What a special treat, fans! When we sell “Spider Twins” mini-comics at conventions, we offer a special – “buy the three comics, get a free commentary CD,” which we produced in 2008 right before we began selling the comics!
While archiving all our previous “Tabloia Weekly Magazine” features for this blog, and since we’re on a “Spider Twins” kick, we managed to dig up the transcript for the “Spider Twins Commentary CD“! Enjoy! -Rob Oder, Editor-in-Chief
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Hi there. Welcome to the official creator’s commentary for “The Spider Twins Companion.”
It’s February 2008, and my name is Chris Wisnia. I’m a comic book creator, writer, artist, and self-publisher. If you’re listening to this, I assume you have some familiarity with, or interest in, me or my comics projects. Either you happened onto the SpiderTwins online as a web-comic, or you picked up the mini-comics from me at a convention, or you scalped this audio online somewhere. In any event, I want to thank you for your interest, and hopefully your support as well.
I knew I wanted to come up with some kind of unique bonus feature for this project, as an incentive for people to buy the books. Unfortunately, this is all you get. So enjoy it, I guess, the best you can.
Actually, I stole this idea from someone who came by my booth at San Diego last year, who said he was producing creator’s commentaries for artists he reviewed at his website. And I thought, What a great idea. I’ve got to steal that. It’s ingenious. So here we are.
Now this particular CD isn’t the usual commentary like a DVD commentary, in that I can’t really go from panel to panel and talk about my story from a narrative point of view, and say the meaning of this panel and that sequence, and so on. Because the Spider-Twins Companion, which I assume you’re holding in your hands right now, isn’t a narrative story, as you can see. It’s not a story at all. It’s just a series of bad, potty-mouthed, one-gag double-entendres, ejaculated into the superhero genre, so to speak. But I CAN blab about the creation, brainstorming, and making of this project. I CAN blab for a long time about boring tidbits, trivia, random, uninteresting facts, useless insights, and pseudo-intellectual discussions ABOUT ME, that won’t interest anyone but me. Doesn’t that sound fun? Could anything be worse? All right, then it’s a deal. For the next hour, I’ll be discussing me, my creative process, producing this body of work, professional wrestling, and superhero comics. So you might as well either turn this piece of junk off and try to pawn it on ebay (and it won’t sell, believe me – I KNOW), or get comfortable, sit back, and do your best to enjoy yourself, given the circumstances.
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CHAPTER ONE: CHILDHOOD ENCYCLOPEDIAS
Ever since I started trying to get into the comics industry, and even from the time I first began self-publishing, I kind of assumed I would wind up working for Marvel and DC, doing superhero comics. Because that’s what comics always were for me. That’s what I grew up on, and I didn’t know anything else. So I just assumed it was a given, that superheroes were where I would wind up. When I began trying to make a career of comics, I produced mad scientist stories, and film noir mysteries, and tabloid stories, and it never crossed my mind that I didn’t even have any interest in superheroes as a genre.
But superheroes were just kind of lingering, in the back of my brain. Along with the assumption I would some day do them. And that Marvel and DC would ask me to do them.
A comic of key importance to my formative years was Marvel’s 1980’s “Marvel Universe” series that came out during my pivotal high school and younger years, and DC’s 1980’s equivalent, “Who’s Who In The DC Universe,” all of which contained every character of the two universes, along with the heroes’ secret identities, heights and weights, first appearances, origins, powers, and history.
I had stumbled onto a couple Marvel Universe comics a few years after the first volume came out. I grew up in South Lake Tahoe, and up there, the only place you could buy comics was at a Seven Eleven, a local Drug Store, or the supermarket. There weren’t any comics shops, anywhere, so the only comics I had access to were the mainstream ones, the month that each issue came out. If I missed an issue, I’d never have the opportunity to see it. That is the hell I grew up in.
So you can imagine my shock, stumbling onto a couple Marvel Universe comics, a few years after they came out, and having not even ever heard of the series at all. I was on a family trip, and of all places, I found them at a Seven Eleven. They had a dollar cover amount, which was considerably more than the sixty cent price I was used to. I found an issue with all the “T” superheroes, and Thor was prominently placed on the cover. The other issue was “P,” with Powerman prominently placed. Humorously, the “P” issue was ripped down the center, literally about two thirds down, through every page of the book. So I grabbed the “T” issue and flipped through it.
Since I hadn’t heard of the comic, since I just didn’t have access to these more high culture items, I was skeptical that it wasn’t even an actual Marvel-sanctioned book. But when I flipped through, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sure enough, it had a Marvel logo, and page after page were all these characters I recognized, and all these characters I DIDN’T recognize! And how it stimulated and satisfied my scientific interest in the Marvel Universe. It pictured them all, listed their secret identities, their heights and weights, their first appearances and origins and super powers. It was fantastic! Magical! And they were all just alphabetical! In fact, it seemed too good to be true. I flipped through to find characters I knew, and then studied their drawings to make sure their costumes were legit. I tried reading a paragraph, to see if their descriptions were accurate, to the best of my knowledge. As far as I could tell, this was the real deal! And it wasn’t just bad low-brow shlock any more. It was scholarly. It was encyclopedic entries, with no sequential action, except maybe a single image, and it was all this dense type! I couldn’t get enough of it. I bought that “T” issue, even though it was a horribly expensive dollar compared to the sixty cent issues I was used to. A real investment. And even though I get car sick reading, I couldn’t keep my eyes off it for the drive back to our condo. I just studied it. I didn’t read much of it, now that I think of it. I would maybe read someone if I didn’t know who it was, or if it was a short enough entry. I would take it to bed with me, and study it while everyone was sleeping. I just gaped at all the characters and their costumes. And I started copying all the drawings of all the people in it, and fantasizing about going back to that 7-11, and how if I was lucky, maybe that torn “P” issue hadn’t sold yet, and I would have the fortune of buying it too, torn all to shreds as it was.
