Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Messin' with Sasquatch

The voting on the drawing contest hasn't even started yet so there's no rush on getting started on the next one, though I've got some thumbnails done. (More on that some other time.) In the meantime, while I work out my story in my head (almost ready to start) I've been goofing with the next Mafus/Leaf collaboration. Christian and I are working together on a Perhapanauts pinup. I'm pencilling, Christian's inking again and we'll figure out the coloring later. I'm actually working on the final pencils now but I thought I'd just post the initial rough for now and milk this baby for two or three posts.

The biggest challenge was settling on a cryptid that hadn't already been done to death. I was going to do Redcap but, after some Google-style research, I was surprised to see how often this character has turned up in comics and movies. Christian made some good suggestions too. But I ended up going with the Megalodon. I'm a big fan of Steve Alten's MEG novels and the idea of one of those 60-foot prehistoric sharks coming up from the deep just chills me to the bone.

I did two or three roughs before settling on this one. My favorite was a shot from above with the Meg coming up under the boat, knocking the team into the water. I liked the shot but there wasn't any opportunity for character bits and I really wanted to draw Choopie. He's my favorite character (I LOVE when he meets his future self and asks how he dies. CRACKS ME UP!) and drawing him small on the page without giving him something interesting to do would take some of the fun out of it for me. So I decided to go with a less dramatic shot. Now I can have Choopie doing his thing, making off with the chum bucket for God knows what. (Well, I suppose we can guess what he wants with it.) and I can have a little fun with Big too. I didn't have room to fit in the whole team but I got in my favorites, including Molly, nicely providing us with some scale.

I wasn't terribly happy with the rough at first. Big doesn't seem very imposing here and his left hand just looks ridiculous. Luckily for me, Craig gave me some pointers on how to fix some of the other problems (like a bunch of weird tangents I didn't catch). The second rough came out much better. I'll post that next time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Suzanne, Christian and I all piled into the Mafusmobile and went to see THE MIST today. I've been looking forward to this one for many years since I first read Stephen King's novella. King's story was one of his most perfect works, equal parts Lovecraft and Romero and yet uniquely King. King's story was creepy as all hell, leaving plenty to the imagination while still showing you just enough of what was going on to freak you the @#!& out. And his ending, while bleak, still left the reader satisfied and hopeful.

I was so excited when I heard Frank Darabont was directing the film version. I've long held that Darabont is one of very few directors who "get" King. Or, rather, know how to adapt King to the screen. I'm as big a King fan as they come but even I understand that some aspects of his work are better left on the page and just don't translate. (Like his dialogue for instance.) This is why I was so disappointed in THE MIST. Man, what a missed opportunity.

I'll keep it simple so I won't spoil anything for those who want to see it.

The biggest problem I had with the film was that it was boring. If you can believe that. Though Darabont sticks close to the source material until the almost the end, there's no real sense of urgency. Part of it is that Darabont sticks TOO close to King's book. There's a lot of stuff in there that plays great when you're reading it but plods along like a drunk hippopotamus when you're watching it. Darabont could have cut 20 minutes out of this film easily and not hurt the story at all. Another reason is that, sadly, Thomas Jane was either miscast or just not interested. I like Jane, usually. I thought he was great in DEEP BLUE SEA and BOOGIE NIGHTS and that he was the only good thing about the PUNISHER movie. But this role required an actor with a lot of range and I just don't think he had it in him. In scenes where his eyes should have been popping out of his head, he reacted like he just discovered something nasty under his fingernail. In one scene in particular, Jane's character, overcome, is supposed to be crying. Not a single tear and his expression barely changes. Jane should take crying lessons from Milla Jovavich.

Another complaint is that Darabont shows us too much. In King's story, the larger creatures in the mist are barely-described, shadowy shapes. Darabont chooses to show us well defined silhouettes that, frankly, aren't all that scary. In horror, less is often more. The entire movie is too brightly lit and, when the boogeymen show up, you can see every nook and cranny. And, unfortunately, the effects just aren't up to snuff. In particular, the tentacle scene in the stockroom is so badly paced that you have too much time to study the badly-realized CG effects. The tentacles move around sluggishly as if the creature itself was bored with the movie and the compositing isn't what you'd expect from such a big-budget production. It FELT like CG effects and that's bad.

