By Jim "Rant-Man" MacQuarrie
The Scarlet Dragon
As I've mentioned way too many times in this space, I spend way too much time hanging out on a site called Comic Book Resources, where I chitchat with fellow geeks around the globe. I've been doing this since around 1997 or so, and over time have enjoyed conversations and foolishness with a lot of great people there, several dozen of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in person. CBR is, in my experience, somethign of an anomaly on the net; the people are for the most part intelligent and articulate, but more importantly kind and compassionate in ways one rarely finds in the freewheeling world of message boards. This is even more rare in the world of fandom boards, where people can quickly form cliques, be hostile to newcomers, and argue with amazing vehemence over things the rest of the world considers to be trivia. Among comic fans and pros, CBR has a widespread reputation for being the friendliest comics site, the place that doesn't put up with trolls and flamewars and abuse. The reason this is so can be largely traced to one man, and I'd like to tell you about him.
Back in the early 1990s, a guy named Jonah Weiland put up a personal web page called "Jonah's Page of Crappy Links," a collection of comic-related sites, as a project to teach himself HTML and related web skills. Some time later, Mark Waid and Alex Ross published a limited series called "Kingdom come," which posited a dystopian future for the iconic heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) of DC Comics and their children. At about this time, Jonah was experimenting with the then-new message board programs, and decided to put up a board devoted to discussing the richly-detailed Kingdom Come series. In a very short time, a group of fans found the board and each other, and over time they transitioned from discussing the series to collaborating on their own original stories, adopting colorful online personae and incorporating their new identities into the stories.
Among them was a man named Rob Harris from Virginia. Rob had been a comics fan all his life, and as a child had won a contest run by DC Comics, with the result that his creation, "Nightwind," was added to the supporting cast of the "Legion of Super-Heroes" comic. He remained a LoSH fan, and by the time I first encountered him, he was the Moderator of the Legion Board at the now-renamed and much-expanded CBR. Anyone who corresponded with him quickly discovered that he was a gentle and good-hearted soul. Even when conversations veered toward inflammatory subjects, Rob remained patient, keeping the conversation polite and respectful for all parties.
In particular, I remember a conversation that could have turned into a horrible fight, but didn't, due entirely to Rob's attitude. The Legion of Super-Heroes is a science fiction series, set 1000 years in the future, featuring an interplanetary group of teenage heroes. Somebody raised the issue of gays in the 31st century, and I suggested that it's entirely possible that scientists and social engineers over the next ten centuries might take it upon themselves to try to "cure" or eliminate homosexuality through genetic engineering, which could result in major changes in societal attitudes. There were a large number of gay members of this forum, the Legion book having always had a large gay following, including "The Scarlet Rob." There were a few people who started to hint that I might be an anti-gay bigot, but Rob took the subject at face value and discussed it at length. As a result of his tone, everyone else took the same tack, and what could have been an ugly confrontation became instead an intelligent and thoughtful conversation. I've since learned that this was par for the course for Rob. Try as you might, you'll not find anyone with a bad word about him. Read all his posts at CBR, and you'll find one of the funniest people you could ever read, and not one bit of his humor derived from put-downs or making anyone else the butt of the joke.
Some time afterwards, two people who had met at the Kingdom Come board announced their impending marriage, and I decided to draw a special announcement card for the wedding, which I also printed up and framed as a gift for the couple, which showed the wedding of their avatars, surrounded by their many online friends and acquaintances. I got a list of all the characters and the various sketches some of them had done of their own or others' characters, and began assembling the scene, including a large red dragon in the rear, The Scarlet Rob in his secondary form as The Scarlet Dragon.
Because of this illustration, I got myself invited to the wedding, which happened to be about 25 miles from my home. Afterwards at the reception, and the post-reception party, and the post-party hangout session at the Cheesecake Factory, I got to spend a lot of time with some of these people I had previously only known by their words. It was one of the more enjoyable evenings of my life. Among the highlights was sitting with Rob, his partner Steve, and a number of the wives of the geeks, all the people who didn't know anybody at the party, watching the drunk people act up and making witty commentary in a Mystery Science Theater fashion.
Last July, I was at the San Diego Comic-Con, and had accidentally put on my daughter's convention badge instead of my own. While standing in the dealers' room looking for my errant son, a soft voice said "you're not Katie MacQuarrie..."
It was Rob. He and Steve had moved to California. We chated for a while about everything and nothing, until my son was located and we departed for dinner. I remember thinking what a nice guy Rob was, and how we should get together some time. The next day I shared an elevator with him, and we discussed meeting up for dinner in the future.
We never did.
Last week, Rob died after a sudden illness, two months shy of his 40th birthday.
The loss is felt by everyone who met him or corresponded with him. He had the gift of making people happy, and making them be better than they were. The friendly and cheerful tone of CBR is Rob's legacy. He was a good, kind, generous and gentle person, and the world is poorer for his loss.
We'll miss you, Dragon.
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