Rich Morrissey loved comic books.
He loved comics books, he loved the people who create comic books, he loved the characters, he loved the history. And he was
forever channeling that love into something positive, trying to give back something to the folks whose writing and drawing had given him so much
Example: Whenever an old comic was about to be reprinted and its publisher didn't know who'd written, drawn or inked it, Rich was the
go-to guy. He'd drop everything to check files, phone around and study the work, doing everything short of putting it under an electron
microscope. A lot of comic book history is known today — and a lot of veteran writers and artists received credit and reprint fees
— because of Richard Morrissey.
Better example: One of Rich's favorite writers was John Broome, who wrote the bulk of Flash and Green Lantern, among
other comics, during the so-called "Silver Age." A fine writer. One of the best.
Rich was an enormous fan of the comics Broome wrote...and, as we'll get to, a proactive critic of what certain other, subsequent
authors did to them. A few years ago, Rich made contact with the man, who was then living in Japan in a state of semi-retirement. A
by-mail friendship ensued, and Rich began to wonder how he might arrange to get the distant Mr. Broome to some Comic-Con International in San
For a brief time, the air fare between Tokyo and San Diego seemed to be a prohibitive factor. Then, one day in early 1998, Rich
received a letter from Broome mentioning that, come mid-August, he and his wife Peggy would be travelling to France.
Rich was excited: Mid-August was when the San Diego Convention was!
He checked and found out that for a comparatively modest amount — around two thousand dollars — Mr. and Mrs. Broome could
add a San Diego stopover to their sojourn. He phoned a number of us and said, "We have to do it this year. This is a one-time
opportunity." And it was — but unfortunately, it was too late for the convention to allocate funds.
Now, understand two things. One is that Rich was far from rich. To him, a thousand smackers was a nice piece o'
change. Understand also that there was no profit motive here. Some dealers will sponsor a pro guest because they want to lure a crowd to
But Richard was not a dealer.
Some publishers will pay for a professional to attend the convention in order to promote some forthcoming product featuring the
But Richard was not a publisher.
He was just a devout fan. He wanted to meet Broome, of course, but — and it's entirely typical of the Rich Morrissey I knew
— self-gratification was a secondary motive. The primary impetus was as follows:
Rich knew that Broome had never been, not merely to a San Diego soiree but to any comic convention, anywhere. He further knew
that Broome was humbly unaware that a couple of generations of funnybook scribes regarded him as a master. And Rich especially knew that those
writers had never had the chance to applaud Mr. Broome in person and that he'd never had the opportunity to hear any such applause.
Like any good super-hero righting a cosmic injustice, Rich set out to make it happen.
Happen, it did. Rich went ahead and booked the tickets on his own credit card. Later, he passed the hat and collected, I
believe, about half the tariff. Still, if no one else had kicked in, he was quite prepared to stand the entire cost. Because it had to be
And a good thing he did. In August of that year, John Broome, accompanied by his lovely spouse, attended the only comic
convention of his life. Mr. Broome was honored with an Inkpot award, he was interviewed, he heard hundreds of comic fans and professional
writers (many qualified as both) tell him how much they loved and respected and felt inspired by his work. He was also the centerpiece of maybe
the best panel I've moderated in a lifetime of moderating convention panels.
This all took place in August of 1998. The following March, John Broome passed away. If Rich hadn't made it happen, it
wouldn't have happened.
And now we've lost Rich.
This afternoon — 5/22/2001 — Rich Morrissey suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 47 years of age.
Rich was born January 23, 1954. His father's name was James Hildebrand Morrissey and his mother's maiden name was Marguerite
Hamilton — no relation to the actress. Rich's name at birth was James Hamilton Morrissey.
His parents died in the late eighties, and Rich took over the same house in which he grew up. As his close friend Marc Svensson
noted to me in an e-mail this evening, "You open any comic book from the sixties or seventies with a letter from Rich and the address is the same now
as it was then: Framingham, Massachusetts."
How many letters Rich had printed in comics, I do not know. I ran one in a Jack Kirby letter page in 1971 and he was a "regular"
I do know all those letters were not written, as so many are, so that the correspondent can have the thrill of seeing his name in
print. He was passionate about comics and eager to touch the industry, express his opinions and ask questions. At times when he feared he
was oversaturating some lettercol or making a pest of himself, he would simply write under a pseudonym.
As he grew up, he studied law and passed the bar but — like one of his heroes, Gardner Fox — he opted not to practice much
law. At the time of his death, he was working for the telephone company, Verizon, and was very active in its union.
What he really wanted was to be involved in some way in comics, and he actually sold a few stories as a writer. One — a
mystery story for DC — was the first published assignment for artist Michael Golden. Another — a short Mumbly story — was
bought by me when I was running the Hanna-Barbera comics department. There were a few others but Rich uncomplainingly accepted that there
wasn't a place for him in the industry doing that. Instead, he turned all his attention to comic book fandom and the too-often-neglected
history of the field.
Well, not quite all his attention. Another abiding interest was dog breeding. He leaves behind two award-winning Welsh
Springer Spaniels — Joanna (registered name: Tergelli Summer Storm CGC) and Serena (registered name: Champion Aurora's Tergelli
Starbright). They were loved and well cared-for.
Back in the realm of comics, he participated in apazines, joined (and sometimes formed) fan groups, catalogued credits for thousands of
back issues. In the annual professionals-vs.-fans Trivia Competition at San Diego, he was a strong and fierce competitor. Tom Galloway,
another awesome entrant, posted the following on the rec.arts.comics newsgroup that birthed the fan team...