I convinced my parents how important this was, and they agreed to take me back to the 7-11, I think a couple days later, and to my relief, no one had bought the torn-up “P” issue. I flipped through it, as it practically fell apart in my fingers, and got up the courage to ask the man at the counter if he might be willing to give me a discount. I was prepared to pay full price, so you can imagine my unhidden, pre-pubescent ecstasy when he said, “If you want it, you can have it.”
So these came to be invaluable resources for me, and soon DC put out their own version, “Who’s Who,” which I bought in its entirety as it came out – since for some reason the supermarkets carried it, and that’s the only way I could buy comics up in Tahoe.
A couple years later, I met a kid who was four years older than me, who had a comics collection he was ready to let go of. To my excitement, I managed to land from him a complete set of Marvel Universes, including the issues of the dead characters! among other treasures that it had never crossed my mind I might be able to get my hands on. So now I owned a thoroughly satisfying and complete encyclopedic library of all Marvel’s AND DC’s superheroes.
At this young age, I began scientifically copying all these heroes onto 3″x5″ cards, and measuring out my drawings so that they were to scale with each other. I could draw Galactus on six cards, and Wolverine or a Mole Man’s mole or Puck from Alpha Flight on a quarter of a card, and then hold the cards up to each other and compare how different everyone was in height. Who wouldn’t have fun holding those cards next to each other and looking at them and comparing the size! I had a real categorical, comparative fascination with super-heroes. So of course these encyclopedias were truly treasured, much loved and thoroughly worn collections. And then I grew up.
POST PUBESCENT INFLUENCES
I started reading comics again when I graduated from college. Grant Morrison began writing the X-Men in 2001, right at the time I was seriously shopping my scripts and art to publishers, and I had the opportunity to see him speak on an X-Panel, my first year at the San Diego Comic-Con. He talked about costumes of superheroes, and how their look originated from the circus, and showy performance people like circus strongmen. They were supposed to be performers, larger and stronger and brighter than life. They were supposed to be visible from the farthest seats under the tent, and put on a show. Grant said that this function of the superhero’s costume seems outdated now, and almost laughable, but when he began writing the X-Men, he could see a practicality to a superhero costume if it were used instead as a uniform, like a police officer or fire fighter or military, or even sports team, would wear. It’s important that the uniform be easily identifiable, and easy to spot, so that these people can be located when needed, ready to assist. A uniform can also have a functionality to it, such as helmet or gloves or high boots to protect, cleats to run faster or tread better, a belt with clips and gadgets attached, things like that.
Hearing him discuss this made me realize, I liked his idea of having a costume being functional, but I also liked the idea of a costume being out-of-date and pointless in its garish showiness. So that idea stuck with me, and was possibly the earliest germ of a consideration for formulating my own universe of superheroes, not including the Marvel Universe and DC Who’s Who comics of my childhood.
An enormous inspiration, and quite possibly the impetus that got this project rolling in my head, was Gilbert Hernandez, in 2002, again at the San Diego Comic-Con. He had brought a homemade, Kinko’s copies-style mini-comic. It was just 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper folded in half, with a blue cover, and which he signed and numbered. The comic was titled “Crime-Stoppers of America Vol. 1,” and it boasted on the cover that it contained “70 classic superheroes,” which were two or so per page. There was no sequential story-telling. There were no panels, and no dialogue. Speaking with him, when I bought it from him, he said he had planned to have catch-phrases for each character as well, but I assume he ran out of time, and just threw together what he had when it was time to leave for the con.
I loved this mini-comic, and his book full of kooky super-heroes was awe-inspiring. Of course Gilbert’s cast of heroes were odd and humorous, and that spoke to me even deeper. They had Gilbert’s usual, slightly retro style, but format-wise, it was reminiscent, for me, of Marvel Universe and DC’S Who’s Who. And I loved it for that.
A fourth source of inspiration was Daniel Clowes, who drew a pin-up of Madman for Michael Allred. In it, he didn’t actually draw Madman. Instead, he drew three nerdy kids dressed up like Madman and going to a comic convention together. And these kids didn’t just all buy a Madman suit at their local drugstore. The drawing really captured three kids who had independent visions, went through the clothes they each had in their closets, and constructed unique, individual, homemade Madman outfits. One wore shorts, and drew a logo on a long-sleeved t-shirt. One stitched together a full body suit, with a poorly sewn-on logo. One had a mask that covered a third of his face, attached with a string. Another made a mask, more like a nylon stocking over his face, and it covered his hair. They all wore different kinds of sneakers. I loved this idea of costumes being just something a kid makes at home, as best as he can, with what he has available. And I’m saying “he,” by the way, not to be sexist, but because I like to think girls or women would have the common sense and integrity, and would lack the macho attitude, not to have any desire to do anything like this.
