Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Thirty Years of Ms. Megaton Man: 1989 to 2019!

Here is the first page of sketches I did of Clarissa James in 1989 - up to that point a minor Civilian (Megapowerless) character in the cast of my Megaton Man comics - as Ms. Megaton Man. It was in an old hardbound sketchbook I took around to shows to collect sketches of interpretations of my characters from fellow pros (I've posted some of the more memorable ones here and there).

I want to recall these sketches being made in some hotel room at one of the Dallas Fantasy Fairs in the spring or early summer of 1989, although that may just be the gloss of time and wishful thinking. But it is unlikely that I would have had the sketchbook with me for any other reason than a show like that, or that it would have been the only thing available for me to draw in unless I were on the road. I may have even been working on Yarn Man #1 at the time - or not working on it, since it would have been sitting on the drawing board at home while I was doing a show. In that case, the origin of Ms. Megaton Man became a late add that rounded out that October 1989 one-shot comic for Kitchen Sink Press.

I couldn't begin to reconstruct the thought process that led me to granting Clarissa James Megapowers, or Megaton Man's costume, except that conventions sometimes the goofiest ideas would occur to me - probably because of the dealer's rooms filled with absurdly inspirational material and the cross-pollination with fellow artists. If the Yarn Man surmise is correct, I would have already established Clarissa's wanton relationship with Bing Gloom (Yarn Man), and may have wondered about what kind of sexually-transmitted disease one might be risking contracting in such a situation (it was the era of AIDS and herpes II, in case you want to get nostalgic). Why I thought Megapowers would be a funny STD - it beats getting bit by a radioactive spider, I suppose - is beyond me.

Inked on Clearprint Design Vellum in 2014, here's the colored version.

Sketchbook page of Clarissa James as Ms. Megaton Man, 1989.

What I do recall, vividly, is the energy released as soon as I put her in that costume. As a more "realistically" proportioned character to begin with (compared to Megaton Man or Yarn Man, for example), Ms. Megaton Man could pass for a "serious" superhero character. That in itself was significant, because up until that time I constrained myself to think only of parodies of superheroes; I didn't permit myself to take the genre at all seriously.

Ms. Megaton Man was soon joined by other characters - the Phantom Jungle Girl and the Slick come to mind - that straddled that humor-drama divide; and then I began to bring back characters I had created in junior high school but had never drawn in my professional comics - the Meddler, B-50, John Bradford - and I soon had Bizarre Heroes. Clarissa began a kind of synecdoche that allowed me to connect these hitherto partitioned portions of my imagination.

I've drawn and sketched more images of Ms. Megaton Man since than just about any other character, although she's never played a major role in the foreground of the Megaton Man narrative. But what she broke loose in my mind and in my drawing style is attested by the fact that I could still take those 1989 sketches and ink and color them several years later, and they look very much like my drawing style now. I can't do that with much of my work prior to the mid-1990s; my drawing style has simply changed too much.

As this sketch indicates, I've always imagined Clarissa as the most expressive and mouthy of my characters. She's just too honest and forthright to hold back. No doubt this is part of my personality - honesty has never done me much good.  But Clarissa also has a wickedly sardonic sense of humor that made her a necessary foil in the Megaton Man narrative, especially as it moved away from strictly parody to a more melodramatic, character-driven strip.

What is remarkable is that it has taken me thirty years to realize I really want to tell more stories about her, beginning with revisiting her early days as Civilian housemate of Trent Phloog (a de-powered Megaton Man), Stella Starlight (the former See-Thru Girl), Pamela Jointly, Preston Percy, Bing Gloom (Yarn Man), Kozmik Kat, and of course Simon, the baby Trent and Stella have.

These stories, which I'm calling the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series, is an experiment in YA prose I have begun to serialize on the Ms. Megaton Man blog. The story is narrated by Clarissa in the first person, and begins with her as a Civilian, charts her transformation into Ms. Megaton Man, and will delve into hitherto untold adventures as I proceed.

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