23 November 2011

Ten years after Tony

With Tony & Lynda, Tuscany, Easter 1999
A decade can flit past remarkably quickly when you're not paying attention. The recent release of Martin Scorsese's Living in the Material World doco has reminded us that it's nearly 10 years since George Harrison died (the anniversary is 29 November). But in more personal terms it's also been ten years today since the untimely death of my good friend Tony Gibson. Tony died in Auckland on this day ten years ago due to complications arising from his haemophilia and the bad blood scandal that infected him with hepatitis C. He was only 28.

I first met Tony in Form 1 in my class at what was then known as Manukau Intermediate (now Royal Oak Intermediate), where he would participate with vigour in our rolling, impromptu games of 'sogby' - football with a bit more added physical contact a la rugby - and the ever-popular matches of handball, with or without 'black magic'. Of course he probably shouldn't have been playing rowdy physical games, but Tony didn't let his condition stop him enjoying himself. Rather, he bore the inevitable bruises and bleeds and the ever-present hassles of constant medication with stoic fortitude.

It was clear that Tony was a gifted scholar too, with a quick wit and a talent for imaginative creative writing. He put these skills to good use at school, and I have fond memories of his panache for satire, such as his lyric 'Cruise Missiles Across the Persian Gulf' set to the tune of 'Star Trekkin'. But for us Tony was at his peak in the highly geeky and thoroughly enjoyable world of role-playing games. Tony was a great dungeon master, with a valuable knack for story-telling and the diplomatic skills necessary when hosting a disparate bunch of nerds, and we all enjoyed many quality RPG sessions with him over the years. I was delighted to hear one of Tony's friends speak at his funeral service, observing with real fondness that 'Tony killed my first character', a comment that probably generated a quiet wave of confusion amongst the 'grown-ups' present. Losing your first character is a true RPG rite of passage.

It was always a treat to visit the Gibsons' Hillsborough home and venture down the very 1970s stairs to the converted garage that was Tony's man-cave. Aside from the role-playing, there was also the fun of being exposed to Tony's precocious musical taste through his very grown-up hi-fi. I certainly have Tony to thank for being a huge influence on broadening my interest in music. Tony and his stereo opened my ears to the glories of David Bowie's back catalogue (1971's Hunky Dory is still one of my top-five albums to this day), the chaotic hodge-podge of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, and the effortless cool of soul legend Otis Redding. He didn't have quite as much luck with convincing me to like the Sex Pistols though!

In our later years at Onehunga High Tony spent much of his time with his partner and soulmate Lynda, and after leaving tertiary studies they moved together to a great little house in Avondale, which they filled with wine, comics and lovable greedy cats. Like many of us from the class of 1990, Tony had started a Politics degree at Auckland, but he decided to take another course: he ploughed his enthusiasm and know-how into a risky but ultimately triumphant project: he established Gotham Comics in a small shop at the bottom of Onehunga Mall. Now in larger premises further up the hill in the heart of Onehunga, and run by Tony's former acolyte Jeremy Bishop, Gotham is still selling comics to the fanboys and girls after more than a decade, which is more like a century in the cut-throat world of comic retail.

It's been ten years without Tony, and there's been so many events in the intervening years that we'd all have loved him to be around for. He would have loved the LOTR films, for one thing. He'd have come down to Wellington for the Bowie gig in 2004. And there's certainly been no shortage of comic-book movie conversions over the years, some good, some not so good - but we can all agree that Tony would've sized up the market and expertly assisted the new generation of enthusiasts to feed their emerging addictions for the source material... and maybe helped to direct them to other new and interesting works at the same time.

So, in memory of Tony, ten years absent today: there's still no danger that we'll forget you. Let's raise a glass to his memory!

Interview: Jeremy Bishop, Gotham Comics, 20 September 2011
HFNZ: Haemophilia Foundation of New Zealand

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