A Simon Roy-drawn Long John, commissioned by Kyrun Silva

I am not under any presumption that Long John is anything more than a story I am doing my best to tell. When talking to people, I never refer to the comic as “my baby” nor describing it as the great opus of my life. It’s just a comic.

However, I can’t deny that the comic and the character hold a particularly important place in my mind and–-at the risk of veering into absolute schmaltz––my heart.

Long John was the turning point for my creative career. Despite being a character and story idea I carried with me for over a decade before the comic started, when I decided to chart out on my own creative path––instead of working in a creative partnership yet again––I knew Long John would be the book that would be the best road to travel. Long John, the book and the character, represent my individuality, a freedom of expression checked only by the boundaries of my tastes and ability.

My motivation to push forward with my own work came from a very strange intersection of seemingly disparate artists. But what really got me to consider what I wanted to do with my comics going forward was in 2009 after reading a blog post somewhere that talked about about a story by Canadian artist, Simon Roy, called Jan’s Atomic Heart. I remember thinking that it looked pretty neat and was shocked to find a copy of it at my local comic shop a few weeks later.

Simon Roy’s Jan’s Atomic Heart, published by New Reliable Press, was an incredible lesson in independent comicking for me. It has since been republished by Image Comics.

Jan’s Atomic Heart became one of those books that broke everything open for me. It was a book I pushed on friends, telling them they had to read it because it was doing things I had never thought of before––from art to story. I doubt I convinced very many people––my passion often gets the better of me––but where they may have only seen a neat, small, profound little story, I saw possibility and opportunity. That book began to redefine what comics meant in my brain.

A few years later, Image Comics announced that the gregarious ’90s comic book series, Prophet, was being rebooted after at least a decade of silence. I would have brushed it off had I not seen that, of all people, Simon Roy was one of the creative minds working on its development along with the head writer for the series, Brandon Graham (and, later, Giannis Milonogiannis was added to the team which basically brought a bunch of threads together for me). Needless to say, I needed no further convincing.

The reboot of Image Comics’ Prophet series–-featuring the work of Simon Roy and Giannis Milonogiannis––became a master class in independent comicking for me. Art by Simon Roy.

Not only were my favorite and most inspiring creators at the time working on the same book, the series itself was sublime, showing me not only new ways to approach storytelling, but also collaboration. Because of that, Prophet became somewhat of a creative bible for me, a touchstone I could come back to whenever I needed inspiration. Roy’s opening arc, like he had with Jan’s Atomic Heart, further smashed everything I thought comics were and helped broaden my ability to see what my comics could be. Even though you may not see any overlap were you to put Prophet and Long John side by side, it is undeniable that the latter would not exist without the former.

All of that to say that Simon Roy remains a face on my personal comicking Mt. Rushmore. I drove out to San Francisco to have him sign my copy of the original Jan’s Atomic Heart when he came through with Brandon Graham, and I was a nervous wreck. The first piece of original comic art I ever bought was a page from his run on Prophet.

And then, at the beginning of September, I turned 40.

My good friend and fellow creator, Kyrun Silva of Taurus Comics, had been harassing me for a month or so about how slow it was taking for my birthday to arrive and that he couldn’t wait to unburden himself of the gift he had for me. Knowing his reputation as being incredibly supportive while, at the same time, being a bit of a prankster, I was hesitantly optimistic about his insinuations.

On the left, a commission of Long John from Giannis Milonogiannis; on the right, an original page of Simon Roy art from Prophet #23.

On the day, we met out front of my home, masked and socially distanced to better protect each other and our families, an he handed me an envelope.

In my driveway, I pulled from the envelope a drawing of Long John with a Simon Roy signature beneath it.

Combined with the drawing of Long John I commissioned last year from Milonogiannis, I now had my two favorite living artists’ interpretations of Long John, the character with whom I took my first step into creative independence. But it was finding Jan’s Atomic Heart in 2009 and having it absolutely blow open my ideas about comic book storytelling that not only made independent comicking possible for me, but somehow also gave me the signal that I could do it.

All I could say upon seeing the drawing was, “Wow.” I felt bad, because my heart was freaking out, but it was held hostage by a brain short circuited in the moment, and all I could do was say a single-syllable over and over and over again. I was holding more than an incredibly considerate gift. I held in my hands a confluence of my entire creative journey as a comicker––my inspirations and my efforts hitting critical mass in a single image as ink on paper. I don’t know what possessed Kyrun to commission this for me––I am still in disbelief––but I don’t know if he knows how much it means to me, especially since the only response I had for him was, “Wow.”

As my birthday approached, I often heard the phrase, “You only turn 40 once!” from my friends and family. This incredible gift and moment and drawing assured that sentiment, and I’m sincerely grateful for it.