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Lots of people know and love Norman Lee, and we’re all just gutted by the circumstances of his disappearance. My prayers and condolences to all who are mourning him. In all the notes and memorials about the loss of this great talent and wonderful friend, this is my story about him. Kind of felt it was too long for Facebook.

I met Norm at the 20th anniversary celebration for Comically Speaking in February, 2011. It was my very first year doing my own thing in comics and early on I was lucky to plug in to a crew of people in New England that over the years have proven to be the most genuine and generous of everyone I’ve met in this business. Norm was one of them.

A total newbie, I was placed to sign at the event right next to him, which automatically made for a very fun day of chatting and bullshitting and getting to know new folks, other artists, new friends, comics fans, etc. But comics aside, in a strange, wonderful coincidence, Norm just happened to be the very first person—and I mean very first—I had the chance to talk about becoming the proud parent of “insta-kids” i.e. instant children, i.e. our step-kids. In fact, not just insta-kids, but insta-TEENS: when we married our respective spouses, Norm and I were blessed with a SET (two-each) of bouncing baby adults, complete with full-on personalities and intrigue.

At that time, I had only been married a couple of years. Norm, after years of bachelorhood, had only just recently become a stepdad. His steppers were older than my tween teen terrors (relax, I love you guys, you know I do), but there was plenty to talk about.

Being a step-parent is a no-man’s land. I certainly went into it not knowing what the good goddamn I was doing. Of course, every family is different, every relationship is different. Putting aside the psychology of the stuff, becoming and BEING a step-parent is a singular experience of love and fear, good intentions, probable missteps, small regrets, big surprises, and if you’re lucky, joy.

Norm felt lucky. He said it. He’d met the woman who meant the world to him, and he knew, as I did, that loving her meant loving them. We were winging it. But as was true of him in all things, Norm set the bar high. He 100% embraced his newfound fatherhood with enthusiasm and an open heart. Which was how we shared a full day of conversation about what it meant to us to navigate our new families and to want to do right by them. The Asian connection thing was part of it, too, of course: we talked a lot about what we wanted for them in school! But no matter what, Jan, Patrick and Nora filled Norm’s heart, and from what I have heard about their successes over the years, he had every reason to be proud.

Our insta-kids forged an insta-friendship between us and sparked a conversation that never really ended. Over the years, I’d see Norm only every-so-often in person, at Heroes Con, New York, Boston, or wherever we might be in the same city. It was never hard to spot that warm smile, get a great big hug from him, and once we caught up and did the “how have you beens”, there was always the sparkly-eyed question between us: “So! How are the kids?”

Norm was of course a very talented man, and a great guy. His essentially good nature is why so many folks are hurting so much now that he is lost to us. One of the last pictures posted of Norm is of him standing, facing away and out to the ocean, arms raised, fists pumped. I’d like to post it one day if there’s ever an appropriate time to ask permission. Someone joked that he looks like Rocky. Or like a King, surveying the world in victory. To me, with his arms raised like that, he looks like he’s facing the world. Just taking it all IN with a big open heart. That was definitely him. Warm, generous, and ready to take on anything.