14. CREATING NEW COMICS CHARACTERS

Following San Diego 2001, I found myself constantly falling back on the advice Alex Sinclair had given me during my portfolio review. It influenced my ideas for what projects I wanted to work on next, and eventually caused me to put “The Lump” on hold.

Alex recommended doing four page comics stories, rather than spend months on pages and pages of one story that a company may not be interested in. He said four pages is a commitment, but not one you have to worry about if no one likes it. However, he also pointed out that it’s enough to show editors what you’re capable of, what the character is capable of, and that you understand how to tell stories, with a beginning, middle, and end, in a sequential narrative.

THE CREATION OF DR. DeBUNKO

Early in my attempts to break into the comics market, I had brainstormed characters in the DC Universe that I might like to revamp. Maybe this will give you an idea how long ago it was: It was back when they were revamping all their old, lesser known characters into the Vertigo line (Swamp Thing, Sandman, Shade, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Black Orchid). For some reason, Dr. 13 stuck with me most, because I’d been reading a lot of Skeptical material on vampires, witches, werewolves, and the Devil and demons. In comics, the Skeptic usually only has one of two roles. The Skeptic can be a lunatic (because the basis of most comics characters is some form of supernatural origin or ability or whatever). Or, in Scooby Doo fashion, the Skeptic has to debunk evil people posing as a supernatural force. For example, a greedy uncle might want to scare the kids from inheriting the family estate, so he makes up this elaborate, completely unrealistic and idiotic scheme involving sheets hanging from wires and flashlights, and he tries to convince those dumb kids the place is haunted, so that the mansion’s possession will fall into his hands.

Dr. 13’s adventures fell into this latter category, and I liked the idea of pushing the Skeptical nature of the character.

I did a four page Dr. DeBunko story, and really enjoyed doing it. The premise was based on a book I had recently read about the stages of decay of the human body after death, and how these natural stages have historically tended to excite people’s beliefs in vampires. For example, people assume that the fingernails and hair of the dead continue to grow, which naturally might lead people to assume that the body isn’t actually dead. In fact, these things don’t grow. The skin recedes, and more of the nails and hair show as a result. The book is called, “Vampires, Burial, and Death,” by Paul Barber, and I found it absolutely fascinating. I also had a book called “The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology,” by Hope Rossell Robbins, which was packed full of equally fascinating historical tidbits on peoples beliefs in the occult, often with horrifying results to their fellow man.

It was nice to work on something new and different from “The Lump.” I was anxious to do some more of these four page exercises. And while working on it, I came up with another character that I thought would fit the format nicely.

THE CREATION OF DICK HAMMER: CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR

I had been really enjoying film noir for some years at this point, to the extent that I eventually began reading books ABOUT film noir. These of course often spoke of the books the movies were based on, and I eventually meandered in that direction as well. I’d gotten through some Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I read some Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis and James Cain and Ross MacDonald. Of course I’d heard of Mickey Spillane, but whenever I read about him, it sounded like so many people hated his books and refused to include him amongst the classic hardboiled writers. And this despite his record sales numbers of all time. Finally, I picked up a half dozen of his Mike Hammer novels, which I found collected in two volumes.

I was hooked at once. They were so kitschy and melodramatic, violent, crude, predictable, action-packed, corny, politically incorrect, and outrageous in their xenophobia, sexism, racism, and right-wing conservatism. I laughed out loud throughout them. I loved them. I knew I had to write my own stories like this. I wanted to parody the attitude, but they felt like parodies of the attitude all by themselves. They were ripe for comics. And that’s how I created Dick Hammer: Conservative Republican Private Investigator. I basically just tried to do “straight” stories of Mike Hammer.

I drew a four-page story with fairly cartoony periphery characters. But it wasn’t long before I decided that I wanted less cartoony, and more photo-referenced of noir films. When I redrew the story, it expanded to six pages.

After redrawing Dick Hammer, I decided the character of Dr. DeBunko should be more photo-referenced as well. Originally, he was a kooky, mad-scientist-looking fellow with a bowtie and pipe and glasses. I wanted him to play more the straight man in the crazy universe, but I didn’t think I needed to redraw everything. I ended up redrawing Dr. DeBunko in each panel, and leaving the rest basically untouched.

CREATING TABLOIA WEEKLY MAGAZINE

Soon I had done three stories each of Dr. DeBunko and Dick Hammer, at which point I created the Jack Kirby-style Doris Danger Giant Monster Adventures. This was the stage I began to visualize all these tabloid-type stories inside one book that I would self-publish, called “Tabloia.”

The name Tabloia, came from combining “Tabloid” and “paranoia,” and I liked that it sounded reminiscent of old horror magazines like “Creepy” and “Fangoria.” After hearing the Hernandez Brothers speak about an umbrella title working well for them, I wanted a title that I thought would encompass not only these stories I was currently working on, but any story I might tell in the future. I realized that I have a real fascination with the vaguely tabloid types of stories. Not the tabloid love stories of speculating on actors who are dating, but more the predictions of Notradamus, prophecies of the Bible that must be coming true, lurid murder and violence cases, freaks of nature born with two heads or two brains, UFOs and loch ness monsters. The more macabre side of tabloids. I fumbled in my head for a dozen stories I had envisioned making into comics, and they could all fit into this “tabloia” theme.

Once I created a title, I began to envision this “Tabloia” as an actual magazine that is published within the worlds I was creating. I imagined it had been running for thirty or forty or fifty years, and that its staff could make appearances in the stories. I imagined letters pages written by imaginary fans, writing in relentlessly to voice their hatred and contempt for the magazine. I imagined smaller features in the magazine, like “Dr. Cleanie Santini Sanitation tips” and “Professor Pardi’s Science Sex Facts.” I imagined a new company president getting replaced every issue for incompetence. I imagined a whole world to enrich the stories even more.

I decided I wanted to begin my “Tabloia” comic on issue number 572, because that way it would be like it’s been running for a long time. Also, I was born in May 1972 (5-72), and I thought, if that was a good birth for me, it’s a good birth for my comic.

But if I took this tabloid magazine all the way, I would want to have distinct artistic styles with each story inside, like Daniel Clowes’ Eightball. Sometimes with brush, sometimes with pen, and so on. That’s the stage when I edited the Dr. DeBunko look for a third time, by going back over the pages, adding different textures, cross-hatches, and splotches. And now I had three different tabloid worlds in three different artistic styles, inside my upcoming self-published book. And if I redrew “The Lump,” it would make the perfect feature story.

I’m getting ahead of myself…

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