Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When you've been made up, how do you even know you're alive?

MACHINE MAN by Jack Kirby

A machine that thinks it’s a man! The drama aspect trumps discussions of complex technology; as with most comics, it’s not very hard science.

Flirtations with the life of artificial intelligence reach back to Asimov’s I, Robot. In the mass media, the thinking machine-as-character populates science fiction in many forms since, with Bladerunner following in 1982 and Star Trek: Next Generation’s Data in 1988. In 1939, one of the first two superheroes in Marvel’s history (in their Timely days) was the Human Torch---an android who runs amuck when he spontaneously catches flame (stop, drop, and roll wasn’t the answer this time). DC Comics started Robot Man’s adventures with the Doom Patrol three months before the X-Men debuted in 1963; in that case, you start with the human brain of Cliff Steele, so while the troubles resemble, at least he knew his intelligence started life organically. Even the android Vision, a “synthezoid,” had made his appearance during Jack Kirby’s Marvel hay day, in a title Kirby helped begin, The Avengers (too bad---no Emma Peel). His particular brain patterns, however, were copied from a one-shot character named Simon Williams, from 1964’s issue nine, before his return from the dead in 1975---so again, the artificial intelligence proceeded from human life. From whence springs the life of the Machine Man? That is a mystery of intense interest to our electrode-eyed protagonist.

This time out, in 1978, the King of Comics tries the thinking-machine-as-superhero. As super heroes go, however, this one’s conditioned to be a civilian; the robot wants to be what some might call a “secret identity,” a regular guy. In every way, he’s so far from it.

Machine Man’s an ultimate computer, a super-powerful robotic infantryman, but the quest to program him with intelligence leaves him with a yearning to exist as an individual---even dreams! His debut as Mister Machine came in a comic inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey , a property licensed from Stanley Kubrik at the time, which featured the Monolith and a handful of “out-there” Kirby ideas. In the story, his creator, Abel Stack, gives him a face and conditions him like a son. He removes a destruct device at the cost of his own life, leaving Machine Man “orphaned” with the greatest gift of all: his love for his son. On his way to a normal life, he must overcome the fears and anxieties he sparks in humanity, expressed in the Army manhunt by Col. Stagg, ordered to destroy all x model androids after losing men and an eye in battle with the ones that went mad. The existential crisis of being a thinking entity inside a robotic war machine, it seems, is one to handle with care, and is nearly impossible to face alone.

So what happens now?

You can play with the analogies and get many interesting thoughts. Why do I like him so much? It could be Jack Kirby’s intention shining through; while he makes a cool super hero, which was a standard requirement for being in a 1970’s comic, his story’s really centered on a thoughtful search for identity. As Jack draws, he says in one of his wonderful text pages to the reader, he thinks of him as “a nice young man of twenty-six, with good scholastic credentials and a person of positive and constructive qualities. The thoughts of cold, hard steel and finger weapons system and electronic units are far from my mind until the action starts.”

Why I like him---even though he would hardly seem unique in the years to follow---is tied to Kirby’s unusual characterization. His unsmiling face (not entirely devoid of expression) accompanies a defensive demeanor; his gadgetry----and as gadget heroes go, he’s classic---generates wonder in people, yet “Aaron Stack” or X-51 is not charming or charismatic. He takes some of the befuddlement in stride, but the attempts to invalidate his existence or destroy him or even analyze him set off a personal resentment you might term “human.” Without a human body, his pleasures are of a more intellectual stripe, as he’s hardly equipped to be a hedonist (as he’s not a “Hedonism ‘Bot” oh no!). His values---his truthfulness, even bluntness, courage, reflectiveness, and the willingness to help those in need---are strong ones, but a defining part of being an individual is choice making, so while he doesn’t set out to be unpleasant, he can be impatient, cynical, moody, disagreeable. While he tends to grasp what is right, even if he wrestles with it, Aaron Stack is no Mr. Spock!

I suppose, as Jack Kirby had so many opposing his return run at Marvel, he may have related some of these feelings as the mechanical marvel with hardly a friend took his impending date with the scrap heap with resentment and self-defense. Kirby kept delivering like a pro but he was not always appreciated for his unique displays of talent. His style of scripting, his story pacing, even the drawings were criticized by fan and pro alike---and realize, the decade before, every artist at Marvel was being taught how to emulate Kirby’s bag of tricks.

He retained his fans and much of his autonomy, but Kirby often felt out of place in the very creative field he’d done so much to establish. I mean, he helped bring us Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the original X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom and Magneto---he had some hand in nearly everything the fledgling company did! But this time out, after getting his new heroes started, Jack decided to go into animation and keep his career alive while enjoying the rest of his life in California, which I’d recommend to anyone.

