Bill Jaaska: 1961 - 2009
Jaaska had some good runs in his all too short career as a journeyman comic book artist, including titles such as the Teen Titans, the Hulk and Sable. He popped up where people never expected to see him, did his job, and then moved on. He had some highlights, including a couple of issues of the Uncanny X-Men, at the time when Jim Lee and Co were starting to explode, same with his Hulk fills ins, which were done at a time when Dale Keown was beginning to set the title alight. But he never quite broke through and, like a lot of comic book artists, quietly faded away into obscurity and what appears to be relative poverty.
You can read what happened to Bill here and here, in a heartfelt series of articles written by Bills sister Maija. Artist Charles Yoakum has also written his own memorial.
Bill was 48 years old and apparently passed away due to natural causes. In a heartbreaking story, written by a relative of Bills, there's mention of his estate being so derelict that the coroner offered his mother 'a stipend from the county to pay for a “pauper’s burial.”' Bill had spoken to his mother only the once during his life, having been given up for adoption at an early age. Further into the article the question is asked, how can an otherwise successful artist be reduced to living off food stamps and residing in a boarding house? Indeed, how can this happen? Did Bill withdraw from the comic book industry, or, more likely, did the jobs cease coming, the phone calls stopped being answered and Bill merely faded away? For all the good that HERO do, they clearly have a long way to go.
What happened to Bill should never happen to anyone. The comic book industry prides itself on looking after it's own these days, indeed the outpouring of assistance and affection that I've been witness to in recent times has amazed me, but then for every feel good story you read, there's always a story like Bill Jaaska. You'd like to think that it won't happen again, but then, deep down, you know it will. I never knew Bill, I never spoke to him, but I feel his loss all the same. He may never have been a household name, but damn, his art was better than a lot of the crap that we saw at the same time, and even see today.
Rest easy Bill. May the next life treat you a lot better than this one clearly did, and may your talents be realised, wherever you end up.