Jan 28, 2014

RIP Debra Jane Shelly

Duy: Yesterday, the Cube lost a good friend.

Debra Jane Shelly was not a creator, nor was she involved in any way in the production of comics. She was a researcher at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. But she really loved comics. Her partner, Kevin Boyd, runs the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery in Toronto. She occasionally helped out there.

Debra and the Cube go way back. Anyone who's ever started a website will tell you it's hard to get an audience. The first time the Cube saw a big spike was when it was plugged on Facebook by Keiren Smith, colorist, letterer, and beloved spouse of Ty Templeton. Via the magic of Facebook, Debra Jane, their friend, got on my Facebook page and, eventually, on my friends list, and we ended up talking quite a bit. She was incredibly nice, incredibly fair. She was fun to talk to. First, we talked comics, then we talked about stuff. Just general stuff. To the extent that you can be close to someone without ever having actually met them — and I believe that's not only possible but rather very easy; I've never met Ben and Travis and Kimberly and they write for the Cube — Debra was as close as it got. She knew more about me than some people in my daily life did, and I knew I could trust her. I confided in her when I had problems, and I constantly found myself using exclamation points and smiley faces when talking to her, things I rarely do. But it was genuine. And even though I didn't read the same comics she read, for the most part, and we didn't love the same things, we had enough of an overlap that we could really talk comics all day. But we knew each other well enough that if we did have to talk all day, we didn't have to stick to comics. Although now I'm feeling like I should give Love and Rockets another shot, just for Debra Jane.

One anecdote before I turn this over to the others. In March 2012, I saw that my favorite artist, George Perez, was at a convention in Toronto, and was offering quick head sketches for a price. I contacted Debra, who was working the convention (apart from just helping out, because she had a law background, she could notarize CGC comics), about getting me one, and she said okay, but when I was about to place the request, the list was already filled up. After the convention, Debra showed me this:

She went over to George, flashed that smile of hers that's in pretty much every picture of hers, and asked really nicely if she could have a sketch of Captain Marvel and Mr. Mind for her friend in the Philippines. It was very sweet. Because of the way shipping works, I only received the sketch recently. I'll always remember her when I look at it.

Two weeks ago, I deactivated my Facebook account temporarily, and only told a few people. She was one of the people I told, and it is a little surreal to think that me saying goodbye on what was our primary mode of communication was our actual, final goodbye. More, Ben's final column on the Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men run was supposed to go up today. It had, in it, a bunch of Wolverine and Alpha Flight. Canadians, basically. So Ben filled it up with Canada jokes, and he did it because he knew Debra read his column regularly, every Monday, every word.  She won't get to laugh at those jokes now. But we will remember her, whenever we make fun of Alpha Flight, or the Toronto Raptors.

Even more than with me, though, Debra eventually became really close to Ben. She called Ben her bro, a brother she never had (Edit: I realize this originally made it sound like Debra did not have a brother. This is not the case. Shortly before Deb passed away, her brother Greg had daughter, Sidney).  When Ben was in Afghanistan for six months, facing pressure I can't begin to imagine, she was there to listen and to prop him up every chance she got. When Ben came back from the Middle East, she told me she was holding her breath in suspense, and when he got off the plane to hug Kimberly and their kids, Debra told me she actually cried. It says a lot about her that she could feel so much empathy and love for people she only ever spoke to over the internet, and explains why we, as a group, the Comics Cube, could feel so much empathy and love for her.

Last night, I and a bunch of guys here, in the Philippines, who interacted with her a lot met up, impromptu, to drink in her honor. We miss you already, Debra. You'll always be a part of the Cube. My heart goes out to your little corner of Toronto. Rest in peace.

Ben: It isn’t fair.

About three years ago I was invited to join an online comic book group.  Ever since then I’ve been fortunate to become friends with a wide and varied group of individuals, all with a shared passion for comics.  One of the most special of those friends was Debra Jane Shelly.  Debra Jane Shelly was one of the kindest people you’d ever have the chance to meet.  (She had the kind of name I always had to say in full.)  She quickly became my adopted big sister.  I suspect she was probably a big sister to all of the people that knew her.

Debra Jane Shelly was one of the most supportive people I’ve ever known.  There wasn’t any good reason for her to be so supportive of me, that’s just how she was.  For all my sarcasm, and occasionally bad behavior online, she always stuck up for me, and was there to take my side.  It got to the point where anytime I had gotten into some super stupid internet argument, the first thing I’d do is message her and apologize.  I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me, so I had to explain myself beforehand.  She was always reassuring and confident that the other person had it coming.  She believed in me, again, for no real good reason.  Like a big sister, she wasn’t afraid to boot the troublemakers out for messing with us.  She was a great friend.

