Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Real Life Superhero I Know...

Hey guys-

It's been a while, I know.  I say that a lot.  Actually, I'm pretty bad at blogging for 'Youth'.  Sorry for that again.  In truth...not a lot has happened since we last posted, other than us trying to get Issue #2 out the door.  I can tell you we've got the colors back from France, and our colorist Iyane Kane did an INSANE job.  It's beautiful, a little different, but still the same ol' 'Youth'.  I'm excited for you guys to see it.  Manny is finishing up the lettering as we speak, and then we'll have it ready to go.

For those of you who missed out on Issue #1, we are completely sold out.  However, with the first run of Issue #2, we'll print another 30 of #1 so those of you who missed it can pick it up.  Also, we'll bundle the two together for a deal if you want both.  When that's about to happen...we'll let you know.

So, in relation to the title I've got going...I wanna talk about something besides just the comic or myself, or even Evan, who I love talking about.  Granted, this will circle back to 'Youth' but there's reasons for that.  I'm going to tell you guys a story about a girl I knew in high school named Christina Mazzotta.

(Disclaimer:  All these photos are from Facebook.  Sorry Tina...I don't have any others haha.)

Now, some of this might seem bizarre, but having read 'Youth' (if you have), you might be able to surmise that I have an excellent long-term memory.  I can remember very specific details about my past that would usually be glossed over.  So at any point this starts to seem weird (or already has), keep that in mind...

Her name was Christina in middle school.  By high school it was 'Tina'.  I didn't know if that was to do with Aguilera, hitting that regrettable 'X-Tina' phase, but regardless, she was just 'Tina' all through high school.  She's still Tina, as far as I know.  That's what her Facebook says anyway.

We were never particularly close friends.  Classmates? of course.  Spanish all through high school, I think.  Close, though?  No.  We were on friendly terms, we could hold a conversation on topics we thought were interesting, but...there was never some intimate moment where she confessed to me her deepest hopes and fears in study hall.  Actually, we fought a lot during study hall, but that's later in the story...

Tina, when I moved to Aurora in 5th grade, was one of the popular girls.  Not a 'Mean Girl' or whatever that is, just...popular.

She was pretty, smart, nice to just about anyone...she had two Z's in her last name...I mean, at 12 years old, what else are my instincts going to tell me?  She was a hip chick.  She wore Abercrombie & Fitch.  I also firmly believe she liked country music before it was cool to be a girl and like country music.  My friend from the basketball team, Doug Snider, had a huge crush on her.  Probably one of our earliest interactions was based around this sort of thing.  They might have dated in middle school...that detail is quite fuzzy.  But 5th grade, we were all still in one classroom all day, so chances of interaction were very limited.

Sorry Ladies...Circa 2005?  Tina is at the top, right.
But 6th, 7th and 8th grade was class switching.  My next decent enough memory of Tina (besides, as it goes for every other adolescent boy, occasionally developing and harboring a crush which quickly dissolved when you realized that it just wasn't in the cards, socially) was during our 'Farewell to Harmon' talent show the 8th graders put together.  That night, I was an Emcee for the show, Joey Fatone in an lip-synced version of "It's Gonna Be Me" (complete with red hair and a drawn-on beard) and doing a cover of "Californication" with my first band.  Tina was in a medley with some of the gals in the photo to the left, doing choreographed dances from various genres of music.

This is an odd thing to remember but...Tina and her friend Hillary did a dance to a Shania Twain song (Country), and I will never forget this.  The idea before each song was that the girls came on stage and said to the crowd, "This is how we do it."  I don't remember why, but when Tina said it, it was like a throwaway line.  No one seemed to notice this, and the show continued, the girls danced...everything went as planned.  I don't know why this moment sticks out in my mind, but it always had.  It's a moment that my brain has chosen to file away.  We'll get back to that...

So we all went to high school, as most 8th graders do...and with high school came college scares, learning algebra and reading 'The Great Gatsby'.  Tina was a great student, and of course, blended well.  She was still popular...and she dated older guys.  She was just...real damn cool.

High school went by rather quickly I thought.  While Tina focused on her studies and being the wonderful human being she is, I focused on getting decent enough grades, having the few extra circulars I had, and being in bands.  Tina was at one of the first shows I played in my very brief career in a punk band, actually.  I wonder if you remember any of this, Tina haha.  But despite her stint with the punk crowd, Tina was a very motivated individual...which is why I found it curious that our senior year, Tina and I shared a study hall.  I assume she was there to do extra studying.

I was there because I couldn't pick another class to take.

At 7:50am every morning for an entire school year, we'd have our usual interactions.  Good mornings were exchanged between all the grumbling high schoolers who took a 1st period study hall so they could honestly sleep in.  I was one of the few people in my class who turned 18 early enough where it mattered that year...because in November of 2004, it was a George Bush election...and Fahrenheit 9/11 had just come out.  This turn of events provided my most meaningful and prolonged interaction with Tina.  I'll paraphrase:

Imagine this girl calling you an the time: humiliating.

