By Beau Smith
Roy Thomas was one of the first “fans turned pro” that I can remember. Before he went to work at Marvel Comics in the late 1960’s I remember his name in letter columns and through other limited forms of the fan press. Then others like him started popping up as the 1970’s began. The names of Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Tony Isabella, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter and others are the ones that I remember best because of their prolific output. They were the generation that was a little bit older than me that broke into comics and got the chance to be writers, artists and editors on the characters they grew up reading and loving.
They did what I aspired to do. As fandom grew larger with each passing decade, the majority of new writers, artists, editors, publishers, sales and marketing were almost all fans turned pro. That continues to this day.
Even some of the “outside” newcomers (Screenwriters, actors, novelists, animators) fall into this box because if you read their interviews and background you’ll find that they too were fans and readers.
It wasn’t long after these fans turned pros got into comics that they wanted to make their mark on the characters that they read as kids. We saw this really happen in a big way in the 1980s when, as the cliché’ goes, things got “dark and gritty” in mainstream comics.
The cause of this was the fact that the fans turned pros that were now in charge had grown up and their tastes had changed as well. Yes, they still had that deep love for the characters that they grew up with, but producing them for all ages seemed old fashioned or in some cases boring to them. They wanted the characters and the stories to reflect the films, TV shows and books they were reading now. This is the stage where Marvel and DC comics slowly started becoming small and a niche market. The creation of the direct market, started and ran by more fans turned pros, on the business side enforced this.
Younger readers and mass market were moved to the back of the bus and in some cases under the wheel. The folks in control of creative, editorial and business wanted these Marvel and DC characters to be a mirror image of their likes and dislikes. Like losing your hair it was a gradual thing. Then one day you look in the mirror and you’re bald. This has happened in comics. Those in charge of these characters and story lines noticed that their head was pretty shiny. They’ve tried comb-overs, bad toupees, weaves, plugs, and chemicals (Hyped up never ending events, character deaths, variant and chrome covers, dry-humping Hollywood and Howard Stern) to try and fix things, but nothing has really worked yet. There’s the illusion that there’s hair, but everyone knows it just ain’t right.
To me what I’m not seeing much of is the easiest and most interesting thing. When working with characters, some with 60 years of history, a creative person is given a gift. That gift is a very strong foundation from which to build and make stronger. There’s a simplicity and complexity that we don’t get to see in characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Nick Fury, The Hulk, Thor and others (These are random names) By that I mean the opportunity for deep emotional investment in these characters is not being given to the readers.
It’s being assumed that everyone that picks up one of these books already knows the back history of these characters. The readers are expected to not only read the comics, but read the minds of the characters as well. Not every new or even long time reader can know what the creators are trying to get across due to being able to buy an arm load of comics at today’s prices or being “in” the creator’s mind. What I mean by that last part is that sometimes as a writer/editor, you can know what you and the publisher have talked about character and story-wise so much that you assume the reader knows this too. Trust me, it does happen and when it does the reader is left with watching a movie with missing reels.
I’m not seeing new characters and ideas being done or encouraged. When there is a new character they’re usually thrown out there in their own mini-series or series cold. Not every character is Jack Bauer. Most need some back up. New characters need to be nurtured and grown within a long standing series and interacting with long standing characters. It’s good to really cook a character and make sure their well done. You know and I know that when you microwave something you get it fast, but it rarely tastes as good as some lovin’ from the oven.
Comic book publishing at Marvel and DC should be farming, not strip mining. Trust me, I’ve seen both first hand. I know the advantages and the consequences.
I like fast food every now and then, but not every day. I know that a steady diet will make you fat, unhealthy and eventually better your chances of getting a ticket on the pine box express. This applies to comics and their characters.
I’m not saying every book at Marvel and DC is like this. Those of you that read my columns in Busted Knuckles, Comics Buyer’s Guide, Impact Magazine and Comics International know that through my pointing out the books I think you would enjoy. I will say that the majority of the characters and books, along with the readers are being short sheeted. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing or one being done on purpose. I think it’s done because of panic, desperation and most of all because folks are not looking at the health of the big picture for comics and their icon characters. When things get too inbred you may be able to play that one song on the banjo really well, but it’s bad when that’s the only song you know.
The best part of writing and working with icon characters is stringing dialogue and stories together that bind friendships and relationships for a lifetime with those characters and most importantly, the readers.
Know that I truly love the Marvel and DC characters. I always have. Know also that I’m not some cranky old guy that is wishing things were like they used to be back in the day. What I’m wanting, what Marvel and DC characters need, is the backbone of the past with the muscle of today and the eyesight for the future. This also pertains to publishing, retail and distribution.
History. You learn from it, you build on it, you use it as your map and most of all you make it.
Get To Know Me
In this semi-regular feature of Get To Know Me, we’re gonna get to know artist/Inker/writer Dan Davis. I was lucky enough to work with Dan on my Guy Gardner: Warrior run. The icing on the cake was that my buddy Mitch Byrd was the artist on the book as well.