My final complaint is with the ending. Since I don't want to spoil it, I won't go into detail. If you haven't read King's story, you may like it. If you have read it, you'll be outraged. King's final scene put a poignant, poetic ending on a creepy, well-plotted story. Darabont strangely decided to veer off into a completely different direction and I'm not sure why. Maybe he thought audiences wouldn't tolerate such a quiet, ambiguous finish to a violent horror movie. But that's what people said about Carpenter's THE THING and it's now a cult phenomenon. (In fact, the poster for that movie makes an appearance early in the film.)

All in all, I think this movie would have benefited from a smaller budget. Without the money to create all those CG creatures and gore effects, Darabont may have been forced to rely more on atmosphere, sound design and convincing performances to pull of his film. Years ago, I listened to an audio-only dramatization of THE MIST on tape, sort of like those old-time radio productions before the advent of TV. It scared the hell out of me. Maybe Darabont should have listened to it before sitting down to plan this film.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Please Pass the Stomach-Pump

Well, that’s over.

I’ve been dreading this week since August. For the first time since Suzanne and I got married, I wasn’t looking forward to Thanksgiving. I just didn’t know what to expect. How were we going to deal with the elephant in the room…or is that not in the room? As it turned out, we didn’t deal with it at all. Though we all missed Mike terribly, we just didn’t bring it up. We all just concentrated on the food in front of us. That’s not to say we didn’t talk. We were just careful not to bring up the painfully obvious. So, I guess you’d say that Thanksgiving went as well as we could hope…there was just no joy in it.

One particularly painful moment was when Suzanne passed around one of her “experiments.” Each year she tries out one new dish on everybody to keep things interesting. This year, it was polenta with marsala mushrooms. As she and my parents dug in and agreed that it was a great success, I realized that it was a vegetarian dish and that Mike probably would have loved it. Later, when we were alone, Suzanne admitted that she’d had the same thought and it had choked her up.

Still, as sad as we all were, it didn’t affect our appetites. I’m still feeling bloated. Every year, Mom makes these chocolate-oatmeal no-bake drop cookies that Mike and I loved since childhood. We’ve always playfully fought over them, sneaking a few out of the jar when the other wasn’t looking. Mom always took quiet pride in how much we loved them. This year, I knew it was going to be a sore spot. Mom told Suzanne that, in fact, she considered not making them. But she went ahead and brought a batch. Sadly, with nobody to compete with, I’ve eaten all of them myself and sort of made myself sick. As good as they are, I’m really glad they’re gone.

On a lighter note, on Friday morning I continued what has become a sort of yearly tradition and got up at 3:30 a.m. to trudge out, alone, into the cold pre-dawn morning for the Black Friday sales. Normally, this is out of pure selfishness. I’m just in it for the cheap DVDs. But after scanning the sales papers Thursday morning, I realized that I already had most of the movies they were discounting. There were a few movies I wouldn’t mind having around but nothing worth fighting the crowds for. (I’d been hoping for GHOST RIDER but no luck.) But I noticed that Best Buy had the HBO TV series on sale for 50% off. My Father-in-Law has fallen in love with DEADWOOD and we’ve been getting him a season set each year, either for Christmas or his birthday. So I went ahead and ventured out. Since I was up anyway, I picked up a few cheapies for myself (ranging from $2.99-4.99 each.) I got LAYER CAKE, DAY AFTER TOMORROW, 48 HOURS, ROBOCOP 3, A SCANNER DARKLY, CRANK and a couple others. Nothing great but some good movies to have on in the background when I’m in my office working. I haven’t even seen the last two (going against my own rule of not buying a movie I haven’t seen yet) but figured, at that price, I’m not risking much. I also picked up SEINFELD Season 7 (two to go!) for 14 bucks.

Having gone to three different stores, I was beat and went home for breakfast and a recharge before heading back out with Christian to Velocity Comics. Christian wanted to hit the Black Friday sale and he’d heard that the voting on the Bring On The Bad Guys contest was going to start then. So I went with him to put in my vote for our Sphinx entry. Unfortunately, the owner had a setback and didn’t have the ballots ready. I bought the cheapest book I could find to be polite (my comic shop loyalties lie with Nostalgia Plus) and we split. Leaf was a little less restrained and practically needed a hand truck to haul out his loot.

