Friday, December 9, 2011

Arche-Lady Primer: effort and quality

When I first began the series, it was intended for my own amusement, and that of my friends (despite how widely I was dispersing or not, at the moment).

But periodically, I would infuse additional effort into the series, whether it was story, art, or both. And other times, I would lapse into a hiatus, producing nothing at all.

When I began scanning the series, I would get excited or wince, depending on what I was looking at. Some of the original material I think is still pretty good (for my skills and abilities at the time) and some of it was just crap.

From time to time, I've read through the series from its start, in minimal doses, with Sven, Piotr, and Matt. But the pace of reading never produced any deeper observations. As I walked down memory lane, scanning page after page in rapid succession, I then reflected on where I was, in location, in spirit, in happiness.

I saw a direct correlation: the happier I was, the more effort I put into the series, and the better it was; the less happy, the worse it was, or I'd lapse into hiatus. Of course, it may also be said that the more effort I put into the series, the happier I was. Likely, it's something of both, as art and life intertwine for me.

It was great for me to see this, and hash over some of the darker and happier moments in my past. Especially because many of the stories were metaphors for my life at the moment. Sometimes subconsciously done, sometimes thinly veiled, sometimes overt. The most interesting, of course, are the metaphors I didn't realize I was making.

Of course, my "artistic sensibility" played a role, as well. I can see that the best stories are ones that ARE the metaphors, and statements on my life, the events of it, and the people in it. The worst stories are the ones when I focused too much on "plot" and trying too hard to be a "real" comic book.

From the start, the series was not meant to be serious. It was light-hearted and campy. Mid-1993, came up with plans for the trajectory of the series, and its grand finale at episode #100, if I ever made it that far. Well, I did, to my own surprise! By the time I was there, I was putting a lot of effort into my comic stories and art, and #100 was to be a swan song. I decided to be very serious, treat each page like a portfolio piece, while spoofing typical 100th issues of comic books in tone, content, etc. I was pretty proud of the result.

When Xavier was visiting me this spring, he read through the series with shocking delight—bith what I liked and what I thought was crap. Until he hit #100, which he said was awful. AWFUL! We discussed and debated, and while he "got" what I was trying to do, he said the complete loss of camp was not in keeping with the rest of the series, and the camp is what made the series enjoyable despite its fluctuating quality.

I get it...and certainly, I was trying to wrap up a complex "plot" which I'd already observed was my weak spot. Oh well. I hope my efforts in the post-series (Arche-Lady SPECIAL # 10, Astro-Boy Quarterly #s 1-4, as well as the new-for-2011 Arche-Lady SPECIAL # 11) repair some of the damage I did with #100.

NOT TOMORROW, BUT SOON: buy Arche-Lady SPECIAL # 11!!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Arche-Lady Primer: the surrounds

Wow, this is where I really start to get obsessed.

The series predominantly takes place in a fictional city, in an undisclosed location. But with episode #9, the Mayor officially changes the city name to Arche-City as a way to thank the heroine who has saved it so many times.

Of course, her ancestral mansion and its underground Arche-Lair is several miles outside of the city proper. It is connected to the city by a subway tunnel for her private use. More on the subway later.

Adjacent to the city was a small island, known as “M City” which was mysteriously not connected to Arche-City…always eluded to, but no stories took place there. Many stories take place on Science Isle, where Professor Peppercorn maintains an extensive complex.

But most oddly of all, many stories take place in Eastern Europe. When the series began in the early 90s, the Iron Curtain had just fallen and the mystery of forbidden lands now open to us and our imagination. Add to it the mysticism of places like Transylvania, and it was ripe for all sort of un-Earthly activity. The Freak, the Tomato Witch from the small nation of Tomatia, the tiny demon, and many more, found their roots in Eastern Europe. Hence, Arche-Lady had to go there a lot.

Early in the series, I created a rough city map, with a subway system, calling out key districts of the city. Over time, the map evolved to include neighborhoods, major thoroughfares, and points of interest. All utilized in the series. Places such as the Famed Institute for Insane Persons, the Northside Home for Unwanted Children, the Happy Harbour School for Girls, the Rocky Point Boys’ Academy, M University, the Belbicon, the Arche-monument, and Miriam Blvd.

Over time, the map grew in detail, and those details were fed into the stories. Named streets and the street grid appeared in backgrounds. The end result was a to-scale map of the city, with maybe about 75% of the streets names, most neighborhoods named, and key places (stadiums, parks, transit stations) named. Yes, TO SCALE.

The city evolves as many do, and though the street pattern is relatively stable, the names change quite often. Once, my friend Adam was blessed with a street, but then he annoyed me and it was changed. Things like that.

But the subway is a different story. Putting the Paris Metro to shame, the most efficient and useful system is always changing, and under experimentation. You see, the city is built atop a series of caves, so all that needs to be done is throw down some track and open a new station. It’s that easy!

