It’s an odd experience when I find a piece of art I’d completely forgotten that I’d drawn. As soon as I see it again I recognize it as mine and I may even remember some of the details of its creation. This page and the six pages that follow are really vague in my memory. I suspect that a big part of the reason for this is that I didn’t write the story that’s being illustrated. When I’m illustrating someone else’s story I don’t feel the same attachment to the characters that I do if I’m the writer. It’s not that I put any less effort into the art, it’s just that the characters usually don’t stick around in my head after the job is done. They didn’t originate with me. I draw their portraits and they move on.
In 1993 Brave New Words had shut down. I was still friends with the publisher. We talked on a regular basis and he brought me projects to work on. One of those was a miniseries about the apocalypse. I think. He was going to write the script and I was going to draw it. I think he intended to shop it to a publisher. I don’t think he planned to publish it himself.
The series was called Wonderland. I’ve found parts of the script for the first issue. There’s a lot that happens off stage with characters reacting to things that the reader hasn’t seen. I believe it concerned a group of people who were out to prevent the end of the world. A lot of stories are about that. I remember that he wanted to the art to be high contrast black and white. If I remember correctly, he didn’t send me a full script. He faxed me the script in pieces. This was in 1993. I had a Mac desktop that I was sharing with my room mate. There was no email or internet.
The project didn’t get any farther than a script for the first issue and seven finished pages on my end. We moved on to other things.
Amazing Spider-Man #103 is the first comic book I ever bought. It’s also the both the first story and the first comic I can remember reading. In all likelihood my mom bought it for me but I know I bought each subsequent issue myself. My brother and I got small monthly allowances and most of mine went to buying Spider-Man each month. The date on the cover is December 1971. Since magazines post dated their issues by about four months that issue was probably on the stands in September. I would have been a little more than seven years old. I’d obviously read other stories prior to this one – after all, I knew how to read. But this is the story that made its mark. If you look at the type of things I draw and the sorts of stories I read then Spider-Man #103 looks like a big sign post pointing me toward those interests.
I might have known who Spider-Man was before I read this comic. The Spider-Man cartoon series had played on television from 1967 to 1970 and it’s possible I saw episodes of it. I don’t remember. I do know I hadn’t read a Spider-Man comic before this issue.
It’s a strange one to have started with. Most of Spider-Man’s previous adventures took place in New York City where he fought various super powered criminals. This story (running in issues 103 and 104) removed Spidey from his usual stomping grounds to the Savage Land, a Lost World in Antarctica inhabited by dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts. There he encounters a giant monster, the survivor of a crashed alien ship. It’s a sort of a retelling of King Kong without the final act of Kong getting dragged back to New York. I hadn’t seen King Kong yet so the story was new to me.
After this story Spider-Man returned to fighting supervillains in New York. I kept reading his adventures until sometime in the 1990s. I read a lot of other comics about a lot of other superheroes but Spidey remained my favorite. He wasn’t so powerful that his victories came easily. He was smart. He was poor. His enemies were weirdos – the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Hammerhead, Man-Wolf, the Vulture, the Sandman and so many others. Eventually I gave up reading monthly comics. I no longer had the budget or the time to get to the comic store on regular basis so I didn’t miss the latest issues. I haven’t bought an issue in over 15 years now. While I occasionally look at collected editions of recent Spider-Man stories at the library I don’t pay a lot of attention to the character any more.
I’ve still got that first comic. I haven’t read it in years. I’m almost afraid to read it again. It’s unlikely to hold up as well in reality as it does in my memory. It’s in one of the 18 long boxes of comics that survived the culling I did of my collection back in 2004. Did so many of my interests start with that comic or did it just embody them?
I already loved dinosaurs. This story had them. It had a lost world where they still survived. It had ape men and ruined temples. It had jungles. It had a misunderstood monster. It had a giant monster. It had mysterious aliens. It had a jungle man and his faithful saber-toothed cat. It had a superhero who couldn’t fly. For some reason, very few of the superheroes I’ve invented can fly.
It didn’t have examples of all my obsessions. It would have been a really messy story if it had. But that’s okay. It would be sad if I had developed all my obsessions before I was eight.
Sentient 39 or How To Rule The World.
A. Get a website.
I signed up for Keenspace, a free web hosting service specializing in comics. It’s a volunteer run, most DIY set-up. The servers crash every few weeks. There are hundreds of strips hosted on Keenspace. I haven’t looked at more than a fraction of them. I’ve found a few gems, a few “interesting” ones and a lot of … other stuff. I’m not going to criticize any of the other stuff. Have I been posting regularly for a couple of years? Have I posted anything besides a couple of “coming soon” pages? Nope. When the time comes I’ll link to the sites that impress me.
Browsing Keenspace sites requires a time commitment even over DSL and seems unrelated to the complexity of any of the sites I visited – Keenspace sites just load slowly. But free is good right now. Free is important. So Keenspace it is.
