Category Archives: comic books

A Couple Links In Lieu of Actual Content

Maybe it’s because I’ve tried cutting back on caffeine. Surely it has to do with Black History Month at church and a presentation I did at the Underground Railroad conference this past weekend. But I am FRIED.

Fried means going to bed when the child goes to bed, between 8 and 9 pm. Going to bed BEFORE my wife, and if you know her sleep patterns, you’d find that astonishing.
So I’m not going to force it. I’ll give you a couple links. The good news, I suppose, is that I wrote them:

EDIT: POSTPONED UNTIL APRIL (paragraph below)
Over at Trouble with Comics, the esteemed comics blogger Alan David Doane is having Guest Reviewer Month. And guess who his first contributor is? (And yes, ADD, I DO laugh your claim to my “fame”.)

On my Times Union blog, I note how lucky Albany has been with the weather this winter. Those of you from across the country or the world might read that NYC schools and Syracuse University were closed on Friday; Albany got about an inch of slush. Oh, and I dedicate the post to Jason at 2political, who’s in the Washington, DC area and gotten far more snow in 2010 than I have.

Finally, I want to point you to the NYS Data Center blog where I highlight the Modern Mechanix blog.

More content tomorrow, I hope.

ROG

Fred Hembeck is 57


It my friend Fred’s birthday. Not quite sure what new to say, so let me (mostly) recapitulate:

Fred Hembeck is a comic book artist/cartoonist/storyteller whose narratives often involve superheroes interacting with a character named Fred Hembeck. His early work was compiled in a magazine published by Eclipse Comics, which I remember purchasing at a comic book store in Greenwich Village in New York City in 1979.
Fred’s second collection was published by FantaCo Enterprises of Albany, NY, and I met Fred at the store in February 1980 at a signing, a couple months before I would end up working at FantaCo myself. Eventually, Fred would do seven Hembeck publications with FantaCo, including an expanded version of that first Eclipse edition.

Fred would also grab the attention of both Marvel and DC. For the former, he did the Fantastic Four Roast, with Fred MCing the event. He’s possibly best know, though, for Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe, where Fred…well, what the title says.

During this, Fred and I became friends, with shared passions for the Who, the Beach Boys, and especially the Beatles, and also television and other popular culture.
But when Fred and his wife Lynn Moss moved out of the area, I lost track of him. I know I learned about the birth of their daughter Julie in 1990 secondhand, and quite possibly a couple years after the fact.

But I’d keep tabs on Fred through various sources from time to time.Fast forward to October 2004. I’m at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, where I see Fred’s and my mutual friend, going back to the FantaCo days, Rocco Nigro. Rocco says, “Have you seen Fred’s blog?” Well, no, but in point of fact, I had never seen ANYONE’S blog. I had HEARD of blogging, but like most people who had heard of it but had never seen it, I had poo-pooed it out of hand. When I actually READ Fred’s blog, however, I was captivated. Not only did I read it every day, I read all of the stories he had written from the very beginning of his blog back in January 2003. His voice was right there; it was as though he were talking to me back in the day.
Eventually, I contacted Fred and we established an e-mail friendship. I suggested a couple ideas for some blog pieces, which he used.

I also looked at his blogroll. Having gotten totally out of comics since 1994, I started reading and eventually following comic blogger folks such as Mike Sterling, Greg Burgas and Lefty Brown, all with whom I have some contact to this day.
Then I came across the now late comic book writer Steve Gerber’s blog on Fred’s blogroll and that pushed me into starting my OWN blog on May 2, 2005, which Fred generously plugged more than once that first year or two. So to say that Fred is responsible for me blogging would not be an overstatement.

Somewhere along the way, Fred and I decided to meet. There’s a MidSummer’s party in upstate New York my wife and I have attended frequently. so, for about three years in a row – but not, alas, in 2009 – the day after the party, we’d travel over to Fred & Lynn’s house for the afternoon. Fred and I would speak in some blogging and pop culture shorthand that occasionally left our wives mystified.
Ever since the folks at Image put out THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS in the spring of 2008, I’ve seen Fred at various comic book shows, once in Saratoga Springs, but usually in Colonie, both near Albany. Frankly, seeing Fred is the primary reason for going, along with our friend Rocco; I might even have an ADD sighting.

I do wish Fred had time to blog more often. He was a daily guy for a number of years, but he’s only posted six times the first 28 days of this month. But he’s had a good reason: he’s been compiling a new feature on his blog: Hey, Did I Tell You About That MOVIE I Saw Recently? Fred’s probably seen more movies in the past 10 months than I’ve seen in the past 10 years.

