Remembering Norm Breyfogle


Norm Breyfogle was more than just a comic book artist to me. He was a friend. A very close friend, and one whose friendship I cherished above others.

I first met Norm back in early 2003 when I approached him for an interview for my now defunct Adelaide Comics and Books web-site. Norm instantly agreed and the arrangements were made for a phone call. Our first call lasted for hours as we spoke about many topics, and even talked about his career. It set the tone. I remember that week very well, we spoke on the phone every night for five days, just talking about stuff. We found we loved debunking conspiracy theories and shared our favourite theories, discovering that we had one in common which involved the moon landings and the Hubble telescope. He was tickled that I’d managed to upset David Ickie (long story, but funny) who he felt was a crank anyway. We loved the same stuff, we loved the same artists, writers and books, the same concepts in life. Films, music and opinions, it was rare that we weren't on the same page and we were real about it. There was no faking it with Norm, he'd spot that a mile away. If we disagreed then we'd stop and listen to the other person explain things and take it on board. We had the ability to genuinely change the other one's mind.

Over that week we decided that we really liked each other and we’d stay in touch. And we did. As much as two men could with an ocean between them, we came to genuinely love each other. He encouraged me with my writing, I kept approaching companies, both big and small, to hire him. I found it near impossible to believe that Norm Breyogle, the man who made Batman so damned good in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, was finding it hard to get work.

Be real! I annoyed the hell out of people everywhere, but it worked. He started getting more commissions.

Norm understood why some editors didn’t want to work with him. He’d upset a lot of people with his famous temper in the past. He was incredibly talented, incredibly intelligent, but he had a short fuse when it came to injustice and he would not suffer fools easily. He’d fight them, using his intellect and his words, and he could be quite cruel at times. But, as he’d day, it wasn’t personal and sometimes he wasn’t aware that he’d done it. On the few times that he turned that temper on me I’d ignore it and gently remind him that he’d hurt me. Knowing that he’d hurt me would hurt him and he’d be instantly, and honestly, apologetic. It was all good. As I’d say to him, nobody is perfect.

Norm believed that he was enlightened and thus above a lot of people who, he felt, had cut their minds off from such concepts of a higher plane of existence. He felt it was sad that I wasn’t enlightened, but he knew it’d happen eventually, and then life would be perfect. We’re still waiting.

Norm was generous to a fault. When people approached me to ask artists for donations for various cases I’d get uncomfortable. I knew some artists were reluctant to donate art, it meant they’d lose out on that money, and, when you’re freelancing, money is king. Norm understood this but he’d insist on giving, and giving generously. He’d look into the cause and if he felt it was righteous and was doing good, he’d send a few sketches or a page of original art, or both. He’d give his art over and lend his name to the cause.

Many charities benefited from his largesse, and still do. If he was asked about putting his name to a banner, or a book, he’d agree on the spot. He knew his worth.

When he got work he’d contact me and we’d talk about the merits of it all. He sought out his own work, and controlled all the sales of his art, eschewing agents.  When I’d ask him about this, he’d tell me that he had the best agent out there, Mike Freidrich, and, since they’d parted ways, he saw no need to take anyone who’d not be as good. Like most things he said, he made sense. So we’d talk about the work, and talk about the people we’d both badgered and the responses that we got, tut tutting the various writers and editors who, publicly, praised him but privately wouldn’t hire him. But when they did hire him, he’d work to the utmost of his abilities, deliver on time and be gracious. He’d never tell an editor what he really thought of them.

Eventually one editor of a small press company put it to Norm that he should write his autobiography. He proposed that I write it with him, so began a process that is still going. The small press company went broke over a decade ago, but we were still working on this book right to the end. As it stands, I was waiting for the latest lot of changes and edits to come through – they were due in early August.

Writing about Norm meant talking to him. There was no such thing as a short conversation. We’d talk for hours and our conversations often took on the form of mutual therapy sessions. Our joke was that we didn’t need shrinks, we had each other. He encouraged me to record the conversations and listen back on them. I’m glad I did that, no matter what, I have his voice forever.

