Salty and Sweet

My grandfather, Jim Adamo, died one week ago today. I knew it was coming, everyone in my family did. He had recently fallen ill and we had a few weeks to make to peace with what we knew was going to happen.

I don’t grieve well. I still haven’t cried since my grandmother passed. It’s not that I don’t mourn her, I just don’t manifest my emotions well. I’m a writer. I tell stories. I put thoughts into words and sentences and structured little moments – it’s my process.

There are a lot of stories out there about my grandfather. Here are a few of mine.

 

In a Name
I was born not long after the passing of my great-grandfather. According to those who were there, this death put my grandfather, Jim, into a depression. Some months later I arrived, his first grandchild. He had four daughters: my mother, Michele, and my aunts, Mary, Cathy, and Christine, but I was the first boy in his line.

I was to be named Michael James Ninness. Michael, after my father’s best friend, Mickey, who died when he was a boy, and James, after my grandfather. Not long after I was born my grandfather came to visit. While holding me he proclaimed, “I don’t care what they want to name you. I’m calling you James.”

It stuck.

 

Choo Choo
When I was two or three years old, and still the only grandchild, my grandfather built a train for me in his backyard. It was amazing. The tracks ran all around the backyard, allowing me to traverse a large section of property by myself, sitting in the locomotive with a few cars behind me. The tracks were long enough that I would lose sight of my grandfather for a bit. I actually remember that. I recall a growing sense of concern as I moved away from him, but I always came back. The track came around and I would see my grandfather standing there, smiling and waving at me. No matter how many times I went away, he always waited for me to return.

 

Perfect Student
In high school, during the middle of my senior year, I finally went to far. I had a bit of a record as a mischievous fellow and in my latest tomfoolery I told one of my teachers that he was an asshole in front of the whole class. He didn’t like that. The private school didn’t like that. I was to be expelled, which was fine with me. Many of my friends went to a public school near my home, so getting expelled meant that I’d move from one group of friends to another. No big deal.

Well, in the meeting between the school administration and my parents to review the expulsion paperwork, my grandfather showed up. He wasn’t having any of it.

Jim Adamo walked into the room, uninvited. He pulled up a seat next to me, “So what’s going on?”

They told him what I did and that I was to be expelled. “No, my grandfather said. “Here’s what’s going to happen: James’s parents and I are going to take him home and whip some sense into him. You’re not going to expel him. You’ll put him on probation or something. But he’s going to promise you right now, in this room, that he’ll be a perfect student until graduation.”

The principal started to protest but my grandfather looked right at me, and nodded expectantly. I didn’t fight it. “I will be a perfect student until graduation.”

“There,” said my grandfather, “it’s settled.” And before the administration could argue, we left, my grandfather holding me under my arm to continue the conversation in private outside.

I graduated from that school with no further shenanigans.

 

Screwed Up
My parents are one of the happiest couples I know, but it wasn’t always that way. They used to argue often and sometimes it could get heated. During one such episode while we were living in El Cajon (which makes me younger than six or seven), my grandfather came over to assist. I’m not sure what was going on, or why he decided to come and get me to leave my parents alone, but he did. On the way out, despite my parents’ protests, he told them that he and I were going for a drive. The door shut behind us as he called over his shoulder, “I’m not going to let you screw up my grandson.”

We left, got ice cream or something, and came home when things calmed down.

Fast-forward several years: I’m a college dropout, living in Tucson, Arizona, and working at Starbucks.

I left San Diego because my hometown and I weren’t getting along. I was in a weird place with friends. Selling drugs was lucrative and using them was fun. Depression had set in comfortably. There was a good deal of fighting. I was scared, confused, and without any sort of direction. I figured I’d leave town and try to get my shit together. It didn’t really work that way, but Tucson is a story for another time.

Through the grapevine it had come to my attention that my grandfather was confused at my departure. He didn’t know what I had been up to, so the sudden exodus to Arizona made little sense. Feeling a bit bad, I decide to write him and my grandmother a letter explaining everything: the depression, the drugs, and the fighting – all of it.

I expected to hear back from them, either through another letter or a phone call, but didn’t. After about a month, I decided to call them to see if they had received my letter.