The best thing about today is that, for the next five weeks, Fred is older than I am!
So go to his page, buy his book (900 pages for $25; the FantaCo stuff is only about a quarter of it) or purchase some artwork, and then go draw a squiggle on your knee – no, the real Fred does NOT have them.
Happy birthday, effendi!

One of the things Fred and I have done in the 21st Century is to make mixed CDs to exchange. Four that Fred did focus on the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I played them all this week. One interesting song, in no way a reflection of Fred himself, of course, is King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man.


ROG

The Award-Winning…

Jaquandor was kind enough to bestow upon me a “Kreative Blogger” award of some sort.

I feel a certain obligation to pass these kinds of things along, based on the theory that, back in the olden days when I started blogging, some 4.7 years ago, it made the blogisphere – dare I say it? – FUN. Blogging should be fun, even if one’s venting one’s spleen to do so.

You’re supposed to reveal seven things about yourself. Of course, the problem with that I’m almost out of stuff to “reveal” that 1) I didn’t reveal before, 2) require more than a line or two, or 3) I’m not planning to reveal at this point, or quite possibly, ever. No guarantees that the list below might not have bumped into the first category:

1. I receive an irrational amount of pleasure when I delete one piece of spam in Gmail and it says I’ll be deleting “the one conversation”, or “both conversations” when I delete two, as opposed to those programs that will delete “all 1 conversations”, or some such.

2. I once got a B in art in 7th grade. My parents were at a loss as to how I did so well. This explains almost everything you need to know about me and doing art.

3. I once almost flew with someone who was traveling on someone else’s ticket. He got detained by airport security and the police for about seven hours until he showed his security clearance. This, BTW, was before 9/11.

4. I have no tattoos. I’m not opposed at this point, but 1) it would keep me from donating blood for a while and 2) my wife would hate it. Then there’s the pain and permanence thing, but those are secondary.

5. At least twice, I took jobs because of affairs of the heart. Neither was worth it; the jobs weren’t, that is, but the affairs of the heart were.

6. I tape sporting events then watch them later, going through lots of machinations (no news watching/reading or e-mail/Facebook/Twitter). Sometimes it works (Jets/Bengals, Eagles/Cowboys Saturday games I watched on Sunday; Packers/Cardinals Sunday game I finished Tuesday morning); sometimes not (the Patriots loss on the front cover of Monday’s Wall Street Journal).

7. I’m allergic to penicillin and Naprocyn, have been for years, yet I’m too lazy to get one of those tags. But we have one for my daughter with her peanut allergy.

Then I’m supposed to pass the award along. That’s a bit tougher. I’d have considered Jaquandor’s Byzantium Shores. I’d also have picked SamuraiFrog’s Electronic Cerebrectomy, except he gave the award to Jaquandor and that’s a bit too circular for me. Then there are the bums gentlemen who stopped blogging in the last year, who I used to follow.

Still, there’s:

1. Arthur @AmeriNZ – your usual, everyday blog of a gay man from Illinois who moved to New Zealand for love. OK, there’s a LOT more to it: talk about politics, comparative US/NZ culture and whatever enters his fertile mind. He also has a couple podcasts, one on politics, the other, more general.

2. Coverville – the blog is primarily a support mechanism for Brian Ibbott’s great podcast “featuring unusual covers of pop, rock and country songs by new and established performers.” But in the last year or so, he’s added a song rating system to the site. Also, he and his listeners have found some nifty videos of covers that he’s posted.

3. Progressive Ruin: Unfortunately, I gotta give props to Mike Sterling, even though he’s a cheater pants, not just for his persistence – I think he posted 364 days last year – but for some of his regular features, such as his deconstruction of the absurd items Diamond comics catalog, and especially Sluggo Saturdays. Still his obsession with the comic creature Swamp Thing is…disturbing.

4. And speaking of Swamp Thing, its best renderer, IMHO, my buddy Steve Bissette posts his Myrant, a mix of digital comics, comics & film history, political tirades and more.

5. Scott’s Scooter Chronicles is about music, books, beer, and hockey. Truth is that I’m not a big fan of the latter two, but he even makes those interesting. It’s also about his two young sons and being unemployed in America. SOMEONE GIVE THIS MAN A JOB!

6. Anthony Velez’s The Dark Glass is a series of theological musings. Sometimes I don’t understand, but he always explains it, or tries to.

