Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Insect Asides, Part Five ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post


If you've been wondering where I've been going with all this, well, so am I. I'll probably just stop somewhere in the middle of things. I actually started out intending to tell only the story I relate in today's chapter and my previous one, but thought I should give just a little background on how I came to write for Insect Man's Weird Tales to begin with, and -- surprise, surprise -- got carried away. So here I am with chapter five, of six, or seven... or more!

Before I follow up Part Four's revelations, let me tell you what was going on in my mind during that time. (As if you could stop me, right?)

Everybody wanted to jump on the Insect Man bandwagon, it seemed. Even as I was plotting and scripting IMWT, other That's Entertainment customers were writing, drawing, and submitting their own Insect Man stories. These were stand-alone tales that had nothing to do with the continuity I was trying to establish. Not only that, but there was at least one writer/artist who wanted to contribute a three-parter featuring his own character, a character that had nothing to do with Insect Man.

I have to admit, all of these submissions bothered me, just a bit. You see, although Insect Man was definitely not "mine" -- he was and is Paul Howley's -- I was already becoming a bit... territorial... with the character. Not that I had any real right to be territorial, I hasten to add! But I was having fun, and didn't want to relinquish the plotting reins, as it were. I was also aware that issue #100 was fast approaching. Some time earlier, Paul had received a gorgeous Insect Man cover illustration by professional comic artist Will Blyberg. (More on that later.) This cover drawing was perfect for issue #100. I wanted to write a story suitable for this landmark issue, and I only had issues #98 and #99 to set everybody up for it.

I was lucky enough to get all of those other submissions postponed until some vague time after #100.

One of those "postponed" stories had been written and drawn by W.W. Bird -- "Bill" to me -- and for one reason or another, he ended up penciling, inking, and lettering my script for Insect Man's Weird Tales #98.

I've made a lot of jokes on this blog about my having the "kiss of death." All I have to do is think about someone I haven't thought about in ages, and he or she f***ing DIES.

Well, as I told you in Part Four of "Insect Asides," at the end of the story I'd written for IMWT #97, I blew up a space shuttle... and this was plotted, written, drawn, and published in 1985. The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28th of the following year!

The beginning of #98 dealt with the immediate aftermath of the explosion which I caused, sorta.





Now, I want to call your attention to the word "villain" on page two. I'll even give you a close-up:




Looks almost like the A and the I were lettered by a different person, dunnit? Well, they were. They were lettered by me. Regardless of having my freakin' script right in front of him, Bill misspelled "villain" as "villian," like so damned many people do! And I had to fix it so nobody would think it was my goof.

And no, I wasn't being paranoid. A couple of years later, when I co-wrote the script for my first "real" comic book, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the artist of the book also lettered it. Although every use of the term "compact disc" was spelled just that way (D-I-S-C) in the script, artist Ken Penders wrote "disc" sometimes, and "disk" other times! And a magazine review of U.N.C.L.E. #1 made a wisecrack about how the scripter couldn't decide on the spelling of the word.

For that matter, the script and the scripted dialog in that very same issue referred to a man wearing a fedora. But when Ken Penders drew the man, he drew him wearing a derby.

*sigh*

Back to Insect Man...

You're probably wondering how Rex "Insect Man" Mason and Greg "Mr. Secret" Nile survived, right? Well, to make a long story relatively short, this multi-billion-dollar advanced prototype of the space shuttle had a flight recorder (a/k/a "black box") on board. And since I'd read all of Paul Howley's original Insect Man stories, I knew that during his career, IM had acquired the ability to shrink, like Marvel's Ant-Man or DC's Atom, years ago.

So! When the shuttle was attacked, a quick-thinking Insect Man removed his power ring, and handed it to Mr. Secret so Greg could turn into a tiny bug. Simultaneously, Rex shrank down to a similar size, and both heroes got into the black box! (I know, I know, kind of a cheat, time-wise, but hey...)

Issue 98's "Mummy Dearest," by the way, was as deadly serious and gruesome as the previous issue had been silly! I came up with the never-before-revealed origin of Insect Man's foe (and long-time leader of SKULL), the Mummy. Paul Howley himself told customers that it was one of the best six comic book stories he'd read that month. And since the rest were "real" comics, I considered that to be quite a compliment.

