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Hit and Miss: A Brief History of SGC (Part 2)

February 12, 2006

There were two problems. First, ALTERCATIONS was initially conceived to produced as a single volume. Second, it was to be rendered in pen and ink and printed in black and white. As a result, I decided to illustrate the chapters out of sequence, since, I felt, it really wouldn’t matter since the entire thing would be presented as one package. Thus, the first three chapters that I completed were four, six, and seven. I then began to illustrate chapter three, which depicted the final night of the life of The Monopolist. However, I completely botched the first page of the story. It was bad; not quite Rob Liefeld bad, but bad nonetheless. For whatever reason, I decided to continue working on the page, and worked atop my pen and ink art with colored pencils and markers. The page began to take on a new life, and I found myself seized with the idea of presenting ALTERCATIONS in full color. Another idea then struck me, and that was to present each chapter in a primary color of its own, working from a limited palette that would enable each chapter to be easily recognized.

The problem was that I’d already completed more than 30 pages of art in pen and ink, and I didn’t want to scrap this work because, quite frankly, it’s among the best pen and ink work I’d done. Thus I decided to render those three inked chapters in flat computer colors and to produce the remaining seven chapters using a mixed media of colored pencil, pen and ink, marker, and pastel. It occurred to me, too, that the fully rendered pages would take considerably longer to produce. I therefore decided to release ALTERCATIONS in two volumes, initially intending to publish volume one in October 2002 and to publish volume two in December 2002 or January 2003. However, shortly after volume one was released, it became apparent that the lag time between volumes would be more than just a few months.

I’d like to sidetrack for just a moment and relate a tale about the dangers of working in comics. Because I script far faster than I can ever draw, I tend to have a backlog of material to be drawn. ALTERCATIONS was no exception; most of the tales were penned at a bar in south Philly in summer 2000. It was a dive to be sure, but a pint of Yuengling cost all of a buck twenty-five and there were rarely three or four persons in the place at any given time, so it was a comfortable zone for me to write and break down a page. One summer evening as I was sitting and sketching, a pair of Philadelphia firemen sat down next to me. They began talking about the job, so it was quite obvious they were firemen. As they drank and their conversation continued, the dialogue turned, well, sinister. They spoke of corruption, and of inner-departmental prejudices, and acts that were questionable if not illegal. I simply continued working in my sketchbook. Suddenly, one of the men turned to me.
“What’cha doing?” he asked, inquisitively.
“Working on a comic book script,” I answered.
“Do you mind if my friend looks at it?” he asked.
“No,” I said, and passed to sketchbook onto the second fireman, a rotund fellow who looked like he once played defensive linebacker in high school.
“What’s your name?” the other fellow asked.
I answered. He then asked me what my comic book was about and I offered a sixty-second pitch. After a few nervous minutes the big guy passed my notebook back over.
“Looks good,” he said.
He moved in closer toward me and lowered his voice.
“You know, a lot of stuff was said tonight between me and my friend here. Stuff that’s, well, not meant to go outside this bar. Departmental stuff.”
I nodded.
“Anyway,” he said, smiling, “I had to look in your book to make sure you weren’t writing any of it down, cause if you were, well, you wouldn’t be walking outta here.”
“I really wasn’t listening,” I said.
“That’s good. That’s good. And if you did overhear anything, just make sure you forget it.”
He bought me a beer. I drank fast and said goodnight. After that, I did most of my layouts at Starbucks or one of the local coffee shops on South Street.

In December 2000 I moved out of Center City to Roxborough, a suburb of Philly. It was in Roxborough where I began the color chapters of ALTERCATIONS and where I started to work more consistently on prose fiction. Virtually all of the prose fiction I’ve written in the last several years has been done on a bus; it’s one of the most comfortable places for me to write, and I never get tired of it. I penned about twenty-five or so short stories totaling 100,000 words (from the earliest, ANGEL AND THE BLITZ, FRIDAY NIGHT to the most recent, MID-LIFE CRISIS), and most of these were done in transit. Meanwhile, THE STAMP COLLECTOR storyline from THRESHOLD was collected into a single graphic novel and published online by Unbound Comics. The prolific writer, Warren Ellis, posted a comment about the STAMP COLLECTOR tale and I asked his permission to post his quote to my web site. He graciously accepted, which is why it appears on the home page today.

