Sunday, March 17, 2019

My Latest False Start, or, Why the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series, Anyway?

As of this writing, I have composed eight chapters of what I call my "YA prose experiment," the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series. Four chapters have dropped, to use the modern parlance, on my Ms. Megaton Man Blog, and one is scheduled to drop over the next four Fridays at 8:30 pm EDT. And there's plenty more where that came from.

The term YA, or Young Adult, will immediately invite argument. If you ask a dozen avid readers to define YA, you'll likely get twenty answers. (And eighteen gatekeepers will immediately "cancel" the work on Twitter, because the author doesn't "look like me," or the story is deemed insensitive to someone's identity politics.) Is YA a genre? A literary formula? A marketing niche? A state of mind?

I fully intend to run afoul of all of the above: I'm a straight white male, my bi-racial protagonist won't fit anyone's preconceived image of a role model, and my conception of YA literature is wholly idiosyncratic. I flatter myself to imagine I will be attacked from the Far Right as a "social justice warrior," and from the Far Left as the personification of "white privilege" trying to horn in on the diversity discourse. I hope, I hope, I hope.

Let's start with YA first; that's the easy one. What do I mean by YA? I mean, simply, that I want to be the next J.K. Rowling. I've been working at this storytelling thing for more than thirty years, so why not? Half-Price Books is littered with literally thousands of remaindered Harry Potter wannabes, of three kids running around a haunted castle. Even franchised superhero universes are offering up kiddy versions of their famous trademarks running around crime-fighting headquarters. It's a Golden Age of lemmings rushing over a cliff.

My conception of YA is simply the aspiration of finding readers who are not jaded MFAs from graduate programs in literature, who've already read every conceivable literary trope a million times. It also means straightforward narrative unburdened with the meta-narrative and stylistic obsessions of "literary fiction," whatever that is, or adult concerns about sex. I'm not trying to be Tessa Hadley here. YA also implies, to my mind, a quality of prose that is a little more carefully edited and therefore presentable to the recipient of a gift from Grandma than would be the lurid pulp material a youngster might gravitate toward on their own. Snob that I am.

Clarissa skashing some Contraptoids, 2014. For the progression of this drawing from sketch to final linework, go here.

In its simplest form, the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series is a retelling of some of my Megaton Man comic books published by Kitchen Sink Press in the 1980s, starting with the original ten-issue series and the 3-issue Return of Megaton Man. It will then touch on events already depicted in the one-shots Megaton Man Meets the Uncategorizable X+Thems #1, Yarn Man #1, and Pteranoman #1.

It will then proceed to a whole bunch of untold stories that take place between these comics and Bizarre Heroes, seventeen issues of which I published myself under the Fiasco Comics imprint.

By no means will every event in the comics appear in prose; such is far from the point. And a whole lot of stuff will be revealed that wasn't in the comics at all - indeed, wasn't in my mind in the 1980s or 1990s.

So is this a retcon, a reboot, a revamp, a relaunch, a novelization, just a bunch of lame, half-assed fanfic? All of those models crossed my mind, and each of them, to some extent, has been useful way to think about and inform what I am doing. But the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series is also none of the above. Read it and you'll see what I mean. (Each chapter is - I think helpfully but perhaps distractingly - illustrated with appropriate corresponding panels from the original comics when salient, so the reader can determine exactly how much and how far I am deviating from the source material, and screwing up their nostalgic memories in the process.)

Drawing of Clarissa over the skyline of Megatropolis (New York City), c. 2015.

It has been on my bucket list for a long time to write a meandering prose novel, although I never had in mind to use the Megaton Man narrative as the starting point. This "YA prose project" began in the spring of 2015 when I took a few days and jotted down every idea I had in my head for more Megaton Man stories. From there, I turned to the original comics, which I hadn't read in years, and reread them, taking meticulous notes on every name, secret identity, catch phrase, magic word, fictional place of business, and evil corporation I had used, along with noting a number of questions: whatever happened to what's his name? Why didn't I ever resolve such and such dangling plot thread? And so on

That list and those notes grew into a process of "retroactive world-building" and yielded how many drafts of manuscripts and chapters as I paid my dues as a prose writer. I won't go into how I tried to use third-person present tense narration, then third-person past tense, or how I first thought I would simply pick up where the comics left off, and how everything in the comics would be backstory, etc. Suffice it to say there were a number of false starts, but none of it was wasted effort.

In early 2019, it hit me that the solution to a number of self-created dilemmas would be resolved if I made Clarissa James the first-person narrator. Clarissa's progression from a very minor Civilian to the Megapowered Ms. Megaton in the original Megaton Man  and Bizarre Heroes comics was entirely unplanned ahead of time. Furthermore, since I gave her Megaton Man's modified costume, she has been the most fun of any of my characters to draw.

But she also has a snarky, irreverent, sardonic sense of humor and a sympathetic, thoughtful appreciation and love for the other characters that makes her the ideal emcee of the Megaton Man narrative. Her interjections, I feel, are exactly what was missing in my earlier neutral first-person attempts. But read it and see.

SOMF (the Sound of Maynard Ferguson?) from Return of Megaton Man #3 (Kitchen Sink Press,September 1988).

Seeing the world of Trent Phloog (Megaton Man), Stella Starlight (the See-Thru Girl and later the Earth Mother), Simon Phloog (the son of Trent and Stella), Bing Gloom (Yarn Man), Kozmik Kat, Rex Rigid (Liquid Man), Pammy Jointly, and the rest of the denizens of the Megaverse through the eyes of Clarissa James will not be to every Megaton Man fan's liking. It may not conform to anyone's idea of YA literature or any form of prose storytelling at all.

The first sketchbook page of Clarissa in the Ms. Megaton Man costume, 1989, inked 2012.

 There are also a number of negatives associated with Clarissa James, Ms. Megaton Man. First is the stupid name, Ms. Megaton Man, which I thought was funny at the time, but which will mystify feminists; her race (she is actually bi-racial) - and I have empirical evidence that when I post a picture of Ms. Megaton Man, it gets a minuscule fraction of "likes" and hits as any old sketch of Megaton Man (are Megaton Man fans unconsciously racists? Sexist? Just hopeless fanboys? I would prefer to think not); and she is also the Character Most Likely to explicitly swear in the old comic books (alas, not "#@$%&?!!"), and appeared in compromising situations (bondage and face-sitting with Yarn Man - bleated Spoiler Alert and Trigger Warning). Indeed, how she gains her Megapowers is attributed to sexual transmission (although this is later revealed as not the entire story).

Maybe Grandma isn't going to want to buy a "prose YA experiment" from Anton Drek after all. So what have I got to lose?

But if you're in the market for more Megaton Man, this is what it's going to look like for the next several weeks. At least.
Ms. Megaton Man™ Maxi-Series: First Chapter | All Chapters | Latest Chapter
All characters, character names, likenesses, words and pictures are ™ and © Don Simpson 2019, all rights reserved. 

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