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Playtime: Liefeldian “Made of Fail”

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My late friend Jens Altman did a strip called “Made of Fail“, which featured crudely drawn characters in darkly comedic situations.  He challenged his friends to draw the characters from that strip in the style of Rob Liefeld.  I chose his character Amy:

I can’t draw like Liefeld, and I mean that as a sincere backhanded complement. He uses techniques (e.g. crosshatching) that I’ve never gotten the hang of, so I’m not going to try to duplicate them. Besides, the assignment here was more about design than rendering, right?

So here is Amy as Mr. Liefeld might have conceived her to appear, with a blend of his drawing ideosyncracies and my own. (Fair enough, I hope?)

I chose Amy because I could immediately picture Liefeld’s approach to her hair. And I have to confess that as I referred to a few actual Liefeld pieces while drawing this, I could see that I was overdoing it; I was caricaturing his characters. To fix this, I had to reduce the size of her breasts. Twice.

Playtime: DCU-Haul

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Back in 2011, there were rumors that DC Comics was going to reboot its superhero universe. Again. So I thought it would be fun to get the jump on them and do a couple myself.

Here’s the new Supergirl. My concept was a simple one: that Supergirl would be a superhero for girls. So cut out the lapdancer costume approach, and skip over the schoolgirl fanservice style too. Just a girl. Who’s really strong, and can fly, and do other fun stuff.

The other one I never finished. It was kinda fannish what-if-ness.

In the overhauled Justice League drawing that DC released, Batman looks older than Superman, implying *he* was the DCU’s first superhero instead of Supes. Which means (among other things) that he’d no longer be the logical inspiration for the Legion of Super-Heroes. So I’d revamp that series as Batboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, an elite corps of teens drawn from the member worlds of the 31st century’s United Planets. Founded by Knightlightning Lad (with dark electrical powers), Shuriken Girl (who mentally controls throwing-stars), and Dark Matter Boy (named after the 21st century’s latest cool sci-fi concept), they go back in time to recruit young Bruce Wayne to spend time with them in the future, where they patrol the dark passages between the stars.

Young Batboy didn’t have Superman’s costume to emulate, so he doesn’t wear a cape, instead going with a more batlike design. Likewise, the Legion follow his lead, so instead of brightly-colored leotards like Superboy’s, they generally wear darker colors, head-covering masks, and of course scallops on the arms are the standard hero fashion.

Playtime: Alice on Wonder-island

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A little creative challenge I came up with myself:

Inspired by the popularity of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a comics publisher with Hollywood connections (aren’t they all) has asked you to pitch a mashup of the historic/classic and… well, it doesn’t have to be horror; any popular genre will do: western, sci-fi, fantasy, sex comedy, explosion fest, superhero, etc.  Take a historical figure or a novel in the public domain, and fuse something onto it that will get people who hate period costume dramas to pull out their credit cards. Bonus points if the title is a bad pun.

So it’s Alice of Wonderland, but on the Lost island, with a motley cast of castaways: Gilligan, Robinson Crusoe, Wendy Darling, Richard and Emmeline of The Blue Lagoon, and Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland. In the background we have the Wonderland/Looking-Glass characters in the background, including the Cheshire Smoke Monster.

Work! – This Book Kills Fascists

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A few years ago, I was part of a small crowd of comix creators who worked on an anthology of short pieces based on songs about work and working people. It was going to be called simply Work!

Unfortunately the editors were unable to find a publisher who was interested, and the project fizzled out. But the good news is that I got a few scripts written for it, and a couple of them were illustrated, enabling me to demonstrate that I could … do the work.

I designed a little “warning label” to go on the book, inspired by those silly “parental advisory” labels they used to put on CDs, and by the famous inscription on Woody Guthrie’s guitar: “This Machine Kills Fascists”.

Playtime: Crossed Hollywood

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Another remake/remodel for the Whitechapel forum, this one a tie-in to Crossed, a comic (published by the hosts of the forum) about a virus that turns people into sociopaths.

I want you to imagine you’re stuck in Beverly Hills during the first 48 hours of the Crossed outbreak. I want you to draw me the Crossed actor, musician, or worthless celebrity skinwaste of your choice. I want to see Charlie Sheen bludgeoning Ashton Kutcher to death with a crackpipe. I want Crossed Oprah using her back-fat to suffocate babies. I want Crossed Arnie and Sly working together to snap anorexic actresses in half over their knees, while Crossed Leonard Nimoy uses his pointy costume-ears to pluck out Shatner’s goggly eyes.

Just for one week, let’s be shameless. Let’s be excessive and ridiculous and dark. Let’s be gloriously NSFW. Call it a holiday from art, a festival of debauchery, a Saturnalia of sadism.

I did exactly as instructed, but apparently it was too much for the moderator, so he required me to censor it for the forum. Here’s the full version, in which born-again homophobe Kirk Cameron is fisted by his former “Growing Pains” co-star Leo DiCaprio (remember that?), while sodomizing everyone’s favorite should-be catamite Justin Bieber.

Work! – The Tramp

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This is a story called “The Tramp”, written by me and illustrated by Bevis Musson. It was made for an anthology that didn’t quite happen, called Work!, which was to be a collection of comics based on songs about labor and working people.

This story is based on “The Tramp” a song written by 1910s Swedish-American labor activist Joe Hill. His “tramp” was a hobo, but we reinterpreted the tale using the more modern sense of the word. The original lyrics follow the comic, along with some commentary about the song and the adaptation process.

