Why Make Comics? Part I

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 If you ask any type of artist why they engage their particular art, you will, of course, get a multitude of seemingly unique answers.

Boil them down, though, and they always end up falling in one of two categories.

The first is the one the artist will give when the inquisitor is not themselves an artist.  This well-rehearsed statement will list everything that slots in the ‘pro’ column when dealing with their particular medium, and deftly avoids nearly all of the cons.

(And it’s well-rehearsed because the artist has made this little speech to themselves in the mirror more than a few times, usually when things aren’t going well with the art, and often in the wee hours of a sleepless night, as a way to justify their efforts to themselves when the results aren’t completely obvious.)

Not that this response is a total fabrication, but the REAL truth lies somewhere closer to the shorter answer an artist will give one of their peers, perhaps when asked by someone from a slightly different, yet still creative-oriented, field.  When it comes down to it, we may all have different and strong individual accents, but we all speak a common tongue.

We make the art that we make because we simply can’t NOT make it.

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Grand Opening: DoorMan webcomic (and good luck at SDCC, Doodle!)

DoorMan Drunk Duck Header

Two big events in the Domainsphere here this week (OK, three if you count the official return of the superhero’s best tool against evil and crime, Twinkies), both of which are intertwined somewhat — score one for synchronicity.

First, my business and creative partner, artist James E. ‘Doodle’ Lyle will be making his first trek to the holiest of nerd meccas, San Diego Comic-Con.  This has been something he’s looking forward to and building up to doing for years, and having known him for twenty years, I’m extremely thrilled for, and proud of, my pal.

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For Doodle, this is exclusively a business trip, as he’ll be pushing his impressive portfolio with a number of publishers, editors, and industry gatekeepers, so fingers are crossed on both coasts.

James is Chairman of the South Central chapter of the National Cartoonists Society, and will be appearing at the NCS booth at SDCC — 1307 and 1309, which is just inside Lobby B and near the huge Mile High Comics booth — on Thursday, July 18 from 1 PM to 3 PM, and Friday, July 19 from 3 PM to 5 PM.

So if you’re in the neighborhood and not too busy, please drop by and say hello — James will be doing sketches, and will have prints and comics he’s done for sale.

Here’s a shot for a project we’ve been working on called Rebootleg, sort of a creative exercise where we take a stab at unofficially rebooting an established iconic comics character — I’ve been dying to show this off for months, as Doodle came up with the look first and I built the whole reboot concept around the visual design: a fun, sort of hipsterish and very Ditkoesque take on a certain world-famous wall-crawler.

Art © 2013 James E. Lyle

Art © 2013 James E. Lyle

Initially, our plans were to tie Rebootleg in with the release of the superhero summer blockbusters, like Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, and The Wolverine, but schedules unfortunately got away from us.  We’re still going to do it, at some point, though, as the ideas we brainstormed are too fun to just languish in e-mails on our hard drives.

We’ve got several projects in the works, not the least of which is launching a business venture, Vintage Robo Design Co., to create original characters and IP to be featured on prints, posters, t-shirts, and just about any other merch we can think of, as well as try to get said characters into print in various formats.

wolfman james lyle michael allan leonard vintage robo design co public domain blog comic

Wolfman and Chickadee © James E. Lyle

I wrote earlier about our first formal effort, Wolfman, which is a parody / homage romp through the superhero Silver Age.  Here’s a more recent piece, pencils for a cover-style print featuring one of the Canine Crusader’s arch-foes, the perilous Marie Puffins, a brilliant mash-up between Mary Poppins and the Penguin that Doodle cooked up because as a kid, he was a little confused that Mary and Oswald Cobblepot both had what he called an ‘umbrella fetish’ — which immediately made me break out into gales of gleeful laughter.

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Wolfman, Chickadee, Marie Puffins and artwork © James E. Lyle. (But I helped write the captions on this one.)

That’s the sort of thing you can just plain have unbridled fun with.  Getting paid to do so is almost icing on the cake.

Doodle and I have discussed a few other possibilities in the past several weeks, for books that would combine short themed fiction with full-page poster / print-ready illustrations — a crime noir meets mythological fantasy mashup, sort of Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane writing Prohibition era tales of gangsters and Greek gods; a wicked tribute to classic 50s and 60s era horror and suspense as embodied in the original Tales From The Crypt EC comics and The Twilight Zone with a sexy rockabilly pin-up twist, but the one we’ve really taken a shine to is the most recent, which actually came out of the Fourth of July Nazi-Punching posts here on Public Domain.

