Smiling Through the Tears

Thoughts on James Reddington and Mike Wieringo

Welcome back dear readers of the mighty CWN! May your discerning choice of online comic review goodness bring you everlasting peace of mind! But enough with the formalities.

This month’s column marks a time for sober reflection. In an unscheduled change to my initial planned feature, I’m going to be serious for a moment…oh, but there’s still some comic fun to be had! I never forget the fun…

A month ago I received the incredibly sad news that fellow UK comic creator, James Reddington, had passed away from heart failure at the tender age of 28. James was one of the nicest guys working within the Independent scene in England. I first met him in 2004 and was immediately taken aback by his positivism, his energy and his passionate love for this medium. James was a prolific writer, press activist, reviewer and columnist, but above all else he was a really, REALLY nice guy.

Barely a month later and another ridiculously well meaning creator, Mike Wieringo, died aged 44. Once again from untimely heart failure. Wieringo was an artistic tour de force, summoning a sense of unbridled love and fun in every panel and page. His passing has dealt a tender blow to the brighter side of our dear industry, and for me, the loss of a inspirational story teller.

The web and press worlds, on two very different scales, have filled with tributes to the joy and positive energy of both these absent peers. Perhaps most tellingly they have both been celebrated as paragons of fun; a sense of raw wonderment and pleasure ever captured within their work. It is this posthumous energy that caused me to reflect on the nature of Death within the sequential world, and more importantly it’s reaffirming impact on life. To this end I want to take a closer look at the work that Mike would probably best like to be remembered for…the tragic, heartfelt and heroic ‘TELLOS‘.

Tellos was a work of private passion, a dream fostered and nurtured in equal parts by Todd Dezago and Mike. A mythical, magical adventure with a fractured soul at its core. On the surface Mike and Todd presented an enjoyable, colourful, tale, inhabited by a myriad of wonderful creatures from the wise-cracking, fox-headed thief Rikk, to the reptilian sage Thomasthustra; from the fiercely independent and sultry skypirate Serra to the noble fugitive Koj. The imagination at work on this sizeable cast was boundless. The environments were equally diverse and exciting, with floating cities chained to the earth and a moveable storm stalking the lands. Artistically Mike’s effortless style has rarely looked better.

The real wonder of Tellos, however, was the creators slight of hand. Over ten perfectly-paced issues they beautifully led the readers down the fantasy garden path of a seemingly simple ‘journey’ adventure. Only then, in the final hour when every reader had succumbed to their trickery was the truth revealed in all its wrenching glory.Tellos, after all the feints, was a tragic tale of life and loss…a touchingly real take on the nature of belief and hope, even in the face of death.

The honesty, the magic, the journey and the fun that Todd and Mike fused into the form of this maxi-series touched a raw nerve with its readers and fans. Chief among those was Thierry Mornet from Semic Comics. He shared the passion for the story and recognised that Mike’s work would appeal to a European market. Adapting the series into the oversized European format, Thierry proposed additional backup stories to bulk out the work and match the French 60 page format collections, and thus the Tales of Tellos and further works were born. 

From my perspective this was a dream come true. Not only were we getting large hardback versions of this fantastic tale but splash page and full story art duties from masters like Carlo Barberi, Francisco Ruiz Velasco, Crisse and Bruno Bessadi.
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In the end Tellos may not have been a staggering financial success but it conveyed everything the creators had hoped. The European expansion of the myth was a wonderful bonus but the good work had already been done. As a triumph of life after death, Todd and Mike’s finest work will resonate within me forever as an inspirational approach to fun story telling with a deftness of touch that chokes the reader. Mike and Todd demonstrated the power of the human spirit and sense of joy that can exist even in the darkest moments. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to one of the nicest guys in the world of comics than that his sense of awe, of magic, and of understanding will remain forever, by thy side…

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