Posts Tagged ‘Comic Books’

This is mostly an original piece but is partly adapted from my upcoming book regarding my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

Even before Kindergarten I was able to read at a decent level. When I was really little, I would sit down on the floor of our home looking at the newspaper saying words I recognized out loud. My mother says she remembers taking me to stores and me not wanting a whole bunch of toys, but when it came to books then I would start picking stuff out.

When I was 5 years old my mom took me to a store downtown called Welker’s. While she bought lottery tickets my little legs hobbled over to the magazine rack. Comic books were placed conveniently at my eye level, and I picked out Amazing Spiderman #231. Stan Lee was no longer writing by then, but thanks in part to his creations, I became a life-long comic book fan.

Amazing Spiderman #231.
My very first comic book.

Amazing Spiderman was with me all through my childhood, and by the time I was an adult I was a full-fledged comic book nerd. I knew all about the history of Marvel and DC and all the characters and what not. One thing I never got to do in my youth was go to the major comic book conventions. In my twenties I went to a few small one day shows but going to a big show and actually meeting Stan Lee seemed like a pipe dream.

Drawing was never something I showed aptitude in, but ever since I was little, I was always thinking up little stories. For the future of my creative endeavors, I imagined I would bang out a novel or two, and poetry became a big part of my identity for a while. Perhaps I am misremembering, but if you would have asked me in my 20’s I don’t think I had any serious idea of writing for Marvel Comics and becoming the next Stan Lee.

Part of the reason for that is because in the late 90’s comic books almost died. The early 90’s had a speculator boom when ten thousand comic book stores operated in North America. When I began college in the small town of Bloomsburg Pennsylvania, there were three comic book stores downtown. By the time I graduated, all three were closed, among seven thousand other stores, Marvel Comics declared bankruptcy and was seven hundred million dollars in debt. It looked like the whole thing was about to go under.

My own life also went downhill shortly after this period (which I’ll cover in the book), and I went off to Korea to get myself straightened out. In time, my own life, and the industry I loved got to a healthier place. Having more stability with myself, I was writing more and planning what I would do once I returned home.

Still keeping tabs of the comic book industry online, I discovered an organization called Comics Experience. Founded by Andy Schmidt, himself a former educator and also former editor at Marvel Comics; Comics Experience offered online classes on writing comics. I took their Intro to Writing Comics course while gathering information on how to contact artists and sell books at conventions. Before Korea, I’d often talked with friends and various others about trying to do a comic or an online web-comic, and it never seemed to pan out. I’m sure some of those times it was on me, but it was discouraging. Partly because of that, I felt like if I could just make one comic and see my name on its cover, I would be happy. 

Advice I was given regarding independent comics was if you were going to make your own book, don’t do superheroes, do something that Marvel and DC aren’t doing. I also knew that making a black and white book was less expensive than color. So, I thought, a one shot, black and white, non-superhero book. What would that look like? As a kid I loved the black and white monster movies from Universal Studios and remembered in the 90’s when Dark Horse Comics did some adaptations of them. This led to my idea of Classic Horror Comics. I wrote a one issue script I called Classic Horror Comics: Bride of Prometheon. This Frankenstein-esque tale took place in Great Depression America and simulated seeing a movie during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as panels mimicked newsreel footage before the “movie” began. 

As my time in Korea came to an end, I managed to write my comic script, as well as a few other writing projects (including a book of poetry), and found an artist to draw it. Coming home from Korea, I was unsure what my long-term plans would be. In the short term, I planned to take time off for myself and go to comic book conventions selling my books and see what would come of that.

The New York Comic Con, one of the larger shows in the country, was held about a week after I came back to the United States. My own comic book wasn’t printed yet, but I attended this show as a fan and did some networking with other Comics Experience people and industry figures like Jason Aaron who wrote Scalped, a crime drama set on an Indian reservation. I got an autographed copy of one of his books that had a drawing of a Night Shield CD, who was my friend and Native American rapper (whom you can read about here). I also got to have a conversation with Len Wein, who created Wolverine and Swamp Thing and edited Watchmen, considered by many to be the best comic book ever.

Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma Films, was also there. When he was young, he had a cameo in Rocky. Lloyd was really nice; and didn’t charge anything for autographs. I told him his film Poultrygeist, Night of the Chicken Dead, was the best film of 2007. Aside from meeting all these people I took in all the cos-play, merchandise and the whole madness of the show. 

One good networking activity they had was an artist writer connection which was like speed dating but for creators. Artist and writers were paired up to swap contact info and ideas. This is where I met Sarah Benkin, an artist who, like me, was a fan of old monster movies. We collaborated on a short webcomic called Shock Value, and later she drew my next issue of Classic Horror Comics: Curse of the Mummy’s Stone.

While it was certainly cool to meet all these different people, what I was most excited for was meeting the man himself, Stan Lee. Stan was doing a signing for a graphic novel he was involved in which was a sci-fi take on Romeo and Juliet. I didn’t manage to get a picture of us together, but I did take his photo and got to shake his hand. I thanked him for all he did and told him I loved him. I remembered that five-year old little boy who hobbled over to his first Spiderman comic, and now years later I was about to publish my own, partly in thanks to this man who stood before me in New York. That was a real nerd dream come true. 

Meeting Stan Lee at New York Comic Con

About a month later, at long last, my own comic book was printed. Opening the package and unwrapping the plastic, it felt very satisfying to finally hold a comic book in my hands that had my name on it. Even if this were to be the only thing I ever did in the world of comic books, I was happy.

A few months later, and after doing a cross country road trip (which you can read about here), I attended three comic book shows three weekends in a row at three different cities. First was Chicago’s C2E2. At these comic shows I had what they call artist alley booths, a table where indy artists and writers like me rent to sell our books, merch, etc. During these shows I tried to talk to as many people as I could as they walked by my table. I also tried to network as best I could, talking to other people in the industry, media, podcasters, etc. Chicago was a little slow, sales wise, which was discouraging given it was my first shot at selling my stuff in public. 

A week later I was in Pittsburgh. Stan Lee was booked at this show, and he signed autographs right in artist alley; so indy creators like me got all the foot traffic from people coming in to see him. This was the best show I ever did. The convention was actually in Monroeville, just outside Pittsburgh, and the convention center was across the street from the Monroeville Mall. There, in the arcade, they had a mini-museum about Dawn of the Dead, the classic zombie movie by George Romero, which was filmed in that mall. 

The following weekend was the MOCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) show in New York. This was a more offbeat show, featuring more independent/experimental comics. Scott Adsit from 30 Rock was there and bought one of my books. Sarah Benkin, the artist I met last time I was in New York, was also there. While all these shows were for comics, I also brought copies of my poetry book that I also just published. I always managed to sell at least one per show. At MOCCA, someone at Poet’s House, a poetry library in New York City, approached me and happily took a copy of my poetry book.

A few months later I went to Charlotte North Carolina for Heroes Convention. Stan Lee was also at this show, so I got to see him three times in under a year. In fact, this time he walked by me in the lobby. As I said hi to him, he immediately stopped in his tracks and said “James the Amazing Murray! I’ve heard all about your world travels and how you’re hitting the convention scene hard. I’m gonna make you the next comic book superstar. Marvel and Murray, it’s a match made in heaven!”

Of course, I’m only joking. When I said hi to him, he walked by me, smiled, and said “How you doing?” I’d never see him again.

Just a few years later I was teaching in China. I woke up one morning and my mother posted the news on my Facebook. Stan Lee had passed away.

In 1961 Stanley Martin Lieber was approaching forty and had been writing comics his whole life. By then the industry wasn’t so hot, and he was tired and ready to quit. His wife encouraged him to write one more book, the way he thought comics should be written. This was Fantastic Four #1. Sales were great, and he decided stick around.

