Thursday, May 6, 2010

How It All Began (Part Two)


In Part One of "How It All Began," I told how I was cast in an amateur theatre production of Michael Weller's "Moonchildren" in 1981. During an informal party for most of the play's personnel, Vic, one of the cast members -- and I'm quoting from myself here -- was standing in front of a lighting fixture of some kind, experimenting with different brightly-colored filters. He placed a green filter over the lens, and suddenly began reciting "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight..." The words Vic spoke were the beginning of the fabled "oath" which DC Comics' Green Lantern character recited as he "recharged" his power ring. Naturally, I recognized this immediately. And so did one of the other "Moonchildren" cast members, a thirty year old guy who'd read comics as a youth. The name of that "guy" was Skip Simpson.

Shortly after Vic had done his quickie homage to Green Lantern, Skip and I privately began discussing that DC Comics superhero, and comic books in general. Skip had read comics as a boy; I had never "outgrown" them.

Briefly digressing... To say that Skip and I "clicked" would be putting it mildly. In terms of our pop culture influences, it almost seemed like Skip and I had had parallel childhoods. Movies, TV shows (which would come in handy when we wrote or co-wrote various issues of Entertainment Publishing's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic book series in the late 1980s), MAD paperbacks... One of us would make some ridiculously obscure reference, and the other one would immediately know it.

(Yeah, yeah, I know... You and your friend [fill in the blank] do that all the time, too. Well... Skip and I did it more! Just sayin'.)

Eventually on that first night at the Gateway Players "barn," Skip and I started talking about a story he had envisioned for Green Lantern.

At this moment, nearly thirty years removed from that conversation -- blame the years and/or the alcohol -- I don't recall exactly whether Skip came up with the plotline then, or had already had it in the back of his mind for some time.

First, some necessary background on the Green Lantern character. Test pilot Hal Jordan had a power ring bequeathed to him by a dying alien named Abin Sur. As Hal learned not long afterwards, this powerful piece of jewelry had actually been created by an ancient, immortal cadre of identical, balding, white-haired, blue-skinned men called the Smurfs Guardians of the Universe. Hal Jordan became one of 3600 Green Lanterns in the universe, designated as "the Green Lantern of Sector 2814." For the most part, his activities were confined to that section of outer space. He mainly operated on Earth, his home planet.

Green Lantern's power ring could do just about anything that Hal's own imagination -- backed up by his will power -- could come up with, but due to a necessary "impurity" in its make-up, the ring had no effect over anything colored yellow. Additionally, the ring had to be "recharged" every 24 hours by a "power battery" in the shape of a... well... a green lantern... which Hal had also been given by Abin Sur. No recharge, no powers! Sucked to be Hal whenever that occurred.

Hal Jordan implicitly trusted the Guardians in almost every instance. There were occasional rebellious episodes during Hal's tenure as GL, of course, but these were few and far between.

Yup. Hal Jordan, intergalactic butt-kisser.

Anyway, Skip's intriguing concept was this: What if the Guardians approached Hal with a mission, a mission involving a
yellow planet in Sector 2814 which had dangerous properties ("space spores" or the like, IIRC), and needed to be destroyed somehow?!? (For the "greater good of the universe," that sort of thing.) The problem was that this planet was inhabited by intelligent, humanoid life forms! (That's "people" to you, fellow babies!) The directive to destroy this planet would therefore be against the Guardians' core beliefs, as well as Hal's own.

Skip and I brain-stormed together on this plot constantly in between the rehearsals and production dates for "Moonchildren" and possibly(?) after the production dates of the play itself. Skip even did some preliminary sketches based on our plot.