Suzanne and I have been so busy with cleaning, cooking and shopping this past week that we haven’t had much time to feel down. But now that my parents have left and we’ve got the house to ourselves again, the old malaise is setting in again. I even had another moment tonight when I saw something I thought Mike would like* and made a mental note to call him about it only to have reality crash down on me again an instant later. I’ll be really glad when that stops happening.

Anyway, all things considered, we had a decent holiday. I hope all of you did the same.

*Suzanne and I were playing the Marvel Scene-It game that our friend Paul gave me last Christmas and it was just loaded with examples of Mike’s artwork.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Writing Again

When I first started this blog, I mentioned a writing project I was working on. SINGULARITY was something I'd been kicking around for going on 17 years. There were several reasons I hadn't done anything with it. (Besides the fact that I never do anything with anything.) I wasn't confident I could pull off the drawing part myself, I didn't know how to get it published, I'm a horrible procrastinator...but the worst part was that, over the years, I kept seeing parts of the story turn up in movies and TV shows like SPIDER-MAN 2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS. A major, major plot point even turned up in Erik Larsen's wonderful NOVA relaunch a while back. Each time this would happen, I'd tweak my plot a little to avoid the similarities. But it was the show HEROES last year that drove me to drop the story altogether. (SPOILER WARNING!) The brother character flies into the sky to avoid blowing up New York at the end of the season and then turns up alive at the beginning of this season with no memory of who he is but amazed at all these crazy powers he has. When I saw that, I threw my hands up and said, "I give up." It makes me sad because SINGULARITY was the favorite of my little "projects" and the one I really wanted to get published somehow. It was also my most personal because the main character is basically me. Well, me if I had majored in Quantum Physics in college instead of Filmmaking. So, it was with a heavy heart that I set SINGULARITY aside, probably for good.

However, in early August, my spirits were lifted. I was up on the roof of my gazebo and I was thinking of some of the books I'd been reading and some of the movies from my childhood that had come out on DVD and I started thinking it would be neat to do something geared toward kids. Most of my stuff is adult-oriented (no, not XXX) and kind of grim and melodramatic. But I've never done anything that was just fun. And I've never done horror. So, as I was sitting up there, hammering away, a story idea started forming in my head. Excited, I planned to run it by a friend or two, to see if they'd heard of anything similar (I'm gunshy now) but I never got the chance. When Mike passed away, all desire to write or draw anything ever again just went poof. Lately, out of desperation to think about something, anything else, I've gone back to working out the story in my head again. It's been very helpful. Since, with any luck, I DO plan to do something with this, I can't reveal anything about the story but I can show you this:

Unlike most of the sketches I do at work, I did think this one through ahead of time. This is one of the main characters in the, as yet, unnamed story. I've been doodling a lot, working late at night, trying to refine this guy's look. I'm still a ways off but I think I'm getting the feel for him.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now. If we don't hear from each other again before Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. It's no secret how much this holiday has meant to my family over the last 10 or 12 years and I guess you all know how tough it's going to be this year. I'm not sure how we'll handle it, but I suppose we'll figure something out. Despite all that's happened this year, I really do have a lot to be thankful for. I've got a lot of great friends and I've made quite a few more since August. I've got a beautiful wife and we're crazy about each other. And we have good jobs, a warm house and families that love us. So, have a nice one, folks and we'll try to do the same.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Online Comics

I just checked out Marvel’s new online comic downloading service. I’ve got sort of mixed emotions about it.

On the one hand, I like the idea of having instant access to back issues of books that aren’t out in trade paperback. While I have great affection for all the silver and bronze age Marvel stuff, I’m not prepared to plunk down a small fortune for the Marvel Masterworks and I understand that all that stuff isn’t really easily marketable in trade format. Who wants to pay 18-24 bucks for six or eight issues of done-in-one IRON MAN or DAREDEVIL in paperback? Besides me, that is. Up until now, I’ve relied on the Marvel ESSENTIALS line to get my fix and, while I love being able to see the artwork in black and white, a lot of this stuff really works best in color.

