Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Simpson Sampler IV: Spidey in the Crosshairs!

Below are thumbnails and small scans of the finished pages of a sample I created in 2002 of Spider-Man. This particular round of samples, created in an attempt to land freelance work from Marvel, had the distinction of being personally rejected by Axel Alonso, then editor of a Spider-Man anthology that utilized alternative creators like Peter Bagge. And when I say personally rejected, I mean I made my one and only visit to New York and the Marvel offices in order to have five minutes of his valuable time to tell me my work as a curious hybrid of John Romita and Jack Davis (one of the more astute remarks I've ever gotten from a mainstream editor, as it so happens).

[Interspersed is my original plot, from the original text document.]

"Four Letter Word"

J. Jonah Jameson, at his desk in his office at the Bugle, trying to figure out the paper's crossword puzzle.

17 Across: To tug, suddenly

Jonah goes through various expressions of frustration, exasperation, befuddlement, etc.

Looks through crossword dictionary, throughs it into wastepaper basket in anger.

Robbie Robertson sticks his head into the office, concerned at loud noise.

Jonah asks Robbie.  Robbie shrugs.

Jonah goes to door of office, holding folded paper and pencil, quizzes his perky receptionist.  She doesn't know the answer.

Jonah asks the even quirkier punkette intern making photocopies, a flat-chested, tattooed, gum-chewing brat.  She doesn't have a clue either.  She give Jonah the finger once his back is turned, as he storms back into his office.

Close up of puzzle - answer in tomorrow's Bugle.  Jonah gets an idea - smiles!

Calls down to puzzle/features department.  The stern librarian-looking editor scolds him, wagging her finger.  She can't divulge the answers!

Jonah pulling his hair out.  Paper nearly in shreads.  About to give up.  Jonah, resignedly, looks forlornly at the paper.  Doesn't see behind him, out window, as Spidey swings up.

Spidey, taking a perch upside down outside the window, below the sill, looks in curiously at Jonah.

Jonah, gesturing with his hands, eyes closed, says something out loud.

Spidey, hands to his mouth, yells something at Jonah.

Eureka!  Jonah has the answer at last!  Pencils in the word 'jerk'.

Jonah beams.  Then his face falls into a not-amused frown.

As Spidey swings away chuckling to himself, Jonah shouts and waves fist at him angrily leaning out of the open window.

Anyway, the thumbnails and final versions tell a little story of J. Jonah Jameson struggling to complete his own paper's crossword puzzle, calling the puzzle's editor for some extra clues (she scolds him for trying to cheat), and finally Spider-Man dropping by, uttering the only dialogue in the sequence, and inadvertently solving the puzzle. I thought it was kind of clever.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, it is a bit astonishing to me as I look back on these samples to see the level of mastery and craft one could attain and still get no response from the major publishers. This, coupled with what I considered the dreadful level of craft manifest in the books since the 1970s ... but then, I'm sorta biased. Some would say it is simply a changing of style; as I've written elsewhere, I think the cognitive skill of drawing has all but vanished from our civilization.

Keep those submissions coming! Failed Pitch One | Two | Three | Inferior Five!

Many Are Called: An Inferior Inferior Five Pitch!

In 2002, after I illustrated "Batman 5.0" for Bizarro World (which didn't come out until 2005), DC editor Joey Cavalieri suggested I submit a pitch to revamp The Inferior Five, a spoof comic book series from the 1960s. I went out and located the back issues, read them, and came up with a piece of art and a 3-page conceptual outline, which I reproduce below. The pitch obviously went nowhere, and like several other pitches I've posted on this blog, the experience soured me on trying to obtain work from the big comic book publishers. Now, looking back, it's probably just as well that DC didn't waste the paper publishing my take on the Inferior Five! Enjoy.

Hey Joey C.,

Your comments on the phone last night are all well taken. I agree that character-based humor is preferable to self-conscious "we're in a comic book" humor. I'll try to upgrade such instances as the project evolves (almost always better ideas occur to me once I'm 'on the ground' and actually producing art pages). Forgive the few instances herein where imagination fails and I feel I need to keep the plot moving! I'm always open to suggestions for improvement.