“Hello?” It was my grandmother.
“Hey, Nana. It’s James.”
“Hi, James Michael!” She almost always used my first and middle names together. “How are you?”
“I’m okay.” I wasn’t. My heart was pounding. “I was, uh, calling to see if you and Papa got the letter I sent a while back…”
“Oh,” she paused. “Yes, we got it.”
“Okay.”
Neither of us knew what to say. I pushed. “Well, is Papa there?”
“Yes, he is. Let me get him.”
At this point she put the phone on the counter and shuffled off to get my grandfather’s attention. I heard bits and pieces of their brief conversation. There was “It’s James Michael,” “I can’t,” and “I’ll tell him,” all scattered amongst a few other indecipherable utterances. Eventually, Nana picked up the phone.
“He can’t talk to you right now, sweetie.”
“Should I call back?”
She stammered a bit, “No, James Michael. He’ll call you.”
“Gotcha.”
“We love you.”
I hung up.

My grandfather never called me back. We didn’t discuss the letter. We pretended for the rest of his life that it never happened, sort of. Things were different between us after Tucson. There was a distance, a gap that never closed.

 

Part of the Family
Family gatherings in the Adamo family were for one group: family. I tried and failed many times to invite girlfriends to various events. I had two serious relationships before my wife, and neither was invited to occasions celebrated by our family. Of course they were invited to my immediate family gatherings, and if they happened to bump into extended family there, so be it, but if my grandparents were having everyone over for family dinner? Forget it.

It’s possible that I may have been able to sneak Kyleen or my previous girlfriends to one or two of those get-togethers, but even if they managed to get through the door my grandfather wasn’t going out of his way to make anyone feel special. Kyleen told me that the first time she met my grandfather he scared the crap out of her. He was tall, intimidatingly confident, and greeted her only with, “Hello,” before moving about his business and speaking to her again only when it was a manner of decorum.

To my grandparents, there was a big difference between a girlfriend and a wife: one is committed for life while the other, well, isn’t.

Eventually, I did marry one of those girls. Kyleen and I got hitched almost ten years ago. Like every wedding that has ever been, there was a fair amount of stress. Stuff went right. Stuff went wrong. We have a lot of fond memories of that day, surrounded by friends and family, but one stands out…

At the reception, after Kyleen and I had entered the hall and gone through the normal wedding hoopla, we made our way around the room to greet the guests. Among the first to greet us were my grandparents. They both offered warm smiles to Kyleen and I before embracing and kissing her in congratulations. My grandfather held the sides of Kyleen’s head, looked right into her eyes, smiled, and said, “Welcome to the family!”

From that day on Kyleen was his granddaughter. He introduced her as such and treated her as though she had been in the family from her birth. Like it or not, she was in.

 

Small Talk
This last story is much more recent. It’s less of a story than a scene, but if you’ve been paying attention, it may read like a climax.

Just a few weeks ago my family and I visited my grandfather when it became apparent that the end was near. I was able to have a several minutes with him – just the two of us. We spent the first half of that time catching up, pretending that nothing was wrong. How’s my writing going? Are the girls doing well in school? It was your standard small talk.

Then he said something that threw me off. “James, you’re a good dad. You’re a really great dad. You have the best kids and you and Kyleen are raising them right. Be proud of that, guy. You’re doing great. I’m proud of you.”

This was the nicest thing my grandfather had said to me since the Tucson letter.

My aunt walked in just after that and I exited the room. The rest of the day he was in and out of naps as more people came by to say goodbye. I spent the majority of the time working remotely from his kitchen table. When it got late, we said our goodbyes as well.

After Kyleen and the kids said farewell I leaned over him, kissed him on the cheek, and said, “I’ll see you later.” He shrugged as if to say, “Maybe.”

We left. A few days later, he did too.

 

My grandmother, Barbara Ann Adamo, was born on June 20, 1934. She died on Friday, September 25, 2015. My grandfather was born on July 19, 1934, and died on June 20, 2017.

When I got the call I that he had passed it was just after 9 pm. Instead of being overwrought with grief, a scene played out in my mind that made me chuckle.

I pictured my grandfather walking up to the gates of heaven and my grandmother waiting for him. After two years of being apart, I imagined the both of them smiling wide and hugging each other for a long time. When they pull apart he keeps his hands on her shoulder, and she hers on his hips.

