Thursday, November 8, 2007

JE...ha ha ha...JES...heh...JESSIE!

Okay, still haven’t drawn a damned thing all week worth showing beyond my thumbnail for the next contest (which I’m not ready to share yet). So, in my never-ending quest to tell all my story ideas before I have a chance to publish them, I thought I’d take another trip down memory lane. I don’t mind sharing this one too much because when I called Mike the day it popped into my head while mowing the lawn, he told me it was a great idea but it was better when it was called BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. I was a little deflated because, to be completely honest, I’d never seen a complete episode of the show and still haven’t to this day. I saw the original movie in theaters but beyond the fact that it had a pretty good cast (including the lovely Kristy Swanson), I wasn’t much impressed. Anyway, you be the judge.

As the name of this post suggests, the story, in its final incarnation, was called JESSIE. This was short for “Jessica”, the main character whom I named after the girlfriend of a roommate I once had. She was a nice lady and I always thought the name was cool. (Until Jessica Rabbit ruined everything.) Shortly after I came up with this brilliant title, Christina Applegate launched her short-lived sitcom “Jessie” on NBC and I ditched it. It currently has no official title beyond APPARENT-BUFFY-RIPOFF. Before JESSIE, I’d called it a hundred different things.

The first was SAMHAIN (later LONEWOLF), my modern take on Clint Eastwood’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER about a betrayed cop who gets killed and gets sent back to Earth to deal out justice. The trip drives him a little crazy, though, and he makes his own plans. Though not completely fleshed out, I had ideas for his backstory involving Celtic mythology…hence the title SAMHAIN. (A word I first encountered in the film HALLOWEEN II.) Two days after I finished writing the first “issue”, though, Mike came into my room, threw the Comics Buyers Guide on my bed and ran away yelling, “Sorry, dude!” In it was an interview with Todd McFarlane in which he described his upcoming book, SPAWN. Mike made a good choice in beating feet. I was furious. This was the first of many such experiences.

SAMHAIN ended up morphing into two different story ideas. The first was WOLF (you can see a picture of him in Mike’s MODERN MASTERS book) that eliminated the supernatural elements and instead turned the character into Daniel Hugh-Kelley’s character in HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK. I told Mike about the kernel of this idea and he loved it and having not yet fully broken into comics (I think this was between the DOC SAVAGE mini and his first DC work) he designed the character. The only visual element remaining from SAMHAIN/LONEWOLF was the wolf emblem on his chest, though this was no longer a roughly spraypainted thing but rather a slick logo. WOLF was financed by a judge (not yet retired) who was tired of seeing crooks get away on technicalities, so he finances a disgraced cop’s campaign of vigilantism. (Looking back on that, there are SO many things wrong with this idea I couldn’t even begin to list them.) Mike, his friend Paul and I sat around Paul’s kitchen table one night working out the first storyline. Wolf would take on the villain Scarecrow (yeah, I know there’s been a million) who, it would turn out was a rich guy who didn’t really need the money but was in it for the thrill. He hid his face behind the Scarecrow mask (worn with a three-piece suit) because he had a minor blemish on his otherwise handsome face and was too vain to have it seen. (Not to mention the not wanting to be arrested part.) Mike soon got comics work and that was that.

The second story to come out of SAMHAIN is the JESSIE story. When it popped into my head, though, it was to be called SCHISM until I found out there was already a comic called that. I toyed with going back to the SAMHAIN name but that word, at that point, had become a bit of a cliché and was being waaay overused in horror movies. So, I went with the oh-so descriptive, thrilling and evocative…JESSIE! (Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!_

The story (finally, you scream!) evolved from my interests in Celtic mythology and World War II. I wanted to do something that combined the two. JESSIE concerns a high-school girl who has a strange birthmark (a Celtic knot) low on her right breast and begins having horrible nightmares about epic battles, demons and people she’s never met. One particularly vivid one concerns the man in the underdrawing here (based on Christopher Walken).

In her dream, he enters a house to find a family on the floor, butchered. He sneaks down into the basement to discover men digging a trunk out of a brick wall. As he watches, a shadowy figure sneaks up behind him and brains him with a shovel. Stunned, he can only watch as the figure brings the shovel down again, killing him. Jessica also begins displaying strange abilities she shouldn’t have like knowledge of ancient martial arts moves and an ability to speak Latin and German. Confused, she allows a handsome young man, the new kid at school, to sweep her off her feet and take her parking. He gets a little frisky on the first date, though, and she breaks his nose.