I got to know Dan very well during those fun time of the non-bowl-headed Guy Gardner. We spent a lot of time side by side at many a convention and I got to see the other side of Dan Davis – Inker. Like a lot of other folks I got to find out that he was quite the artist. By looking at his personal work I could see he was a master of many styles and all were dead on and loads of fun. The best part was that it was his own style.
Unlike me, Dan is a soft spoken guy and has a great work ethic. He is always working and finding new ways to expand not only his schedule, but his art as well. At the conventions Dan would always sell loads of his original art where he inked some of the best in the business, but he would also do sketches and sell his own convention prints of art that he had done. I always enjoyed the looks upon people’s faces when they would see his stuff and look like they had just discovered a diamond. They all would say the same thing “I didn’t know you could draw!” To which Dan would knowingly smile and say “Sure. That’s what I do. I’m glad you like it.”
A couple of weeks ago I posted up a very nice drawing that artist Marlin Shoop (Cyn) did of my character Wynonna Earp. Well, soon after it was posted I got an email from Dan telling me that he really liked Marlin’s look for Wynonna. He asked me and Marlin if it would be okay for him to ink it. He said he’d like to see his style on Marlin’s. We said sure!
The next day I open my email and there is the finished inked drawing of Wynonna Earp by Marlin and Dan. I don’t need to tell you how good it looks because I’m posting it up right here for you to see. Every the pro, Dan turned that drawing around in no time and had it right back to me. Needless to say, both Marlin and I were really pleased with the art.
Here is the colored version of Wynonna Earp done up by Jason Lambert, the colorist on my upcoming Cynthia Rothrock comic book called CYN. See how fast things work in comics?
I thought I would haul out some more of Dan’s work for y’all to see and enjoy. This is just a small sample of the stuff that Dan does and can do. I hope you enjoy these pieces that Dan has done. If you’d like to contact Dan and let him know what you think, or offer him work, just email him at email@example.com and visit his website here. Tell him his old buddy Beau sent you.
Busted Knuckles Babe Of The Week.
Race Car Driver
She has the curves and knows how to race around them. She is one of the fastest women alive. She is Milka Duno of Venezuela. She races high-speed cars for a living when she’s not making my heart race. I know nothing about car racing, but I do know how to watch Univision. That’s where the babes are. That’s where I first learned of Milka Duno.
Milka is like a real action hero come to life. She’s beautiful, talented, is a Naval engineer with four masters degrees! It seems there’s nothing this dark haired beauty can’t do. Not only is she an eye feast for us guys, but she’s also a great role model for women everywhere. Gentlemen, start your engines!
Busted Knuckles Manly Cover Of The Week
Red Wolf #7
Marvel Comics 1973
Red Wolf has always been one of my favorite Marvel Comics characters. Not so much because I thought he was always written well, but because he has the potential to be written well. Back in the 70’s he had his own comic series for a short while. This was a fun time to be a Marvel reader because they had nothing to lose and would do anything?like give Red Wolf his own book full of bad Indian stereotypes and loads of fun 70’s style. Red Wolf was always in a fight with gangsters, terrorists and sometimes even some over done Indian spirit monsters. It took place in modern times and he was always doing his fighting in the coolest places. Every issue he saved some hot babe in a mini-skirt and go-go boots. The guy had it made. His sidekick, Lobo the wolf, was a terror on four legs. There’s nothing he wouldn’t fight or bite.
This cover of issue #7 pretty much sums up the way the series was. Great fights, great places and dangerous situations. Look for copies of Red Wolf in your store’s back issue bins or on EBay. Also check out my buddy Chuck Dixon‘s futile attempts to out man me with his version of the Manly cover at www.dixonverse.net.
This week a HUGE manly thanks goes out to Jason and Claudia Willey from Arizona. Recently while in Prague on business, Jason picked up a very nice crystal globe of the Earth that he brought back for me with this message “It’s Beau’s World and he just lets the rest of us rent space in it.” A manly message if ever there was one.
His lovely wife Claudia was across the border in Mexico and out did her 6 foot 7 inch husband by bringing me back the manliest Tequila bottle ever. It’s made of various reptile skins and cowhide with a brass bronco on it. Best of all, it’s filled with testosterone. I am now the envy of every man in Ceredo. Here is a photo of the bottle on one of my shelves of chauvinism.
So thank you very much, Jason & Claudia. As always, I am in your debt.
I look forward to all the emails and stuff that y’all send. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts on stuff. I’ve gotta apologize to those of you asking me to read your scripts and story ideas. My schedule and crime load keeps me from having the appropriate time to read em’. If things were slower I’d have more time. Then again, if things were slower I’d be out of work. We can’t have that.
Remember to check out my print/magazine columns at The Comics Buyer’s Guide (Dottin’ The Eyes), Impact-The Global Action Entertainment Magazine (Far From Fragile), and my semi-regular column at Comics International (Fightin’ Words).
The Flying Fist Ranch
P.O. Box 706
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