I was probably thirteen when I finished my first comic.
A flimsy construction of typing paper and number two pencil offered the hero known as Spasm into existence as one of three initial releases from my burgeoning publishing empire Lightning Studios. My younger brother handled the second title, while a neighbor beautifully rendered the third, forming a creative alliance the likes of which the world had never seen. Staff meetings took place in my living room, huddled over stacks of blank pages while discussing the particulars of our comic universe, scheduling plans, story ideas, and the massive crossover occurring in six months that would have us drawing our own creations in each other’s titles, forming a series of issues comprised of jam pieces. We even did a mock ad for the upcoming event that all three creators contributed to with the blazin’ company logo prominently featured.
We had the game on lock.
And then the “schedule” exploded in earnest.
Our books fell hopelessly behind, and when the smoke cleared, I’d completed only two thirteen page issues, half of the third, and an assortment of ads, back-ups, and covers. My two partners had maybe ten pages between them.
That’s the last time I work with ten-year olds.
However, before the publisher was crippled by the latest cartridge for Super Nintendo, I learned a variety of things. Writing, illustrating, and lettering one’s own comic, back-up stories and ads is a lot of work. Additionally, though my stable of characters included such luminaries as Spasm, Kuttlass, Knightfall, Public Relations, the Gunsmith, the Mite, and the Time Squad, art is something better left to the professionals. Declaring that “I can’t draw,” is an understatement of the highest order, as I’m fairly sure that providing me with a utensil in the pursuit of artistic rendering remains a crime against nature, as reprehensible as tossing babies and kicking the elderly. There are some things you just shouldn’t do.
But most importantly, I learned to never abandon ANY story, no matter how ill-conceived.
You see, Spasm wasn’t the first project intended for my comic universe. Initially, I wanted to do a team book featuring a cadre of celebrity superheroes called Public Relations. Their birth was aborted following initial character designs, as I believed focusing on a smaller cast would provide stronger stories. Still, upon hearing the abbreviation PR, thoughts often drift back to the lost concept, many of them devoted to asking myself what in the hell possessed me to name a group of superheroes Public Relations? The worst thing is that I promise you I found the whole thing exceptionally clever at the time.
Bring things forward about six years and I’ve got superteams on the brain. Morrison’s JLA is storming my consciousness with its tag partner The Authority and following a period of rightful intimidation, I decide to offer my contribution to the genre. What hadn’t we seen yet in funny tights books? I traveled back to Public Relations, only recalling the name and not exactly what they were meant to accomplish, and something came to me in three words…publicly elected superheroes.
Oh, hell yeah.
The rationale being that if there was a guy who could juggle buildings and bullets bounced off his chest, people wouldn’t be afraid of him…they’d love that fucker to death. Imagine Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts being able to fly to their blockbuster movie premieres and you’ll begin to understand what this is all about. Hero worship truly defined. It starts with a group of major corporations and advertisers brainstorming over the “next big thing” when someone casually suggests…let’s create our own team of elected super-people, put them together, watch them bicker, and hope they save the world often enough to sell some decent merchandise.
The ball gets rolling and saving lives becomes a popularity contest as the advertisers hold an annual multimedia election for both members and field leaders, ensuring all manners of personality conflicts that look tantalizing in tell-all books and exclusive tv interviews. And we haven’t even gotten into the agent thing quite yet…oh yeah…superheroes have agents. Well the smart ones do anyway. Who else is going to take ten percent of that four million dollar salary members receive, and schedule the periodic battle for their client to engage in to boost their popularity ratings? Of course, no one is supposed to find out about that kind of shit, but that weekly magazine is notorious for breaking news of agency misconduct.
Within this established frame, my initial cast came into focus offering a solid blend of the stereotypical and the nearly clever to get things started. The personalities spring within their cage and begin doing their own thing, providing the “beats” the storylines need to hit, which mutate into things for them to fight, yet somehow I’m more interested when they’re fighting themselves.
Pitches are constructed, scripts are written, and I smell dollar signs. I had seen The New Hotness and it was resting comfortably on my hard drive. Dark Horse receives copies (they reject it twice), a couple of now extinct Image imprints got it, and I also used portions of it in my CrossGen submission during their initial recruitment drive. I’m not sure if I fired it off to Marvel quite yet, but they would eventually receive snippets.
It didn’t matter anyway because somewhere down the line, X-Force #116 comes out…and I’m no longer clever. The fact that Milligan did such an excellent job confronting the notion of celebrity superheroes made it infinitely more difficult to dislike him. Every writer with a fresh idea is running a race, and I didn’t even come close to finishing this one.
Now, celebrity status is the new buzz-word turning up in a variety of modern works like The Ultimates, Powers, and Noble Causes. And here I sit feeling all derivative.
I blame Ideaspace.
According to Warren Ellis’ Bad Signal e-mail newsletter, “Alan Moore has this notion that inspiration lives in an ethereal morphogenic field he terms “ideaspace”, and that we all have access to it. The field has its own weather, and predominant conditions in the field affect the culture. This is why bunches of similar ideas appear at the same time—it’s the weather of ideaspace.”
It was these three sentences that sparked the germ of this entire piece, because after brief consideration…I think Moore is absolutely right. The principle of Ideaspace successfully adds an additional layer of complexity to the process of writing and you know I’m all for anything that makes my little ‘twitch’ more intangible and unexplainable. And plus it means at some period in time I was sharing intellectual space with writers like Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis, and Jay Faerber.
The funny thing is, only after transforming the lost tale of Public Relations into the Ministry of Defense nearly seven years later, which is later re-named The Crucible (which is still stupid), did I realize where the initial idea even came from in the first place. Public Relations was originally a play on Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood which featured a cadre of media-savvy superheroes. So, that means…if it’s conceivable that I braved Ideaspace and came back with Public Relations back in 1993, and am now complaining that the industry is brimming with celebrity superheroes, an idea I offered additional flesh to in 1999, but the idea was unintentionally pilfered from Rob Liefeld in ’92…could it be?
Does the comic industry OWE one of its present trains of thought to the one, the only, Bad Boy 4 Life Rob Liefeld!!? And you thought the suggestion that the storytelling population is plucking concepts from a magically invisible place called Ideaspace was scary. Rob Liefeld is one of the people responsible for offering the celebrity superhero with all their ambivalence and anti-depressants into being. Or perhaps I’ve missed something, I have only been here since 1992 you know. Correct me if I’m wrong…please correct me if I’m wrong.
However, it’s something to think about as I drift back into the ether, trying to identify the weather patterns before the rest of these scrubs…
The New Hotness- The Books You Should’ve Read Last Week
Nothing folks. Not one book from this week’s sixty dollar shopping spree makes the list. Oh sure, there were plenty of good books, things that instantly stood out among the nonsense hiding at the bottom of the bag, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING knocked me on my ass this week. Plenty of honorable mentions, but we don’t care about honorable mentions here…we want The New Hotness, and apparently…it was in short supply this round. Next week will be better I’m sure…hell it has to be. Here’s hoping…