A Guest Message

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Richard Howell, a longtime friend and collaborator of mine (Richard drew my first published story, way back in Green Lantern #162, eight years or so after we first met, and we’ve worked together many times since) posted the following message on the Claypool Comics website, where he’s the editor of the line, as well as the writer/artist of the Deadbeats online strip.
Anyway, I heartily approve of his message, which is about Classic Comics Press’s line of volumes reprinting Leonard Starr’s great On Stage newspaper strip, so I asked him if I could run it, too. Here’s what he had to say:
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For anybody who loves intriguing, enjoyable, literate comics (and that’s every Claypool reader, right?) I strongly recommend getting on the bandwagon to purchase each and every volume in Classic Comics Press’ ongoing reprint series of Leonard Starr’s excellent MARY PERKINS ON STAGE. The strip ran from 1957-1979, in both dailies and Sundays, and is arguably the best story strip ever produced by someone who wasn’t Milton Caniff. Single volumes are a bargain at $24.95 (for roughly 250 pages of terrific reading) and subscriptions are now being offered for four volumes at $100 (U.S. rate).
I can’t recommend these volumes highly enough (and would very much like to see them continued through the strip’s end). Leonard Starr’s mastery of narrative and draftsmanship was a big influence on me as I was developing my own talents, and I learned quite a lot from ON STAGE in terms of story development, pacing, presentation of themes, and delineation of character; I can’t quantify how much impact this strip had on me. (I never absorbed Starr’s gift for brevity, however.) Anyone who enjoys DEADBEATS is practically guaranteed to be mesmerized by the expertise on view in MARY PERKINS ON STAGE. Don’t hesitate! Order your copies now–and if you feel moved to do so, mention that you made your move due to a hard-sell from here.
Incidentally, Classic Comics Press also publishes reprint volumes of other notable comic strips, including THE HEART OF JULIET JONES, BIG BEN BOLT, DONDI, THE CISCO KID, and RUSTY RILEY. Visit their website and get all the information.
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I’ll second everything Richard said. On Stage isn’t just one of my favorite story strips, it’s one of my favorite comics, period, in any genre. A new volume of CCP’s series is cause for celebration in Casa Busiek on a par with a new volume of Walt & Skeezix from D&Q, or a new Steve Canyon volume from any publisher who saw fit to continue Kitchen Sink’s late, lamented (but great) series of Canyon reprints (hint hint), and gets read before just about anything else in the stack.
Starr isn’t simply a wonderful artist, but a terrific writer, with a flair for dramatic construction, and an unbelievable gift for making a character come to life as a distinctive individual in only a few words. I learned a huge amount about effective comics dialogue from Starr—both in terms of getting across a character’s essence, and writing exposition in a way that doesn’t weigh the story down. Anything he wrote is a must-have, but On Stage is his masterpiece.
There are seven volumes of On Stage out so far, which brings us almost to the halfway point in the series—and it’s a series that just keeps getting better and better. Give it a shot. You won’t regret it.
If it tips any scales for anyone, I wrote the introduction for Volume Two, and other volumes have intros by Walter Simonson, Joe Jusko, Eddie Campbell, Doug Beekman, Batton Lash and Sal Amendola. And Richard has a terrific essay in Volume Four. But we all pale next to the work of Leonard Starr.
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One, Two…One-Two-Three-Four!

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In the unlikely event that you’d like to see this image larger, click here.

