Richard Conner Johnson - 1958-2015 - R.I.P.
I lost a dear long-time friend this week. We had known each other for nearly 40 years - all of our adult lives, if you start being an adult at 16 years old.
Richard was a genius. There was never any doubt about this. He was artistically talented - a natural with a pencil, with a pen, and later with the computer and Lightwave, he tackled 3D modeling. He did the primary modeling of the Star Trek chair that I offer for Poser, in fact. He inspired me when I was a teen - I was into comic art from about 9th grade, and his line work was beautiful. Later, he and I were roommates, and we set up a studio together where we were able to challenge each other, and we tackled sculpture together.
Richard was also a kitbasher extraordinaire. When I first met him, living literally in his parents' basement, he was using the globes from light fixtures to model the forward hull of Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and boy, he knew everything about that movie! I know I got a lot of my love for movie effects and production from the gems he shared. But he also created aliens, and lightsabers, and all kinds of vehicles and props, and background paintings. Back then, Star Wars clips were available on little Super8 viewers at G.C. Murphy - short clips of film in black and white - and Richard edited all of them that he could find into a pretty good amount of the whole movie. Silent, of course, but in black and white, that was appropriate!
Richard could have been anything in the art and movie world. He could have written comics, drawn them, inked them - his letterforms would have been unique and fantastic in comics. He could have built models for movies, designed special effects, and later, created CG models for at least high-quality fan films, if not professional films - the only thing holding him back was ambition. He just enjoyed doing what he was doing, and never really seemed much concerned with making any money. And yet, for the last 15 years, at least, he had always had some sort of idea cooking that he wanted to turn into a TV series, and I honestly would have loved to see each and every one of them.
Richard was a smooth talker - along with being so creative, he could cook up a story that was only half-truth, but tell it so convincingly that you willingly went along with it, and only later you wondered, "Was he just trying to bullshit me, or does he actually mean everything he said?" I learned in our adult life that lending him money was a bad idea - once I came to the conclusion that I was never going to see any of that money again, I accepted it and never thought about it. His brain stimulated mine, and that's worth more than any amount of money I ever shared.
Richard frustrated me. And the irony is that he frustrated me by doing things I knew that I also did: I always wanted to somehow corral and manage his talents, to find a way to force him to follow up on the dreams he told me and make them real - he could've been a very successful artist if he'd ever applied himself, and I know that the same could probably be said for me. Subjectively, I've always felt he was at least a couple levels more talented and much more creative than I will ever be. I would've been happy just helping him exploit those wonderful gifts. I always knew that if I ever won the lottery, I was going to hire him to be Richard, pay him an amazing amount of money so he never had to worry about anything, and just keep feeding him drawing paper. I would be his publisher, his executive producer, whatever he needed to unleash the creative monsters dwelling within him, because I wanted the world to see what a genius they had in their midst. And I'd have to carry a whip to make sure he kept spewing forth the wonders that he had lying about inside, unfulfilled and unmotivated.
Richard's life was a learning experience, and now, so is his death. I'm sorry he died so young, sad that I lost a friend and a fellow artist, sad that he never was the success that he could've been if only he had tried. It's a wake-up call for me, as well, and I hope I will be much more aware of my own gifts and won't waste them, as well. Richard's death inspired me to write these words of hope and warning on my Facebook page, because I don't want anyone else to ignore their gifts, either:
Do not waste your gifts, your talents, or your dreams. We not only have a finite time among the living, it is indefinite, as well. Tomorrow is always too late.