Friday, August 13, 2021

1989: A Transition Year for Drawing Clarissa

This is a sketch of Clarissa James in 1989, and one of the very first sketches putting her in the Ms. Megaton Man uniform that would become her trademark. Originally a minor character from the ten-issue Megaton Man comic book series (issue #4, to be exact), Clarissa became a core cast member with #11 (otherwise known as The Return of Megaton Man #1). After that three-issue series ended, she gained Megapowers of her own in Megaton Man Meets the Uncategorizable X+Thems #1. This sketch was a tryout of sorts to see if her transition to megahero, and specifically a female version of Megaton Man, would work.

It did, so much so that Ms. Megaton Man almost had her very own one-shot at Kitchen Sink Press, publisher of Megaton Man in the 1980s. Currently, she's the star of my prose series, The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series.

Original sketchbook sketch (left), ink on canary-yellow tracing paper (center), and color (right).

What I've done with this sketch is ink and color in 2021. That I can take a drawing this old and do this at all is significant for a couple of reasons (I've done this a few other times). First, it proves that Clarissa was not only a character of increasing and emerging importance in the Megaton Man narrative, but also a transformative character in the maturation of my drawing style. Earlier installments of the Megaton Man saga depicted "civilian" (non-megapowered) characters in a caricatural style that was little more realistic than Megaton Man himself.

My awkwardness with more "realistic" characters was evident in this sequence from Megaton Man #4 (Kitchen Sink Press, June 1985).

 With Return, I sought to make the civilian characters more normally proportioned, like real people. This approach worked best with Clarissa, not so well with Preston Percy, Pamela Jointly, or other more humorous characters. Clariss is right on the very first splash page of the series, and already looks markedly more realistic than her earliest appearance (in which her head is out of proportion to her body).

The Return of Megaton Man #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, July 1988). A realistic Trent Phloog (formerly Megaton Man) and realistic Clarissa James set the tone for the three issue story arc.

It also proved that Megaton Man's costume could transfer to a more realistically proportioned character.

This is another 1989 sketch of Ms. Megaton Man from the same sketchbook session, inked in 2019.

Further, it shows that my conception of Clarissa after this point has fluctuated very little. I adjusted her visor and panty-trunks slightly to conform to her final costume design, which came together shortly after this, and adjusted her left shoulder which was too low. But essentially, my conception of Clarissa has changed very little since.

Ad for the Ms. Megaton Man one-shot in Yarn Man #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1989).

Cover colored with Cel Vinyl paints but never published.

 Finally, inking this sketch shows that I can go back to 1989 and profitably finished old drawings; this is about the limit to how far back I can go. Earlier than this, my pencils are too nebulous and scribbly; the few discarded or unfinished pieces of art I have from earlier in the 1980s can't be inked today simply because my approach has changed too much.

At the same time, discovering the right design for Clarissa James as Ms. Megaton Man was essential for that transition to take place. If I hadn't made this discovery with her and her costume design, I might never have realized the caricatural Megaton Man could coexist with more realistic, even dramatic characters, both civilian and superhero. Characters like Clarissa and especially the Phantom Jungle Girl paved the way to the Bizarre Heroes series, which I self-published in the 1990s, and combined both humorous and dramatic characters.

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All characters, character names, likenesses, words and pictures on this page are ™ and © Don Simpson 2021, all rights reserved.

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