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The Magician From Mars

After a stretch of being too busy to contribute anything to the Whitechapel forum in a while, I managed to squeeze this in for a new installment of Remake/Remodel, reinterpreting vintage public domain comics characters. This week, it’s the Magician From Mars:

In the future, Jane Q-X 3 Gem, the Magician from Mars, is born to a Martian father, Jarl 6EM35, and a Earthling mother, Jane Faro. When she was a baby, she was accidently exposed to “cathode” radiation, which is deadly to humans but which Martians are naturally immune to. Because she was a hybrid of the two, the radiation had an unexpected effect of boosting her brain power to the point where she was capable of changing reality with a thought..

At 16 years old, she lost both of her parents and was raised by her Aunt Vanza, who refuses to allow the girl to travel to Earth. Eventually, she found life on Mars too boring, so she escaped from the “Supersteel Room” prison her aunt locked her in and took passage on a ship to Earth. There, she decided to use her reality-warping abilities to fight evil and oppression. Eventually, she came head-to-head with the Hood, leader of an evil organization with the goal of “Universal Domination.”

I rushed a bit through the drawing, so it’s a little sloppy in places, but overall I’m happy with the end result. As usual, drawn with Sketchbook and Photoshop. Click on the image to see it at full size.

The Bat (Unfinished Sketch)

The Bat
The Bat (sketch)

Here’s something I was working on for the Whitechapel Remake/Remodel series, where forum members try to visually update obscure public domain comics characters. I never got around to finishing this one for a character named The Bat. I guess I was going for a retro body-horror-comedy kind of thing…no wonder I never finished it!

As usual, work done digitally, using Sketchbook. Click on the image to see it at a more readable size.

A History Of Rose Madder Part 2: Rising Stars Of Manga


The series is a coming-of-age story of people in their early twenties, that
twilight zone between the teen years and adulthood.  It’s a time where hard
decisions are made and responsibilities are shouldered…whether you’re
ready or not.  It’s about the bubble of carefree, teenage self-absorption
suddenly bursting and coming to terms with harsh reality and the closing of
windows of opportunities.  It’s a teen drama about the end of the teen
drama.  As such, it will appeal to older teens and young adults, and may be
of special interest to readers who have been following shoujo manga over the years and are looking for stories reflecting their more mature interests and concerns.  Although, as the characters’ last gasp of teen emotions and experiences, the stories will have plenty of snarky, fun attitude contrasting with and complementing the emotional drama.
-Unreleased 2005 graphic novel pitch

In 2003 I heard about TOKYOPOP’s Rising Stars Of Manga contest. I confess I’m not the most likely candidate to have entered. After all, I’m more than a little older than the generation who embraced the work of Japanese cartoonists. I solidly grew up on mainstream American comics and, as an adult, branched out to devour the indie and alternative comix of the ’80s and ’90s. By the time the 2000s began, the alternative boom had pretty much wound down to a trickle, and the mainstream was still reeling from the excesses of the industry in the ’90s. By the time I began working in animation I had already been away from any comics, as a creator or a reader, for a while.

I once went to a seminar for animators on pitching series ideas. Even with The Simpsons, Futurama, and Family Guy being on the air and appealing to audiences of all ages, the conventional wisdom at the time was still that animation was kids’ stuff. I asked, couldn’t there be an animated Sopranos? Meaning, couldn’t there be a series that wasn’t a sitcom, and yet was still created to appeal to more than young’uns?

The answer, with “What, are you crazy or just stupid?” dripping from the voice of the entertainment agent conducting the seminar, was “no”.

So, when I started to notice the growing popularity of manga and anime, I paid attention. It took the Japanese to not only create long-form drama in cartoon form–some genre, some not–but to mainstream it. But it hadn’t quite risen to that level of acceptability in this country.

TOKYOPOP’s success was built on importing shoujo manga, romance stories with fantasy or adventure elements, marketed to female teens. So I knew if I were to enter their Rising Stars contest, I had to make some concessions to the market.

A potential chapter of Rose Madder titled “Ozymandias”, an allegorical parallel to the main story, set in ancient Egypt, was the perfect vehicle for Rising Stars. I could fashion the themes of the larger story as a historical teen romance. In the end, the story I submitted was kind of a hybrid. Though primarily driven by plot, just like the western stuff I was most familiar with, I was also inspired by manga’s emphasis on the silences between moments, to define character, or intensity of emotion. In the end, it’s all cartooning, it’s all comics. The dialects may be different between East and West, but the language is essentially the same.