White Feather's proposed gayness is humourous only in the sense that he thinks the revelation is going to be shocking to his teammates, when in fact it's anything but. In fact, my point would be that coming out is currently so hip that it's verging on being overused. As for how I would treat it down the road, I would point to Doonesbury's Mark, in other words, matter of factly, not something to be a source of guffaws. It's also the best plausible explanation I can think of for his absurd (and not very funny) behavior in the past.

I also realize that parodying/pastiching DC characters will be more hassle-free than trying to get them to officially guest star, for narrative as well as editorial reasons. Heck, that's been my stock in trade. I've enjoyed enormous creative freedom by this parodic sleight of hand, but at the same time it's made me a sissy when it comes to editorial elbowing and political machinations. Maybe if we get this thing off the ground, DC will learn to trust me enough to have some of the funnier characters (i.e. Plastic Man and Ambush Bug) drop in on the IF.

Rather than try to project the story arc for the first six issues, I've decided to concentrate on the 'pilot episode' (in reality probably the first two issues), which reintroduces the stars and sets up the basic premise for an ongoing series. Since so much of my stuff is character-driven, as you point out, I really need to work with the characters before subsequent events will begin to suggest themselves. In particular, with new characters such as the Superior Seven, I will need to decide on who or what I intend to parody, and get my pencil involved (in other words, draw them), before I'll know where things will go. (So much of my humor depends on names and visuals, and I can site numerous instances in Megaton Man where minor characters surprisingly grew to become major players with involved sub-plots.)

As for creative duties, as you know I'm capable of penciling, inking, writing, coloring and lettering (hand or digital) and can even design the logo. However, I'm more than open to collaboration for the sake of frequency. For my part, I think a monthly 20 pages of art and script is readily doable. I'd be happy to work with DC's stable of digital talent for coloring and lettering, or I could work with one or more assistants locally, and provide you with one stop shopping.

That said, here's the new hopefully slightly improved pitch for the first couple of issues of the Inferior Five. 

The piece of art I created for the Inferior Five pitch.

 The Inferior Five: "Secretive Origins and the Coming of the Superior Seven"

We begin with a brief "Wonderfella" set piece (Wonderfella is the superhero comic strip that cartoonist Myron Victor, aka Merryman, draws). Just as all looks hopeless for Wonderfella, we're yanked into reality, where Victor is being let go by the All Purpose Funny Book Company, in favor of trendier artists and edgier storylines. As Victor is booted from the premises, he sees the Inferior Five signal beaming brightly in the sky above Megalopolis.

Elsewhere, Athena Tremor, aka Dumb Bunny, who is not so much dumb as religiously devoted to the superficial, has become the head of Dumb Bunny Omnimedia, an empire consisting of fitness tapes and fashion magazines, all revolving around Athena's charismatic, if shallow, personality. However, news breaks that Athena had insider information when she sold her shares of I'm-a-clone Inc. when her friend, the owner, told her human cloning was impractical -- having babies is just as fast. Dumb Bunny Omnimedia comes crumbling down, and Athena is reduced to being an artist's model again, until she sees the IF signal in the sky...

Across town, William King, aka White Feather, continues his career as a famous fashion photographer, shooting the loveliest women on earth, all of whom insist on coming on to him. Naturally, he spurns their advances, and after work, when a manly bunch of fashion photographers invite him to a weekend of shooting grizzlies, climbing sheer cliffs, and white water rafting, he declines, fearing injury to his good looks. Later, in a bar over a beer with a male friend, he declares he just can't get into the rugged, macho fashion photog lifestyle his career seems to demand. The friend is sympathetic. William is suddenly struck by a thought -- "You don't suppose I'm gay, do you?" The friend assures him of course not, while we pull back to see that everyone in the bar is male. Just then, the IF signal is televised on the bar TV...

Meanwhile, Herman Cramer, aka the Blimp, has a wildly successful deli and catering biz, but has become obsessed with losing weight, so much so that he's developed a diet line of deli foods. These foods actually make people lose weight as they're eating them, but Herman himself still, frustratingly, maintains his large size, and yet is parodoxically lighter than air. A national food distributor is about to take on Herman's line, but at the last minute declines, because of the appearance of the line's creator. "But can't you see? I look big, but I'm still lighter than air!" It doesn't matter, since the public won't buy diet food from a fat guy. Luckily, Herman spots the IF signal above Megalopolis...