What followed was a comic book renaissance. Stan Lee, along with artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr. Gene Colan, Jim Sternako, and many others created the Marvel Universe. Populated by champions with feet of clay, Marvel heroes faced the troubles of regular people while battling sympathetic villains. The Fantastic Four were a family that quarreled, Thor was a jock who had to live up to his father, X-men were freaks and outcasts, and the Hulk was an angry teenager who just wanted to be left alone.

Then there was Spiderman, a geeky nerd who was bullied and had few friends. Peter Parker had problems with girls, school, money, and his ever-sickly Aunt. He lost more than he won, gave more than he received, but always tried to be a hero. His motto, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility,” was something Lee seemingly wrote on a whim, but became a creed for generations to follow. Spiderman’s full body costume allowed anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, etc. to imagine themselves under that mask. The hero could be you.

I don’t have confirmation on this, but there’s a story that Stan was sometimes invited to L.A. to pitch Marvel films, and supposedly studio executives were merely humoring him. Today the Marvel Cinematic Universe completely dominates popular culture and is the most successful film franchise ever at twenty-five BILLION dollars. One of the most fun things about Marvel movies was looking out for the Stan Lee cameo, and when that 71 Cutlass Oldsmobile drove by the army base in End Game, and its pimped-out driver proclaimed “Hey man, make love not war!” it was a fitting end to a modern tradition.

Stan Lee was a giant in American culture, and thanks to the movies was no longer merely a hero to the nerdy crowd. Hearing the news of his passing that morning, I informed my Chinese students, as most of them knew who he was. I remembered when I was in Korea, they knew who he was too. By the 21rst century, his influence was global.

As a nerdy teenager I read of the history of Marvel Comics and the comic book industry and memorized the stories of how Stan and company created these characters. They provided both fictitious and real-life examples of the importance of doing what you love and being who you were meant to be. Stan Lee gave me hope that I could write something great, and when I was young, I felt like I could only dream of meeting him someday. Now I’m so glad that I did.

Stanley Martin Lieber, A.K.A. Stan Lee, was 95 when he passed. Even now, years later, he is still greatly missed.

Excelsior my friend 🙁

1986’s Transformers the Movie killed off much of the original cast of the popular television cartoon, including fan favorite Decepticon Starscream. The movie, taking place in the then future year of 2005, also set the stage for season three of the Transformers cartoon series in the fall of 86. The ninth episode of season three featured Starscream returning as a ghost, a ghost who would reappear in subsequent episodes. This is possibly the first time robot ghosts have appeared in fiction, and provides a premise for a 2020 crossover with another popular 80’s franchise, the Ghostbusters.

Transformers Ghostbusters: Ghosts of Cybertron establishes a brand new reality for the Transformers. Opening in Cybertron’s past, the Autobots have fled Cybertron, but, in a deviation with traditional Transformers lore, the Decipticons did not follow. Remaining on Cybertron, the Decpticons encounter a robot form of the Traveller, complete with two robotic hounds. The Traveller is a herald of Gozer, the villain from the first Ghostbusters film. After a sequence reminiscent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene of the first Ghostbusters, Cybertron is legitimately destroyed and the Decipticons are dead.

The main character of this crossover is a new Autobot created just for this story. Ectronymous Diamatron is an Autobot scientist, who objects to his fellow Autobots calling him Eck for short. A thousand years later (Not four million years later as in the original cartoon), the Autobots are still travelling the universe via their spaceship the Ark. Ectronymous finds a Cybertonian signal on planet Earth, and is soon sent by Optimus Prime to investigate. 

Coming to Earth, specifically New York City,  he encounters the Ghostbusters, whose car has been totaled while trapping a ghost. The Autobot scientist uses his transformation abilities to turn himself into the Ghostbusters car, and soon becomes known as Eco-tron. Optimus Prime soon joins him, and after getting graphittied by 80’s cartoon punks he gets a new white paint job to match Ecto-trons look. Both get Autobot sized proton packs from their new allies, who all encounter the ghost of Starscream. The Decepticon has teamed up with a villain who is a deep cut into the original 80’s Transformers Cartoon

The art style reflects the original Transformers A.K.A. Generation One cartoon, but the Ghostbusters are drawn in the style of the more current comics. I’m curious why they weren’t drawn in the style of their own 80’s cartoon, perhaps there was some rights issue.

