Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tim Lucas Wants You --

-- To Know He Was Here First!

Lest anyone think Tim Lucas's comments on yesterday's blog post are in any way sour grapes or offbase, Tim indeed proposed using the very Uncle Sam zombie recruitment imagery
  • Leah Moore and John Reppion are using in their lively new comics series Raise the Dead
  • in his stellar screenplay The Gore Corps almost (or exactly) two decades ago. I know, because way back then Tim graced me with a copy of his screenplay in (I believe) its second draft.

    Now, this is not a matter of plagiarism, to my mind. I can likewise vouch for the fact that Leah and John have never, ever read Tim's script , nor ever heard of it. Hence, Leah and John are blameless -- nor is Tim saying they copped it from him. He's just saying, "Hey, I came up with that 20 years ago!", and he did. It's one of those images/ideas whose time has come -- in fact, one could argue current American foreign policy, and domestic military policies (e.g., abuse of its own volunteer Army and National Guard) in particular, have made it more timely than ever, and dead-on target at that.

    I read and loved Tim's screenplay before Taboo was taking shape -- a project John Totleben and I began work on in earnest in 1986, based on Dave Sim's proposition to publish anything John and I wished to do -- meaning I read Tim's script at least 20 years ago. In fact, it was reading Tim's screenplay that led to Tim and I discussing his writing something for Taboo, which survived the inauspicious first script proposal "Your Darling Pet Monkey!" -- a 'cute' idea for a decidedly 'uncute' anthology (no dis on Tim, mind you; Alan Moore's first Taboo script submission was likewise rejected for being too funny, built as it was around an agonizing slide show of a family vacation -- a very funny script, decidedly not what we were looking for given Taboo's manifesto). Tim came back with "Throat Sprockets," and the rest is history.

    Alas, Tim's screenplays remain unknown quantities to the world, though thankfully Tim has shared them with me over the years. More thankfully, his most recent one seems to be attracting some welcome attention -- keep an eye on
  • Tim's blog for info, updates and announcements.

  • His sensitivity to the matter is understandable, given the number of ideas he's cooked up that have somehow made their way into produced films (it was Tim, in a proposal for a sequel to David Cronenberg's The Fly, who came up with 'The Freak Pit,' which made its way into The Fly II sans anything for Tim; there are other examples I could but won't cite, as I've probably mortified Tim enough with this post as it is). As it stands, no lesser stellar exploitation cinema talents than Larry Cohen and William Lustig graced the world with their collaborative effort Uncle Sam on July 4, 1997, thus acing Tim's unproduced script imagery a decade past my reading of The Gore Corps -- and trumping the above Raise the Dead covers by a decade, too.

    Criswell Predicts: When you've got an idea that seems like a natural, by any means possible, get it out there! If you don't, someone else will.

    Mind you, Tim tried like hell to get his script filmed -- it just didn't happen. Sometimes, it doesn't reach fruition, or ever get seen by the public. It's the nature of the beast, and I do mean beast.

    Still, there is the sometimes inflated nature of our (completely understandable) proprietary feelings for our ideas -- published or unpublished, seen or unseen -- that can distort things, or turn the all-devouring, 'you snooze you lose' nature of the pop culture machine into a real irritant for those who find themselves personally facing these issues.

    I recall a phone conversation with Frank Miller in February 1995, when his and Geof Darrow's vivid bullet-cavity-through-the-skull-framing-the-gunslinging-hero cover for their Dark Horse comics series Hardboiled had seemingly been 'borrowed' for one of the splashy deaths in Sam Raimi's then-in-theaters The Quick and the Dead. Frank wasn't amused -- but he sure didn't want to hear from me that that very gory 'gag' image had already been featured prominently in Antonio Margheriti's Apocalypse Domani (1980, released in the US theatrically in 1982, aka Cannibals in the Streets, Invasion of the Fleshhunters), and in fact was the centerpiece of the film's Japanese ad campaign.

    But that was a bullet-hole-through-a-torso, not a bullet-through-a-head -- well, OK, fair enough.

    Still, the bullet-hole-through-a-torso-framing-the-shooter gag had already, pre-cannibal movie setpiece, been seen worldwide in John Huston's very popular Paul Newman vehicle The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), when Newman's Judge Roy Bean blasted a bucket-sized hole clear through Stacy Keach's villainous the Original Bad Bob the Albino -- and Huston and screenplay author John Milius had arguably 'borrowed' that punchline from the identical throwaway visual gag in Ernie Kovacs's brilliant black-and-white TV series, The Ernie Kovacs Show (1952; don't take my word for it, the sketch is on the first disc in
  • The Best of Ernie Kovacs DVD set from White Star).
  • One could justifiably argue, coming full circle back to comics, that Al Capp's "Fearless Fosdick" comic strip parody -- in L'il Abner -- of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy predated Kovacs -- and Mad's -- popularization of such cartoon holes-through-human-bodies iconography, and I've no doubt something, somewhere predates that.