Personally, I appreciate the way he kept finding something different to do, rather than wearing out one-note characters. Maybe it’s just the time in my life when I found this obscure character, but since I didn’t get to read about him for some time, I went home with that cover image in my mind and promptly began inventing his adventures and powers. He inspired me to plant a memory deep in my brain: after so many lessons learned, my real joy lay in the power of creativity to intensify one’s spirit.
So, here I am, in the future world of 2010, revisiting a happy evasion of boredom from my own “wonder years”: our childhood concept of the Uglies and the summer spent at Brenda’s Place, waiting to mop up after closing time, writing and drawing a humorous homage to Kirby’s quandary with my own invented pseudo men. Before I get ever so busy with the numerous other ideas at work “off-stage”, here at the gate of eternal summer, let me tell you all about it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Integr8dSoul T-shirts!


For $8.00 each plus shipping we have any design you've ever seen on our blog or Facebook, in all sizes. Call it a grand-opening sale!

We're making some special shirts for D'n'A comics,

plus custom orders (like the five Virgo t-shirts we're making for a birthday party). You may have a design you'd like us to create; contact us! Write me at luelyron@gmail.com I'm pretty happy with all this!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

STUCKWAYZE #1 (plot)

Gathered: the next pages of Stuck, with special guest horror SAGA!!! Also: Evil Lord Johann.

Ogie dines and dashes, unaware he's just ripped off Saga Restaurant, owned by the Furious Saga. To his shock, Ogie finds he has $1665 in the bank, and takes a journey.

After Ogie finds Willie on Coconuts Isle, they hike the Mountain of the Crib. They relay the Legend tm of Plunderer of the Order of the Masters of the Relic of the Ancient Tooth, as well as the short-lived status of Willie’s street performer career, which led him to work for Evil Lord Johann and taking up with a coconut he has thought, all this time, was Ogie.

They find a fellow explorer, the gentile Evil Lord Johann himself.

He tests out his gadgets and explains he’s only CLAIMED to be evil by some, so he started getting Willie to call him that, because he enjoyed the cheer with which he obeyed...so much so, he is behind the transfer of money to Ogie’s account. He is learning more about this hidden race/ great cheap help with the coconuts...(do either one of you draw comics, by any chance?) Knowing SAGA appears on pages ten and eleven means she lurks, then when they are trying to uncover how it is the Plunderer of the Order of the Masters of the Relic of the Ancient Tooth. She simply scares the mountain out of her way!!! Ogie just knows he needs to pay for dining at the Saga Restaurant! Ughh!

From there, ELJ and the boobs explore the Crib, and look to Princess Malace for answers, only to plummet a great length. They meet Sapreena, and she takes them to the history of their creation.

They see their essence gather before their own creators! They come into the world through an Ugly Maker Machine, or UMM, but they existed in other dimensions and forms before taking on these bodies. But did they leave the Crib with the bodies, or did they assume these shapes and mentalities because of the Amakers? Were they created as the silly part of their image?

And for that matter, where did the Plunderer O.M. of the R.A.T. vanish in history? If he couldn’t control the original Uglies springing forth, what did he decide to do next? Was he their maker, or their discoverer? Were their makers their discoverers, or did they make them completely from Imagination in the UMM?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Intelligent explorations for silly purposes

My topics over the next week, threading through these classic Jack Kirby comics and my upcoming creations, especially the STuckWayze:

1Origin of Consciousness: the brain intersects with the mind (inspired by EnlighteNEXT magazine)

2Artificial Intelligence (2010)

3Contact with Beyond(CONTACT,new UFOs book, O'Hare Airport incident,& Machine Man #3)

4The Joy of Text Pages

5Free Will, decisions, Individuality and the Turing Test


7End of the World Tidings

8Mythology and its place in the popular culture

9Ruins and lost mysteries

10Mimicking an Irrational Culture

11Revealing those Hidden Among Us

and along the way, I'll share STUCKWAYZE #1, made entirely in the spirit of fun!

It's going to be a fun seven days, keep us Bookmarked!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Whatever a superman is NOT (and creating silly hidden races at home)

Once upon a time, around 1970, the man called the King of Comics, Jack Kirby briefly worked on covers for the hero called the grand daddy of super heroes, Superman.
DC Comics did not put Mr. Kirby directly on Superman's titles, perhaps concerned with his strong style taking over the character's look, for whatever reason. In fact, he worked on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen.

