In all the hubbub of the last few weeks I haven’t been able to write about the passing of Robert L. Washington III, a comics writer who was a key part of Milestone Comics in the ’90s. He co-created Static and helped write BLOOD SYNDICATE and other comics for DC and Valiant. And then, things got slow. And Washington had troubles, years of them. And on June 7th at the age of 47, he died of multiple heart attacks.
Just before his death, he’d been helped out by the Hero Initiative, as shown in the above comic which he wrote for a Hero Initiative anthology. Washington had been living marginally on part time jobs…and when he died, as you may have read, there wasn’t enough money left to bury him. Some folks have been collecting funds to give him a proper funeral; I’ve given and I would hope some of you reading this will follow that link and make a donation.
I remember Robert Washington. To be honest, he was pretty unforgettable, with a booming voice and an easy laugh. He also wore hats quite a bit, which always stood out. When Milestone was riding high, we were convention pals, of the casual sort you make, making jokes at BarCon, saying hello in artist alley. It was apparent to me that Washington was a “character”, like many of the people in creative businesses, but all the same, I didn’t expect him to get shoved into a pauper’s grave when he died.
Just a few weeks before his death, Ashley Soley-Cerro
interviewed Washington for CBR. It’s painful reading, for what was and what could have been.
What was a day in your life like when you had steady comic book work?
Phenomenal — I woke up when I wanted, did what I wanted, stopped by the office one week to drop off a script and a week later for the check. It was really great lifestyle. As long as you turn in the work, your lifestyle is completely your own. I will beat you up to get back to it. That was the early 90s until about 1998.
What was a typical day like before reaching out to the Hero Initiative?
Going on the Internet, which I could barely afford to — I don’t have a computer, so I use one at an Internet café. I’d collect cans for money for bus or train fare.
This is the part that we all need to write in big letters on our walls however:
Looking back at your career and life, what would you stress to young writers and artists?
Have a backup plan. That goes for everyone that wants to go into media. Being really talented isn’t enough. Do something that’ll bring you a regular income in any other industry, you can work your way back into media. The people I know in my situation have no fall-back plan or another set of skills. I can’t think of anything more important for young comics, musicians, actors. Until people realize how smart, brilliant and wonderful you are — don’t be too proud, get your backup plan.
Frankly, they should totally donate to the Hero Initiative. For every one person like me that steps up and admits there’s a problem, there’s probably a couple dozen people that haven’t, yet.
We have a lot of Robert Washingtons out there…and many who don’t even have the talent and personality he was gifted with. It’s hopeless telling young folks what to do —I wish someone had told me to put more money in my retirement fund when I was a kid, but would I have listened? Nope.—but please…young comics pros, Robert Washington was once you, a funny guy writing books for the bigs, waking up every morning dying to write comics.
Consider giving some money to the Hero Initiative. They are doing some incredibly important work.
(And you know, Disney/Marvel and WB/DC should be giving, too. I know we’ve all been talking about Jack Kirby but if .1% of the profits or Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises were given to the Hero Initiative…think of it.)
If you won’t do that, at least make that backup plan. As William S. Burroughs put it, “Life is very dangerous and few survive it.”
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.