Finally (for this chapter, anyway) let's jump ahead a few months to when the real-life space shuttle disaster occurred, okay?

By the time of that real-life shocker, IMWT #97 and #98 were "old news." A few more issues had come out in the interim, and That's Entertainment had the last five or six on its new comic rack, along with all the "real" comic books.

Paul's cousin Steve also owned a comic shop, called The Outer Limits. Paul and Cousin Steve would telephone each other constantly during the day just to share goofy jokes, questions, stories... Whatever crossed their minds was fair game. After all, if you "sell funnybooks for a living," as Paul often said, you have no right being totally serious.

As you'll no doubt recall, I wasn't just the sometime-scribe of Insect Man's adventures, I was also an employee of That's Entertainment. So Paul and I were both in the store on January 28th, along with several customers.

Suddenly, the phone rang. (Well, how else could it ring?) Paul answered it. It was Cousin Steve. Steve told Paul that the Space Shuttle Challenger had just blown up after liftoff. Typical Cousin Steve phone call. Naturally, Paul thought it was a joke... but only for a second.

Paul shared the awful news with the rest of us, and a few minutes later, I looked at Paul and said "Do you know what I just thought of?"

His eyes got a bit wider. "Your Insect Man story?" I nodded.

That was eerie.

One day soon after January 28th, I was all alone in the store, behind the counter. One of TE's regular customers -- we'll call him "Conrad" -- walked in, strode purposefully up to the shelf holding the recent IMWT issues, grabbed a copy of either #97 or #98, and waved it in the air, yelling "The FBI is going to be looking for this David Lynch guy!" or words to that effect.

Obviously, he didn't know me by name.

I had to explain to him that:
  1. I was David Lynch. (Still am, last time I checked.)
  2. I'd merely written a fictional story. I didn't really blow up the Challenger.
  3. The FBI couldn't give a rat's ass about me.
A lengthy aside here: In 1988, Marvel Comics was publishing several titles as part of what they called their "New Universe." The New Universe titles took place outside the Marvel Universe, home to Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, etc.  One of the New Universe's storylines had the entire city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, destroyed by an otherworldly force. Well, right around that time, that same "Conrad" found some sort of weather chart on some computer somewhere, which had a huge dark spot in the area of Pittsburgh. He thought the city had really been wiped off the face of the Earth! (Let's just ignore the fact that no TV or radio news mentioned this supposed tragedy.) Conrad brought a print-out of the weather chart (or whatever it was exactly) into That's Entertainment, declaring (IIRC) that all comic book fans were going to hell, because their hobby had obliterated Pittsburgh.

*sigh*

And back in 1985, I was developing the story that came to be called "Fractured SKULL!"

To Be Continued...

And next time? The issue that non-artist David M. Lynch drew 90% of!

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

STEVE DITKO, 1927-2018, R.I.P. ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post


Sorry, fellow babies, no Insect Man chapter this week. Next week, I promise!

One of the most innovative artists in the history of comics has died at the age of ninety.

Steve Ditko obituaries are showing up all over the place because of his two best-known co-creations, Spider-Man (and that is how you spell it, not "Spiderman" or "Spider Man") and Doctor Strange.

A partial list of characters he created, co-created, and/or drew would include the Creeper, Stalker, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Hawk & the Dove, Shade the Changing Man, one of the many DC Comics characters named Starman, Machine Man, Rom, Mr. A, the Question, and yes, even Squirrel Girl! And villains? Scores of those, as well. Just listing the Spider-Man foes would make this article longer than I intend to: Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, the Scorpion, the Lizard, the Chameleon...

Ditko started contributing to comics in the early 1950s. He created or co-created many superheroes, but even if he hadn't done a single costumed character, he would hold a place in history for the incredible horror/fantasy stories he drew (among other genres, of course).

Ditko rarely spoke on record about his contributions to comics. He was a reclusive type who preferred to let his work speak for itself. He didn't give interviews after the 1960s ended, and he is only on record as having attended one comic convention, and that was in 1964. The last known photograph of him dates to the early 1970s, I believe.