My grandmother, excited to see him, says, “Jim, I’ve missed you. I’m so glad you made it to my birthday party! We’re going to have ice cream.”

He’s still grinning. He can’t stop. He looks back at his Barbara and says, “Is dinner ready?”

 

Tell Nana I said Hi, Papa.

Inside Vault

Vault is a really big deal for me. This is the first mini-series I’ve put out that will be available through Diamond. I’m excited. Vault is a story I love and a book I’m proud of, so I can’t wait for folks to read it.

I’m also terrified. I crafted this tale. I wrote this story. A lot of people have put serious amounts of time and energy into something I wrote: artists, editors, marketing folk, PR people… It’s an awesome, scary, wonderful thing.

So, what the hell is Vault?

It’s a three issue mini-series that follows the moon-bound crew of the Gaia, as they intercept a large, seemingly abandoned alien vessel headed for Earth. The ship is full of varied, well-rotted corpses covered in a strange fungus, seemingly devoid of life. It’s a horror comic, so things go poorly.

It’s also a love letter to science fiction horror, a genre I’ve been in love with for a very long time. Alien, The Thing, Event Horizon, Sunshine — these stories and ones like them are my drug of choice. If you read Vault you’ll notice nods to each of these and more scattered about. That’s not an accident.

There is no follow-up to Vault. It is three issues and then it is done. Issues begin coming to your local comic book shops in July, with the trade (hopefully) coming by the end of the year.

As with any comic, the writing is only as good as the art and colors and letters. Each of these elements is equally important in crafting a good book. To that end, I wanted to take a moment to introduce a few folks to you.

Andres Esparza is a Mexican comic book and concept artist born, raised and working in Monterrey, México. He has more than ten years working as an illustrator with different advertisement agencies, newspapers, and video-game developers. Andres recently worked on a few comic books with Heavy Metal magazine, 1Firstcomics, Zenescope, Doubletake, and Storm King Productions. (Bio provided by Andres.)

Sergio Martínez is an illustrator, comic artist, concept artist, and whatever other opportunities visual arts affords him. He has around seven years working as a concept artist for video games and animation, a comic colorist, and a bit of line illustration (and even a tiny bit of artsy stuff in galleries). Publishers include Storm King Productions, IDW, Stone Arch Books, Bee Cave Games, Bioware, and Activision among others. (Bio provided by Sergio.)

Janice Chiang is a professional comic letterer with four decades in the industry. She has a body of published work from Marvel, DC Comics, First Comics, Tundra, DarkHorse, Archie Comics, Harvey Comics, TokyoPop, Del Rey, CMX/Wildstorm, Papercutz, Pow!Entertainment, and Storm King Productions for all genres and readership. Janice has hand-lettered on original art pages and is a digital letter artist on more recent projects. She enjoys working with mature talent as well as newly discovered creators. (Bio provided by Janice.)

And, of course, my editor and the person who gave me a shot with Vault in the first place: Sandy King Carpenter.

Born Sandra Ann King in Los Angeles, California. Attended the Westlake School, graduating in 1969. She attended UCLA College of Fine Arts, majoring in pictorial arts, and graduating in 1973. That same year, she worked on the Academy Award-winning animated film, Anti-Matter. Her first feature film as a script supervisor was John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). (Bio from by IMDB.)

You guys, my boss worked on They Live, Ghosts of Mars, and Big Trouble in Little China — how cool is that?

To give you a sneak peek at the book and what the team actually does to bring it life, here are the progressions for the first three pages of Vault, from script to finished letters (scroll through using the arrows). The eagle-eyed among you will note a few changes from script to finished page — those are the places where my team and I collaborated on improvements (which means they told me something that would work better and I agreed because they’re smarter than me).

  • Page 1 script, fourth draft, by me.
  • Page 1 layouts by Andres.
  • Page 1 inks by Andres.
  • Page 1 Flats by Sergio.
  • Page 1 colors by Sergio.
  • Page 1 letters by Janice.
  • Page 2 script, fourth draft, by me.
  • Page 2 layouts by Andres.
  • Page 2 inks by Andres.
  • Page 2 flats by Sergio.
  • Page 2 colors by Sergio.
  • Page 2 letters by Janice.
  • Page 3 script, fourth draft, by me.
  • Page 3 layouts by Andres.
  • Page 3 inks by Andres.
  • Page 3 flats by Sergio.
  • Page 3 colors by Sergio.
  • Page 3 letters by Janice.

