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William Messner-Loebs Still Needs Help


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Artist in Howell faces adversity with a smile

Despite misfortune and many setbacks, the cartoonist keeps his sense of humor.

By Kurt Anthony Krug / Special to The Detroit News

HOWELL -- During the past several years, Bill Messner-Loebs has been in a car accident, lost his house, had his mobile home stolen and been unemployed.

But the self-taught artist, who earned a living as an illustrator for such famous comic books as Wonder Woman and Batman, has kept his sense of humor.

"People say I handle adversity well -- that's nice to hear," said Messner-Loebs, 55, of Howell.

"It's not really an option. If you're going to be miserable about misfortune for four years, you're going to die of stress."

Any one of the misfortunes would send a lesser man spinning out of control, but Messner-Loebs learned at an early age to let things roll off his back.

He was born with a cancerous tumor on his right arm, which had to be amputated while he was still an infant.

"I've been dealing with questions about my arm for 55 years," he said. "I have no sense that I lost anything. Sure, it's inconvenient sometimes, especially when I'm carrying three bags of groceries. That's when I think it'd help if I had another arm.

"I feel my parents raised me well. They told me I can do anything and not how I can't do anything."

As a youngster, Messner-Loebs started doodling, which took on more artistic forms. Eventually, he got jobs working as an illustrator for mainstream publishers of comic books such as Johnny Quest, Batman, Flash, The Maxx, Thor and Wonder Woman.

As a result, Messner-Loebs amassed a comic book fan following. His fans supported him morally and financially when his world fell apart.

In mid-2001, Messner-Loebs was driving his Dodge minivan on his way to pick up his wife, Nadine. He misjudged a left turn, and turned too soon. All he could remember was being hit, totaling his vehicle and seeing five cars scatter like bowling pins.

"Thankfully, no one died," he said. "It's bad enough that I have to live with the memory of the accident. I wouldn't have wanted dead bodies in my memory."

On Sept. 10, 2001, Messner-Loebs lost his house in Pinckney when he couldn't keep up the mortgage payments.

"The worst thing in the world is telling creditors you don't have any money," he said.

Messner-Loebs said his money was used to pay medical bills for his late mother and Nadine. Nadine's skull was fractured when she was mugged 30 years ago. There was some brain damage, resulting in migraines, vertigo and food sensitivities.

It's hard for Nadine to find steady work because of her medical problems. Neither Messner-Loebs nor his wife receive disability payments.

To make matters worse, when he lost the house, Messner-Loebs was not working.

"I thought I'd be getting a job any day, but it didn't work out," he said. His last comic book work was in early 2000. He speculated that he hasn't gotten work because of leadership changes at Marvel and DC Comics.

"There are very few people in comics who remember who I am -- it's been over four years."

But some fans learned about Messner-Loebs' plight and sent him some money and he received a small inheritance when his mother died. The couple bought a mobile home in 2002.

However, the mobile home was full of mold, and the man who sold it to him wouldn't take it back, Messner-Loebs said. Several months later, the mobile home was stolen, he said.

Ever since, Messner-Loebs and his wife have lived in a small hotel in Howell, but spend a lot of their time at the Brighton Senior Center.

"The senior center has become their home," said Nancy Hall, manager of the senior center, which provides meals, social activities and enrichment classes to its 400 members.

"He is a wonderful asset. He did caricatures for the seniors on Senior Power Day. He had a long line, and people were pleased with his drawings."

Finding steady work has been hard.

Messner-Loebs and his wife have worked as enumerators for the U.S. Census Bureau. For a time, he worked at a library and as a pizza deliveryman. He applied to temporary services, but was never called back.

"Some employers probably don't want a one-armed man representing their company," he said.

Despite it all, Messner-Loebs is a survivor.

The people of First United Methodist Church in Brighton, where he and his wife have attended for 10 years, have been supportive.

"I'm still here. I'm still warm and dry and safe. The car's still going," he said. "After a while you learn being angry and bitter and saying 'Why me?' all the time only makes you feel worse. It's better to laugh."

Kurt Anthony Krug is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

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