Starstruck and Its Role in My Salvation

I just finished reading Michael Kaluta’s wonderful introduction to The Lost Art of Heinrich Kley. It’s called “Heinrich Kley and His Role in My Salvation”.

This piece is, at the risk of plagiarism (please to call it “homage”) is: “Starstruck and Its Role in My Salvation“.

StarstruckWraparoundCover7I was lucky to meet Michael Kaluta before I was introduced to Starstruck.  Twice in fact.
The first time was at the apartment of artist David Mattingly in the long shadows of the World Trade Center. I had been working for a painter in New Jersey, and the occasion was one of the City’s monthly gatherings of those artists of the fantastic. I’d never been to the City before, much less to a party of real artists! I liked Michael and Charles Vess (his then-apartment-mate) on sight, but I would not get to know them for a couple years.

The second meeting was much more surprising as it was nowhere near New York – it was in a run-down building in a slightly seedy neighborhood north of the FBI building in downtown DC. Broadcast Arts was the name of the company, and it had been making quiet inroads into pop culture and media for some years (it would shortly thereafter move to New York later to become famous for its brilliant work on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse). It was close to my own modest digs in Arlington and, as I would shortly learn, a simple subway ride from Kaluta’s homestead in that same suburb. He had come to town to be the lead artist on DJ Webster’s video for the Alan Parsons Project’s million-selling smash hit “Don’t Answer Me“.

Here’s one of our first collaborations – Michael’s pencils and my inks for the heavy’s car in the video:

Muscles' Car

And here’s our hero and heroine – Nick and Sugar:

Nick & SugarI was out of my depth, but that didn’t seem to bother Michael. He was filled with colorful tales, mad talent, and issues of The Shadow #1 he’d drawn (I have mine near to hand even now). Our small but daring cohort finished the video in a couple weeks, and I didn’t see Michael again until I next visited the City.

By that time I had seen Starstruck. Specifically, Marvel Graphic Novel #13. I mention this to suggest the naivete of numbering Graphic Novels, and because Starstruck has assumed more forms than most shapeshifters in comic history – from play, to flashback mini-comics, to radio play, to…. Well, it’s complicated. (For more details, I recommend this Chronology.)

Starstruck was like nothing I’d seen (and I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…).
Weirdly, it may still be ahead of its time.

BA month later, the generous Jim Edwards-Hewitt, gifted me with the first issue of the Epic miniseries that followed the events of the Graphic Novel. Upon reading it, I sent Michael a note offering my assistance should it be desired. Happily for me, that note (and its poorly drawn portrait of Brucilla “the Muscle”) is lost to history. Sadly, Starstruck lasted a mere 6 issues at Epic, and by the time my note reached him, Michael and Elaine were bidding it a sad farewell. But not before they’d given Harry Palmer his own major storyline – with pieces that presaged some of the reality we now live in (Google goggles anyone?):

StarstruckMarvelCovI met writer Elaine Lee about that time. She’d been a successful actress and off-Broadway playwright. Smart, pretty, and still possessed of a Southern accent that in no way diminished her obvious braininess.

She was also pregnant – VERY pregnant. She was a wee slip of a thing, and her unborn child? A behemoth waiting to be born. Suffice it to say, she made an impression.  I, in my turn, also made an impression. Because even 4 years into my professional “career”, I looked all of 14 years old. No, really.

Here’s the tape case I made for the audio recording of her play The Contamination of the Kokomo Lounge:

Kokomo LoungeAnd here’s the card I made for Elaine shortly thereafter. It’s as filled with joyous Starstruckery as I could manage:

It'sABoyHer son Brennan is now an adult with mad skills and a resume to match. Like his mother, he is an actor and a writer. His web comic is Strong Female Protagonist and he is a member of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. And I, in the meantime, have managed to add the appearance (if not the maturity) of at least a couple decades.

It was my honor to work with Michael on assorted gigs through the 80s and 90s (The Abyss adaptation for Dark Horse, a couple SF covers for Byron Priess, et al.) even as I was visiting the City to engage in my long-running habit of dating NYU girls. (I sometimes suspect that Michael put up with my boisterous self because my coterie improved the scenery.) Happily, I got to spend time with Charlie, Elaine, Augusta and others during these pleasurable jaunts. Such a blessing for a young and untrained artist!