Tentatively titled ‘Victory Girls’, it’s an all-female protagonist tribute to the madness and sheer brute creativity of Golden Age era superheroes and pre-comics pulp fiction, where the rules of the genre and medium were still being written on cheap four-color newsprint and the ink was still fresh enough to stain your fingertips.

victory girls I am enrolled

 

And the deeper we went into this particular rabbit hole, the more we started to realize that this is almost custom-made for the burgeoning female nerd fanbase that seems to be growing week by week.  These classic 1940s female archetypes are not the same arrested adolescence, hyper-sexualized softcore schoolboy fantasies that populate modern comics.

These were characters that were just as fully realized as their male counterparts and just as strong, starring in their own features and not just existing as part of the supporting cast as the love interest or spouse.

Even though these stories are period specific and chronicle the tales of masked heroines helping out with the war effort during WW II, there’s some timeless qualities that we think will still resonate well with modern day readers.

The more and more I see modern-day superheroes being drug farther and farther into grim and gritty ‘realism’, the more need I see for a return to form where superheroes were actually morally upstanding people with amazing (and wholly unrealistic) abilities trying to do the right thing without a cowl full of angst-ridden psychosis they’re trying to work out with fists, boomerangs and eyeblasts.

I’ll certainly share more about this project as it comes together, but for now you can check out Doodle’s amazing off-the-cuff visualizations of two of our Victory Girls: Tiger Girl, our version of the ‘jungle queen’ archetype, and Millie Moon, the ‘Human Cartoon’, a feminized take on the ‘elastic’ Plastic Man / Elongated Man type crimebuster.

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Victory Girls’ Tiger Girl © Michael Allan Leonard and James E. Lyle. Art and design by James E. Lyle.

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Victory Girls’ Millie Moon, The Human Cartoon © Michael Allan Leonard and James E. Lyle. Art by James E. Lyle (who actually did this rough sketch on a lark during a slow moment at a group signing event with several other comics artists and cartoonists at a Barnes & Noble last weekend).

My other big event this week is that I’ve decided to finally end the ‘beta’ phase of James and my DoorMan webcomic and officially begin promoting it.

DoorMan was the project that first brought us together as a creative partnership in 1993, and while Doodle has had far more published credits than I have, DoorMan is my main claim to fame when it comes to creating comics — and in many ways, after all the dozens of other characters and concepts I’ve created and worked on, published and unpublished, it’s still my favorite ‘child’.

www.doormanonline.net doorman michael allan leonard james E. doodle lyle webcomic

DoorMan is the story of Janus de Nile, an enigmatic time-traveler who has devoted himself to destroying sentient psychic poltergeist-like parasites called the Arcanum.  The Arcanum, sort of Lovecraftian ectoplasmic nightmares, take root in the minds of people who suffer strong guilt, remorse, and regret tied to secrets they hold from their past.

The only way for a host to rid him or herself of the Arcanum and escape a downward spiral into madness is to dig up the past they’ve spent so much time and effort burying and hiding from others, and confess what happened to them.

And Janus plays the role of therapist, taking them back to the past to directly confront the events that led to their repression of the truth — think Ebenezer Scrooge’s sojourn in A Christmas Carol within the context of a 1990s Vertigo comic, and you’re on the right track.

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DoorMan © Michael Allan Leonard and James E. Lyle

 

DoorMan’s always been a difficult prospect to pitch briefly, and the influences are all over the map — there’s steampunk in elements of the Victorian-styled visual design of the character, certainly heavy nods to Gaiman’s Sandman and other 90s era Vertigo titles like Hellblazer and Kid Eternity, and there’s also some Doctor Who in the mix with the mind bendy time travel elements.

So if any of that hodgepodge of influences and inspirations sounds appealing, by all means, please check it out.

James and I did five issues of DoorMan for two different publishers between 1993 and 1995, and while he had a small international fanbase and got good press, the book just never caught on.  Our sales back then would actually be impressive today, but when you were talking that even low-end ‘successful’ comics were pushing thirty or forty thousand in sales a month, we were barely a ripple in the pond.

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So we’re looking at this webcomic version as a way to get a second chance, two decades later, with a lot more experience with our respective crafts under our belt, with a whole new generation of readers — literally.