Turns out Frisky is actually an agent for a high-tech group (a la the Millennium Group) that is devoted to tracking down a pair age-old adversaries who have battled throughout the centuries, one (the Celtic god Cernunnos) bent on world chaos and the other (the goddess Morgan) sworn to stop him. Throughout history, they’ve been reincarnated in the bodies of children born at the instant of their deaths. Cernunnos as Genghis Khan, Vlad Tepes, Jack the Ripper…Adolf Hitler. Morgan as Joan of Arc and various other historical heroes, male and female. Turns out her previous incarnation was the man in her dreams…the twin brother of the leader of the group out to find her. And Jessica is the best candidate. Their mission is to not only find Morgan but to eliminate the threat of Cernunnos for all time. To do that, they must track down a mythical dagger that would kill his current incarnation and trap his soul in the dagger forever. (Yeah, I know. Done to death.)

In the meantime, Cernunnos has been reincarnated as the head of a massive software corporation, a company built using the fortunes of victims of the Holocaust, stolen by Hitler and stashed away in a basement wall in Germany. Cernunnos knows that his next incarnation will eventually remember the location of the gold and be able to retrieve it. He (as Hitler) goes to his suicidal death with a clear mind. At the point our story takes place, Cernunnos has purposely implanted the Y2K virus in his software in an attempt to bring modern civilization crashing down around our ears. (I was writing this during the whole Y2K scare in the ‘90s.) He’s also aware of the legend of the dagger and has sent his supporters out to find it as well. It’s a race to the finish!

Jessie is introduced to her former twin’s group and it turns out her suitor is actually gay and was just, um, exploring down her shirt in an attempt to see if she had the Celtic knot birthmark, the tell-tale sign that she’s Morgan. She’s disbelieving at first but eventually, as more memories take hold, and she’s found by Cernunnos’ group and has to fight off an attempt on her life, she comes around and joins the group. Eventually, they track down the dagger in some exotic location and after some twists and turns, Cernunnos is defeated and his soul is trapped forever. No longer needing to fight her counterpart, Jessie senses that this life will be her last. The Walken character asks her what she plans on doing with it? She replies, “Live it.” The end. Cheers and whistles abound.

When I was designing these characters, I was really taken with Tony Harris’ STARMAN work and you can see evidence of that in the pinup I did (at the top of this post). I’d planned on using Walken as the basis for the twin brothers because I needed him to look distinctive enough to be recognized and increase the shock value when he turns up in Jessie’s life. Plus, I love Walken and always have. (Well, not so much his current self-caricature version.) As for Jessica, I didn’t have a distinct vision for her look as is evidenced by the long blonde-haired version in the pinup and page rough. Later, as I was voicing my problem to Mike, he suggested I go out an buy a hairstyle magazine for inspiration. I did and the result was what you see here:

I really liked the youthful look the bob gave her and the girl in the photo was a cutie that had just the right innocent feel to her that I wanted.

This pen and ink drawing was done late at work one night without any reference to look at. I wanted to see if I’d committed the look to memory. I like how it came out but the hair looked a little plastic and she looks a little stoned. I’d found the look I wanted, though. As for Cernunnos, I designed him to look like the creature in the movie RAWHEAD REX, based on the Clive Barker short story. The movie was terrible and the effects abysmal (his mouth never moved) but the basic design was very cool. All teeth and leather. Frankly, I ripped it off, adding only horns and getting rid of the snouty look of his face. I’ve got some drawings around here somewhere and will post them if the turn up.

In the meantime, what do you think? The BUFFY comment really sucked the wind out of me and I eventually let the story drop. Not that I’ve ever done anything with any of this stuff I’ve written, but it really made me feel like a hack. Was he right? BUFFY or not? I must know!


Brian said...

Buffy, smuffy, here's the pitch that has every comic book company throwing money at you.

The young beautiful heroine has a birth mark "low down on her breast" that is intricate to the story and will need to be shown . . . a lot.

Seriously, though, I'd say that the similarities to Buffy are superficial at best and probably wouldn't even come up if you make the heroine an adult and drop the martial arts abilities that don't really fit with an Irish based character. She'd either have magic based powers or be really good with a sword.