7. Gordon at Blog This, Pal! is mostly a pop culture (comics/TV/movies) blog. He knows more about Doctor Who and Kids in the Hall than anyone has a right to. I happen to particularly enjoy those too-rare glimpses of his personal side (his mom, St. Louis vs. Chicago). He also has a podcast that he’s rethinking. He knows I’d always vote for keeping the music, but really, he should do what brings him joy.

ROG

SOLD OUT Part 6 by John Hebert (the conclusion)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

‘Twas the day before Hallowe’en ’86, and I’d finally finished what was to be my first comic book art assignment and was on the way to deliver the pages to the printer. The girlfriend and I were in my trusty Camaro, speeding along the NY State Thruway toward the printer in Gloversville with the bundle o’ funnybook art nestled in the back seat whilst bad 80’s tunes (then again, was there any other kind of 80’s tune?) blared from the in-dash Delco. It was pretty darned cold that afternoon, but I kept the heater off to keep me uncomfortable and maintain what little edge I had left as the last thing I needed was to fall asleep at the wheel – I’d been up so long that I was ready to drop and I still had miles to go before sleep.

We alternated between exhausted whimsy and dead silence as we drove on, the whole project had been electrifying yet draining and once we’d completed what we assumed to be the final stretch, we were eager for a return to normalcy, never guessing that all things normal were no longer an option in the life I’d chosen. We hopped off of the Thruway and hit the county roads, passing fields, barns, silos, livestock and some beautiful old farmhouses, the kind of which I had always held a grudging yen for, then, suddenly, it came to me – the entire area looked like the farm town in that awful “Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch” where they manufactured the possessed fright masks. Now maybe it was just a combination of exhaustion, the season and the late night cable reruns that had kept me company at my drawing board talking, but the fact that the town not only looked so similar and was virtually deserted gave me a major case of the creeps (much like many of the editors I would later work with!)

We plodded on, finally pulling up to the printing company – a very basic, nondescript brick and block building that also functioned as a newspaper office – the freelance printing had been a secondary income, utilizing and minimizing the down times between editions, but turning a nice and not-so-little profit for the company as I was later told. We were welcomed by the manager/editor/traffic manager who whisked us inside and gave us the tour of the place, as I’d earlier inferred, it WAS very basic, yet it was also quite impressive in the volume and quality of work produced there. Skulan really had found a true diamond in the rough for his printing needs. We laid out the pages on a composing table and went over everything, stressing certain things we needed and doing a couple of last, last minute corrections that even Tom and Raj hadn’t caught and took in the almost erotic experience of viewing my…very…first…printed…COVER WORK. Since we’d missed the initial, scheduled print run, the company had run all of the covers to avoid idle presses and a few of them were sitting around on desks, in boxes and trashcans. To this day, I regret that I didn’t grab some of the “rough cuts” that were gracing the previously mentioned wastepaper baskets as even flawed, those covers would have looked so cool pinned up all over the walls in my studio and rooms, but, c’est la vie. I wanted to eat and answer the more and more desperate call of Morpheus which I was finding more and more difficult to ignore.

We thanked the manager and left, stopping at a Burger King and filling up on cholesterol for the long drive home. As we ate, I stared across the road at what must have been the world’s smallest Pontiac dealership – basically the size of a gas station, with only 4 or 5 new cars splayed about their meager lot. I respected the quaint, bygone era nature of the area, but decided then and there that “Mayberry” probably wasn’t for me and that when the time came, I’d probably be NYC bound. The girlfriend and I talked about it as we jumped into the Camaro and headed back east, alternating between moments of giddiness at the prospects of being a real, honest-to-goodness working commercial artist, possibly living in the city, and then shifting back to melancholy at the less positive prospects it conjured.

The relationship had been increasingly more strained since I’d taken on the project, especially in the last couple of weeks when we’d bearded the dreaded deadline doom and now, for the first time, as I drove on I really began to wonder where we were going and if it might end up being “me” rather than “we”. She had another year of school left to complete, we’d all heard the stories and seen the effects of separation on relationships. I know what I was running over and over during those awkward silent moments on the interstate that day, and I think she must’ve been thinking about the same thing- either that or she was just visualizing a cow and pig wearing ballroom attire and dancing to “Turkey in The Straw”, it was so hard to read her.

We made it back to Albany, I said my goodbyes as I dropped her at her house, promising to call later on after some much needed shuteye and headed back toward Stately Hebert Manor with the window open and the stereo cranked to keep me awake and prevent me from thinking too much(it almost made me agree with a couple of Reagan’s policies…for a minute) as dusk began to settle. 10 minutes after swinging into my driveway, I had the blinds drawn and was profoundly out cold, having left a wakeup call for 1988 and grinning at the possibilities my future might hold as I dropped off.

