Posted by Paul O'Connor
Five whole boxes in the Longbox Graveyard contain cherished books that have been separated, indexed, bagged, and boarded.
Another two or three boxes contain books waiting in line at Ellis Island.
Ten boxes are full of dross.
And then there are the five boxes full of my own stuff. “My own” meaning books that I wrote.
These boxes are freighted with old memories — and not good memories. I’ve done little besides take quick little Pandora peaks at them these past twenty years.
I struggled for about four years to break into the mainstream comics business by writing black & white comic books for Malibu Comics and it’s various imprints. At first I did series of my own creation, then later wrote scripts for properties Malibu owned. I learned a lot about myself as a writer but created nothing of lasting value and have little to show for my efforts. For the most part I avoid thinking about this era, and I’ve locked the books away as a means of keeping those ghosts buried. Most of the reasons why I got out of comics entirely, both as a pro and a fan, stem from the disappointment I experienced as a comics writer in the early 1990s. I failed to take full advantage of my comics writing opportunities and it is still difficult to think about it.
But something about working through other parts of the Accumulation gave me the courage to tackle my own books. It wasn’t even a gradual coming to terms — it just sprung on me in the middle of the night, a sudden and nearly irresistible urge to organize and catalog just the books that I had personally written during my brief career as a comic book writer. It was like bagging and boarding five hundred books from other creators made me want to see my own work afforded similar ceremonial respect.
I restricted myself to organizing and indexing books in this pass. Lord knows I’m not ready to read them again. But this is a huge step for me. It’s like acknowledging a pack of bastard children, and if it is too late to actually tend to their rearing, at least I can start to form relationships with them now that they’re grown.
For the last two decades I’ve basically denied that I ever wrote comics. Now I’m here to declare (though it matters only to me) that I wrote these books … but that’s as far as I’m going right now. A deeper look at the work and those times, as well as an assessment of why my comics career was so deeply disappointing to me, will have to wait for another post.
Here’s an alphabetical and incomplete list of what I wrote, based on what I’ve been able to find and enter into my database.
Bones #1-4: First comics I ever wrote. Light, goofball fantasy. I remember it as uneven, but heartfelt.
Empire #1-3: An original space opera that I deeply loved, but the inker slaughtered good pencils in the first issue, and the book was cancelled due to catastrophic sales. An outright cancellation was a rare thing in those days, when we didn’t plan for more than four or six issues in a run. I threw myself into this one but it was a doomed enterprise from the start. One of my real heartbreaks.
Ex-Mutants Winter Special #1: I turned in my scripts every thirty days, and sometimes we’d get way ahead of schedule and end up printing a book or two as a special edition, or an annual, or a double issue. I think that’s what happened here.
Ex-Mutants: The Shattered Earth Chronicles #1-15: Grind-it-out work-for-hire. I think the check I got for issue #1 was the most I was ever paid to write a comic. For most books I never got paid beyond my advance-against-royalties (because my sales never generated royalties!). For that first Ex-Mutants I probably made six or seven hundred dollars, which was two or three times what I made on any other book.
Interactive Comics: Dudley Serious & The Dungeon of Doom #1: Our splicing of comic books and “pick a path” adventure books. I know there were a couple more — a superhero story and a science fiction story — but I can’t find them. I have an Italian copy of the superhero story so I know it exists.
Lensman #1-6: I thought some Lensman would be better than no Lensmen at all, but I ended up doing a disservice to a great genre tradition. I loved space opera and leaped at the chance to do this series, but it had to be based on a pretty crappy Japanese animation series (rather than the original books), and I was saddled with a passive-aggressive prick of a penciler who made my life miserable for the whole run. Everyone lost.
Lensman War of the Galaxies #1-2: Really just a continuation of Lensman, but we started a new series to juice sales numbers owing to a new #1. I left after two issues — it wasn’t worth the grief of “collaborating” with a penciler who clearly regarded a writer as unnecessary.
The Liberator #1-6: Along with Bones, the first series I ever wrote. My homage to Captain America, by way of Alan Moore. I’m afraid to read it. Pencils by my old pal Jim Chadwick, who is an editorial wheel over at DC Comics now.
Monster Frat House #1: I remember writing a dynamite series bible for this, and then just having nothing left when it came time to write the issue itself. This was a naked IP pitch for animation, or something. Fizzled.
New Humans Annual #1: See comments above for that Ex-Mutants special.
New Humans, Volume 2 #4-15: Another long run that I can scarcely remember. This was more work-for-hire in the Ex-Mutants universe. I think I put a bit more of myself into this series but I’m not really sure.
Paranoia #1-6: Certainly the best art I ever had on a book, and a rare color book for me (pretty much everything else here is black & white). This was based on the role playing game license, and I wrote it as a “straight” Paranoia story, but then we scared up a wild-ass South American artist who went completely off the rails with his own look and feel, and I gleefully followed him. We probably did a disservice to the license and its fans but I liked what we did. There are scans of a couple issues over at Mars Will Send No More. I recently re-read the series and quite enjoyed it.
Roger Wilco #3: Comic book version of the old Space Quest computer game. Pretty sure I wrote #2 as well, but I can’t find it.
The Three Musketeers #1-3: I loved Dumas. I probably loved Dumas too much, because I tried to put too much of him into the three issues of this book. I nearly killed my poor letterer (the good-natured and very professional Clem Robins) — these books were a wall of words! I failed to understand the difference between adaptation and transcription. But I loved Dumas so much that I couldn’t cut a word …
Tiger-X Book II #1-4: I got to play with Ben Dunn’s giant robot property for a couple issues. I wasn’t really suited to it.
Ultra Monthly #1-6: A promotional rag I wrote to support the Ultraverse line. A painful experience that I’ll describe another time.
And I know I’m missing some of the kids, too, probably all lurking in the same box someplace. There was a “Shattered Earth” anthology series I remember, another Roger Wilco book, and a couple fill-in issues of Rune that I wrote during the last gasp of the Ultraverse (which I already covered in detail).
I’ve always had this vague idea that I’d written around a hundred books for Malibu, but there are only sixty-odd here, so either my memory is faulty or I’m missing a box, or both. There were also several unpublished books (some of which I was paid for), including a multi-part history of baseball; an undead pirate epic called The Black Joke; a fill-in issue of Sludge where the deeply-missed Steve Gerber put me through the wringer (and did me a great service); an extensive pitch for Ultraforce that didn’t get picked up; two or three long-gestating original superhero stories that I still remember fondly; even a translation of a French pornographic comic that I wrote under the name of “Armand Jean du Plessis” (all the more amusing because I don’t speak French). I’ve found a few of these lost scripts and put them up for your examination on my Comics Scripts page.
Sorry this is only a survey, but just writing fifteen hundred words about my comics oeuvre is a big, big step for me. It’s the most I’ve thought about my comics in twenty years. I’ll dig deeper in a future post. For now I’m going to do some deep breathing and maybe read BadAxe.
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #23 Queen of the Black Coast
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- Ask Insideman™ – Revisiting 39 of the Best Recent Graphic Novels (inveteratemediajunkies.com)
Posted in My Stuff
Tags: BadAxe, Ben Dunn, Bones, Comic book, Darkwatch, Dudley Serious, Ex-Mutants, Heavy Metal, High Moon Studios, Jim Chadwick, Jimmy Palmiotti, Lensman, Liberator, Malibu Comics, Monster Frat House, New Humans, Paranoia, Paul O'Connor, Roger Wilco, Rune, Shattered Earth, Sludge, Steve Gerber, The Three Musketeers, Tiger-X, Ultra Monthly, Ultraforce, Ultraverse