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.


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