San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

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Bob Haney
Robert "Batman" Haney arrived in San Felipe in 1998. He made the trip from Woodstock, NY at the request of his sister Margaret, who invited him to visit. Bob knew very little about San Felipe at the time, but once he experienced the comfortable winter weather he made the decision to stay. Robert Haney is a familiar name to comic book aficionados. Bob was one of DC Comic's early script writers, creating such well-known superheroes as the Teen Titans and Sgt. Rock and penning several of the storylines for Batman, Flash, Wonderwoman and Superman issues.

"I get treated like some kind of celebrity," said Bob, referring to the San Diego comic book conventions he used to frequent. "It's nice."

Bob had a regular daily routine and could be found most mornings at Baja Java, one of San Felipe better-known cafes. He layer added the Sundance Deli to his list of homes away from home. A news junkie, Bob could be seen at the deli during late afternoons getting his required dosage of CNN and newspapers.

Woodstock Handmade HousesBob Haney was also the author of Woodstock Handmade Houses, which was a bestseller and is still much in demand. The book is a collaboration between Bob, David Ballantine and photographer Jonathan Elliott. It is a pictorial record with subtext depicting the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the freethinkers living in rural Woodstock, New York, before the time of strict building codes.

If you would like a copy of Bob's Woodstock book, just click on the book's image to link to an email address where more information can be found.


I first met Bob Haney at the San Felipe Bookstore in northern Baja, Mexico, which by proximity was nicely within my ranging pattern because I own the computer repair shop next to it.

Bob folded his long limbs into one of the padded chairs on the deck in front of the bookstore and reached for a Time Magazine. He performed this motion like a man might absently scratch the back of his head. I think Bob took great pleasure in habitual actions. Which was good. It made him easy to find.

Over time I came to learn that Bob had a special, perhaps even pathological, relationship to words. Whether printed on paper or branded on the air by CNN newscasters, the Logos was an integral part of his life.

Bob signing a Teen Titan.

Anyway, as this tall, cantilevered man myopically leafed through the pages of a magazine article, I had a chance to study him. To be perfectly honest, I thought he was a street person. He had the disheveled, razorless, a-man’s-clothes-are-his-castle, appearance of the disenfranchised. Add to this a face that looked like a toffee pull done at the wrong temperature and a shock of hair that imitated twelve quail flushed from a bush by well-thrown rock, it was easy to see that Bob Haney was a remarkable diary of vast and expert neglect. He obviously didn’t give a damn about his appearance and quite likely imagined his body wasn’t much different from his spectacularly neglected pickup truck; it didn’t really need maintaining as long as it moved and stopped when he wanted it to. I came to find out sometimes it didn’t. Both the truck and his body.

The man’s wardrobe italicized the homeless impression. Bob wore a pair of shoes that could convince the most fervent skeptic that he was the original Wandering Jew. They were tragic things, so divorced from their beginnings that a cow could wear them without guilt. Some people like to spit-shine their footwear to narcissistic mirrors. Bob’s shoes were the opposite. They were only slightly undersized models of the Baja peninsula itself –dessicated, rutted, worn by erosion and the sun. I dreaded the condition of those ten explorers who had to spelunk their dark, dry recesses every day.

Bob’s shirt (and it didn’t matter which shirt) is worth mentioning. There was something philosophical about it/them, in a kind of counter stitch-in-time way. They all had character flaws. And I don’t mean the kind that can be easily dismissed by words like impatient, rude or even ill-tempered. Bob’s shirts had out-and-out personality gaps. On that first day in front of the bookstore, the left shoulder had obviously suffered a recent demotion, insofar as the seam yawned away from its juncture, caused perhaps by some French regimental commander stripping Bob of an epaulet or two. The front pocket had seen some action too and wore a dogear that would have been perfectly at home on an Airedale

Bob’s trousers were an ode to Woody Guthrie. Nothing else needs to be said about them, except to mention the possibility they were Woody Gutherie’s.

The finishing touch, other than the mortise or two in a smile I had yet to witness, were Bob’s eyeglasses. They were a stickman drawn by Picasso, full of hybrid angles and unhinged megalomania. I was genuinely afraid for the man when I saw him wrestling with them. I tried to remember a CPR course I once took, just in case Bob’s preparation to read a magazine led to some emergency resuscitation procedures.

So Bob Haney sat there quietly in front of the bookstore, groping a magazine. It was a regular-sized magazine but it looked like a postage stamp trapped between two flounders, such were the size of Bob’s hands. He squinted, sending a peristalsis of Basset wrinkles cascading to the edge of his hair line. I thought he was the perfect likeness of an ancient, glandular Kerouac after a three week bender.

Then Ed Meders, the frequently distaff member of the husband and wife team who own the bookstore, emerged from the shop and sat beside Bob. The two men evidently knew each other. I heard Ed make a humorous comment and that was when Bob showed the mortise in his laugh. The laugh itself instantly erased my growing opinion that Bob was an urchin. Hearty and timbrous, it was the guffaw of a man who loved to guffaw. I haven’t known many street people, but the few I’ve met couldn’t laugh like that.

Bob had a habit of ordering a mocha fria at Baja Java, an American café at the end of the deck. He did this early in the morning and sat on a stool at the round corner table inside the café. This was where he absorbed the CNN reports that for a time aired from a suspended television in Baja Java, until a thief stole the satellite receiver card and put an end to it. Bob was then forced to change his pattern and up until his final stroke, he sunned himself in the mornings before the television at the Sundance Deli, where CNN spoke to him across a Danish and orange juice. Used copies of the San Diego Union were also splashed about the tables and Bob could often be seen fanning open a paper, his arms spread like a huge condor drying its wings.

