Monday, July 5, 2021

Lost Marvel Sample Pages from 1983-84!

Below are some sample pages I began but never finished that were intended to get me work at Marvel circa 1983-84. Ostensibly a Fantastic Four story (with Doctor Doom and Daredevil), it was no doubt an update of FF #73, a battered copy of which I had in those days. It was one of the few mainstream superhero comics I had lying around, having sold my collection of well-read comics I'd accumulated as a reader in the 1970s; by the 1980s, I was into undergrounds, French Les Humanoides Associes or Heavy Metal science fiction, and classic reprints of EC, American newspaper strips, and so on. (That copy of FF #73, by the way, sacrificed its price and issue box as well as the Comics Code seal for a mock Megatropolis Quartet cover in Megaton Man #1.)

Judging from the page numbering, the story was originally to run to six or more pages; no other notes, thumbnails, roughs or anything else exist but these three pages (2, 4, and 6), and since these are unfinished, it leads me to believe I never even started the others. The penciling looks so tight in spots as to appear traced (a good example is the Daredevil figure in page 4, panel 4); if so, I would have been working from some kind of rough layouts (now lost). Maybe pages 1, 2, and 3 were sold long ago to collectors; I honestly can't recall at this point.

All three pages are on Strathmore one-ply Bristol, also evidence that I was tracing roughs, but where I would have had access to a light table in those days is a mystery, since I didn't own one. (Perhaps former roommate Mike Kazaleh permitted me to use his animation table? He was still living in the neighborhood within walking distance from my Detroit apartment on West Forest.)

What is evident from looking at the art is that I was using white Zip-a-Tone (like over the space ship in page 2, panel 1 and the Sue Storm figure in page 2, panel 3), a regular Zip with scratched highlights on Doc Doom (page 2, panel 4). These techniques were employed on the early issues of Megaton Man (see #1-4), and I might have assayed these samples after completing Megaton Man #1 and awaiting to hear back from publishers in the spring of 1984.

Also of note is the use of white-out and the panel borders on page 4, the corners of which await cleaning up. (British artists, I understood at the time, ran their borderlines past the corners and whited out; I didn't often do that after I turned pro.)

Why I didn't complete them is unclear. The most probable reason is that Megaton Man #1 found a publisher, and ongoing issues kept me busy. But I was conflicted about work-for-hire for the big publishers anyway. Whether my interpretation of the characters or my style would have sold to any of the Marvel editors is anyone's guess; whether I would have been satisfied as a mainstream freelancer is also an open question. While I set these aside unfinished, I did attempt other samples years later (mostly for Marvel), many of which I have published elsewhere on this blog.

Characters that are not my property are 
™ and © the respective owners. All other character names, likenesses, words and pictures on this page are ™ and © Don Simpson 2021, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Penciling CRAZY! (and Some Sketches that Never Flew!)

Below are scans of the original pencils for my contributions to CRAZY!, the one-shot published by Marvel Entertainment in October 2019. "The No-Prizes" was drawn from a plot by Frank Tieri and John Cirelli; the "Galactus Go-Kart" pin-up was written (if you want to call that writing!) by me.

You'll either have to imagine your own funny dialogue (it shouldn't be hard!) or buy the printed comic to see how it all turned out! You'll see inking by Dexter Vines and colors by Federico Blee ("Galactus Go-Kart") and inks by Walden Wong and colors by Dono Sánchez Almira ("The No-Prizes").

A lot of the ideas discussed with editor Mark Paniccia revolved around the Thanos Copter in one form or another. The Galactus Go-Kart was intended as one in a series of "Crazy Villain Vehicles" I had in mind along the lines of the Thanos Copter, but none of 'em got off the ground, so to speak. (I did work the copter into "The No-Prizes," but somehow it came out purple instead of yellow. Go figure!) Here are the sketches:

For more finished art that didn't make the grade, click here!

Read the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series! New YA prose chapter every Friday!

Not Branded Yet! Stuff You Won't See in CRAZY!

Followers on my social media know I was lucky enough to get an email from Marvel Entertainment senior editor Mark Paniccia back in May asking if I'd like to contribute to a 40-page one-shot revival of CRAZY! I teach college writing during the fall and spring semesters, and school had just let out, and I was a little rusty at the ol' drawing board, but I said, "Why not?!"

Colorized Spidey. Detail of a page below.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Penciling Justice Machine #12

I don't recall how I came to pencil the interiors of Justice Machine #12 (Comico, December 1987), but I do recall disappointed at how it turned out. The lettering wasn't what I had envisioned, and the inking was somewhat rushed. Of course, I had never drawn a comic book that I hadn't scripted, lettered, and inked myself, and had control over the color. But even so, I had much higher hopes for this, one of my first "mainstream" superhero penciling jobs.

Ten years earlier, Mike Gustovich, the book's creator and inker over my pencils, had been one of the first pros I had ever met (at one of Stu Shapiro/Todd Loren's Fantasticons at Sans Souci Hall in Farmington, Michigan). He always had trouble drawing women, but Mike was awesomely talented when he took his time. He had a great Wrightsonish superhero style on his Cobalt Blue work for Michigan's Power Comics. Unfortunately, ten years later, he had devolved into a total deadline-driven hack.