Norm was funny and could crack the best jokes. He was deadpan, he could do a perfect Mr T impersionation and, for someone who was so intelligent and refined, he’d collapse into giggles when we’d discuss the latest Lobo or Shit The Dog. He loved the humour of Alan Grant, a man who he believed had made him what he was as an artist. Alan had encouraged him to develop and grow over the years they worked together on Batman. God help anyone who said a bad word about Alan Grant. Trust me, he’d cut you off and that was that. Listening to the pair of them talk to each other over one mighty phone call was an honour. They twisted and turned, entwined their words and found agreement, even when they saw things differently. This was a first hand look into the world of two giants of the industry, a glimpse that was reinforced when Norm sent me his notes, sketches, script, cast off pages and more relating to the Batman: Dreamland project. Included in the package were long, detailed late night faxes between Norm and Alan, in which they’d not stop until they found a consensus.

I know Alan is suffering right now, along with all of us. Alan will be feeling this harder than anyone, and my heart is breaking for him.

Norm might not have been a perfect man, but I loved him, and he loved me. Our last call, after his stroke, found us both highly emotional. Norm was trying to come to grips with losing his left arm to paralysis, thus removing his ability to ever draw again, and I was trying to get my head around nearly losing him. Typical, it was his anger that had brought on the stroke, his stupid temper, as he said. I need to tell you something, he said, through tears. I love you. I really do love you. I began to cry and he cried more. I told him I loved him as well, and we both meant it.

There's been more tears over the past few days, mostly privately. Norm was big on keeping a strong front for others.

Right now Norm is happy. He’s complete, in no more pain and is with his beloved mother. He’d be sad to know that everyone is upset, and he’d be touched with the outpouring of love that has come from the past few days. If he could speak, he’d tell people to keep on moving forward, and that he loves them.

And I’d reply, I love you too chum.

Godspeed, my brother on another country. May you find the peace that eluded you these past few years. And if you ever need me, just pop down into my dreams and we’ll have a chat.




Comments

Darren Close said…
Lovely sentiments Daniel - I'm quite envious of the close relationship you had with Norm, but I'm glad you were there for each other through the good and the bad times.
I've been a fan of Norm's for decades, since I first began reading comics, and I had the chance to annoy him briefly at a SDCC about the whole Anarky/Joker thing. An embarrassing fanboy moment I wish I hadn't wasted on continuity nit-picks! I've scoured YouTube for interviews and have found precious little -- would you ever consider editing and releasing some of your recorded conversations? We fans would be grateful . . . and even if those chats are too understandably private, the man gave us enough to look at and read for years and years to come. Thank you for sharing your friendship with him -- it helps, a lot.
Unknown said…
Danny my friend, you and I lost touch. We used to communicate through Norm's message board so much. I tried a few times to send you a private message through that site, with no reply. I really miss those days when we would post messages with Norm about silly stuff, which would turn ridiculously serious, but always fun.

You know Norm is (not was, IS) one of my all-time favorite artists. As a matter of fact, for a time, I held the mantle of owning the most number of his original comic art pages (until you cleaned him out). I even have the sketchbook and hand written note he gave me to prove it!

I had a lot of respect for Norm and did my best to stay in touch with him and support him when he was in need. I was never one for Facebook and I got the impression he didn't want to stay in touch with me via email so I left him alone. I regret doing that because now I'll never have a chance to reconnect with him again.

I found out about Norm's passing through JM DeMatteis's site. It really did hit me like a ton of bricks when I read the news. I actually had trouble believing it.

I want you to know that I attended the Baltimore Comic Con this past weekend and any creator that had a Hero Initiative bucket out, I donated to it, and made a point to tell several of them that my donation was in memory of Norm Breyfogle. So very many of them not only thanked me but stopped what they were doing to talk to me about him. John Ostrander, Walt Simonson, and Buzz, were just a few of the folks who really were touched and wanted to share stories with me about him.

I showed them some of my art pages, including my favorite piece, the one Norm drew of my family, and they were all marveled by his work, and saddened by his passing such a young age.

https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=253795

Danny, it's been a tough week. I know. Like I said earlier, I'm not a Facebook guy, but if you ever want to talk, I'd like to share some emails with you my man. You're the only person I know on planet Earth who loved Norm's artwork more than I did (...well, maybe equally).

Sincerely,

George Travlos
Pete Rooth said…
What a great tribute to a truly great artist.
Daniel Best said…
George, you're right, it's been far too long between drinks. Drop me an email at snoopy967 at gmail.com and let's catch up with each other.

This is an incredibly difficult time indeed, and I appreciate the comments from everyone. Norm was far more than just another artist to me, he was one of the closest friends I've ever had and I'm still trying to process his passing.

Cheers

Danny

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