 

Even though the book doesn’t come out until July, we’ve gotten a couple early reviews in. Here’s what people are saying:

“The Alien franchise can make a spot for the Vault because they’ve now got company where an outer space alien inhabited thriller is on the horizon and it’s worthy.” –Reading With a Flight Ring

“If you are a fan of the sci-fi horror genre, this is an absolute must read.” –Don’t Feed the Gamers

“…I really enjoy and the fact Ninness and the team have balanced what feels like a horror story in a sci-fi setting so well is impressive and has me excited to see what’s next.” –Graphic Policy

“I found myself reading, and re-reading this book as it kicked my imagination into overdrive. …I WANT #2!” –Outright Geekery

So, have I sold you on Vault? Ready to check it out? You can support us now by pre-ordering the book at your local comic book shop. Walk in and tell them that you want Vault and give them this pre-order code: MAY171800. The last day for shops to pre-order our book is this Thursday, May 25, so don’t wait! If you miss the pre-order cutoff date and still want to pick up the book, just tell your retailer. They’ll be able to get it for you.

Another thing you can do if you really want to help: share this blog. We’ve got to get the word out and you are kind of the only way that happens. No pressure. I love you regardless.

If you’re still not sold or want to know a bit more about the book, here’s a list of some of the press we’ve done for Vault in the last couple months:

Thanks for taking a minute to read this. Whatever you’re doing today, have a good one. I’ll just be over here; nervously twitching until the books begin rolling out in July.

Release Date

I think about my own death too much.

Like most smokers I know, I convince myself that I’ve got every possible lung and throat disease at the slightest tickle in my neck. It doesn’t help that I write for a living and have trained my brain to plan for every worst-case scenario.

I used to not be bothered by death. Then I had kids. Those jerks made me more sensitive to my temporal nature.

Why am I telling you this? Ever since leaving C2E2 I’ve been choking back sporadic spurts of tears. I met someone who threw a wrench in my perspective and I’m thankful for it. I’d like to take a moment to tell you about her.

I was at the Storm King booth with Sandy King Carpenter and Ross Sauriol. We were chatting up passersby and pitching our various wares to any and all that would listen. A pair of women came by while Sandy and Ross were busy. The first, shorter than the other, was black, wore short-cropped hair, and did not make eye contact with me. I do not remember what the second woman looked like. What took place so moved me that only the first woman is branded on my mind.

Like all conversations that day, I opened with a greeting, “Hey, there!”

They responded in kind and seemed to notice our books, so I continued, “How’s the show going?”

The smile on the first woman was enormous. “We’re having a great time. And you?”

“Oh,” I wound up the same canned response I always use, “I’m living the dream.”

She laughed, as do most. But it was here, during the laugh, that I noticed she did not make eye contact. She looked in my voice’s direction, but not at me.

Like a good salesman, I led her to the work. “Are you a big fan of science fiction? Horror?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Did you ever see Alien? Event Horizon? Maybe Danny Boyle’s Sunshine?” At this point the second woman began trickling down the outside of the booth, flipping through the comics we had stacked there, leaving the first woman and me to chat.

“Of course!” Her smile got bigger. It was remarkable. She was delighted to talk about this stuff. “Event Horizon is my jam. It’s messed up, but I love it.”

And so we chatted. We chatted for several minutes. I pitched her on my new book, Vault. She told me how much she loved the premise and I thanked her. She told me how she got into science fiction at a young age when she escaped a terrible situation with her family through the genre. We spoke about our different upbringings; things that we had in common and things that we did not.

After more than a 10-15 minutes (which is longer than the average booth chat), her friend came back over and patiently waited for us to finish. We spoke a few minutes longer. Her telling me why Aliens is better than Alien, and me suggesting she catch Krull as soon as possible.

As though sensing her friend’s readiness to move on, this marvelous young woman closed the conversation asking me about the release of Vault #1: Where could she get it? When would it be available? Did I have anything to give her so she could get her friends to bring it to her?

