Very sad news over the weekend that cartoonist Batton Lash passed away at age 65 after a battle with brain cancer. Lash was best known as the creator of Supernatural Law, aka Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, a long running self published comic about lawyers who worked for supernatural clients, but he also wrote many stories for Bongo Comics, and 1994’s The Punisher Meets Archie, a very popular comic in that crossover happy time. Most recently, he’s been writing and drawing “First Gentleman of the Apocalypse” for Ace Weekly.
Bat was a marvelous humorist with a great sense of story, with art that referenced the cartoony horror work of Ditko and Eisner. But if you’ve seen the outpouring of condolences and memories and photos on the FB page of his widow, Jackie Estrada, you’ll know he was much more: a man who dressed impeccably, who was alway ready with a smile, always ready to talk and engage. He was one of the sweetest and smartest people you’d ever meet in comics.
And one of the most welcoming. He was incredibly generous with newcomers, fans, readers, everyone really. The Exhibit A booth, in the heart of the SDCC floor, was a nexus, one of the places I was always sure to visit, and Bat would hold court with people from everywhere.
I forget when I first started hanging out with Bat, but it was probably around the time that he took Supernatural Law from a newspaper strip to his own self publishing company. In the early 90s a group of cartoonists took to self publishing hoping to break the grip of superheroes on the direct sales market, and Bat was at the heart of it. It was a movement I was very much in favor of. The daunting logistics of self publishing soon led to great attrition, but Bat stuck with it, moving to digital when it became available, as well as crowdfunding.
Over the years, I spent many con days and evenings talking with Bat. At the yearly Dead Dog party at San Diego, he was usually the first person I would seek out, and we’d analyze the show, the trends, the gossip, and comics. Bat was great at seeing the pbig picture. He was so smart and insightful about all the levels of comics – this vast yet tribal bubble of creativity – I always learned something from him, and he always made me laugh. His thinking about publishing and selling comics was always spot on, and definitely has influenced my own thinking quite a bit.
I’m going to miss him, so much. And my heart goes out to Jackie. The two were inseparable, “comic book royalty,” as I once called them. I urge you to go to her Facebook page for all the remembrances pouring in. You’ll never get to the end of them.
Paul Levitz pointed out another aspect of Bat’s career that isn’t as well known:
Batton was one of a small group of conspirators who not only revitalized the School of Visual Arts’ cartooning program by convincing SVA to invite Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman to become teachers there, but in doing so, tremendously influenced a whole generation of artists to take comics seriously just at the moment when we were ready for them. His ever-present smile was a beacon on the convention floor, his comics (and the tenacity with which he pursued them) an inspiration to others who wanted to self-publish or seek unusual publishing outlets, and the good humor in his stories came through in any conversation with him.
Bat’s great friend Rob Salkowitz has a beautiful remembrance that says it all much better than I can:
We hit it off immediately, but our friendship really solidified when Bat and Jackie met my wife Eunice, who soon became a staff assistant to Jackie at the Eisners. For 20 years, the Tuesday night before the start of SDCC was “Batton and Jackie night,” where the four of us would grab dinner, catch up, plot and gossip about the upcoming Con. In those early days, we were merely fans with aspirations to get more closely connected to the industry, starstruck by the cavalcade of legendary creators who descended on San Diego every summer. Bat and Jackie invited us into that circle, extended genuine friendship, and spent hundreds of hours over the years hanging out with us in hotel bars, exhibit halls, late-night diners and after-hours parties at cons all over the country.
From the outpouring of condolence and affection that greeted Jackie’s announcement of Batton’s passing on Facebook on Saturday, it’s clear that our experience with him was typical of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people from industry insiders to fans and friends. He was loved by many, and remembered by more than three decades’ worth of creators for being a voice of encouragement and a source of support. Sure, he had sharp elbows and non-conforming political views that rubbed some people the wrong way over the years, but I think even the people who didn’t particularly like him recognized him as a vivacious character and respected him – maybe begrudgingly – for his ability to persevere in the industry on his own terms.
And David Lloyd also remembers:
According to Jackie, Bat left many projects, projects and notes, and she’ll be carrying out some of his plans for Supernatural Law.
I’ve spent most of my life immersed in the world of comics, and I often say the best part of it, the reason I’ve stuck with it, is the amazing people – creators, visionaries, storytellers, thinkers – that I’ve been able to meet and even call friends. Bat was one of the people who made it worth it.