It would seem Bob was a news junkie. But I think he was perpetually pawing the papers and airwaves out of habit rather than interest or concern. In conversations, Bob never injected opinions shaped by the various media he patronized. He was more of a listener, ready for a punchline or phrase that could unlock one of his barreling laughs. Perhaps it was the result of a series of small, unnoticed ‘mini’-strokes that pre-dated his final, paralyzing trauma, but Bob’s mind never seemed concerned with the nuts and bolts of modern life, at least while I knew him. His attention had lost its ability to put anything on a pedestal. It seemed as if words themselves, without any freight or baggage, were enough to comfort him, although there must have been a reliquary of meaning stored deep inside of him, guarded by something that did not communicate with the man of the moment. How else could a phrase or political joke trigger the laughs?

To most of the people who knew him, the Bob Haney of his final few years was a man in the grip of a superb fatalism. His ennui, highlighted by his personal disregard and lethargy, was the stuff of folklore. He had no awareness of his stature as a productive cog in the DC comic book dynasty. In fact, I never knew he wrote scripts for comics until Ed mentioned it to me. When I plugged Bob’s name into Google, I discovered he was all over the internet. He was revered for his contributions to the DC pantheon and had won several awards, including the Inkpot Award, a distinction whose list of recipients included Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Steven Spielberg and others. Once, Bob told me he liked to attend the ComiCon, the annual comic book convention in San Diego. He said the people there treated him “like royalty”. But he frankly never understood the fuss.

I think Bob’s attitude was influenced by an early goal in his life. He wanted to be a novelist. A good one. On the level of a Hemingway or Fitzgerald. And even though comic book script writing swallowed much of his life, I don’t think he ever really looked away from that goal for very long. After the comic book years, it was quite possible that Bob was deeply shocked to find himself living penniless in an old trailer in Mexico, without ever having stepped more than a few paces along the footsteps of Hemingway or Fitzgerald. True, he lived the bohemian life in Paris when he was young, but location does not make a writer. It’s the voice that fuses through the fingers, the unsmotherable solipsistic cry that keeps the writer’s eye steady on the heart of his quest that makes the artist. Bob’s eye, according to some, had a tendency to wander.

Part of the bohemian lifestyle, and part of any writer’s toolkit, is a repertoire of personal relationships. In Bob’s case, it tended to lean toward the fairer sex. Over a mocha fria one morning, he confided to me a story about a woman who broke his heart. I suspected he was being inordinately faithful to her memory by singling her out from a roster of past alliances. But he spoke with such passion about this person that she quickly lost her historical vocation in my mind and became a kind of pivot around which Bob’s life levered itself into its present state of world-weariness. I don’t know if this was the case or simply the effects of the mocha fria, but that morning was the only time I ever heard Bob Haney delve into his core. It might have been one of those rare instances when his core was inadvertently accessible to him and I just happened to be an audience to the event. But the memory was interesting and suggested the real reason Bob had not followed the difficult road of a novelist.

Some writers, most good writers, are soliloquies. They write from the island of their psyches. A “country of two” as Kurt Vonnegut called a marriage, is an anthology that can bury a writer’s name under the nom de plume of ‘WE’. Many cannot survive the symbiosis. Perhaps Bob was one of them. Or maybe in the long run he felt comic book scripts was the level of literature most appropriate for a country of two.

There is a lot of evidence for this attitude. Over the span of his comic script career, Bob was notorious for not keeping track of a character’s story arc. He seemed immaculately unaware of each superhero’s current situation, circle of friends, list of villains, even partners. He wrote in a void, creating his own vernacular, his own interpretation of a character’s super powers, and sometimes drafted scenes that violated timelines and established biographic information for his subjects. But what Bob did that most of the other script writers didn’t do, at least not to his degree, was fuss over the story itself. He wanted the story to be good, to have teeth and depth. He wanted it, in fact, to be as literary as possible. The script was often his bid at an abbreviated ‘Old Man and the Sea’ or “Great Gatsby’, filtered through his country of two to whatever extent he could perfect it, given the resources, restrictions and deadlines. This is what established Bob Haney as a DC script writer of note. Add to that the effects of his disregard for the DC Bible and guidelines, and you have stories that elevated Bob to cult level.

When I knew Bob, all of that was behind him, well-buried in the vault of his personal history. He rarely opened the door to that vault, even though his thoughts seems wholly focused on the past. The remedial applications of CNN and newspapers were perhaps the truest method he had for keeping the vault door closed, to himself as well as those around him.

In the last year of his life it seemed that Bob was just waiting to die. He had several conditions that needed medical attention, yet he refused to submit himself to a doctor. In quiet times, over a table at the bookshop (maybe Bob was magnetized to bookstores because of patterns from his bohemian years), his tone suggested he considered himself a failure. His various countries of two were riven by death and divorce. He never wrote the novel he wanted to write. His body was failing. And the bric-a-brac responsible for protecting his daily routines --his trailer, truck, clothes, etc. --were similarly dissolved by age. It was going to be a close race and spectators were never sure which contestant would cross the line to oblivion first, Bob’s world or Bob himself. When the end finally occurred, many said it was a tie. There was scant little left behind after Bob Haney’s time on earth. Except for the words that echo down from infrequent revivals of his scripts, now and then finding a place on the shelves of big chain bookstores, quite a distance from their literary section.