There's obviously a lot more I could write about Steve Ditko, but I'm going to give you a plethora of images instead, interjecting only when I feel it's appropriate. (Click on any image for a larger version. In fact, I strongly recommend that you do so!)




Ditko's version of the Blue Beetle.

Captain Atom and Nightshade face The Ghost (no relation
to the antagonist in this summer's Ant-Man and the Wasp).

One of my personal favorite Ditko characters. Only six issues in 1968-1969
(plus a debut/origin story in Showcase #73 before that), but I loved 'em!


  
As the 1960s became the era of the hippies, Ditko's surrealistic artwork on the Dr. Strange series convinced many of the younger generation that Ditko was "one of them" in terms of experimenting with psychedelic drugs. In reality, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Ditko was extremely straight-laced and conservative.

His character design was incredibly inspired. When he and writer Stan Lee decided to finally show "the dread Dormammu," Ditko drew something decidedly different.



Later in Dr. Strange stories which appeared in Strange Tales, he created the look of another character, named Eternity. Eternity was one of those beings that transcend mere good and evil.


And inevitably, the evil Dormammu met and battled Eternity! However, a recent Ditko obituary claimed that this multi-part story "culminated with Strange and Dormammu joining forces." Wrong. See for yourself. Dr. Strange was merely a frightened observer.





I was young and naive enough to believe that the above sequence actually dispensed with both of them for good. Ha. Not in comics...

Ditko's "faceless" superhero, the Question.



Ditko often inked his own work, and sometimes he inked others! Thus, this sequence
from Fantastic Four #13 (penciled by Jack Kirby) has the inimitable Ditko touch.

One of my all-time favorite artists, Wally Wood (1927-1981) inked Ditko's pencils on
The Destructor (shown above) and Stalker (shown below). IMHO, the result was terrific!




Ditko's Mr. A, whose philosophy was as black-and-white as the artwork here!


Steve Ditko's style was so distinctive, his version of characters with which he was not so strongly associated often differed from the norm.



Loki and Thor...

The incredible Hulk...

Dr. Doom...

Daredevil...

...and finally... Well, I'm not sure who this guy is, but he sure looks familiar, doesn't he?

 A little tribute from 2008's The Spirit.

And now, it is with great pleasure that I present one of the most memorable segments of the Silver Age, from The Amazing Spider-Man #33! Stan Lee's words and Steve Ditko's pictures provided a sequence that still has comic fans talking!

Basically, Spider-Man is trapped in an underwater complex, beneath tons of machinery. Watch how Stan and Steve combine to make the reader agonize along with the hero.





Rest well, Steve. You've earned it.

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Insect Asides, Part Four ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

Dan Courtney's cover is signed "Dan 'C.C.' Courtney," so I'm assuming that's a reference to artist
C.C. Beck... but I couldn't locate a cover that this illustration was based on... if indeed there was one!

Here's another chapter in my seemingly-endless look behind the scenes of my first attempts at scripting comic books!

Insect Man's Weird Tales #96, my second issue -- drawn by artist Dan Courtney -- was what I call a "transition" issue. Basically, it dealt with issue #95's cliff-hanger ending, and set things up for issue #97. In fact, I didn't even give this story a distinctive title. I just labelled it as the conclusion to issue #95's "You're Not a Kid Anymore!"

It had been established by writer Chris Coleman that since his revival (Insect Man's revival, that is, not Chris Coleman's!), Rex experienced pain whenever changing back from his insect form(s). One of my earliest decisions as new writer was to get rid of that particular plot point.

After a fistfight in which Rex "Insect Man" Mason and Greg "Kid Secret" Nile (sans any superhero uniforms) dispatched their three SKULL antagonists, I had Rex and Greg discuss the problem of the aforementioned pains.

That's right, he said "The blasted thing came from Mars!" Y'see, young Paul Howley's Insect Man origin story from 1965 had established that Rex Mason had gotten the ring that gave him his shape-changing abilities from a Martian who had been visiting Earth. Well, twenty years later, we all knew that this alien could not actually be from Mars. Or could he?

It was early in my tenure as writer that I decided that each Insect Man story could be different. An issue could be dead serious. Or it could be totally goofy and humorous. A story could be set in outer space, in another dimension, or on the streets of Worcester, Massachusetts, in the so-called "real world."