    Still, Frank was unhappy, and might have been right -- after all, Geof Darrow's eye-popping Hardboiled cover had been one of that comic season's most iconographic images, visible in every comic shop (usually on a top shelf or visible behind the counter, with a 'mature readers only!' warning self-imposed by retailers), and that may indeed have been where Raimi 'borrowed' the image from.

    Who could say? Who can say?

    These unwelcome 'there goes that idea, though I had it years ago' speed bumps and indignities are part and parcel of being a writer -- and artist, for that matter. Things can be and often are worse --
  • Rick Veitch's sky whale imagery was unique when he started writing and drawing Abrasax and the Earthman for serialization in Epic magazine in the very early '80s --
  • -- but the very month his first episode saw print, two other adult-oriented newsstand comic zines featured their own 'sky whale' stories (and, after all, Astro the killer space whale in the 1965 American/Belgian animated feature Pinocchio in Outer Space/Pinocchio Dans le Space predated them all). Ditto Steve Perry, among whose unsold scripts (which I had hoped to draw) was a 1980 opus entitled "Tiny Dinosaurs," which quite directly anticipated Gremlins as much as Charlie Band's popular 1990s direct-to-video series PreHysteria. Mark Martin had a great li'l strip about a boy and his robot dog published in Nickelodeon that seemed awfully close to a certain Nickelodeon movie and TV series -- but apparently it wasn't a case of plagiarism, either, but it was a bitter pill to swallow when it all went down.

    So it goes. I could go on and on -- I've got my own sob stories, sisters. But then again, a major part of my own career wouldn't exist without such a conundrum having borne fruit. I mean, Swamp Thing/Man Thing. Huh. Who thunk of it first, Gerry Conway or Len Wein? Does it matter, with Theodore Sturgeon's "It" and Airboy's The Heap predating both 1970s "things"? Sometimes, it's just the Jungian reality: when that kind of iconographic image surfaces in the collective unconsciousness, it's there for any creator to pluck and use -- and many often do, either at the same time or over a span of time.

    But one doesn't need these peculiar sets of circumstances to suffer the slings and arrows too many writers endure over the course of a career. I can hear Mike Dobbs now: "Get off the cross! We need the wood!"
  • Then again, Mike has his own stories of this nature to share--
  • -- as a book author
  • and as a journalist --
  • -- so he's got his own share of wood to go around. Most of us do. James Robert Smith is a frequent reader (and poster) here, and man oh man, has he got stories, again going back two decades or more. One of the most prolific, published novelists I know (who shall remain here nameless, so as not to cause embarrassment) continues to write with amazing skill and speed, but has been hammered by editors and publishers and treated abominably -- business as usual.

    Anyhoot, all of this is to say "Tim's right, folks," and I'm a witness to that, and to thereby and roundabout-ly call your attention to Bennington-based writer John Goodrich, who has just launched
  • a new blog, Flawed Diamonds, intended for writers, and it's well worth keeping attuned to.
  • John says, "I am writing about the publication process. In truth, it's partially to ameliorate the sting of
    rejections, but some of you may be interested in the wonderful, free gravy train that all writers experience as they push toward publication."

    Some of you may recall the multi-chapter blog essay I posted here over a year ago on my own misadventures with trying to write again for the newsstand horror zine market, and what a delicious little ego-stroke, ego-mash clusterfuck that debacle was; whatever measure of celebrity I may enjoy after three decades in comics and writing, it still doesn't shield one from savoring the same abuse up-and-coming writers endure.

    And whenever a writer draws your attention to a writer's blog with such a blustery lead-in, abusing wholly invented words like "roundabout-ly," you best pay attention.

    On to merrier matters...

    Could It Be -- The First Dino Comics?

    In accord with the above rant, I always tell my students to be immediately suspect when anyone calls anything 'the first' -- usually, some earlier precursor turns up in due course, or is already known. It could be known, sort of, but under the wraps of obscurity -- usually meaning some more potent historical 'authority' hasn't recognized the precursor as such, or preferred to 'promote' the more popular precursor.

    In the realm of the understandably marginalized genre of dinosaur comics -- a most rarified breed comics historians are happy to ignore, unless your name is Don Glut -- these kinds of "firsts" are tough calls. But I think Seth may have steered me to what must be, might be, indeed the first dinosaur comics series!

    More on this amazing body of work tomorrow!

    No Criswell again today.

    Sorry. I have no idea where, in a matter of seven hours or so, I put that book.

    So, here's Ernie Kovacs again, just 'cuz.

    Have a great Wednesday, one and all --

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