When I was tapped for the job of penciling this issue of Justice Machine, I recall hoping that in some small way I would be helping Mike out insofar as he'd be able to take his time on the inking and the final result would justify the series' (and his career's) early promise.

I was also hoping, as an example of what I could do with "straight" superhero work, that this freelance assignment would lead to more mainstream jobs along those lines.

No such luck. The final result appears as if Mike inked eight pages a day with a trowel to get the title back on schedule, pure and simple. I always considered that a profound shame. This was before the days of convenient photocopies or scanning, so I don't have any documentary record of my original pencils (perhaps scripter Bob Ingersoll does?), but I know they were tight and polished, and a lot better than this sloppy hatchet job is able to convey.

The little girl looks awful, and I take full blame for that. But there are a lot of other qualities I brought to the job that were completely and forever lost, such as the graceful female figures, which are almost pathologically botched in the inking. You can still see some of the body language and layout sensibility I brought to the job, but almost nothing of the finesse I brought to the shading, and it's beyond anyone's ability to imagine how good this job might have turned out. Alas.

It would be fun to pencil these pages again and re-ink them, but every freelancer has a job that got messed up by some hack inker. Only, very seldom does that inker turn out to be the book's own once-talented creator.  It was a discouraging experience.

Read the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series! New YA prose chapter every Friday!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Dr. Spidey and My Own Mr. Hyde!

This time out, it's another Marvel sample I submitted circa 2002 to see if I could land some mainstream superhero work. Although highly regarded in some circles for my parody, science fiction, and even smutty underground work, I never broke into the mainstream or "straight" superhero ranks, where all the money in comics was to be found. Instead, I remained on the periphery with goofier or offbeat assignments like DC's Wasteland, Marvel's Open Space, or oddball Flash stories. (I did have my chances, early on: Mike Gold wanted me to ink First Comics' Whisper, and Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn wanted me on Blue Devil after Parris Cullens' departure, but the timing wasn't right in either case).


These samples are unusual in that they are pencil only; I usual went after jobs as both penciler and inker, and with the Exiles. Also, I followed a garden-variety plot posted online at the time involving Spider-Man and a villain I never heard of: Mr. Hyde. I never heard of the villain and it never occurred to me to look him up online, so I designed my own villain. That's probably only one of many reasons the submission got me no work. But it is a better example of tight pencils than a Dr. Fate sample I made some years earlier.
As with most of my samples from this era, and judging from them, it's no loss to the world of art and letters that they didn't yield me the assignment desired, or any assignment. (Usually, the work from Marvel, DC, Mirage Studios, Image Comics, and even Fantagraphics resulted from them asking me, not the other way around). But I'd like to think if I had gotten past the gatekeepers and actually drawn a strip like Spider-Man, I would have done a pretty good job on the real thing. For whatever reason, hypothetical samples never brought out the best in me.
Read my YA prose experiment: The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series! New chapter every Friday!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

"Chances Are the Chances Are": Munden's Bar from Grimjack #63

These are some low-res scans of pages and the preliminary rough sketches (done at full size, which I traced on a light table onto the Bristol board) for a story I did in Grimjack #63 (First Comics, October 1989). This was after working with John Ostrander and Del Close on Wasteland for DC Comics, so maybe it was felt I was ready for a Munden's Bar back-up feature.

I don't have a very clear recollection of the sequence of events, but early in my career (1985) I moved to central Wisconsin and stayed at Kitchen Sink Press, publisher of Megaton Man for a year. This meant that I was close(r) to Chicago, and frequently attended Chicago Mini-Cons and the big annual show. I recall visiting John Ostrander's home with Bill Loebs on one occasion, I think before I was hired to be on of four artists on the Wasteland anthology. I also met editor Mike Gold, who I think edited both Grimjack and Wasteland at one time or another. But again, I'm not too clear on how this happened to unfold.


One noteworthy thing about this story is that I chose to draw it using markers--probably Pilot pens or the equivalent--a technique Gil Kane was known for. This was a departure from my usual pen/brush and India ink approach, which is more archival. As expected, the markers have faded and discolored over the years, and I haven't used markers on Bristol board since (although I have inked roughs using tracing paper with Pilots, et al, to good effect). I still prefer the classic India ink approach, although a number of things (like patches made with Avery labels, and dot screens) have not aged well.

Cartooning is an ephemeral art, and a commercial art; it will be up to the archivists and preservationists to sort all out. I did like the freedom pens offered; it was a freer drawing process, not having to dip a brush or quill every couple minutes, or wait for the India ink to dry.

I don't have complete scans of the originals or roughs, and all of these images are culled from the internet (I sold the art years ago and no longer even have a copy of Grimjack #63), so the quality here is not the best. But I still have fans bringing these up to me at shows to autograph, which I'm only too happy to do. It was one of my more thorough freelance jobs--I was learning the craft, only five years into my career!

Read the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series - a new prose chapter every Friday!