So these four elements were bouncing around in my head. A “Marvel Universe” style of hero catalog a la Gilbert Hernandez, wearing garish but functional costumes that they homemade. Now it was just a matter of letting these elements germinate for a few years.
INTERMISSION: MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Okay, I want to pause for a minute and talk a little about how I write a lot of my comics stories. How my mind works. It comes from being a musician, and writing songs.
I’m speaking thematically about my music. The lyrics. I’ll come up with a theme for my song, such as “metaphors that sound like you’re talking about love, but you’re actually talking about having a bowel movement.” This is an actual song my band played, incidentally. I’ll decide on a theme because for some reason a line will pop into my mind that makes me laugh, such as this: It may take a little time, it may take a little effort, it may take a pushing strain, but I’m going to get you out of my system.”
So I’ll think to myself, those are good lyrics, but I’m going to need more lines for the verse. So I’ll just keep this theme in mind, and if anything comes to me, I’ll write it down. If I need to, I’ll sit down and brainstorm, or in this case, maybe brainstorm while Im using the restroom. But usually the best ideas come when I’m not thinking or worrying about it. And over time, I’ll get other ideas for other themes and other songs, and every now and then, a new line will pop into my head for this song. Maybe later in the week, I’ll come up with “You may be gone now, but the scent of you remains.” And I’ll jot that down, either on the original sheet, if I can find it, or on a new sheet. And a month later, I’ll come up with, “sometimes I wish I could wipe the pain away.” Or the next day, maybe I’ll come up with, “I feel, sometimes, like there’s still a piece of you inside of me.” And eventually, I’ll dig through all my stacks and stacks of papers or scraps of papers, and sort through them, lumping the themes together, and hopefully I’ve got enough lines to put a full song together.
I realized, while working on my Doris Danger comics, that I could justify this as a perfectly valid way of writing comic books as well. At least for me, a story doesn’t just come fully born from start to finish. It’s a series of images or conversations based on a theme. And it doesn’t even need to be narratively cohesive, in my opinion. I’ll just keep thinking about the story and the characters, and ideas will just pop in my head over time, that I can try to squeeze in somewhere. Doris Danger was perfectly suited to this style of writing, because her adventures are all about seemingly random and unrelated characters, events, and cliff-hangers. Her stories have a purposely discombobulating feel, which is easy to achieve, if you take stacks of randomly brainstormed ideas and lump them spastically together. For Doris Danger, I think it worked. I was performing a pseudo-intellectual experiment, to see how much the reader could be thrown into situations without any background, and still follow the plot, and still hopefully enjoy the story.
When I realized that I would be writing this way for Doris Danger – in other words, by brainstorming in scraps, as they came to me – I decided to keep organized, get a notebook, and just put all the ideas straight into one place. And some days I’d get a half dozen ideas, and some weeks or months would go by with nothing, but now, at least, they were all together, organized at least in the sense that they weren’t on stacks and stacks of loose scraps of paper all over the house. They were collected in one notebook. Actually, the notebook had scraps of paper in it too, because sometimes I had ideas and the notebook wasn’t handy. But it was a start at least.
And this wound up being the style of writing I would use to create the Spider Twins. One gag, one scrap of paper or notebook page, at a time.
NOW … THE SPIDER TWINS
I’ve been doing a lot of parody and satire styles of stories. My character, Dr. DeBunko was originally conceived of as my own personal take on DC Comics’ skeptical Dr. 13 character of the 1970’s. I infused the Scooby Doo style debunker with values of the Skeptic Society.
My character, Dick Hammer: Conservative Private Investigator, is in my opinion just a straight mimic of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer crime novels of the 1950’s.
My Dick Hammer web comic gives a nod of the hat to Dick Tracy’s daily comic strip.
My character Doris Danger is a literary, artistic, stylistic, and thematic rip-off of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s giant monster comics of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Then I duplicated the structure to mimic watching the X-Files television show, but out of order, when you don’t know who any of the characters are or what’s been happening for five seasons.
My story, The Lump, was an ode to 1940’s crime and horror films.
So at some point, since basically stealing from things I love is how I create, I decided, I wanted to do a superhero comic, and I wanted it to reference Steve Ditko’s Spider-Mans. I assumed I would draw it in Ditko’s style. Although I also wanted to bring some Wally Wood T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Siegel-Schuster Superman in as well, in its original conception.
I began to develop some characters, most of whom were references to Spider-Man’s villains. I had my version of The Vulture, and Dr. Octopus, and Kraven the Hunter, and the Sandman. And I began to just jot the ideas down in my Doris Danger notebook, because I didn’t have any other place at the time.