Ghostbusters mythos isn’t as deep as TF but there are a few callbacks to Ghostbusters 2. The painting of Vigo appears, and the mood slime actually plays a small part of the story. Fan favorite slimer briefly appears as well. A few Autobots talk about not being afraid of ghosts, and when encountering Megatron, Prime’s hand turns to the yellow axe to match Megatron’s ball and chain, which is something they did early in the old cartoon. The Quintessons appear in statue form during the opening sequence. Another amusing easter egg is Winston making a joke about G.I. Joe.

The crossover ends with a new status quo, with Optimus Prime actually hoping to reform the ways of the Decepticons, and Eco-tron hoping to find other spirits of dead Cybertonians. With a new status quo, new reality, and a new Autobot character, the Transformers Ghostbusters crossover works surprisingly well, and I would look forward to more stories in this 80’s crossover reality.

If you enjoyed this crossover review, click here for an interview with Erik Burnham.

Classic Horror Comics: Curse of the Mummy’s Stone is now available digitally. Written by me with art by Sarah Benkin, who also drew Shock Value for my website. 

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Relive the Golden Age of Monster Movies in Classic Horror Comics: Curse of the Mummy’s Stone. Famed American adventurer Howard Rider uncovers an ancient mummy’s tomb. While it may seem like just another day of adventure, what is he really looking for, and what deadly forces lurk behind his find? Classic Horror Comics simulates seeing a monster movie during Hollywood’s Golden Age, complete with pre-show news footage before the black and white feature presentation of terror!

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It’s been a little over one year since I launched my website Hard Coal Studios A lot had preceded that moment and a lot has followed since.

For years I’d wanted to make comics and do other projects as well, but with comics the biggest obstacle was I’m not able to draw. Many times over the years I’d met people and had the old “Let’s make a comic book” conversation and it never went anywhere (with the exception of one time I met someone who I did a mini comic with back in 2005).

Long story short but I ended up teaching in Korea in 2006, and after staying there a few years realized that someday when I come home to America I’d have some money saved up and would maybe be able to get some projects done. This got my gears turning and I started making plans. Almost every year I was there I thought next year I’d be coming home. During the spring of 2009 I started working on a poetry manuscript that I assumed I’d be publishing soon.

Over the years I’d always written more poetry than prose, but after re-reading the Frankenstein novel I had an idea for my own Frankenstein story. I started working at that, but sometimes it was coming slow. One problem I often had was trying to do too many things at once. It was fall of 2010, a few months prior I discovered an MMA gym near my home and I was excited that they had a cage. I’d been going there a bit strictly for fitness, and before class I’d go to a PC room to attempt some writing. I was able to write a bit, but this schedule wasn’t working for me. The year was coming to a close and I figured I’d only be in Korea another year and a half or so. My goal was to finish this story before the end of the year, but something had to give. I realized I needed to give up the gym and just go home and write every night. (Plus let’s face it I’m not going to be a cage fighter. That ship has sailed lol)

Lots of people talk about writing and being a writer but one of the hardest things is actually writing every single day. It was a moment of clarity to realize that this really is what it takes. Coming home every single day after work and writing for hours, reading, revising, not goofing off, etc. And this was just for a seventy-some page story. But the year came to a close and my story was done (along with another project or two actually). It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my creative life.

At the end of the year I realized I would in fact be leaving Korea in about 9 months. I had my prose and poetry done, but what about my comics? I’d written various comic scripts/ideas over the last few years, and had another occasion or two of “Let’s make a comic” that went no where. So I still needed a comic. A few years prior I’d heard about Andy Schmidt, former editor at Marvel Comics and IDW, who also once taught college. He started classes in New York City specifically for writing for comic books. There’s tons of writing classes but nothing like this was ever done. I’d actually planned to take these courses but then realized they were now offered online. Spring of 2011 I took the intro course, (Comics Experience btw) occasionally my students would see me on my computer watching the class and were excited to see and wave to people on the other side of the world.

