Remembering Franco

It was my first trip to New York, for the New York Comic-Con. The plan had been for me to hang out mostly with my friend and editor Chris Ryall, but as we should have assumed, the many, many commitments and appointments that come with his position almost immediately took up most of his time. And so, I figured, I was on my own, in a strange city for the better part of a week. At least that’s what I thought was going to happen.

Instead, I found myself adopted into a close-knit family of friends from a continent away, thanks largely to the kindness and generosity of one man, my friend Franco Urru, who passed away last week after a lengthy illness.

I’m proud of many things I’ve accomplished since I found myself in this business, but nothing makes me prouder than being able to say those words. Franco Urru was my friend.

Having never met or even spoken before, Franco took me under his wing that weekend in New York. After all, I had worked with his friends David Messina and Elena Casagrande, and I was friends with Chris and his SPIKE collaborator Brian Lynch, and that was good enough for Franco. He didn’t have to do that for me, some guy he barely knew. But before I knew what happened, I was one of the group, off to Franco’s favorite restaurants, listening to his stories of Rome as he marched us through the streets of Manhattan, ushering us into cabs or seemingly producing limousines out of thin air so we could get to “the best sushi restaurant uptown.” And he was always right.

But I came away from that New York show with something more than just memories of some good meals (okay, great meals). I came away with true friends and partners, people I would collaborate with for years to come (and expect to, and hope to, for years and decades more), all because Franco decided he was my friend.

Chris Ryall, me, Franco Urru, David Messina, Federica Manfredi and Elena Casagrande at the 2009 New York Comic-Con.

The next year, Chris and I made plans to attend the Lucca Comics and Games Festival in Lucca, Italy, as well as a convention in Dusseldorf, Germany, the following week. Once again, Chris’ responsibilities reared their ugly head and he was forced to cancel, but I went ahead and went solo, although in truth I was never alone for a moment. Franco had arranged for my accommodations in Rome for the few days between the Lucca and Dusseldorf conventions, and took special care to make certain I was always accompanied around the city he loved so much, seeing as much as I could in my brief time there. I remember meeting up with him at the comic-book shop Forbidden Planet in Rome, and seeing the happy look on the proprietor’s face when Franco strolled into the shop. He was greeted like that everywhere we went.

Franco Urru at Rome’s FORBIDDEN PLANET.

I wanted so badly to return the kindness, to be able to show Franco around Los Angeles or San Diego, to give him the kind of tour he gave me. To think that that will never happen now — it’s inconceivable.

Chris Ryall has done a better job than I could possibly do here talking about Franco’s amazing talent as an artist and his beautiful work on so many of IDW’s SPIKE and ANGEL projects, and it’s another of my great regrets that I never got to work with him. We had plans to work together, and talked often about reviving one of his superhero concepts he had dreamed up earlier in his career. But other assignments and commitments kept getting in the way, and before long the illness that would eventually claim him began to take its toll on him, and as a result I spoke to Franco less frequently, though I understood what he was going through, and hoped there would be a day when we could return to our easy talks and plans for the future.

But that day won’t come, and now, like so many others whose lives were made better simply by knowing him, I try to take solace in his remarkable if far too brief body of work, and the memories of his easy smile, his charm, his grace, his generosity. I can only hope to be as good a man as he was.

Franco Urru was my friend.


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