On January 27, John Updike died. Updike was an inspiration to me all of my writing life, through the accident of us both passing through the same small Massachusetts town. Updike lived for some time in Ipswich, the town that I wrote about in The Devil’s Footprints and in the Abe Sapien story “Down in the Flood” in Hellboy: Odder Jobs. I grew up obsessed with this town that I moved into on Christmas Day, 1977, and it was right around that time that I decided I wanted to be a writer. (If I were to go back in time to that little kid and tell him I’d missed the mark and was an editor and part-time writer, I think he’d have a lot of questions; eight year olds don’t understand compromise.) So when I heard about Updike’s work, this important American writer who’d lived in my small town (that eight year old also failed to understand that he didn’t live there any longer), I was inspired. I read with great interest his celebrated short story “A&P,” set in Ipswich. I wasn’t ready for his novel Couples, but I soon learned that a number of the characters in the book were based on the parents of friends of mine. I’m of course unsure if that’s true, but it’s part of the apocrypha that magnified my identification with the author. While Updike was not the writer I wanted to be—my focus thirty years later remains a bit more genre focused than his—his presence made the writing life that much more attainable to me. I didn’t want to be Updike, but I wanted to rub shoulders with him, and that was easy to imagine.
But I’m not trying to convince you of my connection to John Updike. More important to me was Stephen King, whose stories about small New England town spoke directly to me in another way—he was reflecting the world I lived in, and he was the biggest writer in the world when I was a child, certainly the most important writer in my chosen genre. I identified with Updike because of an accident of location; I identified with King because he seemed to be reflecting my daily experience. Even Lovecraft, who wrote about the towns that I lived in, made me feel personally, directly wired into the literary tradition. In Martin Scorsese’s great documentary No Direction Home, Bob Dylan talks about the importance of believing in something special in yourself—if you’re going to do the impossible, if you’re hoping that your work is going to mean somethin to other people, you have to carry around that special belief in yourself. It’s the only thing that’s gonna drive you through the hard work, the disappointments, and challenges along the way. Wherever you find that belief, that identification, embrace it, make the most of it. I’ve read relatively little of Updike, and I never did meet him, but I feel like I owe him a lot, and I’m sorry that he’s gone.
Scott Allie is the Senior Managing Editor at Dark Horse Comics. His writing includes the horror comic The Devil’s Footprints, set in his hometown of Ipswich, MA.