Dated 5/28/03, I jotted down a fairly absurd name, labeled “super hero villain,” so obviously I was beginning to think about superheroes, and villains. On the next page, I wrote “Spitting Spider, Shooting Spider, Flying Spider,” and then the additional adjectives “Shreiking” and “Deadly,” and then “The Spider Twins!” This was the birth of the mini-comic you hold in your hands. The beginning of the concept realized.
Dated 6/2/03, I jotted down the names of two more villains. Clearly, my conception of my Ditko-styled super hero book had begun, although they weren’t yet the foul names they’ve come to be. They were just absurd-sounding characters.
A new catalyst for the superheroes went off in my head as a result of some jokes my wife and I made about our dog, Felix, when we first got him, around 2001. He loved chewing things up, so we bought him these dog bones, and we foully called his bone his “boner.” “Felix loves his boner. What a great big boner you have, Felix. Look at Felix chewing on his boner.” That kind of stuff. And he loved to chase and chew tennis balls, and whenever we went for a walk to the park, he would find a new tennis ball and bring it home, until he had a basket full. “What a lot of balls you have, Felix! Felix loves his balls. Play with your balls, Felix, play with your boner!”
We laughed that we’d better be careful about what we call his balls and boner in front of people, or if we had kids. But boner and balls jokes, man. They’re just as good as fart jokes. They just never get old.
On 6/7/03, this became the missing element for the theme of my super heroes. I wrote down my first double entendre, “The Flaming Cowboy.” The fun was coming up with reasons a superhero would be named an otherwise dirty-sounding phrase, and why it therefore wasn’t dirty at all. I was visualizing, not just kids dressing up in costumes, but characters with actual super powers at this stage, because I wrote “controls fire.” I also wrote, “Origin: While on my ranch.” That’s all I wrote. “Origin: While on my ranch.” But that’s just how my mind work. What it says is that it doesn’t really matter what his origin is. What matters is that something happened – he was struck by lightning, maybe – that gave him his powers to control fire. On this same day, I wrote “Spider Twins’ pet: Spider Dog,” and “Spider Twins Mobile,” obviously to poke fun at Superman’s horde of super-pets, and Batman’s Batmobile or more specifically, Spider-Man’s Spider Buggy. That same day, I labeled a character as “Their Main Dr. Doom-like villain.” On 6/13/03, I jotted down two more characters, including one labeled “Wolverine rip-off.” Clearly, I envisioned a story to parody existing comics, characters, and stories.
On 6/14/03, I wrote down eight character names, including a villainous duo, one double-entendre, and a quote “Joker rip-off.”
On 6/17/03, the blood really started pumping, and I came up with seven double entendre villains’ names and a double entendre team name. The tides were turning. The entendres were taking over.
On 6/31/03, I wrote “secret identities of spider twins: Jimmy Jill and Jamie Jill.” I remember this came very clearly from Jack and Jill. Everything was taking shape.
Then the project really began to become its own on 7/5/03. I remember, because on this day, my wife Elizabeth and I went to a friend’s wedding. And you remember specific events like this, because you’re in a new, specific setting. While we were sitting around during the reception with nothing to do – and at an empty table, no less – I told Elizabeth about this new idea of mine for a project, and next thing I knew we were brainstorming villain names and powers and laughing our asses off.
We came up with a dozen new characters, some with secret identity names. Listed in my notebook are the Fudge Packer (with the descriptor “shoots thick viscous chocolate from a gun attached to backpack, and a sample of a victim’s dialogue, shreiking “I’m packed in fudge!”), The Rammer From Behind (labeled as “a goat mask – always attacks when you least expect it,”) The Red Twelve Inch Rod, The Pink Rod, The Gerbil, The Giant Flamer, and the Heavy Petter (described as “overweight animal trainer.”)
Then on 7/12/03, we went bowling with some friends, and the creation of these superhero names become a party game. Mostly we just shouted out foul slang for foul body parts or sexual acts, and occasionally we tried to come up with an explanation of how their names could be descriptors of their super powers as well. Many of these names, I’m still unsure to this day how to make them into super heroes, but that’s just part of the brainstorming process.
This was all listed in my Doris Danger notebook. But then I petered off for a while, and the notebook came to be dominated by its regular subject, Doris Danger. I was working on and getting ready to publish her stories, after all. There were a few super hero names splattered in, here and there, dating 4/1/04 and 5/15/04, and then 8/15/04. That’s a year after the last entries, and the year I began publishing my first comic, “Tabloia Weekly Magazine,” so obviously I was busy with other things.
On 10/16/04, I actually drew a sketch of Jimmy and Jamie Jill in their Spider Twins outfits. They were in basically every-day, practical clothes for running around and crime-fighting. Shorts, long sleeved shirts, knee and elbow pads, sneakers, and masks. I didn’t want them to look like heroes. I wanted them to look like kids trying to dress up in a way they thought would look like heroes, based on what they could scrape up from their closets.
That same day, I also tried to come up with a logo, and interestingly, Elizabeth came up with a much better one than mine, which I ended up using. Also interesting, we were once again at a function together. A baby shower. You can imagine how I go to these functions, and don’t socialize, and just sit in a corner table by myself, laughing hysterically and socially frightening everyone away. I showed Elizabeth the picture, and she kind of shrugged as if she didn’t think it was of note. And I sketched a logo, and I was trying to not make it look like a trademarked Spider-Man logo, and she shrugged again, so I asked her what a Spider Twins logo should look like, and she just drew it like that, with the happy face. And it couldn’t be mistaken for a trademarked Spider-Man logo.
