It brings me no pleasure to share with you today why legendary J. Michael Straczynski is retiring from comic books. Initially announced during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con it wasn’t until now that we’ve learned why he was leaving the business. It was a hard decision that he had to make after suffering from 10 years of deteriorating eyesight from a rare genetic disorder called corneal dystrophy. The creator of shows such as ‘Babylon 5’ and ‘Sense8‘ as well as comics such as ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, ‘Thor’, ‘Fantastic Four’, ‘Superman: Earth One’, ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Before Watchmen’ and countless others. It isn’t the lack of vision though that is turning him away from comics but a new-found vision.
As his vision has gotten worse, Straczynski says that:
“Where I had once been able to turn out three or four comics per month in addition to whatever else I was writing, now I struggled to write even one comic per month, and sometimes failed to get even that much done. Some who followed my work assumed that the slowdown was due to a sloppy work ethic, or getting bored and waddling off. But the truth was that I simply couldn’t see the computer screen. As it was, the only way I could read what I was writing was to use huge white type on a black screen … I literally could only work with about a dozen words on screen at a time, rather than a hundred or more per screen.”
Honestly to all of us who take vision for granted, and I’m someone who has had Lasik due to horrible nearsightedness, this is a terrifying reality to find oneself in. So it is no surprise that when he opened up to his editor at Marvel Joe Quesada that it was an emotional conversation:
“I’m ashamed to admit that I broke down in tears over the phone. I was openly afraid,” said Straczynski. “‘I can’t see,’ I told him, ‘I can’t see.’ Though Quesada and I grew apart due to creative issues, it is to his credit that as far as I know he never told anyone about my situation then or afterward.”
Things were looking bad but a recent procedure changed all of that. It was called DMEK and it will change Straczynski’s life forever!
“Seven days after the first surgery, I was seeing 20/25. The next surgery had similar results, with no side-effects or complications. As I write these words, I’m seeing better than I’ve seen in my entire life: 20/25 in both eyes. I can read license plates, see the leaves on trees … every day I’m astonished by the new-found beauty of the world.”
That is absolutely wonderful news and we’re all thrilled for one of the most creative voices of our genre. So why the retirement from the comic industry?
“I was now in a position to pick up the slack in my comics work. Years earlier, I’d been able to write three to four issues per month, and now that I was seeing clearly, I could easily begin producing as much as before, maybe more. I’d already decided that in the coming year I would finally allow Rising Stars and Midnight Nation to be optioned, and those moves would be a huge boost to the Joe’s Comics imprint. I started thinking about the new titles I wanted to create, and prior titles that I could bring back. Now that I was running at 110% there was nothing to stop me.
Except that small voice in the back of my head, the familiar, intimate voice that had been whispering stories in my ear every year since I was seventeen. It was the voice of every character in every story I’d ever written; the voice I heard when I knew it was time to leave San Diego for Los Angeles; the voice I heard the day I walked away from journalism and never went back; the same voice that told me I was done with animation and never went back. For years, that voice representing some part of my psyche eager for new challenges, would force me to walk away from what I knew I could do and start over with something less certain.
And this was no exception.
“You’ve been writing comics long enough that you’ve become comfortable. You’re done. Move on. Let’s find a new challenge, something where we can start all over at the bottom. “”
Sadly this voice has guided his career. I use the term sadly loosely as it has also been the driving force behind so many of his amazing creations but sad that we will no longer see his vision on page. At least, in comics. It sounds like both novels and plays may end up being in his future.
Stuart Conover is an author, blogger, and all around geek. When not busy being a father and husband he tries to spend as much time as possible immersed in comic books, science fiction, and horror! Would you like to know more? Follow him on Twitter!