B. Forget about the website for a year.
Brilliant! All the illustration work I’ve done over the last year has allowed me to get familiar with my graphics programs, get a feel for what sort of rendering techniques I prefer and get back into the habit of constantly drawing. I think I’ve done more art in the last year than any time since doing Misspent Youths in 1991.
C. Determine content of website or “What’s your comic about Dave?”.
Originally Sentient 39 was going run as an illustration site. Once a week I was going to post an illustration of character, some event, some creature, something from the Sentient 39 “universe”. Some of the pieces I did ended up being used for the 2003 Labor of Love calendar. Other pieces can be found at my Epilogue.net gallery. And while I’d still enjoy doing random illustrations I feel like drawing comics. But what sort of comics?
Massive epic adventure featuring multiple characters, interweaving subplots and action told in a decompressed style that will play out over hundreds of pages?
Bad idea. Unfortunately, many of my favorite ideas are multi-character epics. But I’d prefer not to stick anyone with reading an epic at a page a week. I also know that my style is still evolving. It will always do that but it’s going to be changing the most in the early stages. In drawing an epic I’d like it if the style of page 201 were consistent with page two. Better to start small.
Daily humor strip?
Bad idea number two. I’m not funny. Not gag a day funny. I can draw better blind-folded, left-handed and drunk than Scott Adam’s can on his best day but I’ll never write anything as funny as Dilbert. And maybe not even as funny as the Family Circus.
Single character continuing series?
A better idea. I played around with a few protagonists – some new, some old friends and none of them seemed ready for this stage.
Unrelated short stories?
Also a good idea. I do have a few short stories that it would be fun to do. But I’d like the site to have a theme, a setting and characters that I can play with over the long term.
A series of short stories featuring re-occurring characters?
The best idea so far.
I thought of using the Mandate of Heaven RPG setting and telling stories featuring some of the characters from my illustrations for that project. Derek might get a kick out the idea. Trouble is – Mandate of Heaven hasn’t seen print yet. We’re still working on the premiere book. I’d rather get that finished before I start thinking of spin offs.
Maybe a Delta Green series? As long as I’m playing small and applying the proper “this work is not intended as challenge to such and such copyrights and trademarks” to the work I doubt that there would be any objections from either Chaosium or the Delta Green Partnership. But you don’t rule the world if you’re working with someone else’s copyrighted concepts. That’s why I decided not to pursue an Epic series with Marvel. In the unlikely event that they accepted one of my miniseries ideas, Marvel would still own everything I did. While Lovecraft’s work is basically public domain, the Delta Green setting isn’t. Perhaps something could be worked out in the future but for now, I think it’s best to stick with something that I don’t have to run by anyone else for rights and approval.
This does remind me of a series concept I’d pitched to Icebox.com in’00. Icebox was looking for ideas for short episode flash animation series that they could test out on their website. They were gambling on developing concepts that could be resold as television series similar to the manner that The Simpsons had been developed (originally short animations on the Tracy Ullman Show that proved popular enough that Fox was willing to try out half hour versions). Nizzibet, the Kipster and I had all sent ideas their way and Icebox passed on every one of them.
I pitched two series – Sargasso (inspired by a William Hope Hodgson novel) and The Cauldron. Sargasso is too much the multi-character epic for my current purposes. The Cauldron, however, fits just fine. It was designed as a series of self contained episodes featuring continuing characters.
The version of The Cauldron that I’ll be running on Keenspace has evolved since ’00. It’s still a mystery/detective series and features the same characters but the background has evolved. After there have been a few stories published I might go into the differences between what was conceived and what has resulted but I’d rather wait on any further discussion of that.
D. Determine the format of the comic -
How do I present the story? As a comic strip? As a comic book page? In infinite canvas?
Ultimately I’d like to see The Cauldron in print. As cool as webcomics are, they’re still ephemeral things. They require some sort of computer to read them. I’m a book geek and I’d like my work to end up in some sort of dead tree edition. So it makes sense to design the storytelling; the art, with the goal of eventually collecting it in print. That eliminates the infinite canvas idea. (We won’t go into what a chunk of dullness loading an infinite canvas comic through Keenspace would be.)
Comic strip or comic book page? The narrow horizontal format of the comic strip doesn’t work for this series. And while I’m okay with other webcomics using a comic book page layout I’d rather not do it myself. Using the comic book proportions on a webpage generally means that the whole page can’t be looked at or read on screen all at once. The most that can usually be seen is 2/3 of a page. A half comic page layout would give me greater room for action and allow the reader to feel like they’re seeing the whole page. I’ve also worked out cropping and stretching ideas that will mean that the ultimate layout of the print edition has more variety than 2 half pages combined to make a full page. I’ll be designing for a full page and then reformatting for half pages on the web.
E. Write the comic
F. Draw the comic