Nine-eleven hit me the way it hit most of us. I’ll forever be haunted by the tragic events of September 11, 2001. I find it impossible to forget that it happened, and I still mourn for the victims and their families. Through SGC, I released a variety of press releases and solicited donations in exchange for original comic book art. This endeavor raised a few hundred dollars for the American Red Cross disaster relief; not a large amount, but at least it was something. After nine-eleven I lost the drive to draw. I continued to write, and penned NYSS: POST NINE-ELEVEN as a way of working through some of my anger about the attacks. But it was several months before I felt I could draw again. I spent much of 2002 writing fiction and reviews of old comics under the title Bronze-Age Flashback (or Silver-Age Flashback, depending on the age of the comic). By the end of 2002, ALTERCATIONS volume 1 was in shops.

In June 2003 Dianne and I left our home in suburban Philadelphia and drove across the country with Chad, our pet dog, and Jasper and Austin (our two pet cats) to sunny Los Angeles. From July 2003 until December 2004 I kept a home office and worked as a freelance editor. My days consisted of copy editing on a PC laptop, communicating with authors via phone and e-mail, and making postal runs every few days to send page proofs to the publisher. I kept my own hours and generally managed to get through my weekly tasks in less than thirty hours. However, my desire to draw was waning. By this time I had completed approximately 100 of the 124 pages that would comprise ALTERCATIONS. Yet I couldn’t muster the drive to complete the final two chapters. At the same time, I was approached by Top Shelf Productions to collect the early issues of THRESHOLD. The result was LESS THAN HEROES, the first in a planned series of compilations. LESS THAN HEREOS was released in summer 2004 at the San Diego Comic Con and was later among the recipients of CSN’s Red K awards. I’d spent approximately four or five months cleaning the original art, doing redos, creating new material for the trade paperback, and conducting promotional interviews. By this time I’d also taken Bronze-Age Flashback to Slush Factory and later UGO (Underground Online) and had begun writing sporadically for Pop Thought.

In summer of 2004 I gave away my drawing desk. I wasn’t using it, and as far as I was concerned, I was done with comics.

But by the end of 2004 I was growing weary of freelance editing and its volatile future, and so decided to return to a full-time office job. I believed that doing so would provide me the stability in schedule that would motivate me to use my free time in creative endeavors while providing a steady income for my family. During 2005 I completed my first prose novel (at 74,000 words), and made more progress on ALTERCATIONS, finishing the art for one of the two outstanding chapters. In 2004 I completed layouts and a first draft for a new 124-page graphic novel, JESUS SQUAD, which will be produced once ALTERCATIONS is completed. I’m currently writing an as-yet unnamed graphic novel, and a sequel to JESUS SQUAD entitled THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE, and I have two additional prose novels in development. On the merchandising front, the SGC store at Café Press features a variety of shirts, mugs, and other gear that you should buy and buy often.

SGC’s future is about as certain as anything else in this world, meaning that it’s not certain at all. ALTERCATIONS will be released as a trade paperback in 2006 or, more likely, early 2007; it’ll either be published by SGC or by another publisher. I’m already reediting the first five chapters and replacing the awkward text boxes with traditional comic book-style balloons. The second volume of LESS THAN HEROES is complete, though it’s uncertain as to whether Top Shelf will be adding it to their 2006 schedule. One day I hope to return to THE S.H.O.P., which is easily my favorite team and the one I enjoy writing about the most.

And there it is. Ten years of a life encapsulated into a few thousand words. I’ve glazed over a few things. I neglected to mention that I’ve made some great friendships over the years with the likes of folks like Alex Ness, Paul Storrie, Mike Mantlo, Sean McKeever, Cliff Biggers and CSN, Tony Isabella, the Xeric Foundation, Sequential Tart, Jason Asala, Third Rail, Allan Moyle, Brett Warnock, Chris Staros, Faye Perozich, and many others I’m forgetting to mention. I’ve omitted plenty of details regarding my personal life because, really, this narrative is intended to be an overview of the history of Sleeping Giant Comics; it’s not a journal of my personal life nor should it be. Though of course I would have likely given it all up months ago without Di’s ongoing support. She actually purchased me a new desk (and a lamp, and pens, and paper) after I’d put my old desk on the street. So yeah, I owe her a lot. 'Nuff said.

I sometimes wonder if I’ve said all I have to say in comics. So often in the past few years I’ve all but given up drawing and collecting. I no longer read new comics except for PALOOKAVILLE (though I highly enjoyed Bruce Jones 42-issue run on INCREDIBLE HULK). I enjoy comics of the Silver and Bronze ages as much as I did nearly thirty years ago. No, comics are in my blood. No matter what I do, I can’t escape my desire to produce sequential art or to write heroic fiction. I’ll never live to produce the volume of work of a Jack Kirby, Bill Mantlo, or John Byrne. But do I have any more to say in comics? Hell yes. The best is definitely still to come; that isn’t self-inflated hype, it’s just the way it is.

"SHOP!" he said, enthusiastically.

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