Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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

That seemingly incongruous mention of "trees falling down" is Ken Carson's inside
reference to Insect Man's origin, and has nothing to do with the legends of King Arthur.

The very last page of Insect Man #105, which I told you about last week, featured the single-page vignette shown above, written and drawn by Ken Carson. Here's where Ken and I -- I say "Ken and I" because, as Ken stated at the bottom of the page, we were by then co-plotting the entire Funnel Effect storyline -- tied in the centuries-old history of the ring which Hur-Bi had given Rex all the way back in 1965's Insect Man #1!

And by the way, the young Tab-Bi is the son of Kur-Bi, a/k/a The Bat, who died in Insect Man #101. Hur-Bi evidently ended up raising young Tab. Tab's mother was never mentioned!

After Insect Man #105 was published in 1986, there was an extended period before another Insect Man story appeared. (This was largely due to various real-world concerns of both Ken Carson and myself, the unpaid contributors to the current Insect Man saga.) In the late 1980s, That's Entertainment began publishing a free newsletter for its customers. The second issue of said newsletter, which was the size of a "real" comic book and printed on newsprint, resumed the long-delayed "Funnel Effect" storyline.


Ken Carson based the above cover to Insect Man #106 on the following sketch of Mary Marvel, drawn by artist Jack Binder in the 1940s or 1950s, but unpublished until Volume Two of Jim Steranko's The Steranko History of Comics in 1972. Please excuse the blurry image. Steranko's book is too big for my scanner, so I had to photograph the page with my cellphone camera!


It had been approximately two years since an Insect Man story had seen print! Therefore, it was decided that all of the Funnel Effect "teasers" from issues #103, 104, and 105 would precede the new material. That way, older readers would be reminded of what had happened, and newer readers who were totally unfamiliar with the story would be told all they needed to know. But before all of that, I even wrote a brief interview where I had "myself" trade questions and quips with Rex "Insect Man" Mason!

The actual first full chapter of The Funnel Effect began with Jake "The Masked Magician" Kellerman communicating telepathically with an unnamed someone whom he (Jake) evidently isn't very fond of. In the background, Rex Mason lies recuperating -- but from what, you may wonder -- in a hospital bed.


As you read today's installment of "Insect Asides," you'll notice that Ken and I were purposely waffling between calling Insect Man "Rex" and "Mike."

Oh, and as for that title, "The Man Who Saved the Universe?" I was really intrigued by the fact that Ken and I were about to tell a story where someone ends up saving all of creation, and yet, his only real power is the ability to change into insects! Now how the hell were we going to manage that?!?

I scripted this one, and for some unknown reason, lettered it as well. Ken Carson penciled and inked it. Jake's story picked up right where #105 ended


I manipulated the story to bring us closer -- Weeks? Months? -- to 1988.

After Jake had been crashing at Rex's apartment for a lengthy amount of time -- time during which Insect Man presumably had other instances of crime-fighting -- Jake caught a frivolous news item on TV which told of a "self-styled messiah" who had taken up residence on Massachusetts' Cape Cod, surrounded by a large group of disciples and acolytes. This philosopher and religious figurehead called himself "Ch'arm." Jake recognized the face of "the devourer", the being which had destroyed an entire alternate universe.

Spurred into action, Jake consulted an ancient tome which he'd received years ago from his order, "The Order of the Protectors". The ancient volume was entitled The Menrosian Chronicles. (At one point, Jake exclaimed "By the sacred Menrosian circlet!" a phrase he apparently picked up from those of the Order of the Protectors.)

Those of you with good memories probably know where all of this is going. Jake did not.

Jake began reading aloud from the book, delivering an incantation which caused the appearance of...


...and his ever-present robotic servant, Greeph! (That's pronounced "grief," of course, as in "Good grief!")

We had fun here. For once, our readers knew more than our story's characters.


Ken's cover to Insect Man #107 paid tribute to Jack Kirby's iconic cover of The Avengers #4, which had reintroduced Captain America to the world in 1964!


Hur-Bi himself got to narrate part of the tale! Hur-Bi, as you probably recall, was a centuries-old alien from the far-off planet Menro-6, an alien who'd spent so much time on Earth, he spoke using a lot of Earthling colloquialisms.