[Rich] was also key in r.a.c.'s Black Ink Irregulars managing to stay within one question's score against the Purple Pros the year
that the topic was the pre-Byrne Superman. The Pros figured they had the match wrapped up, due to having Mark 'I can recite Clark Kent's Social
Security number off the top of my head' Waid, but since I knew that Rich had volunteered to be on the B.I.I., I felt we had a chance.
As soon as the Pros found out that Rich was on our team, possibly the only person who knew more Superman trivia than Mark, they
immediately accused us of bringing in a ringer.
To which I responded, 'Hey, he posts to r.a.c., and he volunteered; I didn't recruit him.' While Mark proved to be a bit
faster on the buzzer, leading to the Pros winning (as I recall, the tossup question results for that year were Mark 10, Rich 7, myself somehow
squeaking 3, and everyone else working on their tans), Rich managed to answer a number of questions at a difficulty level such that both teams and
the audience were just flat out amazed.
Rich could often be found on message boards answering questions about comic book history. He also spearheaded crusades against
what he considered grotesque or unnecessary changes in established characters, primarily DC's. He did not like when his childhood favorites
were killed off or drastically altered and he was loud — but always polite — in saying so.
His greatest campaign was a current one. He abhorred a recent story line that involved the Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan,
going psychotic, becoming a mass murderer and being killed and supplanted by a new ring-bearer, Kyle Rayner. When via the Internet he connected
with others of like sympathies, they founded a group called H.E.A.T., devoted to lobbying DC to undo the dastardly deed.
Rich was genuinely stunned that the effort was met in some circles with ridicule and occasional hostility. The following —
which he posted not long ago on an Internet message board — should give you some idea of his position and passion...
Why, after all, did DC corrupt and then kill Hal? Why did it introduce Kyle in the first place? For the same reason DC, or any
comics publisher, does at least 95% of what it does...to sell more comic books. That's the bottom line in this industry, and if DC thought bringing
back and/or exonerating Hal would sell more comic books, it would do so within a month.
The people at DC know the trends as well as anyone. They've seen replacements come and go for a lot of characters. I'm not only
speaking of stories like "Reign of the Supermen" and "Knightfall," where the replacements were never meant to be permanent, but of those replacements
who, like Kyle, were meant to be permanent when they were introduced. There were times when Mark Shaw was Manhunter, when Garrett Sanford was The
Sandman, when Jason Todd was Robin, when Will Peyton was Starman, when Yolanda Montez was Wildcat, when Eric Strauss was Dr. Fate, when Adrian Chase
was Vigilante, and when Connor Hawke was Green Arrow. Where are all these characters, all intended as permanent replacements, now? All are retired;
most are dead.
DC's decision-makers know how much today's industry rests on the long-term fans. They've seen the success of series aimed at those
who care about DC's classic characters by those who respect their history, like All-Star Comics and The Nail and Kingdom Come.
Many of them were at John Broome's panel in San Diego, where the now-deceased creator of Hal Jordan and many other characters of the Silver Age
received tumultuous applause for his declaration that he would never have written a story like "Emerald Twilight." Several highly-respected writers
and artists, whose names alone virtually guarantee the success of any comic book, have expressed their desire to play a part in exonerating and
bringing back Hal.
Faced with all this evidence, what do those who like the status quo and don't want to see Hal back do? Some, of course, offer
well-reasoned arguments for their position and maintain an intelligent debate. But others, who seem to have difficulty expressing their thoughts in
such a way, attack what they can't understand and post worse flames than anything I've ever seen from any member of H.E.A.T. Ironically enough, this
only serves to prove H.E.A.T.'s case. Hal Jordan's exoneration and/or return are indeed a viable option that some who work for DC are seriously
As some have observed, the more extreme posts and actions by Hal's supporters — apparently including extreme acts like death
threats that have never been associated with H.E.A.T. — served instead to draw attention to Kyle's title. Similarly, the extreme posts and
comments serve instead to draw attention to, and increase the legitimacy of, the cause of bringing Hal back. It truly behooves those who like Kyle's
book to argue their own position more coherently...perhaps try to make common cause with Hal's supporters in order to prevent their own hero from one
day meeting the fate of Jason Todd and Yolanda Montez.
I could go on and on about Rich's accomplishments. This year, veteran Superman and Batman writer Alvin Schwartz will be a Guest
of Honor at the Comic-Con International. This too is the handiwork of Rich Morrissey, who tracked down Mr. Schwartz, who was long away from the
world of comics. The author was profoundly grateful to Rich for the attention and dedicated his recent (and recommended) book, An Unlikely
Prophet, to Rich.
A few years back at a Mid-Ohio Con, I had the pleasure of chatting up Alvin Schwartz. As various stories were mentioned, he
occasionally had to turn to Rich and ask, "I wrote that one, didn't I?" And Rich knew the list as well as he knew...well, the complete roster
of the Legion of Super-Heroes, their real names, their home planets and the order of their induction. Or pert near any other aspect of DC
Rich was an encyclopedia of such matters and, as I can't emphasize too much, he was utterly selfless about sharing it. Need some
info? Call or e-mail Morrissey and he'd drop everything to get you an answer. He was that rare soul whose heart was uncontaminated by
malice towards others; how incongruous that it should fail him today. I considered him a good friend and so should you.
Because you care about comic books, and Rich Morrissey was the best friend comics ever had.
My thanks to Marc Svensson, who came through with vital biographic info quickly so that this could get into print this week.