I don’t know whether I was truly successful at capturing the manga style or not, but my entry made the cut; “Ozymandias” can be found in Rising Stars Of Manga 3.

And so something that was just a potential fantasy chapter in a story that still owed much to slice-of-life indie comix suddenly became a main theme; reincarnation and repetition. A pattern that would repeat from life to life, over time. It was kind of a clarifying decision for me, creatively. I decided to run with the fantasy elements I introduced, and I soon found I had a story timeline that extended into an alternate future.


In the final part: the future of Rose Madder.

Rose Madder is © 2010 A.L. Baroza

A History of Rose Madder, Part 1: A Love-Gone-Wrong-Song

Rose2 color

1) New York City-The Present
a) Open on the white, wintery sky. We hear “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vendellas. Pan down to reveal the city in snowy splendor.
b) More of the city. Visible holiday decorations and displays. End on the apartment window of Rose Madder. The alarm clock is buzzing. 1) Rose is a woman in her mid-twenties; out of school, overeducated, unemployed and somewhat adrift.
c) Inside her bedroom. Rose is face down on the bed, asleep. Rose’s calico cat Sienna (short for “Burnt Sienna”) sits on her back, licking the back of her neck. He’s hungry. Drowsy, Rose is at once amused, annoyed, and slightly aroused by the action.
d) Rose forces herself awake. Montage of Rose’s morning routine: shuffling around in pajamas, she feeds the cat, pees, takes some medication, smokes a cigarette. Emphasis on the mundaneness of her ritual.
1) We see a little of her apartment. It’s underfurnished, yet cluttered with books, magazines, newspapers. A few storage boxes, as if Rose has just moved in (she hasn’t). Rose is a little slovenly–not a slob, but unconcerned with the idea of “presentability”. A cello in its case sits in one corner of her bedroom. Ashtrays are everywhere.

About ten years ago I began developing what would become Rose Madder. Originally intended as a graphic novel that would never be noticed in the over-steroided world of comics in the ’90s, Rose Madder has, over the decade, morphed into an animation series pitch, a manga-fied short story, and a fictional blog, before it went full circle and back into graphic novel form–all without actually ever being published, more or less (more on that later).

(The above excerpt is from a treatment I wrote for the above-mentioned series pitch, by the way, from around 2002-3.)

Loosely based on some real-life events and people, my initial idea was to come up with an anti-romance, or, as Thomas Dolby once put it, a love-gone-wrong-song. A story about two people who are perfect for each other, which is why they are utterly wrong for each other.  I wanted, in a way, to reinvent the romance comic for the 21st century, but not in that indie comix, navel-gazing “I’m a loser, so why don’t you kill me” style.  I wanted to do something with all the high drama of mainstream entertainment;  clever, but accessable, that might appeal to a smart adolescent or teen who wants to read about relationships. But, because I’m not a sentimental person, filtered throughout with a healthy amount of skepticism and cynicism to keep me from going into a diabetic coma during its creation.

Keep in mind, this was ten years ago, before manga broke big and created that market that was a pipe dream just a few years earlier. Before the the advent of very capable western creators like Bryan Lee O’Malley who hit the ground running with romances like the Scott Pilgrim series, full of youthful energy and humor that I certainly couldn’t match, and wouldn’t dare to compete with. Before webcomics broadened the appeal of different genres to a new generation of readers.  All of this started to happen while I sat on my story and kind of lived with it for a long time before ever committing anything to paper.

And somewhere along the way, as I was meditating over Rose Madder, it began to mutate into something a little weird.

In Part 2, I go manga.

Below: chiibi Rose and Tarpit, from 2005.
RoseTarpit2A RoseTarpit2B
Rose Madder is © 2009 A.L. Baroza

Blast From The Past: Woman With A Really Big Gun (plus: bonus Leela!)

 Woman with a big gun

I was rummaging through my old portfolios recently and I came across this old thing, drawn with marker on bristol board.  Lessee, big gun?  Check.  Pouches?  Check.  Inexplicable leg and arm straps?  Check.  Big clunky space boots?  Check.  Impossible female anatomy?  Check.

It must be the ’90s!

1997, to be exact.  Let’s hear it for a slightly more than half-assed attempt to draw in the “Image style”.  No wonder my comics career never took off.  Look at that big gun, the perspective’s all messed up on it.  And never mind that her left arm is horrifically short (or, rather, just not properly foreshortened).  Still, the picture has its charms, I suppose.

