Monday, April 24, 2006

New Tom Sparks Update

Pages 5-8 of Chapter Two are now up for your reading pleasure.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Origins Part Two

One of the things we knew right off the bat was that we wanted a robot private eye. What he would look like and what his personality would be like was up in the air, though.

Joey did some designs, which I never saw until well after we’d started working on the book.

I’m a big fan of the big, lunky automatons that lumber around with stiff joints and talk-in-stilted-electronic-voices. Still, something told me that working with a robot like that wouldn’t be practical for all the action we wanted to have.

As I worked on the script, I began picturing a slimmer, more agile metal man, one that would have been designed to serve as the model for a future superman. I looked up some prior robot designs on-line and found quite a few that would work as starting points for our robot sleuth’s design. Some of the more obvious references include SCUD the Disposable Assassin and the SuperPatriot.

While writing the initial story, I had this idea that the robot should be a reluctant doomsday robot, someone that never liked being forced to commit crimes – which is why he went to such lengths to distance himself from that life once he believed his mad scientist creator was dead. I thought he should be more like an everyman, more in the mold of Jimmy Stewart or even Gary Cooper – the noble old-fashioned good guy who, when push came to shove, would do the right thing.

Next, I needed a name. Throughout the script, the robot was referred to as Atomo, plain and simple. While it was true that in a place like B-City, a robot piano player named Atomo would hardly raise an eyebrow, I still felt we needed a more detective-flavored name.

Joey and I put our heads together and mulled over the possibilities. The one that stuck was Tom Sparks. Tom comes from Atomo, obviously, and I blatantly took the last name from Jenny Sparks of The Authority.

I did a Google search, saw that the name belonged to a comic character already (A Boy Genius, no less) and used it anyway. Why? Because there are also real people named Tom Sparks. The name alone is not enforceable copyright and I felt our character was sufficiently different from DC’s Tom Sparks and the Tom Sparks who owns a car dealership in Chicago (although I’ve never met him, so maybe I’m off).

Truth is, if I had it to do over, I might name him something catchier and less derivative, but, hey, the whole dang comic is derivative!

So, there you have it – Tom’s true secret origin.

The thing is, that incarnation of Tom isn’t the one who’s appearing in the current on-line version of “Who Slew Mr. Mayhem?” Oh, that stand-up guy still exists in our stories “Hare today, Dead Tomorrow,” and “Mystery of the Cemetery Drum,” both in the Archive section on-line – both of which we completed prior to this current story.

It was while working on those two stories, however, that I started to find the character a little…well, blah. While we may all admire the everyman hero, he’s a bore to write. It makes all the supporting cast infinitely more interesting. To make Tom stand out and make him the most interesting character in the story, I had to rethink his personality.

As much as I love robots, I’m even loopier for mad scientists and evil geniuses. Dr. Doom is one of my all-time favorite comic creations – all that arrogance and contempt for mankind. I knew all along that Dr. Proteus, Tom’s creator, was an old school evil genius, like Doom – so, what if I made Tom more or less exactly like that – a mirror image of his maker – no longer the reluctant monster, but merely a reluctant servant?

Of course, I’m also a big fan of Sideshow Bob. Tom owes as much to Sideshow Bob as he does to anyone else. So, when it came time to rewite "Who Slew Mr. Mayhem?" for the web, I decided to make Tom more like these two characters, Doom and Sideshow Bob, his 'spiritual' godfathers - with a little bit of Professor Farnsworth and C-3PO thrown in for good measure. Turns out now that Tom has become my favorite character to write - even I don't know what fresh insult or random free association he'll toss out there.

NEXT: The Mystery

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Origins Part One

So, let's start at the beginning here.

A few years back (2002), I had written a screenplay called "Bulletproof Soul," a torrid little tale of ghosts, zombies and hitmen with a lot of religious undertones. I wrote all 90 pages in about two weeks and submitted it to the first Project Greenlight, where it was judged by one person as being "irredeemable violent" and I was told that I needed to seek psychiatric help. The script, for what it's worth, was utter crap, but it did have potential - nothing a few rewrites couldn't make infinitely more effective.