Then my Mom came home. I’d only been asleep for around a half hour when she knocked on my door and reminded me nicely, yet curtly, that I’d promised to pick up a pumpkin for the front porch. Damn! I’d been so wrapped up in “The Project” that I’d let the usual, banal everyday stuff like a simple pumpkin get away from me. “Okay”, I muttered, let’s go get one and dragged myself to my feet. Of course, by the time I’d gotten up, gotten dressed, slogged out to the car and made it to the “pumpkin store”, they were: a. closing up and b. sold out(ironic) of the damned gourds anyway. I promised to pick one up at a farm store the next morning, then carve it and have the blasted thing lit just in time for the little vandals to wreck and headed for home and my bed once more.

I’d just dosed off when, off in a hazy distance, the phone rang and a unicorn delivered it to my door, announcing that it was Tom from Fantaco. He was very excited and explained that in the “lag time” we’d created by being late with the pages, the printing company had run every other assignment they’d had on “tap” just as they’d done the covers and now, with nothing else scheduled, they were actually going to print the entire run of “SOLD OUT!” #1 overnight, having it ready the very next morning. The girlfriend and I could drive back out to Gloversville the next morning, pick up a few cases of comics, drive back to Albany, and have them available for the inevitable influx of Friday afternoon customers. Wow! That’d be great…if I wasn’t A. exhausted, B. pissed off at the world, and C. numb from the shoulders up. Somehow, though, I heard my self agreeing to do it, hanging up, then calling she-who-was not-to-be–ignored and telling her of the great adventur
e we had in store for us the next morning ( AFTER getting a pumpkin of course!), then I hung up and headed for my bed. Of course, I was now so overtired and yet wired that I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up and cleaned and organized my studio, finally sacking out at around midnight. I’d been up for something like 36 hours at this point and I had another long drive ahead of me.

At around 1 p.m. on Friday, October 31st, 1986, the girlfriend, several cases of my first published work, and a pumpkin, pulled up in front of FantaCo in that very same dark green Chevette that had been a part of the beginning of all of this fiendish plot, somehow coming full circle. We trotted into the store, announced our presence and the FantaCo crew surrounded us, cracking the cases open, diving into the books with joy, satisfaction and relief, just as I when I’d picked them up at the printing plant some 90 minutes before and when I’d stolen more than a few looks at them while driving back and steering with my knees. It had been a job well done, they all agreed and now, it was time to let the general public get a crack at the comics. We opened up a case which Tom personally placed on the floor in front of the main display racks which he always did with whatever was the “hot” book of the week like Miller’s “Dark Knight” or one of the never ending array of X-Men titles and the customers descended on them, picking the proverbial bones clean to a politely positive collective response and more than a few requests for signed copies. I’d done good. I was happy.

Roger wanted to take some photos of the auspicious occasion. We agreed, but first decided to slip into our Halloween costumes that we’d secreted away under the cases of comics…and the pumpkin in the car. A few minutes later, there we were, in full “Rowdy Roddy Piper” and “Cyndi Lauper” attire, leaning up against the logo’d front window of FantaCo, capering for Roger’s camera and…loving it, even when some Tony Danza-esque lobotomy scar wandered up and asked where we were wrestling that night. I told him it was a costume, he started naming venues, again, almost demanding where I’d be in the ring that night. I politely asked him what day it was. He said “Friday”. I asked the date. He said “October something”. I said “It’s HALLOWEEN!!!” He seemed to finally get it, then told me he hoped I’d win my match and wandered off as did we a few minutes later. Fortunately, I had the legs for the kilt.

That night, after all of the relatives and friends had gone over the comic with fine tooth combs (as had we, like, a thousand times), and the evening meal was done and the stream of annoying trick-or-treaters had died down, the hastily carved pumpkin burned on, casting its eerie, yet inviting light across my front lawn, she-who-must-remain-nameless and I lay on my bed, watching “Transylvania 6-5000” on cable, grinning a thousand, satisfied grins. I had never been able to visualize what my first publishing experience might be like although I’d waited, hoped and dreamed on it for so long, and now it had happened, and it was exhausting, exasperating, trying, stressful, draining, straining and countless other “ings”, but, as I dozed off my thoughts trailed off to that quote in “Where The Buffalo Roam” where Bill Murray summed up not only Hunter Thompson’s life, but my own now as well, when he uttered the immortal last line “It Never got Weird Enough For Me”. I couldn’t agree more, even now, on the other, back side of that long lost, sometimes lamented, sometimes not so much, career, but it was ONE HELL OF A RIDE!