We’re hoping to offer up the original material in a variety of formats, both the updated-weekly free webcomic, and various print and digital editions.  Doodle just put the finishing touches on a new cover for the original 1993 debut issue, and we’re getting ready to submit it to comiXology’s creator-owned ‘Submit’ program very shortly.

Here’s the final cover for the comiXology pitch, which James based on a Silver Age Batman cover by Carmine Infantino and Irv Novick that has deep personal meaning to him — that issue of Batman was one of the comics that made him decide to go into art and pursue a career as a cartoonist and comics artist.

And, it just plain looks awesome.

 

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DoorMan © Michael Allan Leonard and James E. Lyle. Art and color art by James E. Lyle, 2013.

I’ve been working on getting this webcomic up and running for a year, and started out with pretty much zero computer literacy beyond operating a web browser, and yet somehow I’m now a webmaster (not that I’ve come anywhere near mastering the skills I’m going to need to develop).

It’s not perfect, but thanks to a recent upgrade by the WordPress folks to their self-hosted software, I was able to pick a much better theme that works much better with my webhost without crashing and freezing the site, and I think in time I can make it look pretty sharp, one tweak at a time (and plenty of swearing and cursing and wondering why this or that didn’t work the way it was supposed to).

And I also placed a version of the webcomic on several long-established webcomics hosting sites, which I’ve been quietly learning the ropes of over the last few weeks.  Those, too, need some work to get beyond basic vanilla templates, but they’re functional, and I have to say, I’d never really given the media subset of webcomics much of a consideration, and I was surprised by some of the really great work being done in that space — but more on that in the future.

So, without further adieu, I’d like to cordially invite everyone to DoorMan’s ‘home’ site, www.doormanonline.net .

DoorMan Online is the deluxe version of the site, with expanded commentary and exclusive materials, and thanks to the recent WP Jetpack upgrade, functions much the same as Wordpress.

You can also find DoorMan on the following webcomics hosting sites:

comicfurylogo       http://doorman.thecomicseries.com/

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http://www.drunkduck.com/DoorMan/

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http://doorman.smackjeeves.com/

The main site is a little behind the webcomic host ‘mirrors’, but all of them should be firing in sync very soon, and updates will be every Wednesday across the board.

So, to wrap it up, if you’re going to be at SDCC, swing by the NCS booth and say hi to Doodle, and James and I both hope you’ll check out and enjoy DoorMan.

— mal

DoorMan Online Home Banner(click on banner to jump to the start of the webcomic)

Thanks for stopping by Public Domain!  If you want more free comics, give our 2013 Free Comic Book Day offering, NightStorm, a look by clicking on the icon below:

free comic book day 2013 public domain blog michael allan leonard james e. lyle nightstorm

We’ll get back to the Hostess Ads shortly — thanks for indulging me in a little shameless self-promotion.

Lawyers and Wolfman and Vintage Robos, Oh My!

wolfman james lyle michael allan leonard vintage robo design co public domain blog comic

The whole thing started with an odd message that had been left on my answering machine a couple of weeks ago.

” Hello, Mr. Leonard, this is the law offices of Cheatham & Fleesum.  We would like to speak with you at your earliest convience concerning a very urgent matter. ”

Now, when you’re a writer, getting a mysterious and unexpected call from a lawyer is usually not good news.  I assumed the worst: I’d finally managed to tick someone off here at Public Domain, they’d tracked me down, and I’d be served for defamation of character and slander.

It was probably that Iron Man 3-related gag post I did, and Kim Kardashian didn’t find it nearly as amusing as I did.

Well, the joke was really on her, because if you’re going to sue someone, it should probably be someone who actually has money.  The entire contents of my checking account wouldn’t even cover one of her manicures.  Given the circles she runs in, it might be more like a tip, and a chintzy one at that.

I was mentally preparing my ‘it was a parody’ defense, cursing the day I’d ever set tender young eyes on Mad magazine, as I dialed the number back . . . only to find out it was something completely different, and much to my advantage.

It turned out that there was this ongoing litigation between a long-defunct comic book publisher called Titanic Comics with several artists and writers over ownership of intellectual property, in particular a character called Wolfman, whom, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t even been mentioned since Titanic went out of business in the Silver Age.