That last one struck me: bring it to her?

We had flyers so I grabbed one and reached out to give it to her. I extended my hand and she made no move to grab it. Her friend did, taking it from me and pushing it into the first woman’s palm. The first woman put the flyer a centimeter or two from her face and began dragging her nose across each line of text. She continued talking the entire time, explaining her situation to me as though she could see my confusion (for which, of course, I immediately checked myself to ensure that neither my face nor posture would do anything to indicate such confusion as I had no interest in embarrassing her nor being embarrassed myself).

Her situation was this: She had four brain tumors. She was almost entirely blind. She was born with perfect vision but her sight began worsening at an early age. She tried to ask for help but her parents and teachers thought she was faking to get out of exams and tests. By the time they realized that there was something wrong the tumors in her head had grown too large and were, for reasons I do not pretend to understand, inoperable. It was likely that soon she would be entirely blind, or worse.

When all I muttered was a dumbfounded, “I’m so sorry,” she continued.

She told me that near the end of June she was scheduled for an experimental brain surgery to remove the tumors. “The doctors are hopeful,” she said, “that they can help my vision and save my life.”

I swallowed my pity — she was not telling me her story for pity.

“In June?”

“Yes,” she replied, her smile as big as ever.

“I’ll tell you what then,” I snatched back the flyer I handed her and wrote my personal email and phone number on it. “When you’re out and recovered you let me know. I will make sure that we get Vault to you.”

She giggled and promised she would. “Thank you so much for talking to me.”

“Are you kidding me? Thank you. If you nice folk like you don’t chat with me I sit here bored all day.”

She laughed again. “Vault sounds awesome. Hopefully, I’ll be reading it without any help in a few months.”

“I have no doubt about it,” I replied.

And she was gone down the aisle with her friend.

I do not know her name, but that young woman’s smile, courage, and fortitude have brought me to almost-tears several days since we met. I don’t cry because I feel sorry for the young woman, but because I envy her. Her strength could fill ten of me.

With any luck, she’ll reach out to me in a few months and I’ll be able to share Vault with her. I promise to keep y’all in the loop when it happens. Until then, do me a favor? Pray for the girl with the big smile that I met at C2E2? And if, by chance, you were at the show and know of whom I am speaking, please send me a message (don’t make it public to respect her privacy).

I’ve never wanted someone to read something I’ve written this badly before.

Frozen Peas

“Vasectomy means never having to say you’re sorry.” -Larry Adler

My testicles have Disneyland to thank for their current condition.

None of my children were planned. You might call them “mistakes,” which wouldn’t be wholly inaccurate. At the point of conception for all three, protection was utilized but bypassed because, like the great Dr. Ian Malcom said, “Nature finds a way.

While Kyleen, my wife and superior in all ways, was pregnant with the first two, we took trips to Disneyland. Both ventures to the park had been her idea and, while she enjoyed herself, she was a bit miffed that she had to sit out certain rides.

In October of 2015, we were content. We decided that the two children were enough because they brought adequate amounts of joy to offset the standard toddler coozery. However, to be safe, we tabled the discussion of a third until after our planned family trip to Disneyland in November – Kyleen didn’t want to jinx anything.

Well, guess what we discovered a week before our trip? Yeah. Kyleen was pregnant again. I told her not to do that.

We still went to Disneyland. Everyone had a good time. But after that trip, on the car ride home, Kyleen let me know what was what. “When this child is out of me you’re getting a vasectomy.”

“Sure,” I replied without thinking much about it.

The boy was born in July. That November, just after Thanksgiving, we got our new health insurance. By December 1st I had an appointment for a vasectomy consultation.

Kyleen was not messing about.

I thought about coming up with an excuse to postpone it, but whenever I mentioned the vasectomy Kyleen’s eyes would turn a bit fiery, the perfect balance of no nonsense and “I will eat your soul.” So I went.

Round One: The Consult. #vasectomy #nomorebabies #buyajockstrap #frozenpeasareinexpensiveandmoldwelltothearea

A photo posted by James Ninness (@jamesninness) on

Dr. Pearce was a fine fellow. At the consult we spoke of Star Wars, comic books, and then, very briefly, at the end of our visit he gave me an information sheet for the procedure I was having: No-Scalpel Vasectomy.