John Hebert


Thanks, John. John is living happily ever after with his bride, who is NOT she-who-shall-not-be-named and working on the comic book Captain Action. There was a second issue, the conclusion of Sold Out, but that tale will be told another time.
ROG

SOLD OUT, Part 5 by John Hebert

Before I get to John’s rellections, a couple comics-related things:
1. Len Wein, creator of, among many other things, X-Men staples such as Wolverine, Storm, and Nightcrawler, had a house fire, as I’ve mentioned. Here’s info for the Let’s Restore Len Wein’s Comic Book Collection Project. Contact Evanier before sending anything.
2. Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday, May 2; hope it doesn’t interfere with the Kentucky Derby. In all likelihood, I’ll go to Earthworld in Albany, as usual, get a bunch of free stuff for the kid and for me, and end up buying something i didn’t know I wanted.

Now, back to John, after I show you his X-Men 100 swipe homage with a circus strongman, Rowdy Roddy Piper, every guy who ever worked at an amusement park in the 80’s, and me.

I was a penciling fool- working and reworking pages here and there all that summer of 1986, getting the then-girlfriend to letter and dying to get to the inks. I’d been very fearful of inking my first book because I didn’t think I could ever be much of an inker. When I’d started trying to bust into the biz in earnest a couple of years before, I’d decided that penciling was a little too complicated so I thought to break in as an inker first and learn from whomever I’d inked and go from there. This brainstorm lasted just about a month- or the time it took for me to @*%*&^ up my copy of the Marvel Tryout Book and then be told by Zeck that my inks sucked, but that my pencil work had potential, so I’d gone with it.

Anyway, I’d shortly have to put my brush handle where my mouth had been. Once I’d penciled the entire comic, we’d all set a date where Tom, Roger, she-who-was-not-to-be-ignored, as well as FantaCo stalwarts Matt Mattick, Hank Jansen, and Joelle Michalkiewicz and myself would sit down, spread all of the pages out on the floor of the back office and take the “SOLD OUT!” experience in before committing it to ink, deciding what worked and what didn’t, what needed to be punched up and where we needed to tone bits down. It was a bit frustrating, to say the least. While almost everyone agreed that it was a very tight piece of effort, there was always a bit of niggling back and forth where everybody but one person would just love something, but that one detail bothered that one person which seemed to corrupt the entire apple cart and then we’d rework the damned thing until somebody else wasn’t happy and then…..Suddenly, at some point, after a very long day in the back office and losing the daylight, we staggered out into the early autumn evening clutching the bulging manila folder of pages ready to be committed to ink. My moment of truth had arrived.

One of Tom’s primary requirements for the artist was that he or she could draw a reasonably realistic turtle and hamster.

I’d put everything into the pencils, to the point where I needed to go to ink just to stir up the old creative juices with a change of technique. Even though I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good inker and with the additional weight of the fear of screwing it all up with bad inks, I think I did a pretty darn serviceable job- especially on the first half of the book when my energy level was high and I was interested, and in fact, thrilled to be doing something other than penciling. I did a really broad John Beatty type brush style throughout most of the book with a swatch of Jerry Ordway and a ton of zip-a-tone tossed in for good measure and just enjoyed the Hell out of most of the experience, but before long, I was tiring of inking as well, especially after we’d begun making last, last-minute changes as I was going along, sometimes scrapping panels after they’d been committed to ink and making me feel like a rat in a maze.

Our deadline was fast approaching too, as was Halloween when we’d hoped to have the book on the shelves, the girlfriend and I went into overdrive, always expecting the project done “the next week”, then still spinning our creative tires in the not-so-creative sand and shooting for the following week. It finally came down to the very cold day before Halloween of 1986, when I, having been up for something like 26 hours, leaned over the drawing board in my humble, yet tastefully appointed studio, forcing myself to ink those last few pesky panels that I’d put off inking for various pointless reasons for so long. The edict had come down from Tom Skulan – the book had to be done THAT DAY!!!! We’d already missed one scheduled press day and it was not to happen again.

The girlfriend had shown up at around 8 a.m. and we’d torn into the unfinished pages immediately, determined to deliver the entire finished book to FantaCo by noon for one more final “look-over” be various staff-eyes, and then we were to drive the entire project out to the printing plant in Gloversville, NY, some 90 minutes away. I was so tried and ragged by that point that I didn’t think I’d make it and longed for the peaceful reassurance of the void I was sure to encounter as I’d fall asleep at the wheel and swing the Camaro in front of a speeding semi on the Thruway…..”Don’t bother calling an ambulance Ferdie- he was a funny book artist, now he’s road pizza!”