By the time Elaine and Michael were given a chance to revisit Starstruck in 1990, they had sufficient faith in my knowledge and passion for their project to entrust the “About Last Issue” blurbs to me. But rather than continuing the tale forward in time and space, they did something far more interesting: they expanded the story – literally adding frames, words and sometimes whole sequences, between the originals. This was reading between the lines in a very real sense! And I relished the opportunity to see the story unfold, to try and ferret out the details and relationships that each unreliable narrator were showing, telling, hiding or lying about. It was a joy! But short lived.

This time it was Michael’s workload that shut things down, not publisher Dark Horse. And so, many pages of Elaine’s expanded and continued story went unread. Oh sure, I had some of Michael’s xeroxed pencils from the unpublished Issue 5, but that was hardly sufficient….

StarstruckEUCovLittle did I suspect that Starstruck would be my entree to anything so strange as a career in games…. but by 1990 my interest in roleplaying games had come a long way. What had started with D&D and Boot Hill, had grown through Call of Cthulhu and culminated in a decade of running Lawyers, Guns and Money. And table-top divertissement (no matter how involving or therapeutic) didn’t tell the whole story –  I had stumbled into the early live role-playing games that have come to be called LARPs.

I ran (and helped run) a few of these myself. One of these was notable because it involved Starstruck characters, and was staged down the block from Michael’s boyhood home. Elaine was invited to reprise her stage role of Galatia 9, but sadly money did not allow. The players were remarkable, and many things that could never occur in the real series happened with aplomb – The Bajar Shilling was revalued when Ronnie Lee Ellis married Dwannyun (or was it “Dumb-Onion”?) Grivaar, and the Girl Guides made out like… well, Girl Guides. Norris Rex created a new art form of “running real fast”, and Krystals were used to render the veil of the time/space continuum by none other than the displaced Hong Kong Cavaliers.

Here’s the cover I made for the game book – using what was (in 1986) the very latest in computer graphics: MacPaint. “If only computers would advance to a point where they were more useful than an Etch-a-Sketch! Oh, what I would do then!”

Macpaint1Here’s one of the labels I made for the hooch on the Vale of Tiers:

DDC LabelThen, early one morning, I got a call from Lawrence Schick (a dab hand in gaming and someone I knew from LARPs). It was 9 am and I had, as was my habit, hit the silk not 3 hours earlier. But he wasn’t calling to ask me about games, he was calling to ask if I was the same Lee Moyer who had been writing introductions to Starstruck. Even in my sleep deprived condition, that was a question I could answer.

I went to work on a project for Lawrence’s employers Magnet Interactive called Bluestar. And while that grotesquery was no Starstruck, I produced sufficient examples of Erotica Ann’s costume to put the kibosh on those outfits that Bluestar’s designers had in mind for the macho captain’s female underlings. Most every trace of this Gods-awful abomination has been eliminated from the internet, but for all that it was, in the words of our colleague Paul Murphy “The Worst thing EVER” it made a huge difference in my life – introducing me to people who are still friends, allowing me to work with my dear friends Keith Baker and Heather Lam.

Keith and I would work on all manner of game projects over the next decades, and I have hopes for the new year. But who can know?

When Lawrence went to AOL (It was a big deal then people. No, really), Keith, Heather and I were all involved in a Massively Multiplayer Starstruck pitch to AOL:

Cover

This proved a labor-intensive dead end, but it brought Elaine to my abode Arlington where I got to spend time with her and get to know her much better.

Many years passed and after I’d helped start a game company and been in-house as an Art Director for Electronic Arts, I found myself in Portland, Oregon.

During a particularly disagreeable freelance gig with one major corporation or another, it occurred to me that I’d really rather work with people of Integrity. So I asked Michael to send me out some of the black and white pages he’d created for the Dark Horse run and that had never been painted. His choices were… ambitious. This page’s Beastie WPA mural being only one example. Later, of course, we’d add a panel and dialog, but one piece at a time…:

7The results were strong enough that Michael sent them out to his nearest and dearest. And that’s how I got the nod from Dave Stevens to paint his drawing of Spiderman (I had no idea that Dave was dying at the time, but it was an honor to work with him). One thing leads to another, but what that other will be is seldom obvious:

©Moyer_Hedge-SpidermanIIHSeveral years on, I got THE CALL.

Starstruck was on – this time, from IDW. Michael would be making the pages 17% taller (sometimes by adding new panels, sometimes by adding extra height to existing panels) and I would be painting the lot.