Leaf said...

Don't be dissing RAWHEAD. How often do you get to see a bootleg monster go wee-wee all over a priest? Then get his monstrous arse handed to him by a stone football that shoots rainbows? Pure brilliance. (May have to dig up the story tonight to purge the taint just talking about the film brought on.)

And, no, you're no hack—artistically or literally. Both idea and art for the story are top notch. Wish I could draw hair like that.

Matt Wieringo said...

Thanks, Leaf old buddy. Here's your c-note.

Brian, my thinking was that, since the character was reincarnated over and over, slowly regaining the memories from past lives each time, she/he would also retain whatever abilities they'd mastered as well. Those abilities wouldn't be limited to the area where they started. Hope that helps. I think you're right about the age part though. Maybe college age or early twenties. Then we could get Michelle Ryan to play her in the movie. Mmmmmmmm...

Jadielady said...

Hurm, I can see where there are similarities, but I wouldn't say its enough to be discouraged. Besides, my name's Jessie (also short for Jessica) So I say GO FOR IT!

renecarol said...

Yes Mike was right just like Buffy. I really like your character designs though. Especially your Christopher Walken inspired character. Jessie looks good too except in the one where you said she looks stoned.

Anonymous said...

I like the story.
The fact that there are similarities to other stuff may need to be worked out.
I don't think it's actually a rip-off, although it may need to be revised due to the similarities of other stuff already out there.
Eventually different people may lock on the same idea, but one beats the other to the punch, as in that Spawn example you have.

I like Brian's idea to show the birthmark (specially if it's Michelle Ryan) Oops, did I say that out loud?

I wish I could draw as well as you can. Keep up the stories and artwork, I see you actually doing your own comic one day.


Anonymous said...

It does remind me of Buffy, but I like the ability to take...abilities from past lifes of one's self.
We have all done that though...I had a story called Priest: about a reincarnated vampire on the road to redemption...had it all mapped out for three, 4 issue mini series...but it was too close to about 3 or 4 comics at the time...and the name was sucked! So I joined the military...and that was that!

Mr. Walken has been one of my favorite actors. I wish I remember the interview, but he did say he would be interested in doing a zombie flic if the script was right...that would be cool.

Matt Wieringo said...

McGill, that was an extreme reaction! :) I just went on to the next story. Just kidding. I'm sure it wasn't as simple as all that.

Unfortunately, I think Walken would do anything these days if it meant working. I don't think he needs the cash. I think he just likes to work. But I wish he'd be a little choosier in his roles. This goofy comedy crap and mobster stuff has got to go. I miss his DEER HUNTER/DEADZONE days.

And this kind of thing happens all the time. In this case, I think I used a lot of stuff from the BUFFY movie without remembering where I got it. Usually, though, I'll write a story and end up seeing it months later in a movie or TV show. The worst of those has been SINGULARITY, by far. It's gotten so bad I can't change the story anymore and I've given up on it. Like Mike told me earlier this year, when you spend 17 years working on something, someone faster is going to beat you to the finish line.

Anonymous said...

Eh, there is more to the military thing...but leading like that made it dramatic..;)
I dunno, Walken's old stuff was great, but I enjoy watching his work, maybe it is do to the fact he is in everything...but Walken in a zed flic would be cool to see...maybe throw Morgan Freeman in there for good measure...

I know that stuff happens more than one would like to admit, but I was young, and crushed when it all came crashing around me...luckily, I still conjure up stories...that is pretty easy...the hard part is character design..I can draw designs all day, but I look at them, gag, and throw them away...cursing revenge on the paper the next day!
One of these days I will settle on what I got and actually "use" it...

Adam Hutch said...

I think this sounds like a great idea and the designs look good too. Both "Jessie" and "Enchanted" are great and very creative.

I come up with story ideas from time to time that never go anywhere. It's pretty frustrating. I write about 4 pages of stuff (character descriptions and plot outlines) and then that's it. I wish any of them have gone as far along as yours (and that I had your drawing ability too).

Matt Wieringo said...

Thanks, Adam.

Heywood Jablomie said...


Sounds like a great idea even if it has it's 'familiar' moments. But these days, what storyline out there in the funny books doesn't have any 'familiar' moments to them?