This ain’t no April Fool’s joke: this week, a full plate of daily wonders will be posted here.

I’ve opened the SpiderBaby Archives wide, and will be alternating two sets of posts all week long:

srblittlebroscvr2* The first SpiderBaby Archival April special began yesterday:

The second SpiderBaby Sketchbooks series will be exploring the subterranean realm of novelist Rick Hautala’s Little Brothers, which Michael Zulli and I tried to bring to market as a four-issue comics miniseries back in 1990-92. (Art at left ©1992, 2009 Stephen R. Bissette; Little Brothers title/concept ©1988, 1992, 2009 Rick Hautala.)

I’ll be posting much of the process, including excerpts from the fat proposal binder we circulated back in the day.

  • Just scroll down or hit this link and start the Little Brothers proposal process, from initial sketches to final fate (to date).
  • Keep close watch (and please, post your own!) on the comments thread — we’ve already got both Rick Hautala and Michael Zulli weighing in! Could this become a Little Brothers reunion? I reckon it already is!

  • (In case you missed it, or want to revisit it, the first SpiderBaby Sketchbook presentation was the four-part Rawhead Rex showcase, which began here — click this link — on March 6th, and continued thru March 7, 8 and 9.)
  • * The second SpiderBaby Archival special is very special indeed, and I hope most of you will find it worthwhile reading — I know the graphics are going to open some eyes. Wide.

    Alternating this and part of next week with the SpiderBaby Sketchbook Little Brothers gallery will be a full-blown revelatory analysis of what went into the creation of Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 — Alan Moore’s historic first issue of the series.

    This material has never been seen before, anywhere.

    I’d like to keep it that way, too.

    Some ground rules: Please respect these rules, and please report to me (via comments thread or email — any breaking of these rules.

    If all goes well, I’ll do more of this at Myrant; if the virtual archives are robbed, so to speak, this will be the last and only time I get into process on Swamp Thing on the internet.

    Believe me, I have tons of material to share — I kept everything! – but I’m asking for a few basic groundrules to be followed:

    1. Post links to the relevant Myrant posts; please do NOT lift the graphics to place them on your own blog, journal or website.
    2. Please do NOT lift these posts, and my text, verbatim and place them on your blog, journal, flicker pages or whatever.
    3. Please note all copyright notices at the end of each post, and respect them. I do not own this copyright material, nor do I claim to; I am sharing it here (with correct copyright ownership noted) to share this material with fans, scholars and researchers.
    4. If there are any problems, I’ll just tear this all down and abandon the project.

    Please, help me maintain some order, and let’s see where this goes. Thanks!

    I’ll be tracing the work that went into the opening and climactic pages of SOTST #20, from Alan’s opening script letter to editor (and Swamp Thing co-creator) Len Wein — (note, please, nothing personal will be shared and I will not be posting addresses or signatures) –
    srbsotst20mooreltr– to Alan’s original script for the opening pages. We’ll also be seeing and comparing Dan Day’s pencils on through to John Totleben’s inks and Tatjana Wood’s colors.

    I’m kicking off this Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 dissection — an anatomy lesson of the issue before “The Anatomy Lesson,” if you will — here and now, today.

    johntotelben1978(Right: Photo of John Totleben circa 1978, four or five years before we began work on Saga of the Swamp Thing; photo ©1978, 2009 Tom Foxmarnick, posted with permission.)

    I’m kicking off this Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 dissection — an anatomy lesson of the issue before “The Anatomy Lesson,” if you will — here and now, today, with an opening post that I dedicate to my dear friend John Totleben.

    John and me met upon his arrival at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, Inc. in Dover, NJ in the fall of 1977, when John showed up as part of the school’s second-ever freshmen class. He was a lean, lanky longhair from Erie, PA and drew circles around every one of us, with an already astonishing facility with pen, brush and ink and extraordinary painting chops that came from having enjoyed an exceptional high school art education that remains rare indeed. John immediately hit it off with everyone, it seemed, and bonded quickly with yours truly and my fellow seniors (in a two-year program) Rick Veitch and Tom Yeates.

    John was swept up in short order by Joe Kubert’s own mentor: Harry “A” Chesler was a sort of omnipresent ‘godfather’ of the school, and Harry recognized John’s potential. While Rick, Tom and our classmates graduated from the Kubert School in the spring of 1978, Harry had already engaged John to work on a pet project of Harry’s I’ll talk more about later. John never graduated from the Kubert School; he instead moved in with Veitch, Yeates and yours truly when we rented a house a short walk from the school and we all launched our pro careers together.

