I spent some time this Memorial Day weekend cleaning out my "office," which is actually just the bedroom in my one-bedroom apartment where I’d keep my bed if I had a bed, but since I don’t*, I decided to make it into my office, where I’d keep my drawing table. But since it was way too cold in that room all winter to ever actually sit still at my drawing table to draw, I moved my drawing table into my living room, so the office basically became a big dusty room full of comic books (in longboxes and stacks) and piles and piles of papers, art supplies and things I didn’t know where else to put. It was a place I’d venture only once a day to grab my clothes from the closet or dresser, and otherwise ignored.
One of the things in one of the many piles back there is a suitcase I bought at a thrift store, and which is where I used to store all the writing I did in college. It’s full of papers and notebooks containing pretty much every thing I wrote in college—all of it quite dreadful. Poetry, short stories, ideas for stories, unfinished fragments, drawings of characters...it’s a graveyard for the products of 18-22-year-old Caleb’s free time, plus a few things created specifically for creative writing classes.
While rooting through it, I found a couple of comics projects from the period that I started and, like just about everything else in the suitcase, never completed.
I didn’t get very far with either, actually, but I thought it might be worth scanning a few images from them and posting them, if for no other reason than to publicly humiliate myself. I mean, that’s what blogs are for right?
The first is a comic I started my freshman year, when I was eighteen-to-nineteen; that would have been sometime between fall of 1995 and spring of 1996. I had a full script for it, written in my illegible, tiny printing on a few sheets of lined paper, the words occasionally broken up by little diagrams. I tried reading through it, and realized I can’t even read my own handwriting anymore; I have this weird problem where I can read my own handwriting for a certain limited amount of time after I write it, but I’ll eventually not be able to make it out. So I’m not entirely sure how the story ended, and I don’t think I even had a title for it.
I clearly remember laying propped up my elbows on my bed in my dorm room and drawing it though, on sturdy 8 x 11 printer paper from the school newspaper’s office, first in pencil and then in ink.
The story was about two young female roommates, one who played the heroine with a sort of super-power, and the other who played the damsel in distress.
The heroine was a girl named Nyx, which I believe is Greek for night. I’d found it in a book about witches I was reading at the time; I think it was Anton Szandor LaVey’s The Satanic Witch or maybe Satanic Bible, or possibly A Witch’s Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar. (I’m sure there’s at least one Suicide Girl using that name by now.)
Nyx always wore black, and wore big, steel-toed boots with deep treads like the kind I used to wear (and used to love to draw) and horizontally striped leggings. I had designed a special hairstyle for her that I also used to love drawing; her face was supposed to be framed by two, long strands that curled at the end, and the rest of it was shaped kind of like a Christmas tree of black hair branches.
Here’s a picture of her:
(See? These are pretty bad even by my low standards. At the time, I was still trying to draw whole eyes, in a more anime style; I’ve since given up on drawing the sides, bottoms and whites of human eyes, and now just do pupils and the tops of eye’s to suggest ‘em. I also never used any kind of reference. So if I were going to draw a boot, I wouldn’t look at a boot first, even if the exact boot I wanted to draw was in the corner, but I would instead just draw my memory of a boot).
Nyx's friend was Lizzie, who had long dreadlocks (which I also liked drawing a lot) and wore hippie-ish skirts and tops, with clogs. One of my best friends in college wore clogs all the time, and I was fascinated by them; also around that time I remember reading a children’s book called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice which was written by Nancy Willard and drawn by Lee and Diane Dillon in which the apprentice wore clogs, and I remember studying how they were drawn so I could draw them. (I should see if I can find a copy of that book at a library; I recall it having a lot of great costuming and set design in it).
The plot was that Lizzie was scared of spiders, and was always either killing them or asking someone to kill them when she found them in the apartment.
One day, she finds a spider in the bathroom sink and hits it with her clog, throwing it out the window. It survives, and goes to The Castle of Spiders to petition The King of All Spiders to take action. See, spiders were protected from humans by the superstition that killing them was bad luck, but now people don’t believe in bad luck anymore and squash spiders with impunity.
