A 1985 photo of Paul Howley, with an Insect Man
action figure that somebody customized on his shoulder!
action figure that somebody customized on his shoulder!
When Paul Howley and I agreed that I would write the Insect Man story in Insect Man's Weird Tales #95, I vowed to research the hell out of Insect Man, plus his friends, enemies, and other affiliated superheroes... You name it!
Before I continue, I want to briefly clarify a section of this story. At the time of IMWT #95's publication, I don't think I was yet a full-time employee at That's Entertainment. But that's not really important to this multi-part "Comical Wednesday" post.
Paul hadn't drawn an issue of Insect Man since the mid-1970s, but he was going to tackle my script. I was excited. Since the very early 1980s, I'd done various commercial writing jobs, and been published, too, but this would be my first comic book script. I'd played around with writing comic stories in the past, but never completed one, never submitted one, and (obviously) never published one.
I mentioned "research[ing] the hell out of Insect Man" above. Luckily for me, Paul had saved every single issue of every single title produced by his "Blue Lock" comic company, starting in 1965. I sat down at a table in Paul's store -- I'm pretty sure he wouldn't take the chance of having me bring these one-of-a-kind items home to read them, nor did I blame him! -- and read them all, taking copious notes as I did so!
I wrote down first appearances of various characters, listed various plot points, and began thinking of how I was going to carry on this twenty year legacy. As far as I was concerned, most of the stories Paul had written had "really" happened, and could potentially be referred to in my upcoming storylines. Some were predictably outlandish, having been written by a young adolescent, and I decided that I could alter or otherwise explain them sufficiently to satisfy an audience of teenagers and adults. Only rarely did I decide a story was apocryphal, like, for instance, the story where Insect Man defeated a giant monster who was terrorizing the city by dropping an atomic bomb on him. Yep, right in the middle of "Cirrus City," Insect Man's stomping grounds during the '60s and '70s. (In my own Insect Man stories, I always assumed that IM had made the move from Cirrus City to Worcester during his years of inactivity.)
My celebrated memory failed me this time. I wanted to use a panel I remembered from the mid-1960s that referred to dropping an atomic bomb on a super-villain in the middle of a city, but after days of wracking my brain for the title and issue number in question, I came up with nothing! I knew it was a Marvel comic, and I was pretty darned sure it was a Stan Lee quote, but I had to call upon the Silver Age knowledge of Shar, author of the Panelocity blog which I've touted before. Thanks, Shar!
From Amazing Spider-Man #43, script by Stan Lee, art by John Romita, Sr.
I already had a handful of recent stories from others, picking up where the 1970s stories left off. For years, Insect Man had fought a worldwide terrorist organization called SKULL, lead by a villain called The Mummy. And yes, this nutcase actually dressed as a mummy, presumably at all hours of the day and night. In answer to SKULL, the U.S. government had created a huge organization called -- what else? -- Counter-SKULL.
It was the realization that SKULL still existed in 1985 that led the "gub'mint" to reactivate Counter-SKULL. Counter-SKULL convinced Insect Man to come out of retirement. Little had been done about using old members of Insect Man's supporting cast, so my options were pretty much open. I did inherit a plotline which had Insect Man feeling pain whenever he changed from human to insect, or vice versa. I began working on why this would happen, and how I could "fix" it.
My first order of business was to bring back Insect Man's kid sidekick from the 1960s. (One of the primary reasons kid sidekicks -- like Robin, Bucky, and scores of others -- were created in the first place was so the main hero wouldn't have to be talking to himself all the time. I wanted Insect Man's former partner back in action for the same reason.) His name was Greg Nile, who operated in the superheroic guise of Kid Secret. Back then he was an adolescent. After a handful of years, he had quit the costumed hero game to devote more time to high school Insect Man hadn't seen him for fifteen years... and don't forget, in the "Insect Man Universe," characters actually aged. That meant that now, Greg Nile was around thirty years old.
I plotted and began scripting the story. I planned a cover blurb using a handful of cliched, overused comic book descriptions, like "senses-shattering," "pulse-pounding," "awe-inspiring," and "gut-wrenching," but had the words partially obscured by Insect Man himself. He was covering almost all of the name "Kid Secret," too. I'm funny like that. And just for the hell of it, I chose a line from the Marcie Blane song "Bobby's Girl" as my title.
I proudly gave the script, entitled "You're Not a Kid Anymore," to Paul.
I don't recall exactly when Paul told me that he wouldn't be drawing my script, after all. He'd decided that his artwork wasn't good enough. Instead, he'd given my story to another customer at That's Entertainment, some guy I'd never met before named Ken Carson.
I didn't see Ken's artwork until the book was already printed. That meant that I'd be "stuck" with the result.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw this:
That cover was a very good omen, I thought, and as it turned out, I was right!
More next week.
Thanks for your time.
Insect Man, Insect Man's Weird Tales, and all related characters and titles are copyright © Paul B. Howley.