrance service I've been to where more than a few folks
spoke, eulogists started referencing those who have gone before them at the podium. Someone would say, "As Henry just said..." and then he'd
repeat what Henry just said, as if everyone present didn't hear or understand what Henry just said.
This is why we need the "When it's over" rule. The third time someone says, "As So-and-so just said...", it's over.
Everything's been said and it's time to adjourn. This, in turn, brings us to...
7. Say good-bye and then see your friends. Yes, I expect the event to be about me but once it's over, so am I.
Everyone should start mingling with all those people who were introduced when the roll was called. (This is, of course, assuming anyone shows
up. I'm thinking of arranging for a door prize and 99-cent shrimp cocktails...)
After a friend dies, there's a moment that I once heard Hugh Downs describe as the "Have you had lunch yet?" moment. He said that
if he got killed in a plane crash — and this applies to you or me or anyone, but he used himself in the example — the following would
happen. The next day, someone would say to someone else, "Isn't it too bad about Hugh? Say, have you had lunch yet?"
As we exit the service, people begin to mill and chat up their acquaintances and say, "So what are you up to, these days?" You
invariably hear someone say to someone they haven't seen since another funeral, "We have to stop meeting like this." The topic of the person
whose death has brought us all together that day fades, and the occasion becomes largely social.
This is not a bad moment. It can be awkward, true, but it's not a bad moment. It can even be a very good moment. At
some point, the living have to get on with their lives. I sure hope that when I go, people miss me...but not so much that it causes them
pain. I hope they mention it and then go to lunch.
A few years back, I went through a period wherein, in a too-short span of time, I had to endure the death of a number of folks who were
very close to me, including my father. A few were in that blindsiding category, meaning that the Loved One was not very old and/or very
ill. In at least one case, I made the mistake of thinking that I was under some emotional obligation to make myself miserable for an extended
Wrong. Very wrong.
The operative phrase is: He (or she) wouldn't have wanted it like that.
Remember those words, next time someone you care about leaves this mortal coil. We always scurry about, arranging things and
taking care of unfinished business and, when there's a decision to make, we usually apply that criteria: "What would he (or she) have wanted?"
Well, I finally realized, the person I was mourning wouldn't have wanted me to be depressed or functionally paralyzed or to sit around
for days, missing them. She would have wanted me to, at most, grieve for an hour or two — about the duration of most funerals — and
then to turn loose of it all. She would have wanted me to be happy and productive and healthy.
That's true of all my friends and family members and, probably, all of yours as well. And if it isn't true of someone, they're
not worth mourning.
You may be wondering why, of all the things I could have written about this week, I chose such a morose area. I'm kinda wondering
I think it has something to do with the all the deaths we've been having in our industry, lately. It also probably has something
to do with the number we'll probably have before this year is out. Despite my earlier request, there will be some. maybe more than "some."
And as we are all drawn together by a love of comics, we are united in the sense of loss when we hear that a Gil Kane died or a Pat
Boyette or any of them. I was amazed at the outbreak of "shared suffering" among those who were otherwise strangers after Jack Kirby
died. And it hasn't just been Kirby; to some extent, it's everyone in comics.
I suppose I decided to write this because of an e-mail I received the other day, responding to my obit on Alfredo Alcala. It came
from someone who never met Alfredo — not even at a convention, not even to say, "I've always enjoyed your work." This person very much
regrets that he never had the opportunity...but here's the thing I find especially fascinating...
Alfredo was your basic full-service comic book creator. He could write, he could pencil, he could ink, he could letter, he could
color. He did some wonderful stories on Strathmore that was touched by no hand but his.
But the fellow who e-mailed to tell me how saddened he was to hear of Alfredo's death had never seen any of them. The only work
of Alfredo's he'd ever seen, he told me, was the work Alfredo did inking Conan the Barbarian for several years. I think that's
I don't mean it's terrific he didn't know Alfredo's more important, personal work. (He says he'll start seeking it out.)
And I certainly don't mean it's terrific that he's saddened by Alfredo's death. I think it's terrific that Alfredo's brushwork had that much of
an impact on someone.
So I apologize if this all seems glum or rambling. It's what's been on my mind lately...this need some of us have to find the
proper balance between missing those we lose and going on with our ongoing existences. From my mail, I'd say this has been on a lot of your
minds, as well. We need to take these passings seriously...but not too seriously.
And by the way, don't take those seven rules too seriously, either. For one thing, I ain't going anywhere...not until I catch up
on deadlines. At my current rate, this means I'll outlive your average Galapagos Tortoise...or Milton Berle, whichever goes second. My
money's on Uncle Miltie...