Brainiac On Banjo #031: Friendship

I’m not immune to writer’s block; I doubt anybody is. But usually I hit the keyboard running. This time I hit that proverbial brick wall. I wanted to write this last week, but words failed me. Let’s see if I can wrestle this down to the ground – and forgive me for getting personal.

There’s a value to fandom – any sort of fandom; comics, sports, collecting Pez dispensers – that often is overlooked. It’s a great way to meet people and make new friends. Over the past half-century, I have been lucky to have established enough friendships to fill a minor league ballpark. Some folks have gone on to become part of the comics industry, either on the creative side or on the retail side. Some have gone on to lofty careers in other venues (name-drop: my childhood neighbor Merrick Garland).

Some… well, some are no longer with us. Death is binary.

There used to be these little cloisters of fandom called APAs – Amateur Press Associations. In fact, they’re still around, modernized for the electronic age, or at least subsumed by it. I’d been part of two such operations, one called Interlac, the other… we still cannot speak its name. I was invited into both, the former in the mid-1970s, and the friendships I’d made from both have been enduring and fulfilling. There were quite a few people who are well-known names in our donut shop, but after doing the Merrick Garland name-drop, I’ve maxed out the egoboo. However, I would like to note that, even way back then, there were a fair number of women involved in each.

One of the not-women involved in both APAs was fanboy and comics retailer Mike Raub. We shared a lot of common interests. We both were broadcasters and in love with radio. We both enjoyed gizmos in general and computers in specific. We shared a pointed and often caustic sense of humor. And for nearly one-third of a century, we lived within a few miles of each other.

Mike and I started out as APA contributors, which quickly led to becoming convention friends. Those are real friends that you usually only see at sundry comic book conventions; Mike and I did stuff at many shows – particularly San Diego – for which the statute of limitations may still be in effect.

I had moved to Fairfield County Connecticut in January 1986 to resume my tenure with DC Comics in Manhattan. Shortly after making the move, my then-wife Ann and I were driving around the area and I made a wrong turn in my attempt to get on the Interstate. It turns out the traffic signs in Connecticut are liars. Be that as it may, we drove by a store called “The Dream Factory” and wondered what that could be. I theorized, incorrectly, that it must have something to do with movies as MGM had been known by that nickname.

We pulled into the parking lot and discovered it was a comic book store – in fact, the closest comics shop to where we lived. Entering the shop, we were greeted by a woman who, upon learning my relationship to the industry, asked us to wait while she got her husband out of the back office. To my surprise, it was Mike Raub. The woman, Lori, was his then-wife. Hey, it was 32 years ago, c’mon! Divorce is just another word for reboot.

Our friendship propagated like bunny rabbits on Viagra. We were there for each other through good and through bad, through divorces, marriages, deaths, births (Mike had fathered a gaggle of boys who dwarf the Incredible Hulk in size and Betty White in affection), illnesses and accidents, traumatic late-ships, and a myriad of common friendships. We even won us a major lawsuit together.

Because Mike had no appreciation for child labor laws, he hired Adriane Nash as a Dream Factor clerk when she was a lass of 15. A few months later, her mother – also a comics fan and a Dream Factory regular – brought her to a party at Mike’s house. A year and a half later, Linda and I got married in Mike’s backyard. Mike and Kai got married in Mike’s backyard. And when Linda died, Mike and Kai hosted the memorial. That Dream Factory crew was my family, the ever-expanding Raub Family was (and remains) my Rock of Eternity. For 32 years, Mike was my closest friend. He always had my back. Always.

Mike died two weeks ago tomorrow, after a debilitating 15-month illness. His wife Kai, his plethora of sons and our pal Dom Corbo put on a wonderful memorial a couple days ago, the sort of thing you wish you didn’t have to do but truly appreciate with all your heart and soul. The extended family from comics, the Dream Factory, broadcasting, the Raub and Connolly and Gold families all gathered in tribute to a remarkable friend, a true friend in the deepest and most momentous sense of the term.

Yeah, getting old sucks. And not getting old sucks – at least, for the rest of us. But I’ll tell you one thing. I am a much, much better person for having known and loved Mike Raub.