Saturday, December 23, 2006

personal John Pierce Askegren


Sad news:

Published obituary:


Thursday, December 21, 2006; B06

John Pierce Askegren, Novelist, Technical Writer

John Pierce Askegren, 51, a freelance writer who authored science-fiction novels and short stories featuring Marvel Comics characters and also worked as a technical writer for government contractors, was found dead Nov. 29 at his home in Annandale. The cause of death was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Since 1995, Mr. Askegren wrote or co-wrote more than 10 novels and a half-dozen short stories, mostly under the pen name Pierce Askegren.

His early credits included original short story contributions to anthologies featuring the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and the Hulk.

"He was a huge fan of Marvel Comics and had a really spectacular sense of the history of the characters," said his former editor Keith R.A. DeCandido. "He did a wonderful job of bringing back obscure characters and giving them a twist."

Mr. Askegren was a co-author of the novels "Spider-Man & The Incredible Hulk: Doom's Day Book One: Rampage" (1996), "Spider-Man & Iron Man: Doom's Day Book Two: Sabotage" (1997) and "Spider-Man & Fantastic Four: Doom's Day Book Three: Wreckage" (1997).

In more recent years, he published a trilogy of science-fiction work: "Human Resource," "Fall Girl" and "Exit Strategy." This year, he wrote "After Image," part of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer paperback series.

For most of his career, he worked on his fictional stories in the evenings and on weekends, and by day he wrote educational handbooks and training manuals for government contractors.

He managed Crown Book stores before working for ACS Corp. from 1995 to 1999 and C2 Technologies from 1999 until 2003, when he left to concentrate on his freelance writing.

Mr. Askegren was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in a number of places before his family settled in Sterling in 1970. He graduated from Broad Run High School and James Madison University.

He became hooked on comic books as a youngster recovering from a broken hip.

"It started with two comic books my dad bought him when he had a metal pin in his leg. From that point on, he always had an affinity for it," said his brother James William Askegren of Sterling.

In addition to his brother, survivors include another brother, Robert Steven Askegren of Manassas.


A few additional words of eulogy:

Pierce Askegren was one of the coolest guys I ever met who didn’t realize how cool he was.

I hadn’t seen Pierce since 1998, though we exchanged a few e-mails in 1999. I only knew Pierce for a short time. We were work acquaintances, nothing more. I was a product manager at a wireless test and measurement equipment vendor in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Pierce was a technical-writer contractor that we brought in to do our manuals.

The first thing I noticed about Pierce was the quality of his technical writing. He took complex, boring technical goo and quickly boiled it down to a crystalline substrate of absolute clarity. Straightforward, unambiguous, readable, practical prose. Modest, not showy. Just like the man.

I also noticed that Pierce was an easy, pleasant person to engage in conversation. I’ve never been in the habit of lingering in colleagues’ offices longer than I need to, preferring to respect their work-hour space/time just as I hope they’ll do for me. But I found myself periodically traipsing down the hall to the tucked-away end-office where Pierce was set up. Among other things, he had a nifty little collection, arrayed on his bookcase, of comic-book action figurines.

Yes, this 40-ish man (only 3 years older than me) was a nerd, but not an obsessive fetishist hanger-on type of nerd. Through our conversations I began to determine that not only did he have an encyclopedic grasp of every comic book publisher, publication, issue, character, story arc, and detail going back—it seemed—to the Yellow Kid—but that he himself wrote paperback novels that carried forward the development of some of the most popular comic-book characters: especially, Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man.

Yeah, lotsa fanatics write unpublished/unpublishable novels, short stories, etc all around their venerated comic-book heroes, but Pierce was someone entirely different: a professional published freelance comic-book novelist. He mentioned that he had already authored a few such novels through some big-time publishing house. Though I had long since given up the comic-book habit (a staple my own childhood), and wasn’t much of a reader of any sort of fiction (nerd that I am, I’m much more likely to have a history or other non-fiction work in my hands), I had to see these. So I asked, and he gladly lent me two of his most recent books: one a Spider-Man title, the other (I believe) Fantastic Four.

I read them both quickly and with absolute delight. The man was a terrific novelist, and he clearly applied the same economy of technique to his fiction as to his tech writing. In addition, within the constraints of the comic-book novel, he was quite adept at developing characters, plots, and themes. He also had a real gift at drawing verbal pictures of dynamic action sequences, such as Spider-Man zipping his webline from his wrists, grabbing it and swinging back and forth between tall buildings as he rapidly homed on the baddies, while occasionally freefalling and trying to avoid annihilation. I can still feel and see the dynamic images that Pierce sketched out so brilliantly.

He also had great taste in music, especially classic R&B, soul, and pre-Beatles rock and roll. He lent me a lot of his CDs, and an excellent collection it was. So it was with special sadness that I encountered Pierce’s obituary in the paper version of Washington Post a couple of nights ago. Interestingly (and counter to what the Post normally does in its standard obituary pages), they published a small headshot of the man. This is the only occasion where I’ve clipped an obit and taped it to the wall of my home office.

Loved ya, Pierce.