Now that I look at it, this big-gunned woman has a little bit of a Leela vibe to her.  So here’s my 2009 version of the drawing, done with the pencil tool on Sketchbook.  I’m still trying to get Leela on model, so forgive me.  But I think I finally fixed that big gun, maybe.

Leela with a big gun

Blast From The Past: Tatters

From around 1995, Tatters was a one-shot written by Steven Jones and drawn by me, published by Caliber Press.  Tatters was kind of an odd duck of a comic, part gothic superhero book, part government conspiracy story, with some sci-fi elements and a dystopian future thrown in for good measure.  But the book will always be known to me as (as far as I know) the first comic to model a character after Samuel L. Jackson.  Pulp Fiction was hot at the time, and so I drew in Jackson’s and Travolta’s characters from the movie as the comic’s hard-luck hitmen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as a joke.  (The characters are named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  You can figure out what happens to them.)

As I understand it, editorial at Caliber wanted to avoid legal problems with celebrity likenesses, and so a goatee was added to the Travolta character, drawn directly onto my artwork.  But Sam Jackson in all his Jules-ian glory remained unaltered, and therefore I think I can brag that I was the first to use Jackson as a comic character.  In these days where nearly every mainstream comic has celebrity stunt casting, and where a Jackson-based character became such a mainstay of an entire comic book line that Jackson himself had to play the movie version of that character (I’m looking at you, Ultimate Nick Fury), I feel totally vindicated.

Maybe later I’ll put up a scan of the Jackson/Travolta caricatures, but right now, here’s the opening prologue of Tatters.  Click on the thumbnails to see the larger scans, taken directly from my original art, inked entirely oldschool with a combination of brushes and Rapidograph pens, and lettered by hand.  Pasteups by rubber cement.

Tatters pg 1Tatters pg 2Tatters pg 3

(Sorry, I had to split pgs. 2 and 3 due to WordPress file size limitations.  They’re meant to be seen as one piece.)

Sit Down Shut Up: “Hurricane Willard”

Hulu put this up a day late, which probably means it’ll be gone in 16 instead of 17 days.  I did the opening “Miracle on a bike” sequence, which actually took about a week to storyboard, given the layers of background kids that had to be drawn.  Funny that a week’s worth of labor ends up being about 15 seconds on the screen.  Personally, I would have allowed the entire sequence a little more time to breathe, but it was the style of the show not to linger on anything.  Besides, throughout my storyboarding career I’ve rarely seen an animated sequence that matched the timing I imagined when boarding same sequence.  Except for maybe once or twice, usually what I’d see in my head never really matched up with the end result.

Also, they didn’t animate that rear view of Miracle as sexily as I would have liked, although I did get a kick out of the “halo” effect, which was not there on the board!

(Edited 10/30 to remove dead Hulu link.)

Sit Down Shut Up: “H.S. Confidential”

Hilariously labeled at Hulu as Season 2, Episode 1.  Don’t be fooled, Fox is just burning off the remaining 9 episodes that didn’t air from the initial 13-episode order.  It’s still cancelled.  And since these episodes will only be up at Hulu for 17 days after their inital air date, enjoy while you can.  If you’re prone to enjoying Sit Down Shut Up, that is.

(Edited 9/30/09 to remove dead Hulu link.)

Blast From The Past: Tales From The Heart #11

Tales From The Heart #11 cover

This was my cover to Slave Labor’s Tales From The Heart #11, from 1994, painted in Dr. Martin’s watercolor dyes, with probably a little bit of guache, if I remember right.  I was grateful to publisher Dan Vado for allowing me to do the cover to the final issue, following earlier covers by the likes of Brent Anderson and Charles Vess. It really was an honor.

Tales  was the true-life adventures of a college-aged woman’s stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic, written by Cindy Goff and Rafael Nieves.  A little ahead of its time, the series never generated a lot of attention or sales, although it did receive a fair amount of critical acclaim and managed to generate two graphic novels from the Marvel/Epic imprint (which I wasn’t involved with).

I was brought in at issue #7 after original artist Seitu Hayden left the book.  Unfortunately, my work in the second half of the run, issues #8-#11, was never collected in trade.  Working on the series was really one of the great honors of my teeny-tiny comics career, and I’d jump back into it without hesitation if Cindy and Rafe wanted to pick it up again.