He explained to Rex and Jake that in his youth, hundreds of years earlier, he used to "dimension hop" (as he referred to it).


There was so much to explain, a long-winded b@$t@rd like myself had a field day! (Good thing Ken Carson, and not myself, lettered this chapter!)


Uhhh, yeah. "Demonic" immortals and "angelic" immortals. What Ken and I were actually doing here is re-telling the battle between Lucifer and his renegade angels against God, completely side-stepping the religious aspect to 1. avoid offending anyone's religious beliefs and to 2. give us more freedom in telling the tale, which has many different versions from multiple sources.



It is here that Jake interrupts, explaining how the Spanish monks became the Order of the Protectors, which Jake had joined many years later. He also explained that the former monks had more or less eschewed their religious backgrounds, instead embracing the concept of "true magic." At this point, Hur-Bi grew alarmed.

And here's why...

As I explained in Part Eleven, with Paul Howley in charge, every one of us who submitted stuff for Insect Man or Insect Man's Weird Tales "could do anything we wanted to do... ...except when we couldn't."

Well, Paul is a man of very deep religious beliefs. And when he realized what Jake "The Masked Magician" Kellerman had become, a real magician, he (Paul) interceded. He felt that magic -- any kind of magic, whether black or so-called "white" magic -- was ungodly. ((Someday I should ask Paul how he feels about Marvel's Dr. Strange.) He requested Ken and I do something about that.

Ken and I decided that having a "magician" who wouldn't use his magic would seem to be ineffectual against a being such as Ch'arm. This could be fun! We rose to the challenge.


I'll spare you the next segment of the published story, which talks at length about the far-famed Menrosian "circlet" (ring) and how it was given to Rex (Mike?) Mason over twenty years earlier.

Finally, after Hur-Bi had departed...

 
To Be Continued Next Week! And for those of you growing tired of -- or totally avoiding --this "Insect Asides" series, you may be glad to know that there are only TWO chapters left!

Thanks for your time.

Insect Man, Insect Man's Weird Tales, and all related characters and titles are copyright © Paul B. Howley.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Legacy


1. I'm sure you've heard February 3rd, 1959, referred to as "The Day the Music Died." That was the date of a famous plane crash outside of Clear Lake, Iowa. The crash killed early rock'n'rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as the airplane's pilot, Roger Peterson. The phrase originated in the Don McLean song, "American Pie."


2. You're no doubt familiar with the expression "life in the fast lane," which comes from the 1976 song of the same name by the Eagles. I'm sure the expression is used by some people who have never heard the song.


3. I'm also assuming that you've occasionally heard something described with words similar to "this one goes up to eleven," usually meaning that it's over-the-top in some form or another. That term was first used in the following routine from the 1984 mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap.


4. I am sometimes asked what, if any, goal or goals I have as a writer. Some writers would settle for having any or all of their work published. Well, I've already had some of my writings published.

Others would say that they want to be able to support themselves by their writing, and only their writing. I did that briefly for a few months, but I'm not ambitious enough to make that a long-term reality.

Some would say that they'd love to see at least one of their works adapted for television or motion pictures. So would I, but I'm not holding my breath.

But as for my own goal? I only hope that someday, I may write a phrase which will enter the English language as the three examples listed above have. Even if people don't know where they first read or heard my phrase. Even if they don't know that I'm actually the one who wrote it.

That, to me, is immortality. And it's  the only form of immortality I have any desire for at all.

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

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


Hey, gang, guess what? Do you remember "Insect Asides" Part Ten? That's the one where I told you, at great length, about my plans for a far-reaching, epic storyline very loosely inspired by DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths. I ended that post by saying "As for what happened to all these magnificent plans... well... See you next Wednesday!"

Well, that "next Wednesday" came and went, but I skipped my "Comical Wednesday" post that week. And last week, in Part Eleven, I jumped right into my post without ever telling the reason why I was forced to drastically reduce the number of chapters in what became known as "The Funnel Effect."

Oops.