Here’s the King of All Spiders:
He’s supposed to be a big spider who spun a body made out of webs, which was human-ish, but with eight human arms, and he lived in the web mummy construct's head. I'm pretty sure that was supposed to be a big reveal at the end; that the Spider king was just a normal if large spider disguised as a big scary monster-y guy. (Please note the shitty dialogue. "Shall be punished"? What the fuck, Past Self?).
He summons his soldiers, who are a bunch of big, cartoony spiders who wear bowler hats and smoke cigars, like the bully bull dogs in old cartoons, and they kidnap Lizzie.
Here are three consecutive panels, where one of them rings the girls' doorbell and then disappears, to distract Nyx:
A couple of talking bats, who were Nyx’s witch grandmother’s familiars, visit her and give her a magic umbrella that is actually a pair of person-sized bat-wings wrapped around a cane (So, when Nyx opens the umbrella, the wings fly off it and attach to her back).
The bats then lead her to the Spider Castle, and after that I don’t remember what was supposed to happen, and I can’t read the rest of my story. I guess Nyx just shows up and fights all the spiders and the King Spider, maybe? And wins?
That’s…that’s not really much of a story. Hero fights villains and wins? I’m not really sure what possessed me to spend as much time on it as I did—I had about six pages of it drawn, a seventh done in pencil, and the whole story scribbled out in prose first—beyond the fact that it was full of a bunch of things I liked to draw.
So, that’s that story.
The next one was from my sophomore year, 1996-1997, so I may have been 19 by the time I did it. I remember the impetus for it much better.
I was taking a class called Environmental Studies, which fulfilled my science requirement to get a BA in English. One of the final projects was to create something in any medium that had an environmental message. My first impulse was to do a comic book, and I started it before realizing just how damn long it actually takes to draw a comic book. I ultimately ended up doing a spoken word-like poem performance that a musician friend of mine helped record. It’s abysmal, but I’m still proud of the samples from an environmental documentary we put in it.
This project didn’t have a title either, but the plot was that there was this factory, see, and it was totally polluting a swamp in the Everglades or somewhere in Florida. And the chemicals were causing the wildlife to mutate into horrible monsters. Two characters would encounter and fight all these monsters, and the ultimate moral would be that the people polluting are the real monsters. Deep, I know.
This was the first page, an establishing shot of the swamp:
This was during Kelley Jones’ run on Batman, and it couldn’t have been too long after the two-part story in which Swamp Thing summons Killer Croc to live with him in the Everglades or in a Louisiana swamp somewhere.
I’ve talked about my love of Kelley Jones quite a in the past, and while I sure wish I could draw as well as him, if a genie were to appear and offer me the ability to draw exactly like him, I’d probably decline. I like the way Jones draws heroes and monsters and animals and settings, but I don’t really care for the way he draws human beings, particularly women and younger people. That is, I like his drawings of them, but I don’t think that’s, like, the ideal way to draw them (Except for his hands; Jones draws fantastic hands).
I read a lot fewer comics back then, and really pored over the ones I did read, particularly the Doug Moench/Kelley Jones/John Beatty Batman comics. Jones’ style doesn’t appear to be an over detailed one, but he used to really filigree the objects and settings in his panels. I loved the way he’d draw building or forests in the background, or every ripple in the water, or every scale on a reptile. Often I'd spend some of the time between issues with an issue of his Batman open next to me while I tried to figure out how he drew a hand, or a spine, or a night sky or whatever other aspect about a particular image really grabbed me.
I’m sure almost every element of this image came from those two issues of Batman. If I flipped through them today, I’m sure I could find that exact same snake, the reeds and lily pads, and maybe those trees. I’m pretty sure I just took a bunch of elements from a bunch of different panels and smashed them together here. I know the moon and the background trees were an attempt to do what Jones did; you can see his version of that moon on the cover I posted above (And I did a much simpler version of Jones’ background swamp trees more recently).
That degree of filigree really appealed to me, and I spent a lot of time drawing unnecessary stylistic details, which, whether I realized it or not, was really just a way to disguise weaknesses in my own drawings with busy-ness. Was that a poor drawing of a tree, or a very lame snake? Maybe, but look at all those lines on the tree, and all the checkered scales on those snakes in the background! It took me forever to draw them, and they’re full of lines, so they must be good right?