Tina: Alex, you're 18.
Me:  Yes.
Tina:  Who are you voting for?
Me:  I don't know yet, really.
Tina:  Well, it's got to be John Kerry.  Bush is a liar.
Me:  Well, he's not the best guy, for sure, but Kerry kind of sucks too.
Tina:  But Bush is such a dick.  Why would you even have to choose?

This conversation went on for about three separate days in October, before Super Tuesday.  I site it as the moment I chose to never take an interest in politics again.  So for that, Tina...I thank you.  You saved me from a lot of panic attacks.

Senior Year and the summer before college went as usual.  I never saw her, and we haven't kept in touch, save for Facebook where you politely tell someone 'Happy Birthday!' occasionally.  She went to college, graduated.  I did the same.  And that's why I'm writing this now.

Congrats again, you crazy kids!
About 4 months ago (maybe?), pictures from my friend Louis Kastelic's wedding surfaced on 'the book'.  Louis, in case you guys don't know, is the real life basis, in character at least (sorry ain't that tall), for 'Louis' in our comic.  Louis married his high school sweetheart...oddly enough, the girl who danced with Tina during the country segment of the medley at the 8th grade show, Hillary.  Beautiful photos, lovely couple...but I noticed something.

Tina was wearing a scarf on her head.  Now, at first, I chalked this up to a fashion-forward gal like Tina, who'd always been a little outside the norm when it came to her fashion choices.  I knew she had done some pretty dramatic hair cutting in the past...perhaps another of her choices?

A bit of quick Facebook research revealed that Tina had actually been dealing with a serious medical issue over the last several months:  She had cervical cancer.  A age...who I had known personally was dealing with this.

So Cheery.
I was kind of taken aback.  My mother has dealt with breast cancer in the past, and luckily, with the right amount of treatment, she was able to get it in remission very early, before it became a serious problem.  So, it's not that I'm not accustomed to people close to me being sick.  But Tina age.  She was vibrant, smart, and from what I could tell, had not changed with the passing years.  If anything, she'd gotten smarter, more vibrant, become a much better person than me haha.

I told my wife, who is the most compassionate person I know.  She commiserated and crossed herself as she usually does when things like this come up.  I kept telling her, "She's 26-27...she's our age.  How does this happen?" My wife shrugged, hugging me.  She couldn't answer, even though she wanted to have the answer.  It was an unfortunate rhetorical question, but I still thought about it.

In the following days I read up on what was happening with Tina.  Her sister has kept a blog throughout the ordeal, and while Tina had done some crazy regimen of radiation and hadn't gotten rid of the cancer, and she'd have to go in for another separate treatment.  Another round.

It got me thinking though.  I write characters with powers, dealing with daily life.  They have these incredible things they can do, and the point of the book is that there's nothing to do where they are, so they have to deal with very mundane personal problems.  But...what was the point of that, for me personally?

I often site specific people as inspiration for characters.  Usually, this has to do with how they look in my head when I'm writing their action on the page.  Louis is based on an actual person named 'Louis' because quite honestly that was the face in my head when I wrote it.  Stacy though...Stacy is the only character I've ever totally invented.  She's completely fabricated from the memories I have from high school of every girl I knew.  She's what we call in the writing game, a 'composite' character, a character made up of pieces of several real life sources.  I realize though...after reading Tina's stories and seeing her life in the last year, and really reflecting on my time spent, however limited, with Tina...I realize she informs a great deal of what Stacy ends up being.

Stacy is a tough-as-nails girl dealing with the fact that she doesn't understand what's happening to her.  She doesn't back down, she faces it head-on, without any hesitation.  She's smart...and she's super strong.  There are other aspects to her, yet to be revealed...but it seems that by accident, I've based a good core of the character of Stacy on Christina Mazzotta.  A strong-willed young woman whose not backing down, no matter what the fight.

It's an strange thing to come to such a realization.  I'm excited for Tina (and of course all of you) read these issues of 'Youth' we have in store for the world, so you can grasp these characters the way Evan and I have.  My point is that people are inspiring all the time, in so many different ways.  You never know what or how it's going to effect you.

In her blog, she constantly reminds people, "No pitty please."  And in the spirit of that...To you, Tina:

I know this probably seems weird, but you're someone without a bad bone in their body and to say I'm thankful for this 'accidental' revelation is an understatement.  It's inspiring, and you were always someone people we're watching.  I guess I was one of them, because you've wound up in this comic book, in some way.  In a rule.  Thanks for the stories.  Thanks for being you.

'Til next time Bat-friends,

-Alex (& Evan)