The same day (at the same function), I wrote down, “Fudge Slinger – slingshot,” and Fudge Squirter – squirt gun.” Then I wrote “pairs up with Fudge Packer – carried it in a backpack and throws it by hand.”
Then I wrote, ” I recognize you, Fudge Squirter. Didn’t you used to call yourself the Fudge Packer? Yes, before I developed my patented fudge-slinging slingshot, I carried fudge in a backpack and threw it by hand!”
And then on 2/14/05, I wrote the final Spider Twins entry in Doris Danger’s notebook. It describes the motives of a super-villain for dressing up and becoming a villain. So not just the bad double-entendres, but the actual characters are beginning to develop. Because of course that’s always the question, isn’t it? Why would these people decide to dress up and become super-villains? Not an easy question to answer, and perhaps one reason there’s no such thing in real life.
In the final two issues of Tabloia, published in 2005, I made two oblique references to the Spider Twins. One is a newspaper page, with a headline about the Spider Twins and a picture of their logo. The other is a fake fan letter, writing and asking when Tabloia is going to reprint those great adventures of Jimmy and Jamie Jill, the Spider Twins. It mentions their arch-rival, Dr. Mechanical Spider.
And then I stopped thinking about them until 9/1/05, over six months later, when I officially began a separate Spider Twins notebook. I continued to come up with characters, but the bulk of the notebook contained character developments, and situations the characters found themselves in, and willing to fight for.
The idea that was developing was this. There are no such things as super powers in real life, but there are also no masked, costumed vigilantes. We very rarely happen to be the victim of a crime, or even to see a crime in progress, let alone have the opportunity to combat it. So I began thinking to myself, from a practical point of view: What would people feel so passionately about in real life, that it could drive them to dress up in crazy-ass bright costumes and go around beating other people up?
The answer for me seemed obvious. It’s all those day-to-day pet-peeves that just make us furious. People who park over the line so that you can’t park in the space next to them. People who think they’re so funny they won’t shut up in the movie theaters, even though they’re not funny at all. People who leave their Christmas lights up all year. People walking their pets who don’t pick up after them.
So in my fictional town of Crude Bay, all these people have caught this crazy “masked vigilante” bug. And it’s a mass insanity, where the whole town not only becomes sympathetic to these crazies, but also even feels encouraged to join in the masked insanity. It’s in vogue. It’s the fashionable, cool thing to do. Everyone’s dressing up in costumes, and going on their individual crusades. And everyone else is getting just as poised against them. “Oh, yeah? Well I have a right to park over the line! Oh yeah? It’s a funny movie, and I have a right to shout out about it if I think of something funny! Oh yeah? I think Christmas lights look GOOD all year! Oh yeah? I didn’t take a crap there, so I’m not picking it up! Why don’t you tell HIM to pick it up!
So again, the original idea was, these two children, these high school students, Jimmy and Jamie Jill, they go out in their masks and costumes too, but they try to quell all these masked crazies. So I envisioned every issue with the two of them going up against all these people with agendas.
CHAPTER FIVE: TRYING TO GET A LOOK
So you can see these ideas were in my brain for some time. I was getting pretty excited about beginning work on this one, but didn’t know from a practical standpoint when I would have time. I wanted to draw in a Steve Ditko, Spider-Man style.
To begin my research, I began looking at Ditko’s Spider-Mans, to study his line work and composition, but also just to get a feel for what he was doing. Fairly early on, dated 9/4/05, I actually drew the Rammer From Behind, modeled after a John Romita drawing of The Rhino. But I realized that using this kind of reference made the characters too comic-booky. The pose was too action-packed, and not “real-worldy” like I had been envisioning. My negative reaction to this drawing actually froze me up, and that’s partly why I left the project aside for a while. I was trying to envision the look it should have. But I did spend some time reading maybe fifteen Spidey adventures. I was struck by how heavy they were with rooftop scenes. Shots of Spider-Man swinging from building to building. Fighting on rooftops. Swinging up high. Crazy angles of city scapes, as Spider-Man swoops up or down.
And if I wanted real-life, non-superheroic characters, then the idea of incorporating Ditko’s style didn’t seem so appropriate anymore. My characters were earth-bound, mere mortals. Mere self-important high school punks, running around on the streets. But I still wanted that energy, that youthful excitement, that understanding and memory of being in high school, and being in love, and not being loved, and being bullied on, and all those other emotions that come with that age. Ditko and Stan Lee really captured all that.
12/1/05, after some time for the project to gestate, I started drawing little sketches of the characters in my notebook. At this time I had an idea I would be using reference, but for these little sketches, I didn’t worry about that. I just drew ideas of them in my sketch book as they came to me. The exercise was to start thinking about the costumes, and how these people would dress up. I would work in the photo reference later.
