A page of Quantum & Woody by Mark Bright
A page of Quantum & Woody by Mark Bright

By Will J. Watkins

They say you should never meet your heroes and usually it’s true, but every now and then they don’t just meet your expectations, they exceed them. I had the great blessing of being introduced to, working with, and becoming great friends with one of my childhood heroes and comic book legends who recently left us: Mark D. Bright.

As a young, African American boy growing up in a troubled home on Chicago’s South Side in the 1980s, I didn’t have many real-life heroes to look up to, so I became obsessed with the superheroes I found in comics books. Even as a child I had an eye for art, so I became even more obsessed with the talented people who crafted those visual stories that captured my imagination.

Power Man and Iron Fist by Mark Bright
Power Man and Iron Fist by Mark Bright

Without the benefit of the Internet back then, I had to rely on visiting comic book conventions and reading the industry trade publications to see the people creating my favorite comic books. Once I did, it became abundantly clear that almost no one with a successful career in that field looked like me. Then I took note of an artist at Marvel Comics who stood out for drawing some of my favorite African American characters such as The Falcon, Power Man, and the Monica Rambeau iteration of Captain Marvel. Not only was this M.D. Bright’s visual storytelling style riveting, but when it came to the characters, their hair and hairstyles, their array of clothing choices, and the presentation of their facial features were all impeccably accurate. I had family members and friends who looked exactly like the people Mark was creating on the page. I immediately knew two things: this artist had to be African American, and I had to collect his each and every piece of work.

Over the next 20 years, I made good on that promise and bought every comic book that contained work attributed to Mark, and even sold many when I had the opportunity to run Chicago’s first African American-owned comic book shop. This was no easy feat as Mark moved from Marvel Comics to DC Comics, gracing comic book panels with his fantastic renditions of nearly every major character hailing from the big two and beyond, including his own bitingly funny co-creations, Quantum and Woody. Then there was Mark’s long run on the Milestone Media title, Icon and then it was back to Marvel Comics. It was around that time I moved to L.A. to follow my dream of becoming a professional writer, and when I was hired to write a comic book, I knew exactly who I wanted to do it with… and another dream of mine came true. I went from being inspired by and in awe of Mark to working with him. 

He let me know from the beginning he’d have none of my hero worship, and his humility, work ethic, and storytelling genius were always balanced with his lovably cantankerous demeanor and sardonic sense of humor. After we completed the project, I called him regularly and incessantly nagged him to work on more things together. I was honestly surprised that he kept accepting my calls and talked with me for hours each time. Somewhere along the way, Mark went from just being a hero of mine that I talked to about the good old days of comic books to being my good friend that I talked to about everything.

When I lost my father, Mark was there for me. When he lost his mother, I was there for him. After a busy period in my life when I hadn’t talked to Mark as much, I felt led to call him near the end of this past February. He mentioned that he’d been in the hospital and that the doctors said there was something going on with his heart. He said he felt weak, but he sounded like he was in good spirits. We talked for hours, and Mark kept complimenting me, which was odd as he had only done that two times in 14 years. I mean, Mark was the kind of guy who let you know how he felt about you without ever having to actually say it, so I knew he appreciated and cared, but for him to rattle off affirmations to me had a tone of finality. I just chalked it up to him being tired and expected he’d recover, and we’d continue our conversations as usual.

A page of Quantum & Woody by Mark Bright
A page of Quantum & Woody by Mark Bright

For my children’s Spring Break, my wife and I planned a trip to New York which would begin in New Jersey visiting family. I never told Mark, but I secretly planned to pay him a surprise visit in person hoping to lift his spirits even higher. As we headed off to the airport to fly to New Jersey, a friend let me know Mark had passed away. I was devastated, I still am, but I was so thankful we had that last conversation before he left us… and now all those compliments he showered me with makes sense. I believe he knew his time was up and wanted to leave me with the words he’d almost never said, but I already knew.

My only regret is that as a child, when seeing the name M.D. “Doc” Bright as a credit in so many of my comic books, I always wondered what the “Doc” was for. In all the time Mark and I knew each other, I never actually asked him where that nickname came from, but I think I know. Mark and I both shared a common faith in God and experience in the church. I’ve spent my whole life hearing men of distinction, integrity, talent and excellence called “Doc” in church to signify their honorary title of “doctor.” Mark was all this and so much more, so I look forward to seeing Doc again and continuing our conversations on the other side, where I have no doubt he will still not accept any of my hero worship… but he deserves it all the same.

Will J. Watkins is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles, CA

icon by mark bright


  1. He was a genius, I think we can agree. Also, I heard from Larry Hama that the “M.D.” made him a Doc by default.

  2. Thanks for this article — I hadn’t heard of his death. I really loved his work on Icon. RIP.

  3. I only know him from his work, but from all accounts, Mark was a fantastic guy. This is a lovely tribute to him.

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