Anyway, my friend Joey was doing some work on his own comic ideas at the time, and I was impressed by the art he was producing. Joey has a great eye for body language and he can really capture the kinetic energy of an action sequence. Joey and I both have a common background in comics and movies and we share a lot of the same sensibilities. After seeing how skilled he was with a pencil, I started thinking about turning my "Bulletproof" script into a comic with Joey handling art chores.

During that process, I learned some valuable lessons:

1) Reading comics does not mean you know how to write them.

2) Writing comics is not at all like writing a screenplay. It's much harder.

3) The only way to get better as a comics writer is to write more comics.

Of course, the first pass at turning "Bulletproof" into a comic failed miserably. It was torture. We labored for quite sometime trying to make it work, but it just wasn't coming.

Which, for the sake of Tom Sparks, is a good thing.

On the fourth of July, 2003, I went to the office early, intending to work some more on "Bulletproof." I lit up a smoke,took a sip of coffee, put on my headphones and started listening to the "Truck Turner" soundtrack. And...Nothing. I couldn't do it. "Bulletproof" was just dead in the water.

So, then and there, I buried it in my mind and started brainstorming ideas for a comic I did want to write. I made a list, entitled "Sh*t That's Cool" and, at the top of that list, I wrote "Robots."

From there, it came effortlessly. Item after item of cool sh*t, things that made my heart pound and pulse race. Killer apes, mad scientists, samurai, private eyes, ray guns, flying saucers. I left nothing out. Every genre staple that I could think of made the list.

When I was done, I had a whole bunch of cliches but no story. No kernel of a concept.

But it did help erase the bad taste of "Bulletproof" from my mouth.

Fastforward nine or ten hours. My wife and I are at Joey and his wife's place for a little fourth of July barbecue. After a few beers, Joey and I got to talking about comics (because, much to our wives chagrin, we always get around to talking comics).

"You know, I want to do a comic with robots." He said.

"You're kidding! I was just thinking this morning about doing a comic with robots!" I said and I promptly went out to the car and got the List. Joey read over the list and said "Yeah, I'd love to do a comic with some of this stuff."

We quickly began riffing on weird combinations - robots versus dinosaurs, ninja versus mad scientists, tough talking private eyes versus chainsaw wielding serial killers. We came up with the idea of a city where any and every genre staple could interact with one another, a virtual cornucopia of genre possibilities.

The first character we came up with was this guy:

The Flying Skull, a pool shark who wears a jet pack. After all, people would never suspect a man with a jet pack of being a pool hustler. It still makes me smile.

From there, it was all about riffing on characters we wanted to create. Our friend Peter came up with a few too. By the time I left Joey's place that night, I was so damned excited to start writing this comic it took all I had not to start it that night.

Over the next week, I wrote the complete story "Who Slew Mr. Mayhem?" It was 90 + pages of loose scene descriptions and dialogue, again more screenplay than comics script, but it came from a place of pure adolescent joy. A story that had almost everything I loved growing up as a kid.

There was only one problem.

I still didn't have a name for my robot hero.

NEXT: All about Tom Sparks - his name, his look and his mysterious change of personality.

* BTW, the Flying Skull is still one of our favorite characters, so don't be surprised to see more of him down the road - specifically in Chapter Three and perhaps in a short story focusing on him and his Viking biker pal.

Monday, April 10, 2006


This is the first official Tom Sparks, Atomic Detective blog entry.

"But wait! What about 'Destroy All Comics!!'? Wasn't that the official Raging Sombrero Studios weblog?"'

Yes, it was. But this blog is all about Tom Sparks, our on-going webcomic. Here's where you will find specific-Sparks related stuff, like annotations and commentary for the strip. You'll also find rare art and script pages, etc.

In other words, this is a suppliment to the comic.