So, we made it into the store at around one in the afternoon and dropped the packet of pages on Skulan’s desk, ready for criticism and a very, very long nap. Tom and Raj were the primary editors now, going over every panel and page, never missing a misspelling or uninked eye on some tiny figure in the background that no one would ever notice, but we fixed everything right there in the back room where it had all begun just a few, short, holy mackerel- it was, like FIVE months earlier, what was I thinking?!?!? Anyway, thankfully, most of the required changes were of the lettering variety and she-who-must-not-have-been ignored took care of them with white out and a couple of markers while I slipped closer and closer towards comatose while sitting on that very cold, uninsulated office floor. That cold and the aching in my joints were the only things keeping me awake, but somehow, it was finally done and the time had come to drive the darned book to the printer. The pages were lashed together in a large shiny orange folder and away we went, towards the beginning of the rest of my life, the world’s smallest Pontiac dealership, and the embarrassment of being photographed in a skirt on a busy Albany street.

To be CONCLUDED!

John Hebert
***
Miss Marvel, Mister Roger, Miss Lydia, May 3, 2008, Earthworld


ROG

SOLD OUT, Part 4 by John Hebert


Mr. Hebert continues his reminisces about a comic book I had something to do with because on this topic, his memopry’s WAY better than mine.

Now, it was time to put my money where my mouth had been all those years. I had to actually sit down and produce a comic book- doing the pencils and inks all myself and I’d gotten my then-art student/girlfriend to agree to letter the project. This was the point where a lot of the poseurs and wannabes are separated from the real pros. It’s one thing to draw lots of pretty pictures of Batman, Wolverine and Phoenix standing around and looking dramatic with no real backgrounds, but when you’ve got to TELL THE STORY WITH PICTURES, make it interesting and authentic and throw in some kind of “cinematic magic” to boot, that’s where it’s all at. I’ve seen so many kids and even adults who are SO sure that they’re the next big thing in comic art crumble and drift away sheepishly once they actually get a real script in hand and they see that copying a Jim Lee or McFarlane splash page has virtually nothing to do with actual sequential art that I can see them coming from a mile away now.

This, however, was my turn to shine or fail and skulk off to a lumberyard or some worse fate and I was determined to not allow that to happen. I gave my all on that book, staying up sometimes more than 24 hours straight, drawing, redrawing, hitting the library (pre-Internet) for reference, trying to stay “current” with the look and storytelling of the piece, sometimes second and even third-guessing myself into a near nervous breakdown of worry (which, admittedly, I came to do again and again even once I’d “made it in the big leagues” a few years later) and doing my best to not only impress Tom and Roger, but to try and out-mainstream the mainstream comics that “my book” would share rack space with. I’d pencil a page or 2, then pop into the store to show Tom and Raj what I’d done, then head back to the proverbial and literal drawing board sometimes high as a kite and sometimes near-suicidal as I had to pencil, repencil and even cut and paste up some pages combining 2 or 3 pages into one . This was occasionally very frustrating, but now, in retrospect, I realize that ALMOST every change was for the better and that this was the first real editorial input I’d ever had outside of school work and the volunteer work I’d done on theatrical projects and etc.

There were a few times when I practically begged Tom to let me ink a few pages, to not only get ahead, but to break up the monotony of the thing, but he insisted that, except for the cover and ONE page that would be sent around to the Comics Journal and such for promotional purposes that the entire book had to be pencilled and lettered before we’d all sit down, go over it, making sure evry panel of every page was complete, cohesive and coherent before I’d be allowed to commit the project to ink.

Phew, “tough room”, I thought, but not as tough as the times I’d have with the lettering. As I stated previously, my then-girlfriend had been recruited to letter the book. She’d never really even read comics and was struggling her way through art school, and, in the interest of complete honesty and disclosure, we did end up breaking up during the production of SOLD OUT!- once for a few days on the first issue and then permanently and badly a few pages into the second book. She was in over her head on the book, but in all fairness, she did give her all most of the time and she really had gotten involved to support me and in retrospect some 20 years later, that was a good and decent thing and I’ll do my best to say as little as possible in regards to this subject from here on. I was constantly throwing her copies of Simonson’s Thor which was lettered by John Workman- the only letterer whose work was not only competent, but practically jumped off of the page and actually added to the compositions and storytelling. I wanted “our” first project to be a winner and as strong as possible, but at times, I was too close to it and I didn’t handle the pressures as well as I should have. I’d spend days banging out a page, then I’d drop it at her house for lettering-sometimes only a panel or two, then feeling it all slipping away when I’d come back a couple of days later and find out that nothing had been done. It was agonizing; I couldn’t let this book fall apart, I had to get it done – the right way. It was my portal to the big leagues and out of Palookaville.