After getting a few sites recommended to me I placed an ad online for a comic book artist. I literally got over 100 responses. I wanted to be professional and responded to all of them. Many great artists contacted me but I could only pick one. I contacted my choice and emailed the others thanking them for their submission. One memorable response was something like “Well I guess you don’t want cool art and cool storytelling.” I wrote back reminding them to be nice to the people they see on the way up, because they’ll be seeing them on the way down.

In October of 2011 I left Korea. The week after I got back I went to the New York Comic-con, one of the bigger shows around. If I really wanted to I could have sold my book here, but I really wanted to attend this as a fan. I’d never been to a show this size. I finally got to meet and shake hands with Stan Lee, along with many other creators I liked. It was a blast. Even aside from the show I was just thrilled to be back in New York City. I also made contacts with some podcast people, and met Andy and others from the class.

One thing I hadn’t given thought to was web-comics. I always wanted to have a web-comic but again it was the same old. In NYC I attended a panel to pair up writers and artists. It was here I met Sarah. I told her about my comic, which was in the style of the old monster movies. She also liked those and we really hit it off. Thus Shock Value, a humorous monster strip, was accidentally created. My website now had a web-comic.

Another panel I attended was the standard “How to Break Into Comics” panel hosted by the head guys at Marvel Comics. The short of it was self publish, do the convention circuit, give it ten years and maybe you have a chance. That advice wasn’t discouraging on the surface, but what was discouraging was hearing this in 2011 at the age of 34, and remembering 11 years ago asking someone to make a web-comic with me to no avail. We can’t live backwards, but we also can’t help taking a moment to wonder what could have been.

Back home I started bringing it all together. One day in late 2011 my comic was finally printed. Many people suggest for writers to start out with small 5 page stories and/or something online. Maybe it’s because of my age and not growing up with web-comics, but I just needed to have a regular comic book in my hand that had my name in it. And now it was finally done.

Another ad and another 100 submissions to find an artist for the cover of my Frankenstein book. The first submission was the best one. Soon Frankenstein and my poems were also in my hands. Surprisingly enough just before Christmas a friend from Korea whom I’d had one of those “Let’s make a web-comic” conversations with emailed me out of the blue with a complete set of a finite web comic series we’d talked about years ago. Synchronicity again.

Everything was set and one day soon after the new year I officially launched the site and put the link on my facebook. That spring I would have four weekends in a row doing signings. I did shows in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and MOCCA in New York, where someone from the Poet’s House took a copy of my poetry book for one of their exhibitions. The weekend after that was Free Comic Book Day at my local comic shop Legendary Comics and Tea Room. That June I did Heroes World in Charlotte, before being featured reader at my old poetry group in PA, and doing hitting a poetry club in Charlotte I used to go to. Along the way I was also interviewed a few times on podcasts and youtube shows, they were lots of fun.

All in all I was happy to finally be doing this, but the truth is it can be really brutal. Indy art is a tough game. At shows I made a point to not leave my table much and to stand as much as possible and talk to everyone I could. Still it’s long hours with stretches of time where nothing is happening for you. It’s a real endurance test. Can you take it, can you maintain this? Can you do this for ten years to maybe have a chance of getting something bigger?

I didn’t make any plans for myself after Charlotte because I didn’t know what I’d be doing with myself job wise. Another long story but I reluctantly headed back to Korea almost exactly a year after I’d left. There’s so many people that talk about doing something and never do, and then there’s people that do it once and disappear. I was no longer a talker, but I was afraid of disappearing. Fortunately I’m still able to put another comic book this year, and some other writing projects are coming along as well.