Tramp01

Tramp02

Tramp03

Tramp04

Tramp05

Hill’s original lyrics are a sort of parody of “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching”, a Civil War marching song. It’s sung to the same tune, which is much better known today as the melody for “Jesus Loves the Little Children”. So sing along:

If you all will shut your trap,
I will tell you ’bout a chap,
That was broke and up against it, too, for fair;
He was not the kind to shirk,
He was looking hard for work,
But he heard the same old story everywhere.

(chorus):
Tramp, tramp, tramp, keep on a-tramping,
Nothing doing here for you;
If I catch you ’round again,
You will wear the ball and chain,
Keep on tramping, that’s the best thing you can do.

He walked up and down the street,
‘Til the shoes fell off his feet.
In a house he spied a lady cooking stew,
And he said, “How do you do,
May I chop some wood for you?”
What the lady told him made him feel so blue.

(chorus)

‘Cross the street a sign he read,
“Work for Jesus” so it said,
And he said, “Here is my chance, I’ll surely try,”
And he kneeled upon the floor,
Till his knees got rather sore,
But at eating-time he heard the preacher cry–

(chorus)

Down the street he met a cop,
And the copper made him stop,
And he asked him, “When did you blow into town?
Come with me up to the judge,”
But the judge he said, “Oh fudge,
Bums that have no money needn’t come around.”

(chorus)

Finally came that happy day
When his life did pass away,
He was sure he’d go to heaven when he died,
When he reached the pearly gate,
Santa Peter, mean old skate,
Slammed the gate right in his face and loudly cried:

(chorus)

In despair he went to Hell,
With the Devil for to dwell,
For the reason he’d no other place to go.
And he said, “I’m full of sin,
So for Christ’s sake, let me in!”
But the Devil said, “Oh, beat it! You’re a ‘bo!’

Some things haven’t changed in 100 years, and today you could still tell the same story about the kind of tramp that Hill wrote about. But the meaning of the word has changed, and you can also tell the same story about a modern “tramp”: a woman who turns to sex work to support herself.

In adapting this, I wanted to maintain the feel and structure of it as a song. Skipping the first verse that sets the stage, I adapted each verse into a one-page episode. The verses are each 6 lines, so I wrote 6 panels per page. Bevis took that a step further, reflecting the pair of triplets in each verse by drawing it in 2 rows of 3 panels each, a challenging format which he pulled off beautifully.

I took a few liberties with the story itself, reflecting that this was a different kind of tramp: equally willing to do any job, but with different opportunities to try for. I swapped the order of verses 3 and 4 (the preacher and the cop) for two reasons: 1) that sequence of events flowed more naturally in my story, and 2) it allowed for the more dramatic re-appearance of the blue car in the adaptation of verse 5 (the tramp’s death).

For the dialog, I borrowed from Hill’s lyrics (e.g. “nothing doing” “if I catch you round again”). I couldn’t match his AABCCB rhyme pattern, but for the closing line of each page I wrote a rhyming couplet, in the form of “you’re a tramp so keep on tramping” – but with different slurs. By a coincidence of slang, I was able to update Hill’s closing line “you’re a ‘bo” (short for “hobo”) to “you’re a ho'” (short for whore).

Hill’s lyrics didn’t specify what kind of preacher his Tramp turned to, but the Salvation Army was the clear choice. Hill and his fellow Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) held the “Starvation Army” in contempt. Hill’s song “The Preacher and the Slave” (a parody of their hymn “In the Sweet By-and-By”) coined the phrase “pie in the sky”, referring to the Salvationists’ empty promises of eventual comfort in Heaven. I also gave our Tramp a line referring to that.

Joe Hill’s own death is an interesting story. He was charged with shooting a former police officer and his son (who’d apparently shot back), justified by a gunshot wound which Hill said he’d received from a jealous rival for a woman’s affections. He was convicted based mostly on his association with the Wobblies and unconvincing witness identifications. No less than Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller argued for clemency, but the Utah Supreme Court upheld his death sentence. At his execution, as the presiding deputy said, “Ready… aim…” Hill interrupted: “Fire — go on and fire!”

He left a written statement which said, in part, “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize…” This piece is dedicated to his legacy.

Playtime: Mystico

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From time to time I like to participate in little creative exercises, such as the “remake/remodel” challenges on the Whitechapel forum, which taken an existing (usually public domain) character and invite artists to redesign them.

The current one:

“Restored to life through Dr. Slade’s vita-ray, Mystico, a seer of ancient Egypt, has placed his magic powers at the service of humanity.” Now, based out of a club, he works with the American and British governments to protect freedom. He receives psychic messages from the old gods, he has magic-based telekinesis (to the degree that he can use skyscrapers as javelins), and he has various other plot-device powers, although creatures from pre-historic times, like the monstrous Amphisaur that sinks various naval ships, are immune to his powers. Mystico fights invisible gangsters and giant gangsters, insane would-be world tyrants and their man-ape sidekicks, Dr. Slade (a skull-face Mad Scientist plotting against America), Dr. Nevins (a long-time student of witchcraft who summons harpies from the distant past in order to conquer the world), and Zarbu, a Turkish sorcerer released from entombment who plans to conquer America. Mystico appears in stories with titles like “The Element of Fear,” “Nick Wolve and the Dinosaur Egg,” and “Ottmar Lutz’s Meteor Magnet.”

I figure that an Egyptian character without gratuitous Egyptian iconography is no Egyptian character at all:
Mystico

Holy Digital Comics!

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Recently a few new options for selling digital comics have emerged, which I plan to take advantage of for the Holy Comics! books. Amazon has released an easy-to-use tool for packaging comics to be sold for reading on the Kindle, and Comixology (who dominate digital comics distribution) have opened their doors to independent comics publishers. So I’m rolling up my sleeves and packaging Captain Miracle and Fetus Christ for sale thru those channels.