Monday, July 31, 2006

Realm of the Squirrel-Man

Okay, too many coincidences are guiding my hand on this particular post.

Nearly 30 years ago fanzines were as much of a regular purchase for me as comics books and Warren Monster magazines. I picked up nearly every issue of RBCC and JFFJ that I could get my hands on, just to name a couple. Sometime in 9th grade Jim Ritchey III (he was in 10th) started championing the idea of doing a fanzine of our own. He and Dave Newton had put out a Mad-magazine type xerox mag called "Flipped!" when they were in 8th grade and assured us it would be a snap. Unfortunately for JR III, (who was a bit of a perfectionist) we all finshed our shorter back-up stories long before he was halfway through his epic 12 pager. I took the stance that if we didn't get our mag --now called Realm--out by the end of our sophmore year that we might never get it out. We staged a bit of a coup, (...sorry JR III.) moved all the stories up a rung and thanks to the 60$ my parents put up for the printing, and the cigar-chompin' printer who liked me enough to stay open til 2 in the morning, we came to school the week before the start of summer vacation with 300 copies of our 30-page fanzine of comics and science-fiction stories.
...And even though we were 10th graders, our magazine still had a pro-cover by Scott Hampton! (Unbelievably, Scott sold classmate and magazine contributor Pat St. Amour this great piece of original art at a convention --done when Scott was only 16--for only 15$! When the rest of us saw it we all agreed it should be the cover. Pat did the logo as well.)

The back cover was done by another classmate and contributor, Rik Lowe --though he signed it Rik Alan. (Think he was into Barry Smith much?)

The inside front cover was created by Pat St.Amour as well...also done when he was just 16! (Pat went on to have art featured in Heavy Metal magazine in the mid-eighties and still paints today.)

My big-ass contribution to the mag was the first back-up story featuring a character that I had created a few years earlier (in 1975) that was basically a spoof of Spider-Man; the continuing chronicles of a guy named Dewey Dimpster, known to [some of] the world as The Astonishing Squirrel-Man! The humor was very much along the lines of The Tick (but way before)...The storyline built to a climax that had the half-baked hero mixing it up with a delusional homeless man who calls himself The Chameleon (because he thinks he can turn into different people and things). Few people stop to watch the fight, less than that even care --just another day in New York City. Here's the first couple of pages...before I ran out of time and zip-a-tone.

(Man, my lettering really sucked!) I was just goofy enough back then to get some of the industry professionals of the day to whip up some sketches of ol' Squirrelly in attempts to smear some added credibility and/or legitimancy on the character. So here's a couple of never-before seen pro-sketches of S-Man now...both done around in 1979-'80. ( I'd have one by John Byrne here too if he wasn't such a jerk to his fans back then...)
First by the late, great Gil Kane! (who was super-nice and genuinely seemed to like the character.)

Paul Gulacy thought it was kinda funny too. I paid him for the sketch at the Atlanta summer con, but he ran out of time doing an impromptu Elvis Costello album cover and he wound up having to mail it to me (It showed up at my parents about a month later). I was really flattered that he put so much time and detail into it.

While in college in 1981 I started thinking about redesigning the character for animation. I think the old MGM Rudolph Ising cartoon The Lonesome Stranger had been on TBS that morning and wound up being an influence on this proposed retooling. (However my instructors --already annoyed that I tried to give half the assignments they gave me an animated slant-- assured me then and there that "animation is a dead art's way too expensive and time consuming for anybody with any sense to care anything about it ever again". My last day of school they advised me that I had lots of potential, but I needed to "grow up and forget about the Flintstones". I couldn't leave fast enough.)

Then for 20 some odd years the drawings sat in a drawer...but in the summer of 2004 wound up pitching some older properties of mine including Squirrel-Man to Cartoon Network. I worked up some new materials for several show pitches (including the first piece in this post) including one I co-created with Dave Newton in 1983 The Savage Fish, and let 'em fly. Initially they were shot down, but there may be some hope yet.