And finally, Leander Brent, aka Awkwardman, fulfills his duties on the beach as a lifeguard, reading an old Dick Briefer Frankenstein comic (or maybe a Wonderfella issue), until he hears the call for help from some little boy who's drowning. Doing a huge belly flop, Leander inundates everyone else in the water as well as on the crowded beach, but manages to rescue the sputtering boy. Striding ashore, a Baywatch-type babe, who would be his boss, fires him on the spot -- Leander's too clumsy and stupid to be a lifeguard. Pondering what else he can do with not skills and a desire to lounge on the beach all day, he spies the IF signal...

The original pencil logo I created, translated later into Adobe Illustrator.

Assembling at the IF's rundown inner-city HQ, the five, in costume, ponder who might have set off the IF signal. Apparently it's been quite a long time since the group has been together or seen one another. Just then the phone rings, and it's Merryman's mom, Lady Liberty, who wants to know when the IF is going to visit their parents, the Freedom Brigade (basically the JSA), at the old heroes retirement home. Merryman scolds his mom that this isn't an appropriate use of the IF signal, but the IF decides it's a good idea to pay the old folks a visit anyway.

Downstairs, the IF finds the jalopy called the Gold Bug and it's driver, Plato, waiting for them. Expecting to find a bunch of doddering old coots in wheel chairs at the home, the IF is surprised to find the Freedom Brigade as a bunch of robust teenagers, frolicking in the pool and tennis courts, having so much youthful fun it's practically an orgy. The IF asks them how this is possible. Princess Powerful says they've been revamped, and holds up a perscription drug bottle marked "Revamp", a wonder drug that has Viagra beat hands down. But if they never retired, why did they force their kids -- the IF -- to go into the family business of superheroics, which they were so inept at? Princess Powerful responds that it was the Sixties, with drugs, riots and Viet Nam -- they wanted to keep their kids out of danger, and fighting crime, even ineptly, seemed like a safe haven.

Anyway, the Freedom Brigade is very proud of the fact they look so good, being grandparents and all. Grandparents??? That's right, Merryman suddenly remembers. "We have teenage kids! We should probably pay them a visit too, in their high-tech hangout across town." And in short order, we are introduced to The Superior Seven. (Numerous other revelations occur in the scene between IF and FB, including various philandering parents and how the Blimp's costume actually works, but I'll save that for later drafts). 

The IF is awed by the high-tech 'danger room' like technology of the Superior Seven's hangout. Before they even meet the Seven, the IF runs a gauntlet of robots, lasers and other automated defense devices that have detected their intrusion. Finally, after the parodic pyrotechnics, the IF comes face to face with the Superior Seven, seven surly types taken from today's hot comics. (Note: I'll name names if I get the gig, but suffice it to say for now that I'll try to step on toes evenly throughout the industry. The SS will consist of Post-mutant, post-image grim and gritty angst-ridden teens who needless to say will contrast immediately with their parents, the Inferior Five). The kids are none too thrilled that their embarassing parents have dropped by, and it's a real effort for them just to be civil to them. What other superhero team has such uncool parents?

Meanwhile, the Inferior Five's various old adversaries (I'll try to include as many from the original series as possible) gather in a secret place elsewhere in Megalopolis, and plot the downfall of the IF. They too are ageless, and have a new generation of offspring (parodying Manga, Vertigo, Extreme/Ultimate/Marvel Knights and whatever else we can dream up).

(That's what I have so far, Joey C. I know it kind of trails off, but hopefully it's sufficient in this state to ellicit an affirmative response from the Powers That Be. I think I've addressed your major concerns and at the same time opened up the premise to a lot of possibilities down the road. As a veteran of a few series, I can say that the trick will be finding the right pace, and this pitch as it stands already shows a good deal more forethought than some of the seat-of-the-pants projects I've initiated in the past! The older and more 'seasoned' a pro I become, I tend to be a much more careful planner in the plot (and even full script) stage than I was as a young buck. I look forward to developing The Inferior Five further with you. Let me know whatcha think!)

Well, that was it!

I remember that this pitch, such as it was, was both further than I had gone in thinking through any big-company pitch, and also, still pretty threadbare. What made composing this pitch difficult was an almost complete lack of enthusiasm for the original series, which I recalled from my childhood with some fondness, but reread for the occasion, and found pretty uneven and mostly dreadful.