    As I’ve written here and elsewhere, it was John who had the greatest affinity and love for Berni Wrightson and Len Wein’s beloved Swamp Thing. When Tom Yeates landed the Saga of the Swamp Thing pencilling and inking gig from the launch of the series, John was assisting Tom from the get-go, visiting Tom’s new digs on the shore of Lake Hopatcong, NJ. John’s hand remains evident in Saga of the Swamp Thing from the second issue, and John and I assumed the art chores officially with SOTST #16 (by which time we’d both pitched in, credited and uncredited, on various prior issues to keep Tom on schedule).

    [Addendum posted March 19, 2010: I will post a full SOTST chronology soon, but for the time being, please keep in mind the following as you read on. I have just -- a full year after this original post went up -- found my old sketchbook in which I kept careful notes and a full chronology of my freelance work from 1977-1985. All quotes in this addendum are from that source.

    Here's the proper series of events:

    October 1982: John Totleben and I complete five pages of Swamp Thing samples -- "2 character sheets & a 3-pg. sequence -- pencils by me, inks by Totleben" -- off-hours during a Ledgewood Holiday Inn (NJ) two-week gig "designing line of TSR D&D plastic figures under supervision of Tim Truman..." We turn in our samples to SOTST editor Len Wein on October 25, 1982.

    December 1982: "John & I land Swamp Thing, beginning #16."

    January 1983: "John & I do more Swamp Thing sample pgs. - 4 pg. 'Swamp Thing meets NUKEFACE' - plot & pencils by Totleben, inks on pgs. 1, 2 & 4 by Bissette (pg. 3 kept as pencil sample) - FAILS! Too bad." Len made his final decision -- I pencil, John inks -- for the team, and I begin work on SOTST #16 on 1/22/83

    March 1983: Finish SOTST #16 pencils 3/83, start pencils on SOTST #17 3/20/83. My daughter Maia Rose is born at home at the end of April.

    May 1983: "Finish SOTST #17 - informed by Len that Marty's last issue as writer will be #19; Alan Moore (Warrior) will take over with #20!!!"

    June 1983: "Finish SOTST #18 frame -- 3 1/2 pgs."

    July 1983: "Finish SOTST #19 pencils - Marty's last, drawn from plot (dictated over phone by overworked, near-nuts Marty, 3 pgs. at a time!)" John and Dan Day were working on SOTST #20 throughout this same time period, placing work on SOTST #20 in July 1983.

    Note this very sketchbook contains all the script notes dictated by Marty from which I penciled the issue, and (sadly undated) notes on SOTST #20 citing specific visual materials and references I had to provide to Dan Day

    August 1983: "Finish SOTST #21 pencils - my first from XLNT Alan Moore script."

    These dates are the correct ones, superceding anything else I wrote, conjectured or that anyone else conjectured (see comments) in this original 6-part essay. - SRB, March 19, 2010]

    So, for the first time ever, here’s the historic first page of Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 — the never-before-seen pencils by Dan Day:

    (Pencil art by Dan Day; Saga of the Swamp Thing is © and ® 1982, 2009 DC Comics, Inc.)

    – and here’s what John did with Dan’s pencils.

    I leave it to you to make the comparisons and note what John was bringing to the pages.


    (Inked art by John Totleben, over pencils by Dan Day; Saga of the Swamp Thing is © and ® 1982, 2009 DC Comics, Inc.)

    (PS: Next week, after the SOTST #20 analysis, I’ll also share some of the work John and I had done before Alan joined the party, including my pencils from our first issues as a team.)

    OK, keep an eye on Myrant all week! Lots of surprises to come!

    gaiman_prince* Comics collector, historian and scholar extraordinaire Bob Heer continues to prompt discussion of some of the revelations Hank Wagner, Chris Golden and I share in the pages of Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman.

  • Bob gets into the current stage of affairs with Marvelman/Miracleman on his excellent blog/journal Four Realities — here’s the link.
  • Bob, you’ve single-handedly written more about Prince of Stories than anyone else in the known universe in a mere two posts. Sigh — but thanks for that!

    The Marvelman/Miracleman news I uncovered was far more extensive, but it was Chris Golden’s and my task to boil it down to what you see in Prince of Stories.

    By the end of the process, I confess to being so sure that the Marvelman/Miracleman material would NOT see print again anytime in the near future that I bit the bullet(s) and purchased the lowest-priced copies I could find anywhere online of the Eclipse collections — every one of ‘em. They weren’t cheap, but I know for a fact now they won’t be getting any cheaper anytime soon. It was a mighty expenditure, but well worth it.

    I’m presently working on an expanded version of that chapter (all new text and wording, so I’m not in conflict with my contract with St. Martin’s) for a planned project I hope to publish in the future. Having tracked down copies of the original UK Marvelman Annuals (and some issues of the comics) in the meantime, it’s my goal to make this piece definitive.