Here’s the second page, which I wasn’t planning on scanning due to how terrible the narration is, but what the hell: Yes, I actually wrote, “A verdant dark wet Eden, teeming with life…and death.” How did I resist the temptation to put an exclamation point after the word death?
Also, I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I’ve ever used the word "verdant."
In the third panel there, that’s one of the monsters created by the pollution. It was based very loosely on a picture of the Jersey Devil on the cover of some book I head in grade school about those sorts of cryptid monsters. The one on the cover was a mountain lion with horns, bat wings and a devil-like tail, but it was laying sprawled out leopard-like on a tree branch, the moonlight showing its tawny hide and rippling cat musculature, red eyes and feline face. Mine is crouching and hidden in shadow, which meant I didn’t have to make it look like anything other than a dark shape.
I bet that factory in the last panel is also taken from a Jones issue of Batman, but I don’t think it was one of the Swamp Thing/Croc issues, as I don’t remember any factories in it.
I was quite enamored with the opportunity that shadow and darkness provided me with not having to draw detail. On this page, I used it as an excuse not to draw this guy’s face, although I’m sure I told myself it looked more dramatic that way:
That giant leech was based on my memory of Rick Veitch’s mutant leech character from his three-part story in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #24-#26 (A common leech sticks on Raphael's skin and sucks some of his blood, which is enough to make the leech start mutating into a more humanoid form, and Raphy to start devolving into a more turtle-like form). I wouldn’t have been able to look it up for reference, since my TMNT comics would have been at my parent’s house while I was drawing this in college.
The guy doing the kicking was the hero of the piece. I can’t remember who he was or what he was doing in the swamp, but at some point he was supposed to meet up with the heroine and help her through the swamp. He would do most of the monster kicking, while her dress would get more and more ripped.
Okay, now things are going to get a bit worse.
This is the heroine:
I’m afraid I don’t remember if she’s supposed to be a plucky gal reporter trying to break the story of the industrial pollution that created all these monsters, or if she’s the daughter of the wealthy industrialist who owns the factory and she is trying to convince him to stop dumping monster-making chemicals into the swamp.
I think it may have been the latter, as she’s wearing a mink stole for some reason. I have no idea why I drew that, other than the fact that I must have seen someone wearing a fur like that somewhere and thought it would be fun to draw.
I remember quite clearly where I got her clothes and hair though. Rolling Stone had a cover with Gillian Andersen on it around that time which showed her decked out like that, and I remember spending part of an evening trying to draw it.
(In addition to trying to draw images from comics I liked, I'd also try to draw magazine covers and photos and ads I really liked).
That Rolling Stone cover may have actually been the genesis for the whole idea of this thing, as it involved a woman with a cool hairstyle in a tiny, ripped dress being menaced by a monster in a swamp.
Ha, I drew her totally cross-eyed. I was still apparently drawing whole eyes at that point, and hadn't learned about this thing called symmetry, which I guess is sort of important.
Here’s her father and/or the pro-pollution industrialist who owns the factory:
Ugh. The tops of these two pages are full of space because I was going to fill it with their conversation about whether polluting is bad or not, but I drew them both with their mouths closed, which is a bad way to draw people who are supposed be talking.
I used to always draw pin-striped suits, as that gave me an excuse to fill them with lines. I’m not sure what’s up with his eyebrows, other than that I must have not liked them and figured if I added a bunch of idiosyncratic details to them, they might come off as “stylized.” I think that’s the same reason why he as that Rob Liefield-esque brow shading going on.
I started one more page of this, in which the people on that tug boat, which included the woman character, were floating around testing the water for pollutants, and hit something (I think just a rock, as I don’t recall planning any giant monsters). That’s as far as I got with it before I realized there was no way I’d finish the assignment in the month or so I had to do it, and I gave up.
I never wrote out what was supposed to happen in it, but was just going to create it page by page until I ran out of swamp monsters.
And that includes this look at the terrible comics I started when I was a youngster. Maybe next time I need something to post, I’ll tell you about the superhero universe I created between the ages of 16-18. How horrifying is that? Well, it had a character named Gambit who wore a black-and-white-checkered suit like Ragman's, and he had chess powers. Yeah.
*I have a really large, bed-like couch, to anticipate your question.