In March of 2009, David Rector suffered a series of horrific medical crises. The former NPR producer, with a voice like black velvet caressing your skin, lost the ability to speak—or walk. He was virtually comatose for two weeks. But a friend suggested using Rector's encyclopedic knowledge and love of comic books—especially D.C. Comic’s Superman and Batman—to bring him back.
“When I put the comic book in front of him, literally his face lit up and he smiled,” remembers his fiancee, Roz Alexander-Kasparik. She put one of David’s beloved Superman comics in front of him and watched him react from the depths of his anoxic ischemic brain injury—a condition caused by lack of oxygen to the brain that wreaks havoc with brain functions.
“It was obvious that he knew what it was—you know how he does that little smirk—one side of his face goes up and the other side goes down. He could hear and smell and had sensory memory,” she said.
Rector, now 66, had moved to San Diego to pursue his dream of working on-air instead of behind the scenes, and had indulged his encyclopedic knowledge of comics, movies and music with a visit to San Diego’s Comic-Con in 2008, the year before he became ill. But the man whose spirit yearned to communicate with the world could now only use his thumb. Rector was given a court-appointed conservator and his fiancee fought a pitched battle to get him out of a series of nursing homes. He stopped responding to therapists. Luckily, Alexander-Kasparik shared office space with comic-industry icon Batton Lash, creator of the long-running comic strip Supernatural Law. He had a suggestion that made Alexander-Kasparik’s head explode.
“Batton said, ‘You really should do a comic book!’ and I said, ‘David’s always wanted to draw,’ and Batton said, ‘Let’s do one; let’s do it,’” Alexander-Kasparik said.
That is how Recall and Given was born. The comic—currently in the process of being turned into a graphic novel—is about their lives and casts Rector in the role of the superheroes he loves. Recall has a superhero memory capacity, and while his body lies in bed, unable to move, his astral spirit roams around, dispensing justice through memories to people whose spirits call for help. If you are evil you get bad memories, and if you are good you get a positive karmic infusion of memories that can change who you are. Given—based on Alexander-Kasparik—is the helper and supporter whose love for him is a given.
“Recall is in control of everyone he chooses to work with. He has control over long-term, short-term past and present memory—it’s all karmic. Everything that Recall does is predicated on who that person is deep down in their soul,” Alexander-Kasparik said. “He’s called by the people he needs to help … he gravitates to the people who call. In the preview, he’s going into the VA [hospital] because he has a job there to change the heart of an evil nurse.”
For Alexander-Kasparik and Rector, the creation of this book is kismet.
“David learned to read using comic books at age 3 … [and] comic books are such a part of who David is in life,” Alexander-Kasparik explained, adding that David approves all the story and art choices.
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Alexander-Kasparik will sit on the annual Black Panel—created by Michael Davis. He’s an African American whose business card carries the logo “MOTU”—master of the universe. In the comic book world, the universe is a fictional place where the stories involving comic book characters happen.
Davis has done everything from being an illustrator for DC’s Piranha Press to co-founding Milestone Media—the largest and most successful black comic publisher in the world—and working with Motown Records and Viacom’s Showtime networks. He was struck by Alexander-Kasparik and Rector’s story.
“When I met them, David’s situation really f—ked with me because two or three women in my life were murdered; I know bad things happen to good people, “ Davis told The Root in a telephone interview. “Roz’s devotion makes me cry.”
Davis’ panel, which takes place Friday, has included a host of celebrities, ranging from Shaquille O’Neal to Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols and even Ne-Yo, since it began in 1998. It gets an annual 90-minute slot, and Davis said that it began as a bitchfest in which people of color complained that they couldn’t get access to jobs at mainstream comic publishers. Now, he said, it’s something else.
“If you are a creator, it’s easier for an African-American kid to become a football player than it is to get a job in graphic arts or animation,” Davis explained. “I want it to be a place where you can get to the biggest stars in the industry—and ask these people, ‘How do you do it and how can I do it?’”
Davis said that he’s always thinking about inclusivity.
“The Black Panel is about who’s doing what in comics. It’s about African-American influence because African-American influence is youth culture,” Davis said.
He’s planning to help Alexander-Kasparik and Rector, who need a publisher for their Recall and Given story, and he says that one of the reasons he put Alexander-Kasparik on this year’s panel is so that they can make some connections and get moving on the graphic novel.
“I want this book to get out there,” said Davis, laughing, “and I want my part in the movie to be played by Denzel Washington.”
For Alexander-Kasparik, Recall and Given is a way to prove that David Rector is still here—with powers that are in a way similar to those of the movie version of Tony Stark, who created the Iron Man suit to keep him alive because of his flawed heart.
“David is still there; even though he doesn’t speak and can’t move very much, he’s very much still David. … So many people are petrified of it, disability … but it is now our reality,” Alexander-Kasparik said thoughtfully. “On film, Iron Man’s suit became almost inconsequential after Tony had his heart fixed. The same thing is our wish for David. As he recovers, he won’t need a suit. But at the same time, David will always be Recall.”
Check out the illustrations by Michael Davis, done exclusively for The Root!
Allison Keyes is an award-winning correspondent, host and author. She can be heard on CBS Radio News, among other outlets. Keyes, a former national desk reporter for NPR, has written extensively on race, culture, politics and the arts. Follow her on Twitter.