I got more and more stressed and was sleeping less and less, spending more and more of my awake time at the board after everybody at my house had gone to bed, and then crashing and sleeping the day away, only to begin again once the sun went down. I was a vampire without a cape and hokey accent, and I was hating it and loving it at the same time. As tough as doing a regular comic is, this was even tougher on some levels because it had to be FUNNY on top of all else and, as many have said before, “Comedy is tough”. We had to load the book up with loads and loads of sight gags, yet not overdo it and burn the reader out, we sought some weird state of balance where we’d go deeper and deeper into the absurd and twisted, then veer back into straight narrative-it was great and a true challenge as I had no problem diving into the absurd, but I sometimes needed (and still need) guidance to find my way back. The sight gags and plays on words and titles that I crammed into oh so many panels were inspiring, when I’d get a small notebook page with “John-go nuts here” scrawled on it, I did, feeding off of the guffaws and giggles I’d get from Tom and Raj when I’d plop the corresponding pages down on the desk for their look-sees.

It nurtured my need for not only reassurance and acceptance that every creative person craves, but it sustained my constant need to entertain- a flaw I still carry with me which is why I still stock a book of office traps and pranks on my desk to this day and why my cohorts at the firehouse and I spent two years planting broken lawn implements in one particular guy’s truck. It’s a sickness like drugs, drinking or gambling (at least two of which I know a bit about), but for the most part a benign one- although the lawnmower guy would most likely dispute that.

There were times it seemed like I’d never finish the project, that it’d never be an actual, tangible book. I kept working and reworking, getting closer, yet further from completion. The comics business was actually writing the damned thing for us with its absurd bombardment of the market with more and more awful small press black and white comics, some so ludicrously titled that we couldn’t even have come up with them. I sometimes think that it was a good thing that the book took us so long as we had had time to look at what was going on and say “Whoa, gotta put that in there!” The first pages completed- both in pencil and ink were actually the cover and the last page, when I got the go ahead to actually ink ’em, it felt like one big psychic enema, it was the break in the monotony that I needed – I could breathe again…for a few days, but thank God for those late night showings of HBO’s comedy specials on more than one occasion, they kept me from running screaming off into whatever night I was in the midst of.

There were a couple of inspirational moments on the project as well. The first started out absolutely horribly. I’d had a “Big Brother” when I was a kid because I’d grown up without a Dad of my own and my “Big Brother” and his family and I were and still are, close. Jack had a son named Erin who’d had a lot of behavior problems for years and had just seemed to be getting a handle
on them when he was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend on July 8th, 1986. As a tribute to him, I put Erin in the book, arguing with a doppelganger of FantaCo’s own longtime counterman Matt Mattick over a jacked up cover price and some 10 or 12 years later that very same panel was reprinted in a comics news magazine as accompaniment for a letter on speculation and distribution issues.It was self-serving, but I’d do it again in a minute.

Bottom panel is John’s tribute to Erin, on the left; I had no idea. A pretty good likeness of Matt on the right. – ROG

The second “uplift” if you will, came near the end of that summer when The Comics Buyer’s Guide printed the cover of SOLD OUT! #1 in their coming attractions section. I’d picked up a copy while dropping pages off at the store and retreated with she-who-was-not-to-be-ignored to this great little dive of a mexican restaurant where she had lunch and I stared at the cover art on that cheap newsprint blankly. I’d arrived. It’s funny, that Mexican place was still going strong until the owner died 4 or 5 years back. It’s a coffee place now; my office is basically spitting distance from there, and every time I pass it, I can’t help but think of that warmest of afternoons.

To be continued………

ROG

SOLD OUT, Part 3 by John Hebert


Notice if you will, the crazed look of Tom Skulan, me, and just about everyone else, while the artist and his then-girlfriend look relatively sane. Hmm. – ROG Now back to the artist.

