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Veteran comics and television writer J. Michael Straczynski is opening up about his decision to retire from the comics industry.
Straczynski, the creator behind TV shows Babylon 5 and Sense8, revealed in an essay for Newsarama that he suffers from corneal dystrophy, a rare genetic disorder, which greatly impaired his sight. The disorder led to him to have a number of nearly life-threatening falls and slowed the pace of his work dramatically over the past 10 years. Because of the risks involved, he delayed getting treatment for years, as his vision got worse.
“Where I had once been able to turn out three or four comics per month in addition to whatever else I was writing, now I struggled to write even one comic per month, and sometimes failed to get even that much done,” Straczynski wrote. “Some who followed my work assumed that the slowdown was due to a sloppy work ethic, or getting bored and waddling off. But the truth was that I simply couldn’t see the computer screen. As it was, the only way I could read what I was writing was to use huge white type on a black screen … I literally could only work with about a dozen words on screen at a time, rather than a hundred or more per screen.”
In the mid-2000s, he finally confided in Joe Quesada, Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief, and later DC’s then-editor-in-chief Dan DiDio, about his condition.
“I’m ashamed to admit that I broke down in tears over the phone. I was openly afraid,” said Straczynski. “‘I can’t see,’ I told him, ‘I can’t see.’ Though Quesada and I grew apart due to creative issues, it is to his credit that as far as I know he never told anyone about my situation then or afterward.”
Fortunately, medical technology improved and Straczynski was recently able to take part in an experimental procedure called DMEK.
“Seven days after the first surgery, I was seeing 20/25. The next surgery had similar results, with no side-effects or complications,” Straczynski wrote. As I write these words, I’m seeing better than I’ve seen in my entire life: 20/25 in both eyes. I can read license plates, see the leaves on trees … every day I’m astonished by the new-found beauty of the world.”
However, as he outlined in the article, Straczynski has embarked on a number of careers over the years, each time abandoning it favor of a next challenge. He spent time as a journalist in San Diego only to leave to delve into animation, working on shows such as The Real Ghostbusters and He-Man. He left animation to develop live-action TV such as Babylon 5, and then turned to comics, where his notable works included a six-year run on The Amazing Spider-Man (including the groundbreaking 9/11 issue) for Marvel and Rising Stars and Midnight Nation for Image imprint Joe’s Comics.
“Now that I was running at 110% there was nothing to stop me. Except that small voice in the back of my head, the familiar, intimate voice that had been whispering stories in my ear every year since I was seventeen,” wrote Straczynski. “It was the voice of every character in every story I’d ever written; the voice I heard when I knew it was time to leave San Diego for Los Angeles; the voice I heard the day I walked away from journalism and never went back; the same voice that told me I was done with animation and never went back. For years, that voice representing some part of my psyche eager for new challenges, would force me to walk away from what I knew I could do and start over with something less certain.”
As for what’s next, Straczynski says he has his sights set on novels and plays.
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