Actually, it's fairly simple. As I've mentioned a few times before, Insect Man and Insect Man's Weird Tales were amateur comic books, eight-page (well, usually), photocopied, 5" x 8" comic books printed in black & white. No one made any money from them. They were written and drawn just for the fun of it. Even their publisher, Paul Howley, owner of the That's Entertainment comics and collectibles stores in Massachusetts, didn't make any profit from the sale of the comic. Sales of the books just covered its printing costs, if they even did that!

Well, fellow babies, there is absolutely no way to impose a deadline on work that's done on a volunteer basis. I mean, you can say "I need this by the end of the month" or whatever, but in the end, you can't really enforce that. What are you going to do, threaten not to pay the creator who's already not being paid?

Add to that the little fact that writing a comic takes a lot less time than penciling it or inking it. That's why the professional companies pay their writers much less per page than they pay their artists.

I remember when my former collaborator Skip Simpson and I were working on The Bird #1 (shown above). One day Skip approached me rather hesitantly and said that he'd been talking to his then-wife -- something he often did, oddly enough -- and they were discussing the expected revenue he and I would receive for The Bird's publication. He and Linda assumed that Skip and I would each receive 50% of whatever the publisher would pay the Simpson/Lynch team... and considering that his job as penciler, inker, and letterer was a lot more time-consuming than my job as a scripter, the 50-50 split didn't seem fair. I quickly pointed out that although we hadn't discussed our pay rates until that very day, it was never my intention to get half of the proceeds. That's just not the way professional comic book companies did things!

So, back to Insect Man.

It didn't really matter how quickly I could plot and script all the Insect Man stories (and spin-off series) that were floating around in my head. There was absolutely no way to make Ken Carson (or whoever else we could have found) churn out artwork at the same rapid pace. It's one thing to have an artist do an entire comic book of twenty pages or more every month, when you're paying him or her to do nothing else but that during an eight-hour day.

But the Insect Man stories were just a hobby, and not an occupation, for all of us.

So that's the reason my original, lengthy, convoluted plotline for "The Funnel Effect", as described in "Insect Asides" Part Ten, had to be condensed so very much before ever seeing print.

I had also had to make many other adjustments along the way. I had envisioned various sub-plots, and most of them would have taken place over a span of several issues, but I just didn't have the luxury of doing that.

To list only one example, I decided at the very start of my run on Insect Man's Weird Tales (Number 95, remember?) that I wanted to introduce a son for Rex "Insect Man" Mason.

I laid the groundwork slowly and not-so-surely. In issue #97, Greg "Mr. Secret" Nile supposedly learns for the first time that Rex had been very briefly married around the time of his high school graduation over twenty years earlier, but the marriage had been annulled due to their lying about the wife's age, and Rex hadn't seen her since then. Greg, citing TV soap operas and other similar forms of entertainment, suggests that Rex could have a hitherto-unknown offspring somewhere on the planet.

At the very end of Insect Man #101, a young man is shown, about to take a bus from Worcester, Massachusetts, to  Cirrus City (the fictional town in which Rex and Greg grew up). The man signs a traveler's check with the name "Alexander Mason."

In Insect Man #102, an unofficial "meeting" was arranged at the home of Rex's parents. Both Rex and Greg were invited... but due to the unplanned arrival of Scythe and the "Baby-Faced Ninjas," the purpose for said meeting was never revealed, either to Rex, or to Insect Man's readers!