I will say that revisiting the extant Inferior Five corpus through this ordeal made me appreciate the brilliance of such humorous masterpieces as Marie Severin's Not Brand Echh, which seemed almost on the level with Harvey Kurtzman's Mad by comparison. IF was weak tea indeed, with very little reason to exist except to provide the lamest kind of "ha-ha" jokes, which has never been my forte. Whether I would have been able to turn it into something worthwhile as a series we will never know!


Keep those submissions coming! Failed Pitch One | Two | Three

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lost in Open Space: A Complete Never-Before Seen Story!

Here's one I know you've never seen, because no one has ever seen it since the day it was drawn and turned in to the publisher! It is a complete 10-page story intended for Open Space, a science fiction anthology published under a now-defunct imprint: Marvel Graphics. The series was edited by Carol Kalish and associate editor Kurt Busiek, and ostensibly featured a "shared" future universe (I remember a large photocopied "Bible" that was sent to me, naming planets, intergalactic corporations, etc.).

I had drawn a story that appeared in #3 (June 1990), and this story was slotted for #6 (December 1990, by my calculations). Unfortunately, the series ended with #4, and the story never saw the light of day.

The artwork was never returned to me (I was told it was Marvel policy not to return stories that were not yet printed), but I did get bluelines to color (the artwork photographically transferred, like a blueprint, to high-quality illustration board, to be colored with watercolor, gouache, Cel-Vinyl, etc.).

These bluelines (which I never colored, since the book was cancelled in mid-production) included a film positive overlay, which is what these images are scanned from, and are now my only record of the story.

The script is by Joe Clifford Faust, whom I don't believe I've ever met, and I hope I have the pagination correct (the pages did not have any record of numbering). It is interesting to speculate where the series would have gone. I know the main reason I was hired for the project (and one of the few artists to have created two stories for the series) was because of my work on my science fiction series Border Worlds, which featured lots of hardware in outer space.

I never seemed to get many assignments where I got to draw recognizable, big-name characters (my humorous work on Megaton Man pigeon-holed me away from most mainstream "serious" characters), but it was always nice when I at least got the opportunity to draw the female figure in a freelance assignment (storytelling is hard work, and I took my narrative pleasures where I could find them). I was lucky that both of my Open Space stories featured female characters.

For whatever inane reason, I would simply follow the script (for Wasteland, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, American Splendor, or damn near any assignment I was given at the time), and if there was a point of character or plot I didn't understand, I would just muddle through. That approach seems utterly insane to me now, particularly with email so prevalent (not to mention search engines making visual research infinitely easier), and no doubt why I look back on so many freelance assignments from that era with mixed feelings.

I don't know if I would ever have been asked to write a story for Open Space eventually myself. I can tell you in those days it was difficult for me to draw stories that other people wrote; it took all the discipline I could muster to work up the enthusiasm to do a creditable job. This was because I was used to drawing my own ideas, for which one innately has enthusiasm, but also due to a lack of experience.

My earliest freelance assignments (for DC's Wasteland circa 1987-89) are pretty choppy because of this difficulty, although by the time I drew Splitting Image (for Image Comics, 1993), some five years later, I had learned to approach the work more professionally, and turn in a creditable job every time. It was a learning curve.

This story, "Difficult Choices," was pretty far along on that curve. I was learning to do a thorough job, regardless of whether a script particularly grabbed me, and it seems to have turned out pretty good. I don't know why, in retrospect, why I didn't get on the phone and call up the various writers I worked with during those years (John Ostrander, Del Close, Joe Clifford Faust) and make an effort to get inside their heads; that is certainly what I would do know.

But I flatter myself to think that sooner or later, if a steady stream of Open Space assignments had continued, I would have thought up some ideas of my own, pitched, them, and gotten to draw them myself. Perhaps I could have become the Lord God Emperor of the Open Space universe! (But probably not.)

No doubt one of the reasons Open Space did not take hold was because, while it was a shared universe (like a superhero universe), it did not featuring recurring, or for that matter all that spectacular characters (like a superhero universe). They featured more-or-less real people (like the shoe protagonist of this tale) who did fantastic things (like fly around in space), but not in a particularly spectacular way. That's the problem with science fiction (and take it from someone who has tried his hand at it), cerebral material isn't always visual material.