I'd never worked with an artist before. In fact, at this point in my life -- my early twenties -- I'd never had a paid writing job, nor had I ever scripted a comic book, either amateur or professional! I wrote a couple of pages of script for Skip, envisioning each "panel" -- the comic industry's term for each individual image on a comic book page, or each succeeding image in a comic
strip -- as a reworking of something I'd seen in one of the many comics I'd read. I went so far as to photocopy certain images. That was tantamount to saying, "Here. I'm not an artist myself, but here's exactly how you should do it!" But in my own defense, I should point out that if that was indeed arrogant of me, it was only out of my own youthful naiveté. And to his credit, if Skip was insulted, he didn't show it, probably chalking it up to my inexperience.

I wish I had a copy of the panels he penciled, so I could share them with you! They were impressive. Skip drew a brief introductory sequence wherein Hal Jordan aims a lethal power beam blast toward the surface of a strange alien world. The planet erupts violently, and Hal screams soundlessly as he is assaulted by fragments from the exploding planet, debris which he had mistakenly thought he was far enough away from. And then... Hal
wakes up, sweating. Later that same day, he is visited by a representative member of the Guardians, and confronted with his "impossible mission," as it were.

It was blatantly obvious that Skip had talent, more than enough talent to draw the story we were co-plotting. And he definitely didn't need help from my Swipe File. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking something akin to "Oh, good! He can draw! Now, if we write it and he draws it, we won't have to worry about any outsiders messing with it!" (Well... other than DC's editors, of course. But that's part of the comics game.)

Eventually, I discussed the fact that Skip and I were working on a Green Lantern story with Paul Howley, the owner of my favorite comic book shop,
That's Entertainment. Paul actually knew the then-writer of the Green Lantern title, a comic legend and fan favorite named Marv Wolfman. (And yes, "Wolfman" was/is indeed his real name, in case those of you who are unfamiliar with comics are wondering! And by the way, one of Wolfman's best continuing titles, in my not-so-humble opinion, was called Tomb of Dracula, oddly enough!)

Paul contacted Marv Wolfman, and unfortunately told me that Marv and DC Comics were soon to send their Green Lantern title in a totally new direction, and thus, they were not accepting any story submissions at that time. Needless to say, Skip and I were quite disappointed. Crestfallen. Disillusioned. Pissed Off. Suicidal. (No, no, no! I'm kidding about "suicidal," of course. But... not about "pissed off.")

Shortly thereafter, the Green Lantern title officially entered this new phase... and as it turns out, it involved the Guardians temporarily "banishing" Hal Jordan from Earth itself, forcing him to perform all of his Green Lantern duties in outer space!

Yup. In other words... Our plot would have fit in perfectly with their new direction! So it goes.

So, in conclusion, fellow babies: This, then, was the very first collaboration of Simpson and Lynch, which, although stillborn, as it were, showed the two of us that we had a creative chemistry which both of us wanted to pursue!

And even though the following illustration wasn't drawn until a couple of years after the events of this two-part post, I wanted to share something with you. It's the original illustration Skip created for the logo of Simpson/Lynch Studio(s), scanned from "ancient" SnL stationary!


Like Skip often says, I save everything!

Thanks for your time.

7 comments:

  1. I don't think I have enjoyed reading anything as much as this since I read Henry Ford's "My Life And Work". Riveting.

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  2. @Alan: Henry Ford was a riveter? Damn, I could have sworn he manufactured automobiles!

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  3. Absolutely delightful...and mostly because I know both of you! :)

    I'm sure you wonder about the "If only's" sometimes!

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  4. Wonderfully written story...I only wish that DC would have published the Green Lantern the two of you came up with.

    Maybe you can work on something else. I am really proud of both of you. :)

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  5. Hey! That guy from That's Entertainment is one of MY favorite guys!...Cousin Saul

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  6. @Betsy: Yeah, the whole "If Only" think can be intriguing... or maddening, depending on the subject!

    @Sandy: You ought to like next Tuesday's post, which is another true story from the real-life history of Simpson & Lynch, also deleted recently from the SnL blog (where maybe a handful of people read it at the time).

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  7. @Betsy: Uhhh... "think" was obviously meant to be "thing."

    @"Cousin Saul": What a surprise...

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