These costume sketches were all hooded sweatshirts, leather jackets, long pants, long sleeves. Regular clothes. I also spent time brainstorming costume identifiers and symbols. I made a list of things like stripes, lightning shapes, stars, flame symbols, scarves, elbow and knee pads, headbands, wristbands, checkers, dots and spots, zig zags, ear muffs, socks pulled up, ski masks, gloves, and different kinds of boots and masks and hats.
But as I formulated ideas, it remained important to me for each character to have individuality and symbols, but I realized, I wasn’t actually interested in drawing clothes. I was interested in drawing muscles. Or, in this case, the muscles and lack of muscles of ordinary people. Plus, it seemed to me, if people are of the ego that they’re out running around and beating each other up, they’re going to get hot in clothes. They need thin clothing, so they don’t overheat. And they’d want tight clothes, so they can show off their muscles. But clothes can only be so tight.
That always made me laugh, that when you look at superheroes in costumes, their bodies are actually drawn as if they’re naked, but then they have little underpants on, that suggest their anatomy is similar to a Ken doll, with nothing inside the pants. The early superhero comics, from the sixties and before, the artists actually drew the tights in a way that you could see them bunch up at the joints, or tucked into the shirt. But no more.
I began looking at people who dress up like superheroes for comics conventions, or Halloween. Their bodies are rarely physical specimens of perfection. And often they’re eye-hurtingly imperfect. Their guts protrude. Their arms are flabby. Their asses are ugly and flat. Their legs are devoid of muscle. Their faces are mediocre. And no matter how tight their clothes are, they’re still only so tight, and the material bunches at the joints and where they tuck into the underpants.
So looking at these real people, I realized how even the well-bodied, good-looking ones don’t look as sleek as in the comics. And even in the movies, when the actors are literally sewed into their costumes to get them as tight as possible, the costumes still bunch up, and they just can’t quite look as sleek as in the comics. They can’t turn their neck so they have to kind of turn their whole body, and they’re all stiff. Or you wonder how they could see and not bump into a desk when they spin around. It just isn’t practical. None of it. It isn’t real. And that’s fine, but I wanted to make my story real. And if they made a costume for themselves where they can’t turn their neck, then that will be a story. And I enjoyed the least sleek, least phycial specimens of perfection the best of them all.
And that’s why it seemed natural that my love of 1980’s professional wrestling would intercede, and my Spider Twins story began morphing into something even worse.
When I was around fourteen years old, I was watching cartoons, and I saw this ad for these new toys, called “WWF Wrestling Superstars.” Now I had never watched any wrestling, I want to make sure you understand. And I was way too old to be playing with toys at this point, but totally enamored by these. What fascinated me so much was that first of all, they were these manly, muscly looking dolls, about eight inches tall. So they were bigger than all the action figures of that period, but they were still muscly and manly and practically naked. Second, they also didn’t have those awkward joints to them. They were rubber, so they could flex, and that made them much more realistic to me, but still versatile for playing with. They could pose and grapple and punch. Third, the ad was showing real people that these dolls were based on, and these people were flying around doing all these crazy acrobatics and fighting. And that blew me away that they weren’t fictional characters like Star Wars or GI Joe or He-Man figures. These were people that existed, with real names, like “Big John Studd,” Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and Junk Yard Dog. But these people seemed like they could have been from comic books. They were big and had crazy bright costumes and crazy nicknames and personalities, and they punched and grappled and fought all the time. I was just absolutely taken in by it all. Just like with comics, I could tell there was this whole exciting secret world I was unfamiliar with, that I wanted to learn about it. I would have to do research.
I went to the toy store and checked the dolls out, and I thought they looked great, but I was cautious. I wasn’t quite ready to jump in and buy any yet. Because I had never watched any wrestling, and I thought I should make sure I liked wrestling. Otherwise, it would have been pointless. This could result in a drastic lifestyle change, buying new investments like these. I found out what days and times wrestling was on, and I began my studies in earnest. I watched the shows for a few weeks, carefully studying the people and trying to tell them apart, memorize as many of the people’s names as I could. I tried to catalog all the different moves they made. I took notes and made lists. I began to become invested. I never got into watching baseball or football or basketball, but I quickly realized this was the sport for me, and it had dolls to back it all up, so I began buying the dolls. And that’s how my love of professional wrestling naturally and healthily progressed.
And naturally a love this intense would find its way into a project as personally important and fulfilling as the Spider Twins.
So now I had a ton of characters, at least by name, and I needed to decide how I wanted to portray them. And I was trying to visualize people in real life, who would for some reason have the urge to dress up in costumes, and then go around beating people up. There’s really only one real-life equivalent. Of course. Professional wrestlers. Professional wrestlers are, in this universe I wanted to create, the closest to what I wanted these “heroes” to be. Colorful, larger than life, melodramatic, full of emotion (primarily rage and testosterone). Big and muscle-bound. Not particularly plot-heavy. Anti-intellectual. Soap operatic. Easy to understand, easy to identify and follow as icons. Clearly good or clearly bad. Simplistic intentions and motives.