Where were we? oh, yes- I’d started doing character sketches for “THE PROJECT” of which I’d spent the better part of an afternoon talking about with Tom Skulan and Roger Green in a most productive, informative, contentious first meeting that left me feeling confident and rarin’ to go as I left the store/office, yet completely bewildered as I sat down at my drawing board to begin doodling. I was supposed to come up with character sketches for: two muppetesque teenagers, a hamster and turtle who are actually 2 kids who were to just basically look like animals and the infamous empty comic book rack. The beasties weren’t that difficult as I always had encyclopedias and biology books around in addition to a well stocked public library just a few blocks away – oh, that the internet existed then, with its wellspring of potential for reference, news, and porn! – but that damned comic book rack! Geez what an awful thing to draw with its more or less cylindrical shape, countless wire racks and numerous vanishing points and negative spaces!

I looked and looked for reference on one everywhere, I’d already amassed a pretty darned good “photo morgue” or “swipe file” but had nothing even remotely similar to a comic book “spinner rack” in it. What was I to do? Well, after trying to “fake it’ and failing miserably, then whining to the FantaCo guys, they allowed me to take my camera into the store, dump all of the books off one of the racks and… take pictures! What a concept; then again, most of the grin boys in the biz these days probably wouldn’t have a clue where to get a reference photo of something like that if their computer was down and/or there was no Jim Lee or Adam Hughes comic nearby to copy from, let alone the drive to follow up on it.

Anyway, the turtle and hamster were a little nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that started the whole ridiculously long titled black and white independent craze and to the Adolescent, Radioactive Black Belt hamsters who continued it and they were the first designs that were immediately accepted (y’can never go wrong with REAL people, buildings,cars, animals, etc. in illustration), but the screaming kid in front of that selfsame empty comic rack was going to need a bit of tweaking. I’d gone “realistic” with him as well, thinking of, even though not directly lifting the image of a mutant kid that Mike Zeck had drawn in a then recent issue of Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man, but Tom wanted something arch, extreme. He suggested I look at some Harvey Kurtzman, and damn, he was right. Even with all of these years and miles past, I look at that cover and it’s stark, alarming and sticks in one’s mind- Tom knew what he was doing. But there would still be times when each and every one of the brave little crew that was to assemble in that dismal little office would offer some last minute, out of the box idea that would save the proverbial day (even me!)

After a couple of way too quickly passing weeks, we had the basic look of the characters, and a rough cover drawing to start sending around the horn with press releases, etc. but it was time to actually get the script together and start telling the story. At some point, I finally said to Tom and Roger, “So, am I officially ON the book or what?” and Tom simply said, matter-of-factly, “You’re the artist.” which felt very, very good, until we had to come to terms on the money situation and decide who was going to ink and letter the book. Ooops, I hadn’t thought of that- the penciling, inking and lettering duties were all to come out of the money set aside for “art” so, being a real go-getter (and so cheap I squeak), I decided to ink it myself and subcontract the lettering out to a party to be named later.

I’ll never forget being handed the first few pages of the script of which I still probably have sealed in a barrel in my heavily fortified basement. That “script’ was unlike any I’d seen before or since – it was a couple of lined 5 x 8 notepad pages written out in ballpoint pen, some actual script format with dialogue, sometimes reverting to “plot form” and in fact, sometimes merely being quickly lashed together sketches (better drawn than many Liefeld books) with hints of dialogue (even later on with comments such as “John, go nuts here”). Wow, this was going to be a real taskmaster, but I liked it from the get-go and really felt good about the project.

Probably one of the pages where Tom said to John to go nuts. -ROG

The book began with a newscaster yammering on about the black-and-white comic phenomenon, then segueing into flashbacks of the history of comics. This opened up infinite possibilities for coolness, I loved throwing in “period clothing” and sight gags on the comic racks in the backgrounds- mercilessly lampooning anything and everything and the guys let me ratchet it up further and further, using almost every twisted, borderline offensive suggestion with two exceptions. First, they decided to put the kibosh on a cover I had blatantly nailing DC’s then current “Man of Steel” as “Bland Of Steel” complete with the famous Superman chest emblem changed to snoring zzzz’s (although they finally acquiesced and allowed me a tamer version that did appear alongside “Lack of Action Comics” and “Defective Comics”. Secondly (and looking back now, I’m glad) they nixed a sight gag liquor bottle labeled “Wood alcohol” with the word “Wood” in the stylized “wood cut” typeface of the signature of the late, great Wally Wood. I had been too high on creative cooties to self edit on that one.

Late one hot June night when the house was quiet, I sat down at the drawing board in my secret crimb lab with only a boombox, the script, a piece of 2 ply kid finish bristol board and a few pencils for company and started actually drawing my first comic book.

To be continued……

ROG