Where were we? oh, yes- I’d started doing character sketches for “THE PROJECT” of which I’d spent the better part of an afternoon talking about with Tom Skulan and Roger Green in a most productive, informative, contentious first meeting that left me feeling confident and rarin’ to go as I left the store/office, yet completely bewildered as I sat down at my drawing board to begin doodling. I was supposed to come up with character sketches for: two muppetesque teenagers, a hamster and turtle who are actually 2 kids who were to just basically look like animals and the infamous empty comic book rack. The beasties weren’t that difficult as I always had encyclopedias and biology books around in addition to a well stocked public library just a few blocks away – oh, that the internet existed then, with its wellspring of potential for reference, news, and porn! – but that damned comic book rack! Geez what an awful thing to draw with its more or less cylindrical shape, countless wire racks and numerous vanishing points and negative spaces!
I looked and looked for reference on one everywhere, I’d already amassed a pretty darned good “photo morgue” or “swipe file” but had nothing even remotely similar to a comic book “spinner rack” in it. What was I to do? Well, after trying to “fake it’ and failing miserably, then whining to the FantaCo guys, they allowed me to take my camera into the store, dump all of the books off one of the racks and… take pictures! What a concept; then again, most of the grin boys in the biz these days probably wouldn’t have a clue where to get a reference photo of something like that if their computer was down and/or there was no Jim Lee or Adam Hughes comic nearby to copy from, let alone the drive to follow up on it.
Anyway, the turtle and hamster were a little nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that started the whole ridiculously long titled black and white independent craze and to the Adolescent, Radioactive Black Belt hamsters who continued it and they were the first designs that were immediately accepted (y’can never go wrong with REAL people, buildings,cars, animals, etc. in illustration), but the screaming kid in front of that selfsame empty comic rack was going to need a bit of tweaking. I’d gone “realistic” with him as well, thinking of, even though not directly lifting the image of a mutant kid that Mike Zeck had drawn in a then recent issue of Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man, but Tom wanted something arch, extreme. He suggested I look at some Harvey Kurtzman, and damn, he was right. Even with all of these years and miles past, I look at that cover and it’s stark, alarming and sticks in one’s mind- Tom knew what he was doing. But there would still be times when each and every one of the brave little crew that was to assemble in that dismal little office would offer some last minute, out of the box idea that would save the proverbial day (even me!)
After a couple of way too quickly passing weeks, we had the basic look of the characters, and a rough cover drawing to start sending around the horn with press releases, etc. but it was time to actually get the script together and start telling the story. At some point, I finally said to Tom and Roger, “So, am I officially ON the book or what?” and Tom simply said, matter-of-factly, “You’re the artist.” which felt very, very good, until we had to come to terms on the money situation and decide who was going to ink and letter the book. Ooops, I hadn’t thought of that- the penciling, inking and lettering duties were all to come out of the money set aside for “art” so, being a real go-getter (and so cheap I squeak), I decided to ink it myself and subcontract the lettering out to a party to be named later.
I’ll never forget being handed the first few pages of the script of which I still probably have sealed in a barrel in my heavily fortified basement. That “script’ was unlike any I’d seen before or since – it was a couple of lined 5 x 8 notepad pages written out in ballpoint pen, some actual script format with dialogue, sometimes reverting to “plot form” and in fact, sometimes merely being quickly lashed together sketches (better drawn than many Liefeld books) with hints of dialogue (even later on with comments such as “John, go nuts here”). Wow, this was going to be a real taskmaster, but I liked it from the get-go and really felt good about the project.
Probably one of the pages where Tom said to John to go nuts. -ROG
The book began with a newscaster yammering on about the black-and-white comic phenomenon, then segueing into flashbacks of the history of comics. This opened up infinite possibilities for coolness, I loved throwing in “period clothing” and sight gags on the comic racks in the backgrounds- mercilessly lampooning anything and everything and the guys let me ratchet it up further and further, using almost every twisted, borderline offensive suggestion with two exceptions. First, they decided to put the kibosh on a cover I had blatantly nailing DC’s then current “Man of Steel” as “Bland Of Steel” complete with the famous Superman chest emblem changed to snoring zzzz’s (although they finally acquiesced and allowed me a tamer version that did appear alongside “Lack of Action Comics” and “Defective Comics”. Secondly (and looking back now, I’m glad) they nixed a sight gag liquor bottle labeled “Wood alcohol” with the word “Wood” in the stylized “wood cut” typeface of the signature of the late, great Wally Wood. I had been too high on creative cooties to self edit on that one.
Late one hot June night when the house was quiet, I sat down at the drawing board in my secret crimb lab with only a boombox, the script, a piece of 2 ply kid finish bristol board and a few pencils for company and started actually drawing my first comic book.
To be continued……