Then I’ll BE unhappy! – Heroes, TV, and Ron Perlman

(c) 1989-ish, one of my best friends drew this for me; it’s his rendering of my player-character, Felix, an alien martial artist with cat-like powers. Because, cool!

(This is her world. A world apart from mine.)

So there was this show in the late eighties that in retrospect was kind of doofy, but perhaps only by today’s cynical standards: Beauty and the Beast, starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. I’ll admit it—I loved the show. I thought Perlman’s performances as Vincent were amazing. Vincent was everything I was, wasn’t, and wanted to be.

Was, because I felt like an outsider and a monster, too.
Wasn’t, because he was strong and fearless and could kick some ass when some ass needed kicking.
Wanted to be, because he also had an amazing voice, presence, and loved fully and passionately.

These were all part of my early-teen psyche. In the very first episode, when Vincent’s adoptive father declares, in reference to Hamilton’s Katherine character, “She can only bring you unhappiness,” Vincent snarls back, “Then I’ll be unhappy!”

Lo, how oft I quoted those lines to myself whilst pining away for she who I could never obtain! No kidding, I actually have this line quoted in one of my old journals. One of the reviews of MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRL references my protagonist, Tyler, as “trying hard to break his own heart.” It’s my favorite review line ever, because it is true in the novel and it was true for me in high school, and Vincent—half lion, half man; half human, half monster—encapsulated my crazy emotions in those years. So much so, in fact, that when I had the chance to jump into a tabletop role-playing game with some friends, I based my character off Vincent. I went on to play that character for about 20 years. In so doing, playing with some very gifted storytellers and actors, my writing skills quietly got better and better in the background. (I later wrote a descriptive essay about that character and was accused of plagiarism because my writing “far exceeded the abilities of a comp 101 student.” True quote! Uh…my bad?)

(From the moment I saw her, she captured my heart with her beauty, her warmth, and her courage.)

So when I finally, after some 25 years, got to meet Ron Perlman in person at Phoenix ComiCon 2015, I just hoped I wouldn’t start bawling when I got to his table. (I didn’t.) Getting to shake his hand and explain that his storytelling, his character work in the show, inspired me in my own writing and that now I had books published by the likes of Random House, Abrams, and Simon & Schuster…it was just one of those I’m-meeting-my-rock-star! moments.

I gave the guy who played Vincent one of my novels. This is full-circle on a level that’s hard to explain.

He won’t read the thing; none of the people I’ve given my books to do, will, or have, I don’t reckon; and that’s okay, that’s not why I give them. I give them because it’s important to me to tell them how much their work mattered in my life. It’s important to me to show some tangible proof of my gratitude.

Because those stories do matter.

A lot of people don’t get all worked up over meeting celebrities, and I think that’s great. Some of us get riled up about celebrities not because they are special or powerful or whatever. They’re people. They go to work. Their work might seem glamorous, but I know just enough about the biz to know it’s anything but that a lot of the time (four hours in a make-up chair? Glamorous!). But still we get shook up when we meet them because they were the visible part of telling a story that perhaps said things we couldn’t.

“I am a monster, and I can never have what I really want because of it.” This was Vincent’s fate, and he knew it, and he let it get the better of him, and that is what I needed to see every week when I was 14. I don’t want to feel better, I want to feel whatever it is I am feeling right now, to the absolute fullest. Why do I write YA? Because so much of it, the real “it,” is exactly like that, and it’s a heady, breathtaking place to live for a little while.

In hindsight, Vincent and Katherine’s love affair, such as it was, wasn’t terribly mature. It couldn’t be, because good TV isn’t generally made about healthy relationships; conflict by necessity must be at a story’s core. I wouldn’t trade my awesome marriage for Vincent’s super strength and enhanced senses or his poetic pining; no thanks! But then I’m not 14 anymore, either. At 14? Oh hell yeah, that’s exactly what I needed to hear and see—that this monster knew what I was going through. So when I get a chance to meet the man who made that character come alive? A character who so deeply impacted my life and, in a roundabout way, my career?

Yeah. I’ll get a little choked up, all right? I can own that.

(I knew then as I know now that she would change my life forever.)

“It’s a TV show, dammit! It’s just a TV show!” barked William Shatner in a classic SNL skit. He’s right of course. It’s just a TV show.

But TV shows, movies, novels, poems, plays, songs…these things reveal to us and for us many things we can’t often express, even to ourselves. So I have no problem with anyone getting excited over meeting a person whose work has impacted them. Standing in line at Con this May, watching the thrilled, happy faces of fans after having met one of their favorite actors (or authors, or artists)…it’s a good thing. A very good thing, for everyone involved. Whether that person is an actor, athlete, musician, director, writer, artist, chef—whoever—it’s a noble thing they do, and I think a noble thing for us to say thank you. If what they did or do keeps us going one more day, then gratitude is the only reasonable reaction.

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