So that being the case, I knew I would have to reference professional wrestling in some way. I decided I wanted to reference their bodies, and their fighting. I liked the idea of portraying violence by referencing acts of violence that are fake. Fake punching, fake kicking. I liked the idea of having each of my masked vigilantes modeled after a particular professional wrestler, and their styles of punching and kicking unique. I didn’t want to have more showy professional wrestling moves like suplexes and piledrivers. And I definitely didn’t want throwing an opponent against the ropes, and instead of just stopping, that person uncontrollably running back and forth between the ropes until he’s clobbered. But even without all that, you can have elbows and knees and headbutts and plenty of other smackin’ styles of fighting moves.
So I should mention I recorded a bunch of old wrestling matches when I was young, and I still had them. And then I when I graduated from college, I went to video stores and found and rented and copied maybe a hundred more hours of wrestling matches. And then I went online and found sellers of their own bootleg collections of eighties wrestling, that they’d recorded off TV, and I bought maybe two or three hundred more hours of those matches. So I’ve got a decent sized library of important wrestling photo documentation for study and reference.
And at last I had a project that could validify this sick, obsessive collection I owned. I was ready now. The visualization was complete. I could sincerely and wholeheartedly jump into this project.
CHAPTER SEVEN: ENVISIONING THIS PROJECT
As you can imagine flipping through the pages, I always envisioned that this would be an intellectually stimulating, evocative, important project. In September 2007, I finally decided it was time to toss aside other projects I’d started, and begin this one. There were a few reasons. Boredom of the other stuff I’d been doing. Wanting a change of pace. Getting excited about starting something new. And just starting drawing these characters, in particular. But mostly, because come February 2008, Wondercon would be rolling around, and it’s always been my most successful convention. But that means it’s absolutely essential that I have a new project for sale, because I see all the same supportive people each year, and they’ve already bought all my old stuff. So I was thinking about money. If I continued with the projects I was doing, they were all so big, that none of them would be finished. I needed a new product so that I’d have something to sell, and I needed to produce it quickly.
And then I realized, I could temporarily set aside all the stories of my Spider Twins I’d been brainstorming and developing, but keep the characters, and make that a project. I could just pump out full-body illustrations for a Marvel Universe style of encyclopedia containing my superheroes. I had plenty of them by now. In the Marvel Universe, one page per character gave you a full body shot and a description.
I would take my Spider Twins characters, and make these mini comics (smaller pages), with one character spreading over two pages. That means I could have ten characters for twenty pages, which is a decent size for a mini-comic. I estimated I had enough time to produce three minis in this format. And visually, I thought this format would work.0230
Unfortunately, when you’re printing mini-comics at home, and buying your own paper, and folding and stapling them yourself by hand, and running through one damn ink cartridge after another, you have to charge way too much. It’s just the way it is, unfortunately.
But I thought, if I could finish three of these books, a free CD promotion would cap it off nicely, as an incentive to buy all three and not just one.
And then it struck me these characters would be the perfect format for a web comic, as well. And if I had them completed in advance for Wondercon anyways, why not post them online? I could post one character and his description every week, giving me a two-entry week. And if I finish 30 characters, three ten-character books, by Wondercon, I should be able to pound out another 22 fairly easily, and keep the web comic going for a year. Not bad.
I would just have enough time to put something like this together. Not to mention that I was excited about doing something like this.
CHAPTER EIGHT: BEGINNING THIS PROJECT
I went through all my Spider Twins notebooks, and jotted all the names I’d ever come up with into one long list. Didn’t matter how bad the names were, I just wanted them all together and accessible. Then I went through and put a mark by any of the ones I could envision, or that made me laugh. And it was easy to envision a fair portion of them, because if you have a name like “Red Boner,” he obviously has to be a skeleton who’s red. Or if you have a name like “The Cock,” he has to resemble a rooster. The names basically created the costumes all by themselves.
Then I popped in a random wrestling tape and sat down with a pad of paper and a pencil, and whenever a new guy popped up in a match, I would pause the image and draw his body, as he stood around before the match began. I drew twenty-four bodies this way.
The tapes were all twenty years old, and often the quality was so poor you could only see general shapes. But I almost liked that better. That’s all I was trying to get out of them, anyways.
I emphasized each body’s deficiencies, and the flab, and the fat, and the sagging chests and guts and arms. I made legs too short for the body, or necks too thick or heads too small, but just enough that something looks a little off, not so much that it looks like a superhero comic or a caricature. And then I began realizing I was putting uncomfortably obvious bulges in all the too-tight underpants. Because honestly, if a real person were bound up in those tight panties, their bulges would be protruding very uncomfortably in all kinds of crazy positions. Even if they’re poorly endowed. Unless they’re Ken dolls with no male anatomy, which seems to be the case of the entire Marvel and DC universe.
So now I had twenty four sketches of bodies. I went through my list of names and figured out which characters might match well with which bodies. Once that was determined, I started drawing costumes onto the bodies. But as I was drawing, I realized how important it was to me to try and make each character unique.
There are some very famous, very successful comics artists who draw everyone’s face the same. Same proportions, same nose, same eyes, same mouth. And then one will have blond hair, and one has black hair, and one has curly hair. But otherwise their faces and bodies are identical. That always irritated me, and it’s been important to me that each character has individuality and personality. A unique posture. An interesting way his mouth curls. Gestures. And that’s in addition to the usual symbols that comics artists employ, such as different hair or different costumes.
