Living where I do in Upstate New York, I'm pretty well out of the loop of the comic book world. Most of the news I get comes from my close circle of friends in the industry, and most of that news is about some really great new artist they think I should check out, or a new website for some really great artist from the 40s or 50s.
So, almost four months after it happened, I'm only now learning that one of my oldest friends in the business has died just short of his 39th birthday. You may not have heard of Jim Royal, but he was an inker who worked for almost every company in the business, from Caliber to DC to Marvel. But for me, he was the guy who single-handedly got me in the business.
After college, I was down in Birmingham, AL where my father was running a television station. I hadn't had a stellar college career and I was stuck in a succession of retail jobs while working on my own comics and dreaming of a chance to break in. One night, a lanky guy walks into the record store where I was working and asked to speak with someone - a friend of his who worked for the record chain - that I'd never heard of. Turns out his friend worked at one of our other stores and the lanky guy had shown up at the wrong location.
While we sorted out where his friend was and how to get there, the lanky guy and I got to talking. Turns out he was a comic book inker by the name of Jim Royal. When I told him I was a wannabe comic book artist, he asked if he could see any of my stuff. In those days, I always had something with me, so I showed him zeroxes of my latest pages there on the spot. He loved them.
Before he left, Jim gave me his phone number and invited me down to Montgomery to hang out with him and his studio mate, Andrew Robinson. I went down a couple of times to sit around, drink beers, smoke, and talk about comics. I always brought whatever new pages I was working on and showed them around. One night, Jim asked if he could send some of my pages to a guy he knew at Caliber Comics.
And that's how I got my first comic book work. Jim sent the pages, the guy at Caliber called me, and I got invited to do a story for NEGATIVE BURN.
I haven't talked to Jim in a while, but he's never been far from my mind. Every few years one of us calls the other and we spend a few hours on the phone catching up, talking, and laughing. I've always looked forward to those re-connecting phone calls.
The horrible thing was that in trying to re-connect with him now (last time Jim found ME, so this time was probably my turn), I came across the news that he'd died. I can't even begin to wrap my mind around the fact that he's gone. He was always there with a big grin and a story, and beer or cigarette if you needed one.
I'm not a religious man, but Jim, I hope you're out there, and I hope you know how much I'm going to miss those phone calls. Thanks for everything you did for me, and I hope wherever you are, it's a good, happy place.