In my mind, and unfortunately, my mind alone, here's what happened behind the scenes. ALLLLL of it:
  • Soon after their marriage was annulled, his former wife discovered she was pregnant. At about the same time, she somehow learned that her former husband had a new hobby, that of dressing up in a weird costume, changing into bugs and fighting crime.
  • Alexander Mason, Rex's son, had been told by his mother that his father had died in Vietnam during the 1960s. She figured that was preferable to revealing Rex's costume/bugs/crimefighting hobby mentioned previously!
  • Sometime after Alex had reached adulthood in the mid-1980s, his mom told him the truth, that his dad was actually still alive.
  • Not knowing how to get in touch with Rex, Alex instead contacted his grandparents, Richard and Betty Mason, who still lived in Cirrus City, where Rex had been raised.
  • Rex's parents didn't want to spring Alex's existence on Rex, especially while Rex (as Insect Man) was so busy trying to defeat SKULL once and for all.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Mason ended up contacting Greg Nile (sometime before the events told in Insect Man's Weird Tales #97), who was in the process of re-joining Counter-SKULL, and got him to begin warming up Rex to the idea of Alex or some other child being around somewhere.
  • Meanwhile, Alex himself arrived in Cirrus City, and presumably stayed indefinitely at some hotel.
  • Rex's parents and Greg finally decided to confront Rex directly. That was the unofficial meeting mentioned above, the one which went awry.
The sad part is, I was only able to show about 10% of all that! As a writer, I always try to tell the readers everything they need to know! But here, I just couldn't manage it. I finally threw my hands in the air (well, figuratively) and decided to deal with it in issue #105.

That meant that issue #105 was going to be a long, dialogue-filled issue. So I wrote it, Holly Basiner  (Scythe's co-creator, along with Frank Hunt) penciled it, and Ken Carson inked it (under the pseudonym of "Ethan K. Conners"). The cover, which was actually page one of the story, was penciled by Ken (again, as Ethan K. Conners) and inked by Holly.


As the conversation begins, Rex offers Scythe a drink. Non-alcoholic, of course. That leaves ginger ale (Rex's usual choice) or milk. Scythe teases him, asking if he also has any apple pie.


The conversation resumes. Scythe explains that she's been trying to actually sit down and talk with Rex for a while. (And finally, I get to deal with both the "son" thing and the "Rex/Michael Mason" thing! Well, part of that second one, anyway.)





Did you see that? "Next Issue -- It Finally Begins! "The Funnel Effect!"

Ohhh, if only my life went that smoothly!

To Be Continued.

Thanks for your time.

Insect Man, Insect Man's Weird Tales, and all related characters and titles are copyright © Paul B. Howley.
Scythe is copyright © Holly Basiner and Frank Hunt.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Determination ~~ A Fable (Reprinted from 8/10/2012)


The little girl came from a large family, mostly brothers. There were so many things she wanted to do alongside them, so many games she wanted to play that they could... and so many voices in her head saying "You can't do that. You're just a girl." So many doors locked, so many gates barred... "Boys are stronger." "Boys are smarter."

She laughed at the silly voices every time. "Let me pass!" she insisted. And she passed. And that was that.

When she wanted to leave her childhood home and marry, the voices said, "You can't, not yet! You still have responsibilities here." But she knew it was time to start living for herself. The voices sought to block her departure.

She set the wedding date and packed her bags. "Let me pass!" she insisted. And she passed. And that was that.

All through the middle decades of the 20th Century, when it was the woman's so-called "place" to raise the children, cook, and clean, she did all that and much, much more. The voices implored her to remain in her station, and not do volunteer work, not manage her husband's income, and not do minor refurbishings of their home. "You're doing far too much!" reprimanded those ever-present voices. "Stick to your assigned position as a wife and mother!"

She shook her head and laughed as they stood in front of all she hoped to accomplish. "Let me pass!" she insisted. And she passed. And that was that.

When her husband died, the young widow was perfectly suited to continue raising her children as a single mother, having coordinated so much of their lives to this point anyway. And her guidance continued long into their adulthood. She would always be their mother, she reasoned. They would never "catch up" to her; she would always "outrank" them. The voices said "At their age, you shouldn't help them anymore! They're adults!"

 She countered with "But they're adults I'm responsible for bringing into this world... and you're in my way. Let me pass!" she insisted. And she passed. And that was that.

In time, her eyes grew weak, as did the legs, the ears, and even the mind which was once so sharp. When advanced age threatened to rob her of the independence she'd lived by for so many years, she knew that her work was done. And the voices, though not as strong as they used to be, still droned on. "You have to keep trying! Your loved ones will miss you! You can't just give up!"

The old woman smiled one last time. "They'll get by. So shut up. This, like everything else, will be done on my terms. Let me pass!" she insisted.

And she passed.

And that was that.

*  *  *  *  *

Kinda proud of... No. Very proud of this one...

Thanks for your time.

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