Comic book writer Robert L. Washington III, an important figure in the creation of the Milestone (and later DC Comics) superhero Static, is in danger of receiving a pauper’s burial unless enough donations are made for his funeral. Writes his friend Craig Hicks:
“I went to school with Robert Washington in the Detroit area from 5th to 8th grade. Like many of Robert’s school friends, and sadly, his family, I had not been in touch with him for many years. But when I heard about his death and learned more about his financial and family situation, I immediately became concerned that his remains might end up on Hart Island. The island is New York City’s location for indigent burials. The dead here are buried in pine coffins, stacked in unmarked trenches, by Riker’s Island inmates. There are no services or ceremonies.
A small group of Robert’s former classmates and colleagues have joined forces to ensure this doesn’t happen. We’ve been in touch with the city medical examiner’s office and after some serious sleuthing made contact with one of his relatives. And we’ve started raising funds to pay for a modest funeral.”
In an industry all about heroes and justice, it’s unfortunate that Robert — who I had the privilege to work with as a young comic book editor many years ago — met a penniless end. He is only one of many writers and artists who brought you your favorite comics in the 70s, 80s, and 90s — but then found themselves unable to get work. There is no “pension” or “health benefits” or security of any kind for most of these creators…they spent their lives working on other people’s characters (or created ones for the Company with little-to-no compensation or recognition besides a standard page rate) and, in the end, have little to show for it in way of finances or security in their old age. And Robert wasn’t even that old — he died at 47!
Robert Washington III tells his story in a H.E.R.O. Initiative benefit comic
One could say: that was their choice, they should have been more financially-savvy. But having been around these people literally all of my adult life, I can tell you that it is not as simple as all that. Comic creators have long labored in a bubble that they are making Comics — are engaged in a noble profession that creates the dreams and hopes and heroes of generations of the young and the young-at-heart. And it is a noble profession. But it is my belief that the good intentions and mystique and joy and magical aura around writing and drawing superheroes and funny animals have been traditionally exploited by some publishers in exchange for larger rights-shares (if they deign give their creators any rights over their creations at all), lower pay, zero benefits, zero security, and, in some cases, outright poor treatment.
If the comic book industry had things like unions (the efforts to create which have been mercilessly squashed for decades) or officially “allowed” literary agents across the board (the use of which, I was told in 2007, was frowned upon for new writers — who need such representation the most!), creators like Robert Washington would have had some protection, some safety net, some direction, some support.
But what these aging comic book artists and writers DO have is the H.E.R.O. Initiative — which is collecting donations for Robert’s funeral and burial.
To donate, go to the Hero Initiative home page (http://www.heroinitiative.org/) and click the yellow “Donate” button at the top right. You will be taken to PayPal, where you can login and make your donation.
IMPORTANT: Be sure to click the button that says “add special instructions to seller” and type “Robert Washington” before you submit your donation.
The opinions in this post are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of MTV Geek.