On the other hand, the whole thing has some drawbacks. For one, the site is slow as molasses. I don’t want to wait five or ten minutes (and I’m on a lightning-fast connection) only to find out I clicked on the wrong issue. For another, since you’re just renting the books (it’s online only), the price is a little steep. $9.99 a month or $59.88 per year. I can’t see them attracting many casual comic readers with that kind of expense.

My biggest concern is whether or not the creators are being compensated in any way. I know that Marvel recently started putting artwork on CORBIS, the stock photo site used by companies (like the ad agency where I work.) I also know that the artists that created that artwork don’t get spit. This is one of the reasons there are so many covers on current books with heroes just standing there looking cool. The artists have to sign away any future rights to the work if they want to get paid and that leaves the publisher free to use the artwork on T-shirts, posters, lunchboxes, toy packaging, etc., without having to pay those lucrative freelance fees for merchandising art. I can’t help but wonder if online comics is yet another way for publishers to get around paying creators for royalties based on how many copies of a given book are sold. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any inside information on the subject. This is just guessing on my part. My only hope is that if there isn’t a plan in place to give the guys who created these great comics a slice of this digital pie, then there’s one forthcoming.

This is the very close to the issue at the heart of the current Hollywood writers strike. (Royalties on DVD sales and online downloads.) If artists and writers aren’t making any money on this latest venture, then it seems to me that the American comics industry is very fortunate that the creative folk never unionized.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More Musical Musings

Usually, as you can tell from some of my long-winded posts, I’m a soundtrack guy. I love movie music. John Powell, Basil Poledouris and John Williams are household names at the ‘Ringo Ranch. But there was a time when I actually listened to the radio and kept up with the Billboard Top 40. Lately, I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite music from the past and it’s been a lot of fun. To help alleviate the sheer boredom of driving back and forth to Durham each weekend (and to cheer myself up), I’d been listening to Mike’s impressive collection of stand-up comic albums. They didn’t last long, though, and I had to find something else. So I started digging through some old CDs and came up with some real gems.

Back in college, I was a huge Guns ‘n’ Roses fan. Mike had bought APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION on a whim as we were heading out of town at the start of the school year and as we listened to it on the trip to VCU (along with my purchase, AC/DC’s WHO MADE WHO…um, technically a soundtrack) we were stunned. We’d never heard anything like it and I was hooked. Later, when I moved to Norfolk to start a video production company with a friend, I was flat broke. When my parents sent me some money for my birthday, I went out and bought, not food, but G’n’R’s USE YOUR ILLUSION I and II. Two-and-a-half hours of Axl Rose and the gang at their best…and worst. While APPETITE was raw and energetic, ILLUSION was like a really talented kid finally getting to play with some big expensive toys and having the time of his life. The band was criticized for “selling out” by using orchestral arrangements and backup singers but I say eff ‘em. Any time you can find a metal head who knows how to write music for an orchestra, I’m plunking down my scratch. When I got lost trying to make my way from Norfolk to Fayetteville, NC for Suzanne’s Grandmother’s wedding, UYI kept me from losing my mind. It’s been great reacquainting myself with this album.

One of our college roommates was a guy from Southeast Virginia coal country named Eric Ritchie. He was great guy but he was like nobody I’d ever met. He had long curly blonde hair, a goatee and spoke with the thickest southern accent I’d ever encountered. He also had an incredible collection of CDs from every obscure metal band you could think of…Voivod, the Misfits, Celtic Frost…and he treated them with reverence. He would sneak off every once in a while to see these bands in concert when we never knew they were coming to town. And this was back in the days before the Internet. It was like he was tuned in to some psychic metal-head network. Frankly, it all sounded the same to me. But, with my tastes, I’m not about to criticize. One album he had, though, I really liked. He played Metallica’s AND JUSTICE FOR ALL for us one day and I was an instant convert. I immediately went out and bought two or three of their previous albums and wore them out. That started a decade-long obsession with the band that, sadly, ended when we saw their abysmally bad live concert in Virginia Beach a few years ago. But AND JUSTICE FOR ALL remains a high point in my musical memory.

