I first met James Perham when I moved to New York City in the fall of 1993. At the time he was renting space from Kevin and Carol Vanhook in their apartment in Jersey. James had the loft that overlooked everything on the ground floor. I remember him standing up there, leaning over the railing, listening to the conversation below. It may be that way for him now, up above, looking down, following the ebb and flow of our lives. Not a bad thought. Such notions are comforting in a time of loss, and make no mistake, loosing James is a real loss.
There were many things to love about James. His generosity, his intellect and his willingness to go to bat for people he loved. I suppose the thing I liked most about him was his commitment to the truth. He wasn't a guy who sugar coated things. He took the world as it came and often bumped heads with people who think a thin veneer of horse shit will somehow improve things that suck. If James didn't like something he let you know it. And more importantly he told you why. I found that to be a good thing and it's why I never saw him as cynical or a mean spirited critic. When he told you why he thought something fell short of the mark he would say it in measured tones that revealed he'd considered the matter deeply. In short, he wanted to help make things better.
I often thought that this more than anything else stood in the way of his career. He was in no way a political animal. And brother, in an industry loaded with creative types (people with Himalayan egos) you can't take that stance without ruffling feathers. Sad, because James was loaded with talent. Whenever he would tell me an idea for a story I was riveted. He may well have been one of the great underutilized resources of Valiant Comics.
James had a fantastic sense of the absurd. I remember the way he would stand in the middle of Kevin and Carol's apartment in Jersey with their two little boys running circles around him. James would pose with hands on hips doing the patented Perham cackle saying, "Look at me! I have satellites!"
It was fun to mess with James. Once you figured out his buttons you could have a blast pushing them. One Saturday afternoon in the winter of 1994 I popped in at the Valiant offices to get some stuff from my desk. I thought the place was empty until I heard typing coming from one of the cubicles in marketing. Seeing it was James, I decided to crawl to the cubicle next to his and make sounds like the creaking of doors and whistling winds.
Each time I did this the typing would stop and James would say, "Is there someone there?" I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. When the typing would start back up I'd wait a few seconds then give him another round of noises, the kind of shit guaranteed to unnerve a person alone in a dark office.
In time he got up from his seat and begin to tip toe out of the cubicle. I crawled on hands and knees to the next hiding place and continued the audio assault. James roared, "I know there's somebody there, and whoever it is this isn't funny!" I disagreed. To me it was funny as hell and thats why I continued to crawl from cubicle to cubicle making low moaning noises.
It was clear from the pitch of his voice that this had gone on long enough so I decided to wrap things up by leaping out in front of him from around the corner screaming like a wild Indian. James shrieked in horror and I nearly pissed myself when I saw that he had a white knuckled grip on a pair of scissors raised high above his head ready to strike! He'd stopped just short of putting an end to my shenanigans once and for all.
James swore revenge and took his sweet time about getting it. Nearly a year and a half later I'd relocated to San Diego and I decided to take a trip back to NYC for a visit. James was kind enough to let me crash at his place. As he was leaving for work on the last day of my visit I asked if he had any new movies worth watching. He said to flip through and see what I could find. I came across a copy of the movie Babe and began to give him shit about it.
"What the hell are you doing with this? Isn't this a kids movie? Good God James what kind of childish collection is this? Where the hell are the action flicks?"
He proceeded to inform me that Babe is a beautiful film with an inspiring story that's fun for the whole family. I just laughed him out the door. Around three in the afternoon I was bored out of my wits and thought, "What the hell, let's put this pig movie in and see what the fuss is about." Two hours later I found myself at the moving climax of the film...The moment where the farmer looks down at the little pig and says, "That'll do pig."
Let me tell you, if you haven't seen this picture you need to check it out. It's a bigger tear jerker than when Old Yellar got shot. Anyway, I'm sitting there crying like a little girl just as James comes through the door from work. "Aha," he screamed. "I told you it was a good movie." With tear streaked cheeks I agreed but promised him if he ever told a soul he'd found me in such a state I'd kill him.
The next day I flew back to California and had a nightmare time of it. In an effort to save money I took a red eye with layovers in what seemed like every shitty airport in the midwest. Arriving at my San Diego apartment I collapsed on the floor exhausted and ready to doze off to sleep. The phone jarred me awake and picking up I was treated to sound of the entire staff of Valiant comics on the conference phone yelling..."Awww, did um cry at the little pig movie?"
In the background I clearly heard the Perham cackle.
Over the course of the next few years James and I drifted apart. I would like to tell you that it was because we lived on different sides of a continent and no longer worked for the same people. That's only half true. The truth is this: James arrived at a place where he no longer wished to compromise what was good for the sake of appeasement. It would take me years to become like that. I lacked his courage.
I feel very lucky to have gotten back in touch with James a few short months before he died. We had a good talk and I was able to see what I couldn't see years before. It was plain to me that the decisions James had made about his life, career and associations were not only good...They were psychologically healthy. He was working for Hasting's Books in Arizona and really enjoying it. Still writing, still telling stories, still a fan and an admirer of quality things. He had friends. Friends who were willing to listen to his point of view and respect his ideas. He was happy.
In the end...Is there anything more important?