SOLD OUT, Part 5 by John Hebert

Before I get to John’s rellections, a couple comics-related things:
1. Len Wein, creator of, among many other things, X-Men staples such as Wolverine, Storm, and Nightcrawler, had a house fire, as I’ve mentioned. Here’s info for the Let’s Restore Len Wein’s Comic Book Collection Project. Contact Evanier before sending anything.
2. Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday, May 2; hope it doesn’t interfere with the Kentucky Derby. In all likelihood, I’ll go to Earthworld in Albany, as usual, get a bunch of free stuff for the kid and for me, and end up buying something i didn’t know I wanted.

Now, back to John, after I show you his X-Men 100 swipe homage with a circus strongman, Rowdy Roddy Piper, every guy who ever worked at an amusement park in the 80’s, and me.

I was a penciling fool- working and reworking pages here and there all that summer of 1986, getting the then-girlfriend to letter and dying to get to the inks. I’d been very fearful of inking my first book because I didn’t think I could ever be much of an inker. When I’d started trying to bust into the biz in earnest a couple of years before, I’d decided that penciling was a little too complicated so I thought to break in as an inker first and learn from whomever I’d inked and go from there. This brainstorm lasted just about a month- or the time it took for me to @*%*&^ up my copy of the Marvel Tryout Book and then be told by Zeck that my inks sucked, but that my pencil work had potential, so I’d gone with it.

Anyway, I’d shortly have to put my brush handle where my mouth had been. Once I’d penciled the entire comic, we’d all set a date where Tom, Roger, she-who-was-not-to-be-ignored, as well as FantaCo stalwarts Matt Mattick, Hank Jansen, and Joelle Michalkiewicz and myself would sit down, spread all of the pages out on the floor of the back office and take the “SOLD OUT!” experience in before committing it to ink, deciding what worked and what didn’t, what needed to be punched up and where we needed to tone bits down. It was a bit frustrating, to say the least. While almost everyone agreed that it was a very tight piece of effort, there was always a bit of niggling back and forth where everybody but one person would just love something, but that one detail bothered that one person which seemed to corrupt the entire apple cart and then we’d rework the damned thing until somebody else wasn’t happy and then…..Suddenly, at some point, after a very long day in the back office and losing the daylight, we staggered out into the early autumn evening clutching the bulging manila folder of pages ready to be committed to ink. My moment of truth had arrived.

One of Tom’s primary requirements for the artist was that he or she could draw a reasonably realistic turtle and hamster.

I’d put everything into the pencils, to the point where I needed to go to ink just to stir up the old creative juices with a change of technique. Even though I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good inker and with the additional weight of the fear of screwing it all up with bad inks, I think I did a pretty darn serviceable job- especially on the first half of the book when my energy level was high and I was interested, and in fact, thrilled to be doing something other than penciling. I did a really broad John Beatty type brush style throughout most of the book with a swatch of Jerry Ordway and a ton of zip-a-tone tossed in for good measure and just enjoyed the Hell out of most of the experience, but before long, I was tiring of inking as well, especially after we’d begun making last, last-minute changes as I was going along, sometimes scrapping panels after they’d been committed to ink and making me feel like a rat in a maze.

Our deadline was fast approaching too, as was Halloween when we’d hoped to have the book on the shelves, the girlfriend and I went into overdrive, always expecting the project done “the next week”, then still spinning our creative tires in the not-so-creative sand and shooting for the following week. It finally came down to the very cold day before Halloween of 1986, when I, having been up for something like 26 hours, leaned over the drawing board in my humble, yet tastefully appointed studio, forcing myself to ink those last few pesky panels that I’d put off inking for various pointless reasons for so long. The edict had come down from Tom Skulan – the book had to be done THAT DAY!!!! We’d already missed one scheduled press day and it was not to happen again.

The girlfriend had shown up at around 8 a.m. and we’d torn into the unfinished pages immediately, determined to deliver the entire finished book to FantaCo by noon for one more final “look-over” be various staff-eyes, and then we were to drive the entire project out to the printing plant in Gloversville, NY, some 90 minutes away. I was so tried and ragged by that point that I didn’t think I’d make it and longed for the peaceful reassurance of the void I was sure to encounter as I’d fall asleep at the wheel and swing the Camaro in front of a speeding semi on the Thruway…..”Don’t bother calling an ambulance Ferdie- he was a funny book artist, now he’s road pizza!”

So, we made it into the store at around one in the afternoon and dropped the packet of pages on Skulan’s desk, ready for criticism and a very, very long nap. Tom and Raj were the primary editors now, going over every panel and page, never missing a misspelling or uninked eye on some tiny figure in the background that no one would ever notice, but we fixed everything right there in the back room where it had all begun just a few, short, holy mackerel- it was, like FIVE months earlier, what was I thinking?!?!? Anyway, thankfully, most of the required changes were of the lettering variety and she-who-must-not-have-been ignored took care of them with white out and a couple of markers while I slipped closer and closer towards comatose while sitting on that very cold, uninsulated office floor. That cold and the aching in my joints were the only things keeping me awake, but somehow, it was finally done and the time had come to drive the darned book to the printer. The pages were lashed together in a large shiny orange folder and away we went, towards the beginning of the rest of my life, the world’s smallest Pontiac dealership, and the embarrassment of being photographed in a skirt on a busy Albany street.

To be CONCLUDED!

John Hebert
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Miss Marvel, Mister Roger, Miss Lydia, May 3, 2008, Earthworld


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