Writers are God, don'tcha know?

I had decided that issue #97 was to be a real "bozo" issue. Plenty of silly jokes, and references that would mostly be appreciated by the comic book & entertainment fans who bought the IMWT title.

And yes, I had actually decided to send Insect Man and Kid Secret to Mars! But 1985 readers knew that such a trip could take a couple of years. I had to work around that, which, luckily, would be fairly easy in a goofy issue, right?

I started out by giving them transportation for their space journey.

The "Ben Grimm" reference, by the way, was a comic book insider's joke. Ben Grimm,
better known as The Thing of The Fantastic Four, had been a test pilot in his youth.

As a tiny sub-plot, I included a short segment where Greg was complaining about the name "Kid Secret" as being inappropriate for a now-adult superhero. Rex jokingly asked "What do you expect us to call you? Mister Secret?" To Rex's surprise, Greg actually liked the new name (although the superhero uniform(s) he wore during the next few issues still bore a "KS" logo)! Admittedly, I liked the name, too, because it reminded me of such Golden Age comic book heroes as Mister Scarlet (among others)!

The 1978 Superman movie (starring Christopher Reeve) had used "You Will Believe a Man Can Fly!"
as its slogan. I don't remember if the "You Will Believe a Man Can Fly (to Mars)" re-working
was my idea, or someone else's... but I definitely liked it, as it set up the tone of the following issue!

Insect Man's Weird Tales #97, the so-called "Special 'Off-the-Wall' Issue," was originally going to be called "Insect Man Conquers the Martians," a titular take-off of the 1964 piece-o-crap film, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Returning artist Ken Carson (already drawing better than he had two scant issues earlier) based a great cover on the Dell comic book adaptation of the movie!


There was a slight problem. Paul Howley said that nobody would understand the reference to the 1964 movie. He suggested we change the title to "My Favorite Martian," a title taken from the 1963-1966 TV show of the same name which Paul (and I) had watched as a youngster. Ken and I very briefly argued that one sixties reference was as obscure as the other, but quickly figured that we didn't really care either way. And after all -- heh -- it was Paul's book.

The young boy is Greg's son Rex (shown very briefly in IMWT #96), obviously named after Greg's
childhood friend/mentor, Rex "Insect Man" Mason. This scene never actually appeared in the book.

Early in the story, I got to use the following purposely-silly method to "work around" that pesky one-to-two-year travel time to and from Mars! 

Here's my "cheat," folks!

Every single time I made a comment in the dialog or captions about the cost of the mission, I'd have the dollar amount crossed out and I'd write a caption blaming "national security." In retrospect... That cutesy little routine got tired pretty quickly.


My original caption was written as "If we don't get sued for something this issue, it'll be a miracle!" As shown above, Ken Carson (who drew and lettered the book) added yet another comic book in-reference, changing my caption to "it'll be a miracle, man!" referring to Eclipse Comics' Miracleman title of the 1980s.


After four hours of waiting, Rex and Greg were transported to a planet called Menro-6, the true home of the "Martian." There, they encountered Insect Man's ol' buddy, whom I named Hur-Bi (pronounced "Her-BEE," not "HER-bee," if it freakin' matters). Hur-Bi was an alien who used a lot of Earth slang in his speech.


The "Guardians of the Universe" crack refers to DC Comics' blue-skinned race of interstellar immortals, who give
the Green Lantern Corps their power rings... not to be confused with Marvel Comics' Guardians of the Galaxy.



To make a long story short... well, not short, perhaps, just not quite as long... Hur-Bi found and fixed an imperfection in the Insect Man ring. All Rex and Greg had to do now was travel home.

As it happened, however, no sooner had the multi-billion-dollar advanced prototype of the space shuttle re-entered Earth's atmosphere before it was spotted by the head of SKULL itself, the Mummy! And at this point, the light-hearted story approach of this issue came to a halt!


That's right. I wrote a story in which a space shuttle exploded. Maybe you think that's in bad taste, considering that it was right around that time that the real-life Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred.

Only thing is.. The Challenger disaster happened on January 28th, 1986.

My story was written, drawn, and published before the end of 1985.

To Be Continued...

Thanks for your time.

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