    FYI, I found out more than we were allowed to print (St. Martin’s legal department rigorously combed the chapter published in Prince – I’d done my job so well there was nothing we had to cut, save for space reasons), and some of that will be in the expanded essay. Emotiv is the firm now owning the Mick Anglo rights, and while I coaxed a bit more info out of them, the quote in Prince is literally all they would permit to see print.

    I’ve more to say, but I’ll save it for later.

    Discussion (16) ¬

    1. David Lee Ingersoll

      I really enjoyed Dan Day’s art on other projects but, wow, I’m so glad Totleben was around to add his magic to the finishes. Spectacular work.

    2. BobH

      Thanks for the link. Though I wouldn’t classify myself as either a historian or a scholar. Those labels tend to carry too much responsibility. Or rather, they should, even if they don’t in the real world. I like being an enthusiastic fan, which I think gives me more leave to make mistakes and inject opinion.

      I guess with regards to Miracleman/Marvelman, I might err in making too many assumptions about the basic rationality of all the players on the field, which makes me optimistic since my favoured solution also seems to also be the most rational. You having dealt with many of them directly have reason to see certain of the players as perhaps fundamentally irrational and maybe willing to embrace a “burn the village to save the village” paradigm.

      I’ll definitely hang on to my original issues until the news gets better.

      On to Swamp Thing #20, man, that definitely inking above and beyond the call. Day’s version seems to very much be the Yeates version with maybe a hint of the movie design, so I wonder what he was given for reference? In the issues you and Totleben had already done there was already an evolution away from that look, so I can see why he’d have to update it.

    3. Mark Masztal

      I think the credits should have read rough layouts Dan Day and finished layouts and inks John Totleben. John’s inks are amazing on that piece. It shows just how damn good of an artist he is.
      I wish I could ink like that.

    4. Mark Clegg

      Hi Steve,

      I placed the following in my current draft to my introduction to my Understanding Comics. Let me know if it violates your conditions. If it does I’ll rework it.

      “Steve Bissette met John Totleben upon his arrival at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, Inc. in Dover, New Jersey in the fall of 1977, when Totleben showed up as part of the school’s second-ever freshmen class.”

      Just trying to make it as accurate as possible.


      Mark Clegg

    5. Mark Clegg

      P.S.- Do you have a date for that letter from Alan Moore? It is those kinds of tiny details I find fascinating. I know that issue was done on a very tight deadline, but I’d love to know just how tight.

      –Mark Clegg

    6. srbissette

      See today’s (Tuesday, March 31st) post, Mark. No dates on any of these documents, anywhere — best I can guess is noted in Part 2 of this archival overview.

      As for your noted revision: Feel free to quote, with footnote as to source, please.

    7. srbissette

      Mark, as noted in today’s (March 31st) Part 2 post, Dan Day was working under heavy deadline pressure — and on a book and character he’d never drawn before.

      I think Bob Heer’s comment is correct: I suspect Dan’s references, along with the Tom Yeates issues, were possibly the Wes Craven film (1981, and already on home video by 1983) and possibly the Paul Gulacy Swamp Thing movie portfolio that Eclipse (!!!) had published. Though John and I had established our own approach to the character by SOTST #19, Dan would most likely have not seen that material — and Yeates was still the SOTST artist of choice at the time, having drawn 15 issues.

    8. Jim Keefe

      Appreciate the behind the scenes on Swamp Thing and also Totleben. I graduated from the Kubert school in 1989. Your interview for the Comics Journal is how I ended up finding out about the school in the first place, so a belated thanks!

    9. srbissette

      Thanks, Jim, and great to have a fellow XQB aboard. There’s lots more to come. Glad to hear my TCJ did some good for somebody out there — you never know until somebody tells you.

    10. Kim DeMulder

      I had the great pleasure of assisting Tom on an issue of Swampy along with John. We both were working in Tom’s Hopatcong digs, and it’s still a special memory of mine!

    11. Max

      Fascinating stuff! You and John produced some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen, thank you for taking us “behind the scenes” on this phenomenal series.

    12. srbissette

      Thanks, Max, and more to come!

    13. Jp Pollard

      Seeing those Totleben inks in comparison to the pencils is a blast. I have always been in awe of John’s work and love hearing these behind the scenes stories. Fun to see a picture of the young John T also. I went to college for Comic Art as well and have often wondered what it was like for those first of you who who attended the Kubert school. Thanks!

    14. Gregory Baisden

      Hello, Steve.
      A long time since Tundra, eh?
      Wishing to avoid details here, I would greatly enjoy comparing notes with you about Marvel/Miracleman. Write me at the above e-mail?
      all the best, GSB

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