So, a couple of months after my pitch I heard that Cartoon Network was working on a new show called Squirrel Boy. I inquired and was assured it was just a coincidence, and that he wasn't a Superhero or anything, -- just a dumb fat kid that hangs out with a squirrel. Still, any character called Squirrel-blank didn't make me feel any better, coincidence or not. NOW I pick up the latest issue of Marvel's The Thing (#8) and there's a character in it called Squirrel-GIRL and she IS a Superhero, and can communicate with Squirrels and junk.
I figured --that tears it...I'd better get on on the stick before there's a lawsuit...and I lose. (plus it's also an excuse to show the Realm art, and the unpublished Gil Kane and Paul Gulacy pieces to boot!) There's some other big pieces I did of SM and some Kirby-style cosmic villians my senior year of High school...If they don't make me puke when I finally find 'em I' ll take some pictures and run 'em in a later post.

So, for now...and for what it's worth... ta-dah!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The National Lampoon sunday newspaper parody had a Squirrel Man (ala Spiderman) comic in the comics supplement. Same kind of set up. Same nuts pun, I believe.

Sorry to tell you, but forewarned is forearmed. This kind of thing has happened to me too.

Keep your chin up,

4:13 PM

Blogger C. Martin Croker said...

I'd thought about adressing that...Somebody showed that to me for the first time in college and it blew me away! Not only was it also Squirrel-Man but here it was actually an out-and-out parody of the Spider-Man newspaper comic! (yep, complete with nut jokes) But if I was going to mention it at all, I wanted make sure I had my facts straight ...and I couldn't find my mid-80's reprint copy to double-check things. But since you bring it up...
If I remember it correctly I came up with my version first, (even still, JR III claimed later that I'd inadvertantly ripped off his character "The Flying Squirrel") but the Lampoon parody actually saw print first. Theirs was a one-time direct satire, and mine was an same-spirit "ongoing saga", so I thought it was kind of a moot point...
Especially since we never printed another issue LONG before I was even made aware of The National Lampoon one-pager. I just looked at it as a (albeit unfortunate) "whoda thunkit?" coincidence. I guess if the character ever sells big I may have to take out his hyfen or something. While we're on the subject though, Dave Newton told me that a couple of years ago, a local radio morning show did some "Squirrel-Man" segments, and it too was basically a Spider-Man parody. (Only this guy actually ate his nuts...they were radioactive). PLUS-- There was some "Mystery Men" type movie out a few years ago that had a character in it called "The Dirt Squirrel". Okay, I think that's everything I'm aware of. Thanks large for the comment though. I'm more than happy to adress the matter, I just needed a good segue!

6:21 PM

Blogger Matthew I. Jenkins said...

Oh man! I love this post! With all that art, your fanzine sure kicks all the asses of the ones from when I went to high school. Love those covers. And the back story to the whole JR III, DN, et al., Atlanta crew!

By the way, when has John Byrne ever NOT been a jerk to his fans! (I made the big mistake of showing him some rather lousy, amatuerish FF pages of mine, years ago! Woops!)

10:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha ha! I remember seeing Byrne at a con in the 80s when he was at the height of his power. He was an arrogant, nasty man even on the top. I can't imagine him today, with his position having diminished so greatly in the comics community. Read the transcript of the Marv Wolfman v. Marvel trial regarding the rights to "Blade", and see how Byrne treats a longtime friend.

Love this blog!

2:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not trying to jump on the Bryne is an ass bandwagon, but ditto. I had a reprint copy of some x-men comic he did that I tried to get him to sign at Dragon Con a while ago. Long line, one comic and when I got up I was astonished to find him brandish a stamp of his signature that he pounded on the comic and then said "Next!" What he doesn't sign reprints?

Doesn't it suck when people come up with similar ideas? I just created a peanut character that has three chambers or nuts or whatever, and the third nut on top of his head is his siamese twin. Two weeks later I see the same gag in an online comic. I'm not saying the copied it, but damn I was miffed. I thought my concept was safe. Eh.

10:44 AM

Anonymous Dave Neutron said...

Ahem...I just picked up the Marvel Visonaires Steve Ditko volume and there's an Iron Man story in it featuring a character called Squirrel Girl. She seems like she could be a very close relative of Squirrel Man...its the wackiest Iron Man story I've ever read, and the most embarrassing defeat ever for Dr. Doom. I'll have to bring it over to your pad, you've got to read this story to believe it...

10:16 AM


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