Apparently, though, when the publisher went bankrupt, there was an ongoing claim by the creators of Wolfman, who first appeared during the initial comics boom of the late 1930s that they had been fleeced out of the ownership of the character unjustly.

Turns out those two men were a writer by the name of Allen Michael Leonard, and an artist named Jerome Elliott Lyleowicz, who, as it happens to turn out, is the ancestor of my creative partner and DoorMan co-creator, James E. ‘Doodle’ Lyle.

I immediately called my mother to get the scoop on this, because I thought the only other writer in the family besides me was my cousin Elmore. *

*(Just kidding, I’m not related to Elmore Leonard.  That I know of, anyway, but I’m completely honored to share a surname with him, anyway, as he’s one of my favorites.)

wolfman james lyle michael allan leonard vintage robo design co public domain blog comic

Turns out there’s something of a family controversy over my Uncle Al, one of those ‘we don’t talk about that stuff’ sweep-it-under-the-rug things.  Apparently, at some point, Uncle Al tried to prove he was an actual werewolf in order to give he and his friend Jerome a leg up in the constant lawsuits over the decades with publishers over the ownership of Wolfman . . . and he tried that stunt in a crowded courtroom in front of a judge.

Uncle Al went ‘away’ for a nice ‘rest’ for a long time.  He was, according to the relatives that I’ve spoken to, always something of a ‘kook’.  That just made it sorta official.

In any case, I guess in order to claim some of the other IP from Titanic’s stable, the new potential owners finally decided to settle the case over Wolfman, and there was a clause in late Uncle Al’s will that if the lawsuit ever got settled, anyone who was ‘a fool enough’ to get involved in comics in the family would end up with his half of the stake in the character.

Which would be me, because everyone else in my family is sane enough to actually have pursued actual, legitimate means of employment.  I’m the only black sheep after Uncle Al that decided to go into the arts, comic or otherwise.

James and I are still sorting through boxes and boxes of legal documents detailing the whole sordid tale of Wolfman’s publishing history, which started when he was created by Al and Jerome to be a promotional comic to be inserted into boxes of raisins that were only dried out by the light of a full moon —

I’m not making this up, I swear.  If I were, it wouldn’t be this outlandish.  You know what they say about the truth and fiction, and it doesn’t get much stranger than this.

Anyway, while we’re still researching all this, James and I have decided to resurrect Wolfman — and his perky teen sidekick, Chickadee — in new comics that will embody the ‘Swingin’ Spirit of the Sensational Silver Age’, as my Uncle Al apparently put it in a deposition not long before his passing (and from the sounds of it, waaay under the Tumultuous Thrall of Thorazine).

Before we can get to the comics, though, we wanted to more immediately capitalize on Wolfman, so James drew up some fantastic pieces as full-color prints to sell at comic conventions this summer, starting this weekend, June 6-9th, at the historic Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina.

james lyle michael allan leonard vintage robo design co public domain blog comic art prints

This is actually one of the pieces from the Rebootleg series James and I are working on that I’ve mentioned once or twice . . . can you guess who we ‘rebooted’ here?

Actually, Doodle and I have been having ongoing discussions for several months about finding new business opportunities, and the state of making a buck or two at conventions beyond just selling actual comics or books.  I’m in the process of setting up Chimeraton as a publishing imprint to put out several projects of ours through, but we decided to team up to make prints, and eventually tees, keychains, and just about anything else we can think of that we can put nerd-appealing, comic book-styled imagery and characters on that are fun, and affordable — pricing is a huge deal.  We know most people aren’t carrying around huge wads of cash in their pocket, so we’re not going to be greedy: we’re our own best customers, so we won’t gouge anyone for cool stuff any more than we’d want to be gouged ourselves.

We decided to call our new venture Vintage Robo Design Co. , and we’re hard at work finalizing a logo (we’ve even got a separate blog reserved, which won’t just be for promoting our stuff, but to celebrate classic sci-fi and comic artwork and imagery, and the artists who created them).  James already came up with a fantastic retro robot mascot that we’ve taken to calling Rusty, and there will be several other characters in that 50s B-movie sci-fi vein to help pitch, and occasionally star, in our stuff.  We’ll be selling Vintage Robo stuff both at cons, and online — probably starting with an Etsy store and if we can build up sales, move to an Amazon Webstore.