Well, the man who co-created so many of your favorite Marvel characters eventually went back to the company where he had that break through. Generally speaking, his creations of this second time have never quite become as mainstream as their predecssors from the 1960s like Hulk, Mighty Thor, and the Fantastic Four.

I'm reading about a couple of variations on Superman, created around the same time, before the Man of Steel came out in his first big motion picture, which is to say 1976-1978. Then I'm going to mention how they inspire my present work.

Lately over in my Integr8dfix.blogspot.com I've been chronicling an effort to merge the space born powers of Superman with the high school troubles of Spider-Man. That hero was The Man Called Nova---created by Blade the Vampire Hunter's maker, Marv Wolfman. His series burst on the scene to vanish over two years---all too literally, the comic went Nova. The recession of the late 1970s hit Americans of all ages. It was a very optimistic, very straight super hero story, and if it had become a film of its day, I believe the Industrial Lights and Magic could've made a classic.

All of this effects my out look on Sun Strike, a character whose fictional history is largely inspired by the Human Rocket, Iron Fist, and solar technology's break through at the time.

In some ways that hero's fictional history fits beautifully into the UFO phenomenon, coming out the same year, 1974, as a UFO incident investigated by the French government. It so happens a new book, UFOs by reporter Leslie Kean, was featured on The Colbert Report tonight as well! Sounds like a fairly definitive work in the field...but back to the mid-1970s and Kirby's eye for the mysterious and pop culture.

Asked not to take too great a hand on classic Superman, Jack Kirby decided to invent his own. This week I'm going to dive into his stories of a race of super-men, the Eternals,related to the massive UFO phenomenon of the times, and an Earth-made, solitary super man, the robot that thinks as a man. He was created X-51, to be an obedient super soldier, merging the military industrial complex with a break through. As another writer would put it, "the super-man exists, and he is American."

But he is godlike, not God, and one thing over which he has no control is whether others believe a Machine Man could also have a sacred soul, or even a place in the feeling, reacting, living breathing world of Men. Outside of a world crammed with super heroes, one can appreciate the stunning existence of a being made to think like us, believe he is us, ultra-capable, the last of his kind marked for destruction. And while he is not God, perhaps not even one of us, he is asked to save the world.

Over in integr8dfix.blogspot.com, I'll introduce you to these lost comic book gems, and over here, we'll have a great laugh composing our mock epic of the People who Always Smile. It really says something about people, because you can't have people without Crazy.

I'll speak of the Eternals more later in the week; though I have only recently found these issues to read for myself, I'm struck by how much his hidden race inspires the parody hidden race once called the Uglies, as created by my sister Debra and i around 1982, as I re-introduce them as the Stuckwayze.

They don't die, but their lives of mimicry and silly confusion make them a counter point reflection. I'll be revisiting one of the last comic books I made before I dumped them for a while to try to get more into getting a girl friend, as comic book characters weren't as popular with teenagers in those macho days of the 1980s.

At the time, I was even more inspired by Machine Man, as I had a few of the only issues Kirby ever made for the character, writing and drawing him. What made him so human was the way his body had amazing abilities, but he's an outsider emotionally involved with the fond desire to live on the fringes, yet still have an acceptable place among people. Our Uglies were also artificially made by someone to be mindless slaves, but the joke was on THEM. I'll share my inspirations for the look of the characters and the secret Crib of what passes for their civilization, as drawn from the world around me and interpretations of ancient UFO culture, ala Jack Kirby.

So off we go into fun of making our...uh...whatever a superman is NOT, really.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dine and dash: the Stuckwayze

They're stuck---but they have their ways! Here's a penciled preview of the kind of silliness that is to come. I'm not sure how widely I'll be distributing STUCKWAYZE #1 since I'm just making it for fun, but the story just keeps getting funnier the more we talk it over. I hope I'll be done next week.

What will Ogie do with his new found fortune? It's a journey into mystery and befuddlement!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Ficta of Sun Strike: days on Earth, days in dream

Being abducted to become the champion of another realm may sound like the ultimate delayed adulthood fantasy to some. But dividing times between the normal and super normal worlds can have its wear and tear on one’s nerves, as Sun Strike, aka Clay Alexander Reaves, discovers in the pages of his famous 1970s book SUNSTRIKE! by Broke As a Joke Comics Group. Here's another column devoted to the history of this fictional series.

So the Star Man takes him in a bolt from the blue, going to be with the universe not long after taking Clay to the solar powered world of Luxitca, to be the sole champion of an oppressed people. Dragon Chest, his gruff instructor, nevertheless comes to be impressed with Clay and begins to lay out for him his role in facing the Voidon invasion from the towers of Kolpar, powered by the Zavox on the Dark side of the Moon.