So I got food poisoning at Disney World.
It wasn’t terribly serious, but my wife and I each spent an odd, gastrically-unsettled night mostly semi-conscious, drifting in and out of a not-quite-dream, not-quite hallucination state. At one point, during one of my more lucid periods, I asked Ann if we should get some soup or something from room service. She blearily responded, “Keep it charging…keep it charging…” She doesn’t know why. I don’t know why. But she said it, and then drifted off into unconsciousness.
I fell asleep and turned her odd utterance into a dream in which we were riding what I called The Food Ride. It was very much like Spaceship: Earth in EPCOT Center, with the train of little plastic pods you sit in and are taken past the sights and sounds of the exhibit, except in this one, you were taken past an endless buffet, where you could take whatever you wanted and eat it as your little plastic train-car pod went endlessly round and round, spiraling up the panorama of buffet units and down and around and up again. Prime rib, sandwiches, salad bar, fried chicken, desserts…you could put your credit card in a slot in your pod-car-thing, and just “keep it charging” as you selected whatever you wanted.
Later that night, after being awake for a while and then blearily passing out again, I had a very realistic dream in which editors at Marvel Comics—Mark Gruenwald and Tom deFalco, as I recall—offered me the writing assignment on Fantastic Four…the only hitch being that I had to take them back to their roots as a rock band.
I tried to explain that the F.F. had never been a rock band, but they didn’t want to hear it. That was the job, take it or leave it. This was long enough ago in my career that I think my recent works included the Red Tornado mini-series, The Liberty Project and The Legend of Wonder Woman. I wasn’t even writing What If fill-ins yet. So I really wanted to take the job, and I was working out an elaborate year-long story that culminated in a giant open-air stadium gig in Latveria, with attendant carnage, mayhem and killer robots.
I just couldn’t figure out where to start, since, after all, the Fantastic Four had never been a rock band.
As I was trying to figure out how to make this bizarre editorial demand work, I slowly regained consciousness, and was still trying to figure out how to make the story work when I realized, with a certain amount of relief, that it had been a dream. A certain amount of sadness, too, since I would have liked to write Fantastic Four.
But the food poisoning was over, and my wife and I enjoyed the rest of our stay in the East Coast Happiest Place on Earth.™ But I remembered the dream well enough to draw the picture you see above, and my pal Richard Howell inked and lettered it. And I brought it in to the Marvel Offices and showed it to Terry Kavanagh, then the editor of What The—?!, Marvel’s humor-and-self-parody comic, and he hired me (and Richard) to do a story about it. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you bizarre food-poisoning-induced dreams of the Fantastic Four’s recording career, well, you make do with what you got.
So I had to come up with a beginning for the story after all—but it was easier to do with a humor comic. I just had the editors at Marvel contact the Fantastical Four (as the What The versions were known) and demand that, because sales on their comic were bad, they had to go back to their rock’n’roll roots as a promotional stunt. The F.F. protested that they never had been a rock band, but the editors at Marvel were as implacable as they’d been in my dream—their contract with the F.F. gave them control over promotion, and this was promotional, so they had to do it. And Richard and I did the story, complete with Latverian open-air stadium battle of the bands against Dr. Doom. And it was published in What The—?! #17.
Secrets behind the comics revealed.

Adventures in Freelancing

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One of the odd things that occasionally happens when you’re freelancing.
That, above, is a picture of Liana, the former Green Lantern of the planet M’Elu. She starred in my first professional comics script sale, where she was drawn by my friend and occasional collaborator, Richard Howell, in what was his first professional comics sale as well.
A while back, I got asked for some input on a project DC was doing . One of the ideas I occasionally bugged Bob Wayne about DC collecting as a TPB was being done—a collection of the very enjoyable Mike Barr/Len Wein/Joe Staton Tales of the Green Lantern Corps mini-series from 1981, backed up with enough stories culled from the subsequent “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” backup series that ran in Green Lantern. The collections editor wanted to know if I had any thoughts on which GLC backups to use?
Well, sure. I put together a list of possible stories—and since this is me we’re talking about, I gave him a list long enough to fill three TPBs, but hey, it woulda been good stuff—and among the stories I suggested, I included “The Price You Pay,” Liana’s, Richard’s and my debut. I think it’s a pretty good story, and I’ve got legitimate sentimental reasons for including it, I’d say.
So I was gratified when the book was solicited, and Richard and I were on the contributors’ list. Great! Our debut story would be coming back into print!
Then the book came out, and I heard from some readers that the story wasn’t in there. There had been two backup stories in the issue that story had appeared in, and it was the other one they’d collected, even though it had recently been reprinted in another Green Lantern collection.
I was curious as to why the story didn’t make it—was the other one picked by mistake? [It was the one in the back of the book, so if someone simply grabbed the last story from that issue, they’d have gotten that other one.] Was there a problem? I wasn’t upset, just curious. I was told that there was a problem with the film, one that wasn’t going to be fixable by their deadline, so they went with the other one. No problem, so it goes.
A week later, though, I got a comp copy of the book, and so did Richard.
That was nice, but since we weren’t in it, I contacted DC again to let them know that we weren’t actually in the book, and maybe they should correct their records. But in the meantime, thanks for the book, I’m glad to have it. No problem, I heard back, they’d fix it.
Today, I got a royalty check. So did Richard. Not a bad check, either—it’s less than I was paid for writing the story in the first place, but not by all that much. It’d cover a very nice dinner and a night out at the movies for the whole family.
I’ve let DC know about it, and I’m sure they’ll fix it. But in the meantime, thanks, Liana—it takes some kind of ingenious hero to deliver free books and money without even appearing!
[And sorry, Todd Klein and Dave Gibbons—I’m sure your proper royalties will be on the way to you soon!]