Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Marvel's Open Space #3 (1990)

In late 1989, I illustrated a Will Shetterly story for the short-lived Marvel Graphics series Open Space, an experiment in a shared science-fiction universe packaged in an anthology "prestige" format, and issued under an imprint separate from the mainline Marvel superhero universe.

I'm not sure how I landed the assignment, but I'm sure it had something to do with my science fiction series Border Worlds, which began as a color back-up in Megaton Man and became a moody, "mature readers" black-and-white series. Carol Kalish was the nominal editor of Open Space, but I mostly dealt with assistant editor Kurt Busiek, who was unknown to me at the time (this was long before he wrote the groundbreaking Marvels).

I had already met Will and his lovely partner Emma Bull at a memorable convention in St. Paul, Minnesota in late 1985 or early 1986 (run by the late John Annunziata, on whom I based a nameless "snitch" character in Megaton Man #6 and subsequently drew as The Comics Warrior, the namesake of his store).

I don't remember much about the original script (my copy is now lost); I don't believe I ever discussed the story with Will before or even after publication. But the editors must have like what I did well enough, because I drew another story in the series which never saw print because it was canceled. I do recall a huge "Bible" being sent to me along with the script: over 200 pages, photocopied, explaining the backstory of the universe, the various planets and star systems, the general organization of the political structure of the society, etc. 

I don't know how well the shared universe concept was carried out throughout the series; I imagine it was cumbersome, given that virtually each story was a stand-alone with different creative teams responsible for only a tiny portion and few, if any, continuing characters. Admittedly, I only read the stories I was assigned to illustrate, although my sense is there was a bit too much emphasis on consistency and continuity between the stories and not enough on imaginative adventures in and of themselves (although I seem to recall these concerns weighed and discussed).

Somewhere I remember reading a description of a planet (either in the Bible or in the script for this strip) as having 83 percent of the gravity of earth; that detail always stuck in mind simply because it seems so utterly trivial and beside the point. Stories, after all, should have human interest, in other words, emotion, not simply be compiled from formulaic recipes of made-up scientific facts.

I still possess most of the original artwork for the story (I don't believe I ever got the colored bluelines back), so please contact me if interested in acquiring a page.

Elsewhere, I will comment on the significance this story had on my subsequent career. But for now, enjoy the artwork.

Read my YA prose novel, The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series! New chapter every Friday.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Graphics for a Ghetto Tale!

Around 2015, I was asked to illustrate a non-fiction story based on the Holocaust for a non-profit org here in Pittsburgh (the true story was made into a movie not very long ago). Written by a Xeric Award-winner, I attempted an early Jack Kirby style, which seemed suited to the strip, along with a certain Old Testament look to some of the women. The computer lettering was applied later, so here is a look at the art without text. Enjoy!

All characters, character names, likenesses, words and pictures are ™ and © Don Simpson 2021, all rights reserved.

Cool Beans: An Aborted Comic Strip from dot.com Era!

Some time in the early 2000s, my entrepreneurial partner asked me to create cartoon characters for her educational website, S'Coolbeans. Little more than link list, the site aspired to be a clearing house of educational resources for teachers and educators. The characters were used in fridge magnets and promotion, and the logo I designed became a keychain. The site didn't take off, but the sample comic strips I developed independently, I thought, had some potential. My partner, however, spitefully demanded I kill it off. (Not long after this, we were divorced.)

Selling a comic strip to newspapers is billion-to-one prospect at best, and I've never seen myself as having the sensibility for such a grueling production schedule. Still, I am fond of these strips and thought it could have gone further. Oh, well. Enjoy!

All characters, character names, likenesses, words and pictures are ™ and © Don Simpson 2021, all rights reserved.

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!