Let’s say there’s 5 times Clay finds himself back on Earth from Luxitica. One is when he goes back to cover his tracks so he is not declared legally dead. Does he come back for weddings, funerals, births? There’s three instances more to choose from, it’s like a hitch in today’s Army. The other time, he doesn’t know why he’s back on Earth and can’t seem to find the reason why, while events on Luxitica had grown to a sort of crucial boiling point or transformation. It could also be related to Tranz on that world if I see how. But at the time, Clay doesn’t figure out why that happened.

As the lone and secret star, he goes to risk his life while exploring how to be a super powered being. He’s interrupted in this by a trip back to Earth depicted mostly in issues 7 and 8, though a couple of famous flashbacks fill this story in with deeper context, once in 31 and then again in #97.

It’s the ultimate fantasy about not going to college or a job and becoming a geek’s dream life. His exploration of his abilities and existence living like this super man are enveloped in lessons and observations and interactions with Luxiticans, and occasionaly Earth people.

The first three times Sun Strike comes back to Earth from Luxitica, he has his powers as Sun Strike. The first happens around issue seven, just as he’s dealt with the homesickness of his bizarre fate, drafted by the Star Man. In 9 he achieves a total surrender of self that allows his Sun strike powers to show themselves, and he feels a connection with Luxitica and her champions and the cause of their freedom. His adjustments to something of a normal life, when any institutionalizing of him as hero is outlawed by the new invaders, get him involved with the people of Luxitica and the rebellion. So, he’s quite surprised to leave, find himself solving a crime on Earth. But savin the day means coming back across the barrier as a more complete Sun Strike than the one so frustrating to the last masters.
So, the first visit to Earth is fairly short.

I think we get him back to Earth the second time around 23, where he follows a vision of peril and tries to be Earth’s defender as well as luxitica’s. But he forgets he’s Sun Strike, possibly, until the menace makes its move. He becomes aware of the subtle menaces of melancholy on Earth, and praises its beauty. It is in essence one long poem about being “the Lone and Secret Star” that sees a different mode of operations and a different relationship with his own powers as he wonders if he can set up life on Earth again. After his second transfer back to Earth, he believes he can do so at will. The conditions of this alignment persist several Luxitican months. At that point, however, he can no longer traverse the barrier successfully and feels needed most in Luxitica.

Clay’s access to his powers gets blocked by a blanket effort to trap him in human form, I’m guessing. That’s why it takes us till 26 & 27 for him to face the Voidon’s source, in “And now...Zavox!” That very battle takes him back to Luxitica, and the phase where he can traverse the barrier begins, though it will not remain as casual to do. “In or out!” as Mom used to say when we kids were running between the yard and inside the house, restlessly. Really, that’s the emotional place in me where I find this acceptable. My childhood seems full of angels.

So by issue 31 he’s come to Earth the third time, and tries to fill in to be Clay Reeves again, like he’ll ever just have a normal life. Strangely, this is the time he doesn’t actually direct himself toward Earth in any way, but simply finds himself resuming life there, but with full knowledge of who he is as Clay and SunStrike. He never finds out why at the time he is moved, but never does he know why he’s been transferred back. Was he needed for the war? Was he summoned? Was there an important death? He finds the rebel contigent in tatters and doesn’t know if any mortal hand was in this random change of states that involves his life. The next three issues make a poignant trilogy in which he summons the will to fight for his loved ones, and pays the price for his victory by remaining on Luxitica at the end, to find he cannot traverse back again.

The three Earth visits are more like traditional super hero comics where the hero has a civilian life and his super powered life parallels a human experience with a supporting cast, who unwittingly share in that super human’s altered environment. We’ll get to what is altered and how, later, I imagine. Sometimes a super villain attack is part of that environment, but there will be time to deal with his absentee life. It’s fitting that he leaves it without willing consciously to do so, only to discover the paths to Earth, while they might be discovered, will take time to suit Clay Reeves when Sun Strike is the only hope of rallying the Rebels. Now, even if he can go back to Earth, he can’t.

But it does in fact happen anyway, just as we’re building up the last pieces of the confrontation for which he’s prepared all this time, with the shadow government’s successful attempt to blend in and rule the Luxiticans not as conquerors but from the inside of their democracy. They essentially launder their resources and go from a failing invading army to behind the scenes powers in the new Luxitica, the big subplot on display in the first half of 1978's episodes.