Let me tell you, when I read the “no-scalpel” part I was elated. My dad and his ilk have shared their stories with me more than once growing up and, well, it sounds horrifying. Thankfully we no longer use stone tools for this delicate matter.

My favorite excerpt from the sheet: “Bags of frozen peas or corn are inexpensive and mold to the area well.” The other things to bring: a jock strap because it “fits snugly” and keeps the balls from getting too bouncy after they’ve been snipped.

I left that appointment thinking that this would be a piece of cake… Then I spoke to some of my peers who have had the same procedure. One had a very serious infection and had to be hospitalized. Another got pregnant after husband’s vasectomy.

Nervousness returned. I spent brief moments of every day coming up with excuses to delay the procedure, just in case my feet went suddenly cold in the last minute.

Two days before the procedure my son rid me of all hesitation. He cooed, not unlike the way he did when I first held him after Kyleen had the cesarean section. That made me think about Kyleen being pregnant with him and the girls. Of course that reminded me of the actual births for all three children…

My lady went through a lot to bring our mistakes into the world. If she wanted me to get this piece-of-cake, no-scalpel, ten-minute process done, I owed it to her.

So I did it.

And how did it go? Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Lay on table in Dr. Pearce’s office
  2. Get covered with paper sheet that has a hole in it for my junk
  3. Talk about comics some more with the good Dr. Pearce
  4. Get kicked in the nuts by two Smurfs wearing switchblades on the feet and feel it in your stomach oh god why
  5. Numbness
  6. Dr. Pearce is still talking about comics
  7. He finishes up, throws some gauze around -Dee and -Dum, and helps me pull my jock strap up

That was it. The whole thing really did take less than ten minutes.

I was told not to shower for a day, to leave the gauze alone until then, and to ice with frozen peas in intervals of twenty minutes. We scheduled a follow-up appointment for six weeks, shook hands, and I left.

It’s important to note here that, despite the anesthetic, my crotch felt like somebody worked on it (in the not-fun way). I was walking like I just rode a bull through a bounce house.

Did I go home immediately? Of course not. I stopped at a taco shop and picked up a California burrito because I deserved it. When I sauntered in I got some weird looks. I mean, I did have an abnormally large bulge in my crotch, was walking with my feet outside the width of my shoulders, and winced slightly with every slow step, but I didn’t care. California burritos are delicious.

The rest has gone as expected. So far, so good. I realize that could change and I know I’ve got to wait a few months before I’ll know if I’ve been completely cleansed of seed, but all in all, this has not been as bad as I thought it’d be.

(Famous last words, right?)

I wrote this for a friend who asked me to document my experience so she could share it with her husband. I have a few other father-friends who have expressed the desire for a vasectomy muddied by a crippling fear of testicular wrongdoings. It’s not as bad as you think. Probably.

And by the way, I’ve been using frozen peas (as I type this they sit betwixt mine thighs). You know what? They really do mold to the area well.

A Lot of Tomorrows Left

I posted this on Facebook last week and it struck a chord with a few folks. I’m re-posting it here for posterity.

—–

This morning, when I returned from the gym, I found my oldest daughter with dried tears on her face. I asked both girls how they were doing and my youngest gave me a thumbs up while the oldest gave me a thumbs down. I knew what was bothering her – it’s bothering me (and many of you) too.

I told them to get ready for school early. We stopped at Denny’s, grabbed a booth, and ordered and Oreo milkshake. Then this:

“Hey, Dad.”
“Morning.”
“Trump won?”
“Yeah…”
“So we lost?”
“Only today. There are a lot of tomorrows left.”
“Do people not like women for Presidents?”
“It’s more complicated than that, but maybe some.”
“Okay.”

She took a few sips of her shake, and then, “What if I want to be President? Would you vote for me?”
“Well, that depends…”
“Why?”
“If you’re President, will we still have time to get milkshakes together?”
She smiled. “Yes, Daddy.”
“Then yeah. You’ve got my vote.”

I am anxious to see what’s next… I’m scared for so many friends who have a lot to lose.

I am also hopeful. It’s impossible not to be hopeful with my kids around.

Chins up, folks. There are a lot of tomorrows left.

—–

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