Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Why the 1963: WhenElse?! Annual—and Why Not

As followers of my Facebook page may know, I’ve recently opened a can-of-worms project with the working title 1963: WhenElse? Annual. What they may be asking is: What triggered this? Why now?
        First, let me make it clear that my satire is not to be confused with Giant-Size ‘63 from 100% Comics, edited by William Hoffknecht, with multiple volunteer contributors. Please explore their link, as they can explain their project better than I can (I don’t want to put words in their mouths). And please note: In no way should their entirely respectful and reverent approach be associated with my irreverent heresies!
        Suffice it to say here that theirs appears to be an imaginative continuation of the 1963 series published by Image Comics in 1993 that will include licensed iterations of N-Man, the Fury, and other Steve Bissette characters, while mine will no doubt be construed as a straight-up hit-job on the creator(s) I see as responsible for never finishing the work almost thirty years ago (let’s face it: stinging, denunciatory parody has been my stock-in-trade since Megaton Man #1 in 1984).

The offending cover.

         I also want to say that Dr. Ben Anthony, a contributor to Giant-Size ‘63, contacted me about using a Megaton Man image for an Alterity sequence he’s crafting for that project, to which I readily agreed. And, I’ve been in touch with Mr. Hoffknecht to let him know it’s not my intention to step on his toes, although I most certainly am stepping on his toes (I’ll explain in a moment)!

100% Comics Giant-Size 63 logo, which I envy!

        Going back to the beginning, as I’m sure readers will be aware, I was the letterer for half of the original 1963 series and inker of Rick Veitch’s USAgent feature (getting fired by Rick for attending an already-scheduled Dallas Fantasy Fair instead of staying home to help the beleaguered 1963 get back on deadline is a fun story I love telling again and again); I’ve also kept in touch with Steve Bissette over the years and even wrote and drew an all-new 10-page N-Man story for his still-in-the-works anthology a couple years back. I’ve also discussed ways of exploiting his 1963 characters, including an idea very similar to what 100% now seems to be pursuing—my idea was first and I have the messages to prove it, although at the time getting to the drawing board was problematic, and Hoffknecht beat me to it!
        Mostly, I’ve just complained, usually behind the scenes but periodically on social media: “Why can’t grown people come together and wrap this thing up?” (This was before my own difficulties with the recent Fantagraphics Underground edition of In Pictopia, from which the same author of 1963 saw fit to request the removal of his name.) After all, 1963 was entirely creator owned; neither Hollywood nor any evil corporation stood in the way of its completion.

No, these characters are not ™ and © Stephen R. Bissette, 2022, all rights reserved.

         To make a long story short, I was cc’d on a correspondence concerning this unpleasant history that triggered me around New Year’s 2022, and before I knew it, a couple of weeks ago, I had penciled a mock cover which read, “Fuck ‘Al,’ it’s 1963 Annual.” It featured entirely parody versions of the 1963 cast, including Steve’s (which I’m too cheap to license), featuring my inimitable lettering. Steve reposted my post, pointing out that I had misspelled “All,” and intimating that he’d laughed himself sick. With this tacit endorsement, I penciled out a few more pages and posted them en suite.
        What I hadn’t thought through was the can of worms I was opening. If I had a dollar for every time someone posted, “Is this a real thing? Where can I guy a copy? Oh, please, God, let this be a real thing!” I’d have it completely crowdfunded by now, except I’m not a crowdfunding kind of guy. (My model, in fact, is John Byrne’s Elsewhen project, which I understand to be self-described as “fanfic,” and subsidized only by the selling of the original art. If anyone would like to encourage my WhenElse project in a similar fashion, please contact me.)
        As of this writing, I have some twenty or more pages laid out in empty panels with lettering penciled on Ames Lettering Guide guidelines; of this, half a dozen of the pages have inked lettering, a few more are roughly penciled, and three pages (including the cover) are inked. I have in mind a story that will probably run to thirty pages. If you follow me on Facebook, you will see the progression as it unfolds, although I have other obligations, so the pace will be more laid back than during the first couple of weeks, which was fueled by a manic burst of inspiration. Stay tuned.
“I was no other God before me!” Heaven help us.

        As for plans for “making it real,” which I take to mean printing some sort of actual issue, I have none. Comic book fans may be the only people on Earth who still equate print with reality, as if the only real music were released on vinyl. (As far as I’m concerned, if you’re looking at a cartoonist’s drawing on your internet-enabled device, you can assume it really exists, although I suppose the cynical will insist it could be “Fake Comics.”)
        In any case, I will announce my intentions as soon as they become clear to me, although I’m giving myself until 2023—the thirtieth anniversary of 1963—before I will consider my project tardy (and another thirty years beyond that—2053—before it can be considered a dead letter).
        As an aside, let me just say that it has long appalled me that the comic industry still announces releases with only a cover and a press release. Several of my comics, including Megaton Man #1, Bizarre Heroes #1, Pteranoman #1, Border Worlds: Marooned #1, and Wendy Whitebread #1, were all “in the can” before they ever found a publisher or were placed on any release schedule, and I believe this to be a sensible practice for all comics.
        I also don’t like to promise anything in terms of content, but just to whet your appetite, I am considering a few nods to In Pictopia, which I drew and at least co-own (or co-disown, as the case may be); Splitting Image; and even some cameos from Megaton Man and a few other Easter Eggs. Again, I can only say: Stay tuned.
        As for the allegation that will surely arise that my 1963: WhenElse?! Annual is nothing but a vengeful hit-job, I’m not even going to try to head that one off. Toxic fans of the author on Reddit, to say nothing of so-called comics “scholars” who specialize in the author’s works (mostly academic refugees from 18th-century poetry or English departments, near as I can tell*), have never loved me back, or at least loved me beyond the thirteen pages of In Pictopia and the lettering and inking on 1963.
        As Steve will tell you, serving as curator for one of the author’s creator-owned and controlled properties only means being partnered with someone who is distant, absent, negligent, petulant, petty, scornful, self-serving, entitled, and about fifteen other pejorative adjectives, with no feeling of responsibility toward collaborator or audience—in other words, it is a thankless position at best. 
        And if anyone wants to suggest the author’s generous forgoing of his share of the royalties so that the crumbs of his leavings can be divvied up by the ink-stained wretches that illustrated his verbiage amount to anything other than unilaterally-decreed paternalism in lieu of genuine partnership or indeed communication—well, please contact me using your real name and an actual email address, so I can give you an earful.
        We were all younger when we collaborated with the author, and the days are growing short; I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but I think it’s safe to say none of us signed on to be left holding the bag.
        Others can talk all they want about the author’s right or entitlement to distance himself from past regrets and the business of comics in general (although I laugh at the proposition that they anyone could have more to complain about than me!). But what can’t overlooked are broken promises and leaving a fan-favorite work like 1963 unfinished for three decades. It could still be finished—authoritatively—tomorrow, by the very author who abandoned it to script Spawn and Tom Strong. Until then, there is WhenElse?! to keep on the lookout for.

* Donald E. Simpson holds a PhD in the history of art and architecture, which means his scholarly comics lectures involve using a laser pointer.

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