The successful comeback of the remaining Rebels will set the stage for a Final Battle, of the sort that the craftiest of the enemy realizes will risk eliminating their overt occupation of the country. The opportunity to play behind the scenes will give them leverage over Sun Strike even in victory. That battle begins in #38, only to see SunStrike somehow sent back to Earth without his powers. It is probably one of those things manipulated by an enemy deep inside the camp of the Everlasting Champions that provides support and training to Sun sTrike and other guerillas, but it brings him close to some important aspect of Earth life: either the birth, the death, or the wedding. I think this time its the birth, to contrast with the death of the battle field. At any rate, powerless Clay is off the field until the penultimate chapter following, #40.

At this point, he’s declared an outlaw for usurping the powers of Sun strike as an outsider. By the time he leaves in #41, it’s apparently for good.

Appropriately, there are five times in the remainder of the 109 issue run where Sun Strike returns to Luxitica, though again, some are close together enough to seem like the new status quo for the series. But where they fit in to the remaining 68 issues is the subject of another story.

Marc's in the Dark

Questions from the mail bag about the history of this nearly-impossible-to-find collectible series that predates the upcoming PORTAL IMMORTAL stories from Integr8d Soul Comics!

WHATEVER HAPPENED to the cool ass S?unStrike space plane?

In the first issue, the UFO like craft is his means off planet to the dimensional riff. The craft reappears in issue eleven as his own, though he is not prepared to do anything but run away in it until #14. Still, he is aware it is a high-profile way of letting the enemy know they are dealing with the Everlasting Champions. He wonders sometimes if he is not sent out there to draw fire.

His actual fights in space occur in #14, #17, and then #19 thru #22 are centered around an odyssey mostly taken in that Space Plane. Its first appearance in #1 in 1974 presages the popular Lucasfilm world to debut three years afterwards in theaters everywhere. The first eleven issues come out over ’74 and ’75. So by the spring of ’76, a year before STAR WARS, Sunstrike is depicted in his Space Plane (sorry scans not working).

In fact, all his initial space fighting adventures above the planet occur in 1976. The next year finds him on Earth much of the time, but they close out ’77 with one more Space Plane dogfight, in #29. After that, two years after the first appearance of him using it, Sun Strike uses it in #38, where it’s apparently destroyed. By this point, Sun strike’s sent back to Earth, as Clay. When he makes it back for the last battle in #40, he doesn’t need the Space Plane to deliver what is as close to a killing blow to tyranny as he can deliver.

So! you didn't just imagine it. There were five great adventures of Sun Strike playing star pilot, just as there were five great adventures from Luxitica back to Earth!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

D'n'A get it covered

I'm about to invert the colors on some of these pictures...the tinting...and then, I'm going to scan it. Then we brush the water soluble pencils with a bit of moisture.

Here's something that I'd like to do as an in-house ad, like, in the back of STuckWayze:

I will step back, look at this, get a feel for where we are. The scan goes into the e-mail of our inker. The inker's embellishments will prepare the pencils for print.

Here is one treatment of my various elements; the colors aren't all tightly confined to the figures and objects or even the flames. It's meant to embody an internal state (yeah, I'll go with that!), a feeling.

Now, the shadows are positioned to represent a glow around the spherical element, so it lights and shades objects outside it and above it as though it is lit from within. (I started with photographs, taken with a lamp focused on fire spewing from the board at the bottom, to wash it out but to give it more luminescence. The top would then have deeper shadows, though the light can't fall on the objects as though they are three dimensional. The challenge of shadowing objects as raised and blocking light will continue through other pieces.

The drawing is actually a fairly traditional representation of its classically presented subjects. The Photoshop experiments reflect the amusement park like ride's sickening sense of motion unleashed. I used paint to outline the figure and light the eyes. I should see if I can take those base colors and diffuse them to create a less opaque glow ambient to the source (i.e. the eyes).


When I look at what I have here, I think of how happy it makes me, and how that will multiply when these pass into the hands of young people in my life. The feeling I had opening a box of 32 random comics on Christmas Day when I was 7 returned to me (this is not even ALL), and I felt safe and sound, Mom and Dad, the awareness of enormous good will and fortune in my life, only grows with the knowledge that I will pass that happiness in some different fashion to another generation. This is the only kind of material wealth, in this moment, I need. It's been a life of challenges, but great love and appreciation.

I picture me swimming in them like Scrooge McDuck.

Today, the U.S. combat operation in Iraq draws to a close. My friends are well and some benevolent heart unites our existence. I feel joy. I want to pass it to you, too.

Hey kids! Spot the "1 thru 10" numbering of the gathered issues in any of these pics?