Here is the cover for Issue 1 as it developed:

2-RecoveredHaving tried to buy Starstruck art from him for years, you could have knocked me over with a feather when Michael gave me the ink piece you see top center!

Here’s the cover to Issue 8. Michael’s grasp of war machinery, detail, and spacial relations is non-pariel (and somewhat tricky to paint!):

8fdfCompareHere are a few panels from among the thousand or so Befores and Afters:

hghg10One of the unexpected aspects of this remastered expansion of the expanded tale was the need to relocate word balloons and caption boxes (like those in the Baron’s “throne” room above), as well as create new word balloons and sound effects. There was no budget for Todd Klein or John Workman to reprise their work, so it was my bailiwick (see: out of my depth, above). If there is any better lesson in type placement and flow, in TYPE generally, I’ve certainly never encountered it. In a few cases (like the one below) I had to turn to local expert (and legendary X-Men letterer) Tom Orzechowski for the most elegant and subtle solution:

18But other times, the answers spoke for themselves (much like the garrulous Brucilla) and the resultant cascade of verbiage flowed between panels. Hey kids! See how many changes you can spot – even after Michael made the panel taller!

Progress1Sometimes I spent days working on important, if intentionally incomplete, UI. (See: Mary Medea and Ambrosia Vitrona Khrome, below):

StarStruck Glossary 1And when that first HUGE 1/3 of the total Starstruck experience was collected by IDW, there were… gaps. {Gasp!}

Places where the story’s double-page art spreads needed to be properly set up and where the narrative (never seen in a single volume before) wanted reminders and costume changes.

In one case, it was all about conversing with Elaine and stealing from Michael (left), and in another, I had the honor of painting and lettering an all-new spread from Michael with all-new words from Elaine (right):

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 1.30.41 AMIt took a very long day to paint this next page, and half that time was in making the background and the type work. By making the adjustments I did, it became possible to open up the Shakespeare quote (upper right), and more importantly, to include the object of greatest interest to the scheming parties involved: that anomaly of the Neutral Zone, the Mirror (in the lower right of the background panel). The change to Ronnie Lee’s monitor (upper left) is based on a set that Michael used later. Broadening her shoulder also seemed a good idea:

Compare1All of which brings me to Starstruck Today.
Because there is a Starstruck today!

Thanks to the miracle of Kickstarter, Starstruck is coming back.

And while I made the hard decision to leave the painting of my favorite story (to date) in the hands of some other lucky painter, I am lending my experience with Kickstarter and doing what any fan of the series will be doing: backing it. And in my case, backing it at a high level – there’s simply no way I’ll be missing the chance to get Michael to draw me a Starstruck scene he’s never (to my knowledge anyway) even attempted. Who knows what it will look like in the end? Is it wrong for me to hope for another WPA Mural? Turnabout is fair play after all.  ;)

One of my prized possessions for the past 2 decades has been the poster for the original run of the play. It’s hung on the walls of many different homes, and now graces my den. But cooler still is the gun that Michael, Charlie, and company made for Kalif Bajar in the original stage play. It lives in my wunderkabinett – with the aluminum Cootie, Danger Mouse, Tsunami Bear, the Maltese Falcon, Felix the Cat and other dear friends.

How excited am I for this Kickstarter? Excited enough that I have donated Kalif’s pistol as a backer reward!:

GiftsIt is more important to me to have Harry Palmer’s story, with all it’s grit, hilarity, and heartbreak finally told properly. I painted the cover of the book (below), some pieces for the Kickstarter, as well as some Kickstarter exclusives (go check them out here!).

d25cb098315e8864cf117ac56adc07b7_largeHarry’s story is my favorite. And I hope it will be yours as well!

And it’s not just me that’s hoping for the best. Check out the words of Geof Darrow and Rick Berry in the Kickstarter film. Or check out the first big IDW compendium and read Mike Carey‘s thoughts therein.

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Nothing Exceeds Like Success

Rambling shambolic thoughts.
You know. The usual….

The recent death of Robin Gibb has led me to consider the Bee Gees (they were the Brothers Gibb to you youngsters in our audience), Patrick Nagel, and… Papyrus.

What do these three have in common? Why, mad skills, catastrophic success, and my impressionable youth, of course.

The Bee Gees were boy singing stars starting in 1960:

I didn’t know that until Robin’s death, but it makes perfect sense.