One of our core precepts with Vintage Robo is originality — selling tees and prints online and at cons can be a legal grey area for creators, who can get away with directly lifting other people’s IP and then hope they fly under the radar enough to not get nailed by the lawyers.  James has actually signed agreements with Lucasfilm not to engage in this concerning Star Wars characters, because of work he did on Star Wars sketch trading cards, and has signed agreements with other comics publishers in the past (he details that a little more in a post on his personal blog, The Light of Day).

james lyle michael allan leonard vintage robo design co public domain blog comic art prints

This was not an uncommon situation for artists at cons to find themselves in . . . except for that James, being a honest and upstanding guy, actually honored his end of the deal, and other artists just signed the agreement and kept doing whatever they pleased.

As a result of actually doing the right thing, James saw his con revenue drop.

Aside from the legality, I wholeheartedly agree that we didn’t need to do unauthorized stuff with Vintage Robo — parody or satire, like a couple of the images we’ve got here is one thing, but selling prints and tees and other ‘serious’ merch with Batman or Iron Man or Doctor Who, trying to pass it off as legitimate, doesn’t sit well with me on moral grounds, either.  We’re both creative people, and we can come up with our own original characters and material.  Part of the reason for doing this, other than to put a little money in our pockets, is to showcase our talents and maybe interst people in our books and comics, and we may even be able to debut new characters in a merchandise form and then create comics or prose around them later.

Originality does make it a much tougher sell, as our product isn’t as immediately recognizable, but it’s also more fun to have a venture like this, celebrate it, and not have to feel like we need to be looking over our shoulders for lawyers waiting to shove a cease and desist at us, either.

james lyle michael allan leonard vintage robo design co public domain blog comic art prints dreamgirl

Dreamgirl is a character James and I co-created in the 1990s, and will be featured in her own YA novel we’re going to co-write.

We’re also hoping that the fun, tongue-in-cheek tone of the marketing for Vintage Robo Design Co. will draw people in.  Slogans like ‘always better back in the day’, ‘get retrofitted’, or ‘yesterday’s tomorrows . . . today!’.

With the prints, we’re also trying to get away from the more hoity-toity vibe of something that’s high-end and expensive, and trying to pitch them more as super-cool, high-quality posters with fantastic artwork.  We were discussing the idea of marketing them as ‘prinsters’, but decided that might be too confusing.

James will be test marketing some of the prints — which you’ve seen scattered throughout this post, and James has even more of them on display on posts at his blog, The Light of Day, including a way-cool zombie horse pin-up he did for the upcoming Other Dead comic by Joshua Ortega — at Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina this coming weekend, June 6-9.  They’ll also be making their way to the San Diego Comic Con with James next month, and I should have some Vintage Robo stuff at the Pittsburgh Comic Con come September.  We hope to have an online outlet set up shortly, and we’re looking into the possibility of doing a Wolfman t-shirt to go along with that.

james lyle michael allan leonard vintage robo design co public domain blog comic art prints

Boldly going where . . . naaah, I’ll try to keep it classy, *this* time . . .

If you happen to be going to Heroes Con, James will be at space AA-307, so stop by and say hello.  The prototype prints will be going for $10 for an 11 X 17″, and $5 for  8.5 X 11″.

And while James is flogging the prints at Heroes, I’ll be hard at work putting in the last stretch to getting our DoorMan webcomic officially up with the first seven or so pages of the hundred-fifty-plus page saga, so we’ll have that ready for free public consumption in the next week or so.

All in all, a pretty happy ending to something that started out with a bit of a scare.

I personally can’t wait for people to see more of Wolfman, because James and I have some pretty crazy stuff dreamed up, and we’ve only been working on it for a couple weeks.  If you like what Venture Bros. did with Johnny Quest as an inspiration, Wolfman does for the whole era of Silver Age comics.   There’s parody and satire but more than that it’s a pretty great tribute to classic comics and masked men, and Vintage Robo is going to be a lot of fun and an interesting experiment to see if we can pull off.

— mal

P.S. The law offices of Cheatham & Fleesum would like to remind everyone that all artwork featured in this post is © James E. Lyle.

 

Ginormous gratitude and tremendous thanks for daring to drop by Public Domain!  Will our amazing artist and winsome writer succeed at bringing back Wolfman from onerous obscurity and make Vintage Robo Design Co. victorious?  Keep tuning into this corner of cyberspace to find out: same Wolf-time, same Wolf-URL . . .