I just learned via Facebook that Len Wein and his family suffered a major fire yesterday morning at their home in Los Angeles.

Len, as everyone should know, is a terrific writer who has scribed almost every significant comics character out there over the last forty years. He’s the person who created Wolverine and Swamp Thing, among many other classic characters, and he was Alan Moore’s original editor on Watchmen. He wrote some of the earliest (and most memorable) comics stories I ever read, during his ’70s run on Spider-Man. His wife Christine was a friend and colleague of mine in law school in the dim, dusty days of yore (or a couple of years back, depending on how old I’m feeling any given day), and they’re both Good People in every sense.

Chris reported the following via a status update on Facebook…

…dealing with the loss of our beloved dog Sheba in the fire which ravaged our home this morning. Fortunately, Len, [son] Michael, and Dexter are fine and the rest is just stuff.

…and after expressing shock and sympathy, I quickly hit some comics news sites in search of more details. Several of them pointed readers toward remarks from Harlan Ellison (who needs no introduction) on his own site:

Monday, April 6 2009 11:55

Len Wein called this morning. More than half of his house burned down earlier today. Len and Chris Valada and Chris’s son, Michael, got out okay, but their beloved dog, Sheba, ran back inside and is gone. In addition to both bedrooms, the bathroom, and much of the office, what was burned first was the original art for the first Wolverine story, the cover of GIANT X-MEN #1 and other art pieces worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. … This is a major catastrophe for one of my oldest and closest friends. Like your Host, Len is a lifetime freelancer and, even though he remains a star of the comics world, even though he created Wolverine and Storm–among other characters–he goes from day to day earning a freelancer’s living, as do I…and these are frightening economic times for those of us out there, to paraphrase Arthur Miller, “on a few words and a shoeshine.”

In short: they survived, but they lost everything. A home, a pet, and a lifetime’s worth of books, comics, art, and memorabilia, much of which can never be replaced. All thanks to an unexpected electrical short. And to top it all off, this happened when Chris was in the final stages of managing the planning for the SFWA’s annual Nebula Awards, to be held in LA later this month.

Harlan followed up later to add:

Monday, April 6 2009 21:15

…There is NOTHING you can do for Len and Chris NOW.

Their insurance company–along with four fire trucks and DWP and the police and many friends–have been there all day. Susan and I got home about 7:40 PM, and I spoke to Len about an hour ago. They’re okay, more or less, if you can call cudgeled into stunned immobility “okay.” They are just the way you or I would be if we’d lost everything.

…What you can do for the creator of SWAMP THING and WOLVERINE, if you are so moved, is NOTHING at the moment. Don’t bother them with well-intentioned commiserations that will only distract them. At the moment they are staunchly trying to pull it all together.

Later…SOON…but LATER…you can help enormously when Len presents a cogent list of those items that are replaceable–many were unique and are gone forever, and that’s that, so he’ll come to terms with it in time–but lots of it is around, some more rare than other, but possible. Hang back; just chill till Len lets us all know what he needs. I’ll post it here, it’ll be on Neil Gaiman’s site, and Peter David’s, and Mark Evanier’s and on and on.

Give it a rest for a month or so, kids. Let them alone, and I’ll do my best to keep you informed. But don’t waste your mud with sad’n’sorrowful platitudes. It will only distract.

Needless to say, I’ve told them there were about 40 phone calls and posts here. They are too stunned to be grateful, but just so you know I passed the good tidings along.

The abovementioned Mark Evanier (another LA-based comics and TV writer, for any who have sadly been deprived of exposure to his work) expressed similar thoughts on his own blog:

To those who ask, “What can we do?” the answer seems to be “not much right now,” though Len and Chris must know they have a lot of friends they can turn to. At some point down the line though, when they’re settled into new digs or a rebuilding of the old digs, I’d like to see if we can restore some of Len’s book collection — particularly copies of things he worked on.

I haven’t spoken to him about this or anything because, goodness knows, he’s got plenty to think about without me demanding his attention. But I’m guessing he will welcome this — and it certainly makes me feel better to think there might be at least something we can do.

There’s little I can add to that (except to hope that the insurance company defies industry stereoptypes and treats them fairly). Len and Chris have a wide and wonderful circle of friends, and an even wider circle of fans, and the voices above are from people far closer to them than I. But it’s worth pausing for a moment just to ponder the cosmic injustice of it all, and extend a sympathetic thought… if not to them directly, then to anyone else in your life who may be suffering through undeserved hardship in these trying times.

One Response to “And now some bad news: the Len Wein house fire”
  1. Andrew says:

    Bad news indeed …

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