Finally, as I’ve been cruising iTunes, looking for more albums lost in the mists of time, I came across two that really got my blood pumping:

Joe Satriani’s FLYING IN A BLUE DREAM. I know what you’re thinking. Joe Satriani? Are you kidding? Well, Suzanne got a couple of his albums recently from a vendor and I started listening to them. They’re okay but they didn’t evoke the feelings I got from BLUE DREAM, so I listened to the samples on iTunes to see what I was missing. Holy cow, that brought back memories. Back in college, all I knew of the guy was that he’d used the Silver Surfer on one of his album covers. My girlfriend at the time was pestering me to go see him in concert as he was appearing on campus to promote the release of BLUE DREAM. I put up a fight because the concert was during my late-night Animation class and I was already on thin ice with the instructor. Plus, I hated spending all that money on somebody I’d never heard. She kept at it, though and I figured if I didn’t want her going with the disgustingly handsome guy in her Chemistry class that was always showing up where we were, I’d better cave in. So we went. Oh, man, was that an amazing concert. Turns out that, though she hated the music I listened to, she knew Satriani was mostly instrumental and she was trying to meet me halfway. I’ve only seen a handful of concerts in my life but that ranks in the top two or three. I immediately went out and bought the album and played it over and over. It’s been about fifteen years since I last listened to it so, when I started clicking on the tracks on iTunes, I felt like a young buck again.

David Lee Roth’s SKYSCRAPER. This was another of Mike’s albums in college. At this point, our class schedules had really started to go off in different directions and he was letting me use his car for my night classes. SKYSCRAPER was in his tape player and, while I busied myself with burning out his clutch, I played that sucker over and over. Listening to it on iTunes, I’m not sure what it was that appealed to me so much. But hearing it again gave me a pleasant feeling, so I can’t complain.

There were others, like Queen’s A KIND OF MAGIC, ZZ Top’s ELIMINATOR and Robert Cray’s STRONG PERSUADER, but I’ve embarrassed myself enough and this post has gone waaaay longer than I’d intended. Later!

Veteran's Day

Today is an important day. It's one of those national "holidays" that gets easily forgotten because, well, nobody gets the day off from work. But the day has double meaning for me and my family. Not only is November 11th the day we remember and honor the men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect our way of life, but it's also my father's birthday. Dad was in the Army for 20 years and served during two wars, Korea and Vietnam. I suspect this year, this day will be particularly difficult for him so I plan to call him early. "Happy Birthday" doesn't seem appropriate but I'll think of something.

So regardless of how you feel about the current war we find ourselves in, if you know a veteran, (say, Nick Cardy, Todd?) make sure you call them or just give them a hug. Just because this day isn't on your holiday-radar doesn't mean it's not verrrry important to them.

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!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Still nothing to show art-wise but I thought I'd post about something that crossed my mind. I was thumbing through the second volume of ESSENTIAL GHOST RIDER the other day and came across an issue drawn by Jim Starlin in which GR races against Death on a motorcycle. That got me thinking about all the great fill-in issues Marvel used to have. Most people remember the great runs that regular creative teams had. Miller and Janson on DAREDEVIL. Micheline, Romita, Jr. and Layton on IRON MAN. Claremont and Byrne on UNCANNY X-MEN. And those were terrific reading. But nobody ever talks about the memorable fill-in issues.

Back then, the most important thing was getting the books out on time every month. For insurance against a sick regular-artist or some other unforseeable problem, the editors would stockpile "inventory" stories, completely written and drawn and just sitting in a drawer waiting to be unleashed. In those days, before mega-company-wide crossovers and endless "event" epics, most storylines were done-in-ones or, at most two or three issues long. That made it a lot easier to just slip in an inventory story to meet a deadline should the need arise. A lot of folks found fill-ins annoying but not me. I thought they were great little visual treats. A way to see another artist's take on a character and it allowed you to see a stagnating character in a whole new light.

These are the covers to some of my favorite fill-ins. Jim Starlin did three of them (IRON MAN #55, GHOST RIDER #35 and INCREDIBLE HULK #222.) Mike and I had an unwritten agreement that certain artists (Starlin and Byrne among them) were exclusive to him. If they were assigned to a book, he'd get to buy it. The only exception to this was the fill-in. So, when these guys drew an issue of one of the books that I got to buy, it was a special treat for me. Mike and I traded collections back and forth all the time (though I could never pry the X-MEN or CAPTAIN MARVEL books away from him). At the time these fill-ins showed up, I was buying the books. Starlin always brought a realistic moodiness to his books and it really got me excited. I read those books over and over.

