"My Name Is Bill Mantlo. I Want To Go Home."
Back in 2007, I read and reviewed Mantlo: A Life in Comics, a biography of the man with detailed and appreciative notes about his work in comics. As I noted at the time, I was surprised by just how very much of Mantlo's work had impacted me, many of his stories making an indelible impression before I thought to look at who worked on them. And those aren't even the stories Mantlo was best known for, or the ones that got him the most praise.
I'm reminded of this today because LifeHealthPro just ran this impressive story about Mantlo. There's a good summary of his career as a writer, of course, and how he was just getting into the lawyering business, but what's most relevant here is the focus on what happened to him after the accident. That's a part of his story that's rarely told; it almost always ends with "Then he was hit by a car while roller blading, and has never really recovered."
Mantlo's own story is a tragic one. Beyond just the life-altering brain injury on the verge of his new career successes, but also the divorce (before the accident) and dealing with two kids trying to handle it. And then, after the accident, trying to deal with getting even adequate health care and the deep rifts that have torn apart the closest relatives and advocates he has apart. Tragic doesn't even really begin to describe it.
Knowing Mantlo's post-accident story is worthwhile for a couple of reasons. First, I think comic fans should recognize and acknowledge not only what Mantlo did for comics while he was in the industry, but also recognize and acknowledge that he's not dead. That his life didn't end back in 1992. Maybe his work didn't speak to you in quite the same way that Jack Kirby's or Chris Claremont's or Neil Gaiman's might have, but it was still pretty powerful stuff.
Second, I think everyone should recognize and be aware of just how messed up our health care system is. I've seen people out there -- average Americans -- who claim our health care system is the best in the world. It's not. Not by a long shot. Never mind that the World Health Organization rates America at #37, lower than Costa Rica and Chile, that Mantlo has had these kind of issues navigating the health care system should be more than enough to say there's something seriously wrong with what we have now.
Admittedly, it sounds like (at least from this article) some of the issues with Mantlo's recovery are his own anger and bitterness getting in the way of therapy. When it takes an insane strength of will to even get up in the morning, trying to recover lost motor skills must seem impossible, so I don't think we can judge Mantlo too harshly for that. Frankly, I'm impressed that he made as much recovery as he did.
But that speaks to a third lesson I think we should take away from this. In 1995, Mantlo typed out "I want to go home." After three years, he was obviously and understandably sick of hospitals and rehab, and wanted to return to life as he knew it before the accident. Who wouldn't? But he can't do that. None of us can do that. Time only flows in one direction; we can only take what we have right here and right now, and move forward with that. If some random event takes away some part of our life -- whether that's a job or one's health or a loved one or anything -- we can't get that back. And I think that's, sadly, part of what kept Mantlo in the state he's been in. You can't hold on to anger over what happened years ago; you can't cycle through past events in your mind forever. You can only move forward from where you are today.
Mantlo's problems are much larger than what he's been able to deal with. It has absolutely been crushing on him mentally, emotionally and physically. Far more than any person should have to deal with. But even though he's not writing comics any more, I think he still has valuable stories to pass on. Please go read the LifeHealthPro article, and then go buy a copy of Mantlo: A Life in Comics.