Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Sister Carter

Carter ShelleyI don't know what you guys expect when you click over to this blog, but I'm 99% certain its not an image of a female minister.

That's my oldest sister The Rev. Dr. Anne Carter Shelley, one of the first women to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina, and in a weird way, she's helped guide me over the years to become the Godfather of Digital Comics that I am today. Let me explain:

Today (Valentine's Day) is my birthday, a date I seem to share with Chad Bowers. And while at my age, what you GET on you birthday is less important than a nice phone call from your siblings (who usually just send you clothes) Carter always managed to come up with just the right gift.

When I was 10, she introduced me to the wonderful world of Asterix and Obelix. Up until then, I was pretty much only reading Marvel, DC and Harvey comics, but Carter, who was studying at Manchester, had access to a world of comics I had never dreamed of.

She sent me Asterix and Cleopatra for my 10th birthday, and I remember pouring over it for months spotting details and jokes I had missed on previous readings. I looked for other Asterix and Obelix comics here in the States, but was unable to find them. It would be several years before I had a chance to go to England myself to get more.

What was coolest about Carter is that she never, ever thought that my obession with comics was weird or juvenile. I don't know how it was for the rest of you guys, but by and large, I often hear stories from other comic fans that most of their family thought collecting comics as a *phase* they should outgrow or some smart investment move that they wished they had thought of. :/

Carter understood, better than anyone, that I read and collected comics because they were fun and entertaining. She was a bibliophile herself, so the idea of wanting to collect a series of stories was something she completely understood.

Other comics Carter sent me from across the pond included the awesome British Comic annuals like Beezer and Bongo. The closest I can get to an American equivalent of these comics is our Sunday Comics page.

And of course 2000 AD.

I think what was so amazing about these was that they just seemed to encompass so many styles of comics. Beezer and Bongo were full of fun characters and simple humor stories. 2000 AD on the other hand needs no introduction thanks to the success of Judge Dredd over here, but back in the 70's, there was simply nothing coming out in America like 2000 AD. (Perhaps you would have to go back to the Silver Age to find a similar style in American comics.)

What these comics did for me was open my eyes to a simple style of storytelling that was quite different than American comics, which at the time were starting to to become more dependent on continuing storylines. I understood that the stories in 2000 AD were also parts of larger storylines (in most cases) but they were also COMPLETE stories unto themselves which left the reader satisfied for that week.

This year, my friend Steve Kean gave me a subscription to 2000 AD Extreme edition, and from what I can tell, the stories in 2000 AD still follow much of this style.

Something else that Carter did that prepared me for my future was she introduced me to the world of MacIntosh computers. In the 1980's Macs were tiny beige boxes that pretty much used floppy discs to run any type of program. And while I was familiar with Commodore type computers, I found the Macs MUCH easier to use.

Carter let me use her Mac (which was a very expensive pc for the time) to write term papers for college. And while a Korean speaking Calculus professor and an archaic punchcard system were a one-two punch that knocked me out of the USC Computer Science school, the MacIntosh lured me back into the world of computers with its simple interface and easy to use programs.

beginTANGENT I really didn't have a hard time turning my back on the school of Computer Science back in 1985 because, after using Carter's Mac, I knew where the future was headed (not towards Macs per se, but towards simplicity in computer systems)

When Macromedia Flash introduced ActionScript, I knew the time to come back to the world of programming was right, and watching the evolution of languages like Ruby and .NET, I've seen my prediction of a simpler world of software development come true. I think if you are a faithful reader of this blog, you've seen I have a habit of making loosely unsubstantiated predictions. I bet if you were to ask Phil Looney, you'd be surprised how often I'm right about such things. endTANGET

Anyway, it was on Carter's B/W Mac that I typed my first Horror story (which I also sold), We Are Seven. I wrote other stories after that, and a few plots and scripts for Marvel's SilverHawks, but I don't think I was cut out to be a writer at the time as I found the solitary task of writing could not compete to playing in metal bands, drinking too much and running around with the wrong type of girls. However, my ability to use a Mac led me to a career as a typesetter at kinkos, which I parlayed into a job as a graphic designer and then a webmaster and now a software developer. And while I don't use a mac now, I acknowledge how it helped me get where I am today.

Over the years, Carter has not forgotten how much I love comics, and she has continued to send me Christmas and Birthday gifts that somehow manage to tie together my love of comics with whatever she is doing in her world. This Christmas for instance, Carter gave me a copy of Persepolis, which is a good example of how Carter could find that perfect graphic novel that we could both relate to and talk about.

Last Monday, Carter and her husband Tom visited me and my family down here in Columbia. Such visits with Carter now are rare as she has moved to the other side of the continent. While visiting, I showed her the Flashback Universe. She asked me a ton of questions about what I was doing, and while she didn't understand all of my answers, she was completely fascinated by the concept. The next morning she was still thinking about it and said, "Jim, that's a very cool thing you are doing."

I'm sorry to say that that will be the last time I will ever see Carter, as she passed away a few days later. She was 54 years old and died of a cardiac arrest.

You see, 18 years ago, Carter had extreme kidney failure, and it was only the donation of my brothers kidney that has kept her here with us this long. My family and I have lived with the understanding that she might die sooner than normal because of this, but understanding and being prepared are two different things.

Her Memorial service was less about grieving for her death and more about rejoicing in the life she had lived. That is exactly how she would have wanted it.

These past few days, while helping my folks with the Memorial service, I have had many opportunities to think about all the different ways Carter influenced my life - this post is merely a small example. I thought I'd let you know what a great person Carter was.

Thank you.


Disha said...

its an interesting article...

Richard said...

I am so incredibly sorry to hear about this.

Just from knowing you and reading what you've said here, I feel safe in saying the world has lost yet another wonderful person who made the world an appreciably better place by her presence in it...and it sounds like the world of comics lost another friend. (The fact that she helped shape your life this way means that I and everyone else associated with Flashback owed her thanks we'll never be able to offer her.) Your family knows just how lucky you were to have had her in your lives. From reading the comments left on that article about her, it's clear a lot of other people feel the same.

What else can I say? You and your family have my best wishes.

Jim Shelley said...

Thank you Disha and Rab. Based on the responses I also got via email and phone, I think I was successful in letting everyone know what a truly special person Carter was!

Lynne said...

I have looked for Carter for several years and only just found this sight. She and I were such good friends in elementary school. I'm so sorry to hear of her death. I would have loved to have talked with her. Give my best to your family. I remember you all well. Lynne Porter Whitmire

MattComix said...

Jim, this is the first time I've ever seen this article pop up on the "You Might Also Like" scroll.

Belated as it may be, I just want to say your sister sounds like a really awesome person and thank you for sharing your memories of her. Wonderful piece.

Liz said...

I found your article looking for bio information on Rev. Carter for a paper I am writing for grad school. Her essay on the parable of the widow and the judge was so helpful to me. What an amazing person, scholar, and sister. You've written a beautiful tribute to her.


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