I did know the older Bee Gees of 1967 who were quite successful in Australia and England.
On this ancient LP, Side A found geeky, adenoidal brother Robin singing his heart out on what are to me curiously American themes: Massachusetts and New York Mining Disaster 1941.

If I could explain what I love so much about Robin’s voice, I would be a professional rock critic. Suffice it to say I, like most people, found Robin more Tiny Tim than Tom Jones, and I found him all the more captivating for it – whether singing lead or harmonizing with his siblings.

If they’d stopped at Side A, most of us would never have heard Robin at all. Side B would change that forever.

Success flowed when Barry took his voice higher than Robin’s (a notion so absurd that it forms Disco Inferno version of a Robert Johnson Crossroads mythology, with Robert Stigwood filling in for Lucifer). Barry’s gaudier falsetto was the soundtrack of 1979, and the tall handsome hirsute brother more or less took over his band of brothers. And other bands as well: The Rolling Stone’s Emotional Rescue anyone? Hell, they were tapped to play The Beatles on film – they were bigger than Jesus’ body double!

If Arthur Fonzarelli had never “jumped the shark”, the Bee Gees’ “Sgt. Pepper” might have become a catch phrase for “so-big-it-MUST-fail” today. Their success was a musical and cultural Tsunami, and when the waves receded, no one wanted to be seen with them. And their Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack would be featured at numberless yard sales for years to come. Ah, success!

Patrick Nagel died many years ago now and left a comparatively small body of work. But what a body!

His freelance career began in 1971, but it was 1976 that brought him his most important client – Playboy Magazine.

His work and the work of his numberless naked imitators still adorns unfashionable beauty salons and dress shops from Hoboken to Oxnard. And why? Because he was damned good. He had a simple stylized approach of strong design, tapered lines, and an addiction to Payne’s Grey that was instantly identifiable – a brand.  And that brand meant sex and sophistication. As with Side A of the Bee Gees, I’m a big fan, and as with Side B admitting this on the permanent record that is the internet may not be such a good idea.

I sometimes wonder, if Nagel hadn’t come along at the same time as cheap backlit mini-mall signage and fading mass-market decorative poster art, would he be remembered today? If he was remembered, would it be with fondness? Or will these constant reminders of outmoded style be like the poor: always with us.

Has this sort of backlash happened with other artists and illustrators of the past? My guess is no – not to the extent the global media allows. Yes, Alma Tadema paintings were considered completely passe and going for peanuts (Candid Camera’s Alan Funt held the mass of them at one point), but except for an especially garish slice of hell in Nevada called the Peppermill, few people today even know his work. And those that know it through the nightmare looking-glass probably think the imperfectly painted and endlessly repeated Alma Tadema paintings (probably painted en masse by an entire Chinese village) are simply part of their Fear and Loathing in Reno hallucination. I think few artists have had a big enough platform to become so thoroughly declassé to the public.

I wonder what Nagel would be painting today if he had lived long enough to see Lady Gaga And Katie Perry. Would he be a retro relic? Forever trapped by his ancient style? Or would he have grown and changed? Too bad we’ll never know….

Papyrus

“But why not Comic Sans?” I hear you cry. “Why Papyrus?”
And the easy answer is that Comic Sans is the Rob Liefeld of fonts, while Papyrus is an astonishingly good and beautiful one (Michael Kaluta? Dave Stevens? No, Neal Adams. Definitely Neal).

I have strong feelings on this subject because back in the Letraset days, I bought sheets of the stuff (the scan above was taken tonight from the old Letraset sheets that I still own) and their cost was pretty dear to a starving artist like me. My friend Dawn Wilson had been the first person I’d seen to use it and it had all the hallmarks of her work ~ elegance, grace, sophistication. I remember our early business cards and program covers. Turns out they were fifteen years ahead of their time and that eventually the world would learn that Papyrus had a million and one household uses. These days as I travel the world, I am saddened by Papyrus’ overuse even as I wonder whether it’s creators feel similarly. I hope they love their creation still, even as everyone I know rolls their eyes over it.

This year is a year of long-gestating projects. Of doing the things I’ve wanted to do for decades in some cases. Doom and 13th Age and Literary Pin-Ups to name but three.  I will never have the astonishingly epochal successes of the Brothers Gibb, or Patrick Nagel, their appreciation and their opprobrium, but I wish I could have spoken to the talented super-successes of my lifetime; they deserved their success as I hope to deserve my own.

And I’m going to keep using Papyrus, just to show ’em.