Never Surrender Dreams: JMS on One More Day and the Motto of his Life

J. Michael Straczynski discusses Spider-Man, "One More Day" and how his personal motto—"Never Surrender Dreams"—has shaped his life and career.

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By Robert Tutton and Shawn Gagne

Spider-Man
and Ezekiel

Ever since J. Michael Straczynski took over the reigns to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN more than five years ago, things haven't been easy for our favorite web-spinning vigilante. Straczynski began his acclaimed and controversial run by introducing Ezekiel and a new, spiritual aspect to the Spider-Man mythos, along with creating the life-force sucking baddie Morlun, who literally beat Spider-Man to a bloody pulp. The famed writer then shocked readers by having Aunt May discover the web-slinging pursuits of her nephew. This bold move made Aunt May a more complex character, allowing her to take an active role in the story and show a level of depth that was rarely seen before. Refusing to relent and give Spidey a breather, Straczynski pitted the web-head against a humanoid spider wasp, revealed that Gwen Stacey had children with the infamous Norman Osborn, and even had the iconic hero die, only to be reborn with a slew of new arachnid abilities. Never shying away from controversy, Straczynski seems to revel in making Peter Parker's life miserable. Yet, despite all the psychological manipulation and physical tribulations, Spider-Man has himself never relented. It is this tortured perseverance that has defined Peter Parker over the years. Like his protagonist, J. Michael Straczynski lives by a principle of never giving up. In fact, Straczynski is offering fans the opportunity to get a personally inscribed, autographed, framed print of his personal motto, "Never Surrender Dreams," at NeverSurrenderDreams.com. But did the motto come before or after the spider? "It's something I've hewed to for as long as I can remember," Straczynski affirms. "Back as far as when I was a kid, and said I intended to be a writer, there were lots of people around to laugh at the very idea of it. I was a street kid, from a blue collar family, no connections, nobody in my family had even finished college before...who was I to think I was going to be somebody someday? So I determined early on to hold onto that idea of never surrendering dreams. I think it all boils down to just those three words."

The inscription
on JMS' bench

Going so far as to inscribe "Never Surrender Dreams" on the bench outside his house, Straczynski commits himself to passing on this principle whenever or wherever possible. "It seems so strange to me, that when we're kids we have all these dreams—we want to be firemen, or police men, or artists, or singers, or stars—and yet so often when I'm at conventions, and I ask people what they want to do with their lives, they say 'I don't know.'" Straczynski says. "When we spend so much time un-learning our passions, I think anything we can do day-to-day to remind us to hold onto those things is good, even if it's as pedestrian as having it engraved on a bench beside my front door." Having written over 70 issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, authored the comic series RISING STARS and created the television series "Babylon 5," it's clear that Straczynski never let go of his writing aspirations. Even after years as a professional scribe, the award-winning wordsmith has never run out of ideas. "I hate to say this, because it just annoys other writers, but I've never had writer's block," remarks Straczynski. "And if I ever do have it, I have volumes of notebooks with enough roughed-out stories, ideas, outlines and plots to keep me moving for the next 10 years." Yet, even successful writers experience some occasional lows. "When I get really down and black, which doesn't happen very often, sometimes I deal with it by going into the TV room and firing up every horror film in my collection, the more awful and depressing the better, because after a while you go so deep that your own depression or discouragement becomes ludicrous," confesses Straczynski. "You have to laugh at it. I don't recommend this to anyone of a more balanced disposition. The rest of the time I deal with it by digging in even more strongly to what matters, knowing that even if I do fail, I'll have done so in the fullest pursuit of my dreams and my passions, and when you do that, even when you lose, you win."

JMS and one
of the prints

While the saying "Never Surrender Dreams" has highly influenced his career, Straczynski doesn't confine the ideology to just professional pursuits. "I don't think there's any part of my life that *isn't* affected by this – my personal life, my career, my writing," considers Straczynski. "Again, even going back to being a kid, like most [science fiction] or comics fans, I was this little nerdy, bespectacled guy who the big kids liked to whomp the hell out of on every occasion. There were always too many of them for me to beat. But I never lost. They'd pound me into the ground and yell 'give!' And I wouldn't. I'd mouth off at them. And they'd pound me some more. And I wouldn't give. The only way they finally ever stopped was when they just got too tired to hit me anymore. I'd wear them out. But I'd never give. Never surrender. Ever." "One More Day," which is Straczynski's Spider-Man swan song, features an embittered Peter Parker desperately struggling to save his Aunt May. No matter where he goes or who he confronts, Spider-Man consistently comes up short and is repeatedly told to accept his failure, but he does not give up his cause. This parallel to the mindset of Straczynski is anything but coincidence. "Certainly Peter has reached a point in ["One More Day"] where he simply does not accept failure as an option, he will not surrender the idea of somehow saving Aunt May," explains Straczynski. "A lot of my characters find themselves in positions where they're given a choice, and the chance, to walk away and be safe...or to pursue what matters to them even at great cost. The Steve Rogers story in BULLET POINTS is another good example of this. Despite weakness, and vulnerability, and wear, he keeps fighting even though he jeopardizes his own life in doing so. "I don't really have a lot of credos in my life, a lot of little motivational sayings or theories or philosophies, I'm an atheist by nature...everything I do, everything I believe, comes down to never giving an inch when it comes to fighting for your dreams," adds Straczynski.

"Never Surrender
Dreams" in JMS'
own handwriting

So why did Straczynski get caught up with the old Web-Head all these years? Was it his snazzy duds or determined attitude? "I don't want to read too much into it, but yeah, that attitude is likely one of the reasons I was so drawn to writing him in the beginning," comments Straczynski. "No matter what the odds, no matter how badly he may be outnumbered, he just never, ever gives up. In the final analysis, I think it's about approaching life without fear. Not stupidly, or foolishly, but deciding that you will do THIS, you won't do THAT, and refusing to be bullied into crossing those lines." So we know to never surrender our dreams, but what else does Straczynski recommend? "Just that when you do dream, remember that nowhere is it written that our dreams should be small," says Straczynski. "Dream big. Why not?" Dying for the sage advice of Straczynski to be immortalized in print? Visit NeverSurrenderDreams.com. now! But act fast! The prints will only be available for purchase until Wednesday, October 24! Want to find out what happens to Spider-Man in "One More Day"? Be sure to check out the next chapter in SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #41, on sale November 7, 2007! photos (c) J. Michael Straczynski

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