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.

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