As for trying to find unique costumes for each character, I went online, and punched in “masks,” just to see as many actual masks as I could. Costume-style masks, ski masks, masks that cover the mouth or leave it bare, that leave nose showing or not, that wrap all the way around the head, or just cover the face. And then I decided I wanted each character to be wearing different footwear too. I looked for images of shoes. I found as many sneakers and boots as I could. And I just started drawing and drawing.
It went quickly, smoothly, and naturally. From 9/23/07 to 10/3/07 I sketched the body shapes and came up with the costumes for twenty-four characters. And then I began inking. I decided I wanted nice thick brush strokes, to give it a sort of retro feel, even if it was no longer Ditko style in any way. I inked the twenty four characters from 9/27/07 to 10/6/07.
And then I decided that each character needed his own distinct logo. I created, hand drew and inked twenty-four logos in three days, from 10/7/07 to 10/9/07.
I always knew I wanted an image of the character standing “Marvel Universe” style, as well as an image of the character in action, as if pulled from an issue. So I pulled out my wrestling tapes again, found each of the wrestlers I’d originally drawn for each body, and paused them in action, yelling or punching or kicking. These sketches I used to draw twenty-four action scenes from 10/20/07 to 12/3/07.
And meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out what I want to do for a cover image for these mini-comics. So I had this idea that the covers of my mini-comics would look good if I just had head-shots of everybody. I visualized a cover with all the heads side by side, wrapping from front to back, and maybe into the inside cover. I visualized taller characters’ heads getting cropped at the top of the page, so just their mouth and nose showed, and shorter characters cropped so you only saw the top of their heads and eyes. I drew twenty-four separate head shots from 11/18/07 to 11/29/07. But as I drew them, I liked them more than I anticipated. And I finally decided that these heads deserved their own separate pages, which, with ten characters per comic, would increase the comic page count to 30 pages.
Because it’s the structure for Marvel Universe entries, I wanted text to describe each character. I began writing, but as I went, I realized that I wasn’t really interested in particular origins, history, descriptions of super powers (since they didn’t have any), or tellings of their adventures, unless it was full of double entendres. And next thing I knew, I was packing each paragraph with as much foul slang as I could come up with.
At this point, I was home free. But I knew that this book had to be colored, because characters this garish and out there had to be BRIGHT! FULL COLOR! EXCITING! I wanted it to feel like an old comic, and the gaudiness of the color could only add to the gaudiness of the characters. Not to mention that with so many of the characters, color was a part of their identity, such as the Red Boner, or the Pink Hard Rod. But I knew that coloring would be a lot more work, and this would be the first project I’d fully colored, other than an occasional cover.
I opted on flat, bright colors, rather than fancy shading. Partly because I don’t have the coloring science or no-how down yet. But also because that’s how the comics I love are colored. And so things went.
I completed all this a month before Wondercon, and that gave me the chance to get everything printed, folded, stapled, and ready to go.
CHAPTER NINE: THE WEB COMIC:
As of today, I have posted the web comic for three weeks. The first week, I posted three characters, because I wanted to quickly get things situated so that viewers would understand the repetition of the structure.
Every Monday, I post one new character’s head shot. Tuesday, I post his full body shot with a couple descriptions of his costume or attitude or weapons he uses. And on Thursday, you get to see the Logo, description, and action shot.
I decided it would be fun to make this web comic into a participatory venture with myself and the viewers. I encourage viewers to write in before Thursday and guess the name of each week’s character. Everyone who writes in a guess, I enter into a drawing, and whoever’s name I draw that week, I am sending out a free original sketch of the character of their choice, on a postcard. I have only been getting four participators a week, and I have yet to get a person who I don’t know, or who I haven’t met at a convention. Still, it’s fun to hear from friends every week, and some of them come up with really fun guesses, which I post in the contest results every week.
It’s been a lot more work than I expected posting these characters, three times a week, doing a drawing, and then doing a sketch. It’s considerably slowed my other work. But I think it’s worth it sometimes to take on projects like this, and I’m hoping things catch on as the web comic continues throughout 2008. Like I say with all my comics projects, time will tell. And unfortunately, if it’s like my other comics projects, it probably won’t catch on, but that’s the bed I’ve made for myself, I suppose.
CHAPTER TEN: GOODBYES
I hope you’ve enjoyed this creator’s commentary of the Spider Twins. And more importantly, I hope you enjoy the Spider Twins mini-comics. Please feel free to tell your friends about them, and about the weekly contest at www.tabloia.com, and to write in every week, guessing each masked vigilante’s name. Possessing the mini-comics, you’ll have a distinct guessing advantage, because there are all their names, right there. Or just write and say hello, because I’m always desperate for attention.
See you at the next convention. Thanks for listening.
SPIDER TWINS MINI-COMICS ARE NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE! Go to merchandise page to learn more! You can BUY ONE OR ALL THREE (3) Spider Twins Mini Comics (“Pink,” “Blue,” and “Lilac”), PLUS FREE Creator’s Commentary CD!