Debra Jane Shelly was always there for me to talk to when times were tough.  When I was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan and miss the birth of my son, she did what she could to make me feel better.  When that assignment got cancelled, she was as happy as anyone.  When another assignment came a few months later, she supported me before, during, and after.  Always checking in to make sure I was okay, always with words of encouragement and her boundless enthusiasm.  When I returned home safe, I could feel her joy through the screen.

Debra Jane Shelly loved our boys.  Not only am I sad that I will never get the chance to properly meet her in person, I’m even more sad she’ll never get to meet them.  Out of all the endless amounts of pictures that we posted of our boys online, she commented on most of them.  I’m sure she would have spoiled them senseless.

Debra Jane Shelly will be sorely missed.  My condolences to her family, and to Kevin.  She made the people around her, and the world, better with her positivity and kindness.  I’ll never be the kind of person that she was, but at least from having known her, I can try.    

Travis: I’m avoiding writing anything about Debra Jane Shelly, because I don’t want to draw up borders on her. Her awesome exceeds my ability to delineate or express said awesome. While I procrastinated, I saw a picture Duy Tano posted of Tom Hiddleston lifting a kid dressed as a superhero, and thought about all the nice things Debra might have said about that pic. Over half the things I have seen or heard since news of her death reached me, have reminded me of Debra. Heck, I picked up the copy of The Crow I just bought the other week, and it fell open to “The Woman Who Was Shelly.”

Months back, I started getting email notifications that Debra was liking my posts. Either she liked some twenty posts one after the other, or kept liking, unliking, liking the same one. My friend looked over my shoulder at the growing notifications and said, “That Debra really likes you.”

Debra liked me! Debra approved of something I posted! I understood just then how the nuns at Saint Catherine’s Indian School wanted us to feel when they would tell us to “remember, Jesus loves you.”

I don’t constantly lionize her, I’m not now. I accept that she was really cool, and – at least online – very level-headed. She was funny, and sharp, and witty, she cared so much, and she could be so patient that I inevitably tried to keep up and be just as patient. Talking with people, seeing the newest posts on her facebook wall, or things in my email, I understand that she was a guide for many who knew her, a gauge. Debra is cooler than than my conscience, because, if anything, she’s got the better smile (that smile!), and I will periodically reflect, “Debra wouldn’t do that” and alter my behavior accordingly, for the rest of my life.

And, I wasn’t close. I surely don’t know those closest to her, her family or immediate neighbors, her partner, Kevin, or even those who’d have recognized her just because they work the counter somewhere she frequented during the week. She had a profound effect on me; I won’t try to feel the effect she’d have on those closest, out of fairness to them, and fairness to her. But, I wish them all the best in the world, and all the comfort the world can afford.

I said it elsewhere, when blathering about how I was going to post something Loki-related for her and then wondered suddenly if everyone was pulling a “Debra is dead” joke and I was just too slow to get it, but for all that saying someone is in a better place might be trite, wherever Debra is now, is undoubtedly a better place. Any place is better, because Debra is there.

Kimberly:  In loving memory of Debra Jane Shelly

The sun sets on this day
The wheel turns
Your essence rides the light
Your body returns to star dust
We are all mere mortals but eternal in our existence
Your soul will know the meaning of life again


Hasslein Books said...

Beautiful, guys. I'm misty-eyed now.


Unknown said...

My name is Greg Shelly, Deb's baby brother. I wanted to thank you all for such beautiful and touching words. While you may not have met her in person, you all clearly knew her extremely well.
I'm very different than my sister. I don't read comics, I'm not particularly intellectual (like she was), nor did I fully understand the reach that my sister had across the globe. The outcry of support from her passing has shown me how all of those hours I perceived as "wasted" online were actually how she was changing the world, like some sort of superhero. I wish I could have appreciated this element of her personality while she was alive.
All I knew was that "D" was the most amazing older sister, and I had a great relationship with her. She was so dedicated to our family, Kevin and her friends. Always asking after my "Fur Pile" (2 dogs and 2 cats), and most recently the birth of my daughter. She would shower us with gifts despite the fact she had little money, as giving to others, both emotionally and materially, made her the happiest. I've never known anyone to take such an interest in anything I did like her, and your stories are in keeping with this. Thank you for knowing her, loving her spirit, and demonstrating to me how those hours "wasted" on facebook were changing the world.

Duy Tano said...

Greg, Debra was a wonderful person whose kindness came through the screen. I'm pretty sure if you polled all of us who regularly spoke to other people online, who we wanted to meet in person the most, the top answer by a landslide would have been Debra.

I am so sorry for your loss. We wish we could be there to show our support.

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