Artwork is copyright the artist. All relevant characters, names, images and text created by Don Simpson are ™ and © Don Simpson 2018, all rights reserved. Other properties are owned by their respective owners.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Simpson Sampler III: Webs, Rocks, and Roughs!

More petulant postings in the resentful retro manner! Some past samples I worked up to obtain freelance work from the big boys around 2002. The Web vs. The Rock was never submitted, but was a fun idea to work on.

Colorized Web Man!

The first page (incomplete), as Web Man lands to confront Rock Man!

A second shot at the same idea, with more background.

Rock Man shatters, but reassembles! Wallopin' Web-Snappers!

A sheet of sketchbook scribbles as I worked out these ideas in rough form.

A second sketchbook page of Webby and Rocky!

We'll end this post with a figure I drew as an inking demo for my Carnegie Museum of Art Cartoonist's Sketchbook workshop circa 2007!

Simpson Sampler I Updated with rough sketches! | Simpson Sampler II updated with rough sketches!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Simpson Sampler II: More Exiled Rejects!

Here is another set of samples I created (pencil and ink on Bristol board, from my own plot idea) and pitched to a big NY company, around 2002. I actually paid a visit to the offices, having an inside contact, and got five minutes with the editor. I will never forget this jackass and his sneer as he looked over my work. To much like Wally Wood, Joe Sinnott, and John Veerpoorten for the new millennium! What a jackass. Enjoy!

Sketchbook roughs of pages 1 and 5.

Sketchbook roughs of pages 6 and 2.

Sketchbook roughs of pages 4 and 3.


Simpson Sampler I: Golden-Age Meltdown! | Simpson Sampler III: Web-Rocks!

Simpson Sampler I: Retro Rejects Circa Y2K!

Just to show young aspiring cartoonist the level of mastery one can achieve and still be completely ignored by major publishers, I offer this 5-page story sampler I created for an outfit in New York, and submitted around the year 2000. (In fairness, at other times I did create a handful of pages of art for them). The plot is my own, as are the pencils and inks; note that melting your boy sidekick out of a block of ice - an idea later exploited in a major movie franchise - was my own original idea ...

The team has a surprise for the old World War II veteran!

The Veteran recalls losing his boy sidekick, who perished while trying to defuse a buzz bomb!

Surprise! The boy sidekick, like the Veteran years before, was frozen in a block of ice! Suspended animation!

The android lets his tool go limp, and electrify the puddle of melt runoff!

The android reverts to his golden age form - and combusts!

On the other hand, now that I look at the panel I quickly colored above, perhaps one reason no editor at the House of Ideas would hire me was the hugely phallic device the android uses to both melt the block of ice and accidentally reactivate his  own golden age self - but this is purely speculation.

Speaking of team books, below is an ink sample over a long-running penciler, who was kind enough to provide with photocopies of his penciled pages. Presumably it was too much like Sinnott, Wood, and Veerporten to result in any work in the early 2000s

While I appreciated the penciler giving me a shot to work over actual layouts, I would have gone nuts as an inker. I did several pages in a row from this issue, and found the layouts to be incredibly pedestrian, the body language stiff, and the storytelling slow as molasses. I prefer doing (at least) the entire art job myself, and the story and lettering as well whenever possible. Being such a stickler has limited my opportunities!

Original pencil layout (photocopy), which I lightboxed (traced) onto Bristol board, then inked with crowquill, brush, and India ink.

Years later, I sold the samples (which I had light-table onto Bristol board) to a fan, and the penciler contacted me and accused me of forgery, apparently having forgotten ever meeting me. I had to remind him that he was the source of the photocopies that were my source. He never apologized and I never heard from him again. 'Nuff said!

Simpson Sampler II: Exilic Exodus! | Simpson Sampler III: Web-Rocks!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Rogues' Gallery: Secret Origins #41 (June 1989)

Here is a freelance job I drew and lettered from a script by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn of Blue Devil fame (and I believe they also performed at weddings!). This is one of those work-for-hire assignments that earned me a rep as a primadonna hack from my erstwhile publisher, but I think it turned out rather well, and still holds up. In fact, I've always been rather fond of this piece, as it shows a more serious, relaxed superhero style emerging out of the overworked early Megaton Man and Border Worlds, just as the opening chapter of my career at Kitchen Sink Press was coming to a close.