It is too bad that I couldn’t have started this ten-thirteen years ago, but we are here today. The internet is a better tool now than it was back then with social media and the like, and print on demand is a godsend to the indy artist. However, since it is easier per say to make your own media, it is even harder to stick out. The thing is you have to try. That is my personal philosophy. I can live with not “making it.” I can’t live with not trying, I have to try. It’s like the Rocky thing, the point of my favorite movie, is that we don’t have the right to succeed, but we have the right to try. As I said, it is absolutely brutal, but, as another favorite movie of mine says, “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”

www.hardcoalstudios.com

Century 2009 concludes the century trilogy, where Mina Murray, Alan Quatermain, and Orlando find the Moonchild/Anti-Christ that we’ve heard about in the last two installments. The climax of this story leaves us with interesting questions about the nature of the world of LXG, this world’s potential, and Moore’s own view on contemporary culture as well as creative issues in the comic book community.

Before that I want to mention a few pop culture references. We see a grown Jack Nemo threatening to start WWIII. We also get a 90 year old James Bond (a despicable man we met in the Black Dossier) now suffering from cirrhosis, emphysema, and syphilis. He’s kept alive to suffer as punishment to those he’s wronged before. We also get a glimpse of J3, and J6, basically the Bond’s of Roger Moore and Daniel Craig.

Back to the main story. The gang finds out that the Anti-Christ, for all intents and purposes, is Harry Potter. They go to what is essentially Hogwarts where it’s revealed that Harry Potter’s adventures were all arranged to get him ready for his destiny. Potter is not at the school now, the final battle takes place at his home.

The gang fights off Potter but it’s not going so well when, a character who is basically Jesus Christ shows up to save the day. So we get Harry Potter vs. Jesus Christ.

From a Christian perspective, could this be considered blasphemy? This brings to question the dynamics of the world of LXG. In the closing monologue of Black Dossier I believe it is suggested that some of the characters know they’re in a world of fiction. When Mina and Orlando arrive at Hogwarts the land is in ruins, and the two characters speculate that this area is like London’s dream-time  and that there could be a symbiotic relationship between the worlds of fiction and the real world. Mina says “maybe this magical landscape mirrors the real world.”

Orlando supposes it could also be the opposite. Saying “If our magical landscape, our art and fairy-tales and fictions… if that goes bad, maybe the material world follows suit.”

Back to Jesus, during the battle the Jesus character says “I have many great responsibilities,, foremost amongst these , however, is my concern for children. I am concerned regarding their wellbeing, and the healthy development of their imaginations.” Could it be that Jesus entered the world of fiction to save it from a pop culture Anti-Christ?

Another notion I would like to address, something I saw coming, was the view Alan seems to have of modern culture. Part of this is covered in a previous blog here https://jemurr.wordpress.com/2009/04/26/death-of-the-imagination-not/

Years ago Alan was quoted as saying (the full quote is in the link above) that this LXG story would be about the decay of the imagination. Mina in this story says “It’s not just the poverty, people were desperately poor in 1910. But at least they felt things had a purpose. How did culture fall apart in barely a hundred years.”

Orlando answers, “By becoming irrelevant, same as always.”

The irony is Alan Moore openly admits to knowing very little of contemporary culture. In this article linked below, which I also quoted in the above blog

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=20812.

he says.

“I know absolutely nothing about contemporary culture. I am cut off from most inputs. I’m not connected to the internet in any way, I watch very little television.”

It is interesting to consider that Victorian England and England of 1969 in the world of LXG were both so vibrant, rich, and lively, and Moore’s world of 2009 is bleak and depressing. Yet he admits knowing little to nothing of today’s culture. You could make the argument that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the height of Baby Boomer arrogance, that it proclaims 1969 as the epitome of Western Popular Culture, and following that everything fell into oblivion.

On a less serious note, the saga of LXG is basically the story of British popular culture. There’s nothing wrong with Moore writing what he knows, and he certainly knows this. However I would have liked to have seen this world incorporate other popular culture as well, such as that of Asia, and naturally America. Planetery did a great job of this. Also, after Watchmen, Moore grew tired of writing super heroes. Caped adventurers did exist in the world of LXG, but they were more of an annoying fad. It would have been fun to see a good superhero adventure set in this world.

Finally, Harry Potter is the Anti-Christ and fights Jesus Christ, but no one should be allowed to touch Watchmen….