It was the same with Paul Smith's IRON MAN fill-in. It was the first time I'd ever seen his artwork and it was a real eye-opener. It's certainly not his best work but it was so raw and full of energy, like nothing I'd ever seen before. He managed to have ol' Shellhead showing expressions with his iron mask.

While not exactly fill-ins, I got the same "treat" from the Annuals and Giant-Size issues that came out then. A lot of the stories that showed up in those comics probably came from the same drawer as the fill-in issues. John Byrne did a great SPIDER-MAN annual (with X-MEN partner Terry Austin) and INCREDIBLE HULK annual (with Bob Layton) at the time. I read those two books to tatters and practically copied the HULK annual panel for panel, trying to draw like Byrne.

Sadly, those days are gone. In this era of trade paperback collections and fluid deadlines, there's no longer any need for the inventory drawer. Modern readers would rather wait three or more months for the next issue of their favorite comic than be emotionally scarred by getting a fill-in issue in the middle of their super-mega-Earth-shattering-crossover-epic. That's a real shame. I really miss the pleasant surprise of opening up a new comic to find it drawn by somebody completely different and containing a story completely unrelated to anything else. To paraphrase a line from THE INCREDIBLES, when every comic is special, none of them are.

So, what are your favorite fill-ins?


I'm no longer a member of the John Byrne Forum messageboard and can't post on this topic but I found it interesting. Just not interesting enough for its own post. Apparently everybody there is in agreement that similarities between two books (LIVING WITH THE DEAD and LIVING WITH ZOMBIES) warrant legal action. I find this amusing since nobody mentions the fact that, based on the nature of the complaints, George Romero should be able to sue everybody, including Marvel Comics for intellectual property theft. I haven't read ZOMBIES but I am reading LIVING WITH THE DEAD and it seems to me that neither would exist without Romero's movies. The same goes for MARVEL ZOMBIES, XXXOMBIES, WALKING DEAD, blah blah blah. I love zombie comics as much as the next guy but lets not go throwing stones in glass houses.


Nevermind. Somebody just made that very point on the messageboard. Hey! He stole my idea!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Back Again

Well, I'm back. Have been for a couple of days. I was hoping to have a drawing for my first post back but I'm feeling incredibly lazy this week. I think it's the cold. (Well, that and a week of hard labor in Durham.) We had our first fire of the season in the fireplace yesterday and I just vegged in front of the TV watching football. Tried about a dozen or so thumbnails but nothing worth finishing.

One of my co-workers is going to be out the entire month of December for personal reasons so my department head wants me to take all my remaining vacation by Thanksgiving. I was trying to save some for another trip to Durham but that may not work out. She's been pushing me to take more days off this week. Well, don't throw me in that briar patch. That should give me time to work up a sketch or two to share with you. And I've been putting off some work around the house in favor of dealing with the business in Durham. This past summer, we had a leak under one of our bathrooms and I ended up having to rip out the wall and ceiling in the den closet. I fixed the drywall but never had time to finish painting. Maybe now I can.

Durham went well. We got a lot done and there's not much left to deal with. Which is good news. As much as I've been denying it, spending time in that big empty house has taken its toll, emotionally. Last week was very difficult. Whenever I finished a project, I had time to think and that was when it would get bad. As long as I was shovelling gravel or scrubbing down the deck, I was fine. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel when the house is eventually sold. On the one hand, it's a bit of an albatross right now but, when it's finally off our hands, it's liable to be a little painful, like saying goodbye all over again.

It was nice to see Andrew and Vanessa at Chapel Hill Comics again. I took Thursday afternoon off from working and drove to their shop to say, "hi." Their shop is wonderful and it's obvious that Mike liked it very much. It's quite a hike there from Mike's house and it's not a straight shot. So either he was very happy with Chapel Hill Comics or he reeeeeally enjoyed co-ed watching on campus at UNC-CH. I also visited the shop that was about five minutes from the house off Guess Road and I wasn't that impressed. If you're in the area, Chapel Hill Comics is definitely the place to go.

Anyway, it's good to be back. Check back in a day or so and I should have a drawing up.