But, then, sadly, in early March 2009, this all came to a screeching halt—my copy of Adobe Illustrator stopped working. So the city may sat dormant for years, and people of influence in my life went unrecognized on the map. Until my PC crashed earlier this year, and this time when I reinstalled AI, it worked!

So, the map was updated! Adam didn’t get his street reinstated, but he got a neighborhood. Robert—obsessed with dogs—got a park in the neighborhood of Dogtown (which was named many years prior, after the 'hood in Saint Louis). And after some investment in mass transit and a bi-city vote, M City became absorbed into Arche-City, and the streets named, inspired by details of Matt’s life.

Of course, Miriam holds the record of most number of things named for her in the greater metropolitan area!

TOMORROW: tracking the series quality against my personal happiness, 1991-2001

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Arche-Lady Primer: the villains

For every hero, there is a villain; or in Arche-Lady’s case, dozens.

The villains were inspired by friends who could take teasing and strangers I saw from afar with striking physical characteristics. But mostly, villains were inspired by people who annoyed me. Co-workers, bosses, dates, clerks, waiters, strangers.

Most villains appeared but once, and in the rare case, twice. Villains with silly powers, stupid costumes, and absolutely no chance of defeating Arche-Lady. Among them: Macho-Gal; Little Debbie, the snack cake queen; Bloody Nose; Monkey Face; Big Feet; Insane Laughing Girl; Apple Brown Betty; The In-Breds; What-Not; the Technoids; Skinny Girl & the Lush; the Salad-Master; Mommy Cheeseburg; Cloth-Child; Pineapple Princess; the Bed-Wetter; the Flake; the Sun-King; the Effeminate Cowboy; the Creepy Thug; Myra the assassin; Turtle-Girl; Raisin; the Sweetheart; the tiny demon; Victor Von Freak, known to the world as the Freak; the Tomato Witch and the Tomato-Men; the Sludge Men and the Grand Sludge. Each a classic.

But a handful rose to the top and became recurring characters:

Doctor Glax was the super-scientist who couldn’t stay in prison. Let’s say there was nothing terribly interesting about him, except he was a great “the reason behind” any random plot I came up with. He had a penchant for imbibing others with super-powers, to foil Arche-Lady. As a super-genius, he was too smart to cross swords with her directly (often).

Panther Pam went insane when her husband left her. She sought to claim Astro-Boy as her mate. Presumed dead, she later turned up as a pawn of an evil business man and is still at large. With each appearance, her new costume was inspired by a classic cat-themed character (Batman TV show’s Catwoman, the '40s Huntress, the '80s redux of Wildcat, the '90s redux of the Jaguar).

The Wizard
’s purpose for recurrence was that he was Rich’s favorite villain. He would be trounced hard by Arche-Lady each time, simply to irritate Rich. He is pretty powerful though, having created an entire magical realm to live in, and repaired his neck which Arche-Lady broke.

Vix-N the galactic tramp
was exiled by her homeworld for starting an intergalactic war. Her breasts has the power to enslave men. She sluttily returned time and time again to vex Arche-Lady. Ultimately, she and her emissaries, the Snee, returned to her homeworld.

The upper sketch is of the 4 recurring villains. The lower is a page from the in-color retelling of episode 12 that I did in 1999. It gives you a flavor of the villain battle formula.

Fish-philes know that I used to customize Mego action figures quite often. At one point, I had accumulated enough parts to customize the entire recurring cast of the series. However, only two were ever produced: the Wizard, and Panther Pam; both reside in Los Angeles as gifts to Rich.

TOMORROW: the surrounds

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Arche-Lady Primer: the allies

Delving into the world of Arche, we first look to her myriad of friends and side-kicks.

From the start (and much to Miriam’s chagrin), a side-kick (often inept) has been attached to Arche-Lady. Her first (and the only she liked) was her telekinetic, telepathic, super-smart retriever named Dog-Matic. He bow-wowed out of the series at its start, having found Astro-Boy as his replacement.

Astro-Boy was a fixture for many years, and the first 50 episodes of the comic. Never quite able to control his awesome “astro-blast,” he was captured and beaten up quite often. Over the course of the series, he was replaced by a robot, irreversibly change into a fish for 11 episodes, permanently encased in crystal for 27 episodes, and sent to the realm of the What-Not as their cosmic prince, forever. He returned just a few months later, with amnesia, but soon regained his memory.

After Astro-Boy, came a string of sidekicks, some lasting but a single episode: Twister (whose tornado powers were a result of the tornado virus, which ultimately exploded him from within); Cave-Boy (a prehistoric teen paired with Arche-Lady the devilish Devil-Toe to annoy the heroine); Gravity-Girl (a former villain turned good, who was apparently crushed by an exploding dam); Nova-Boy (who gave up the hero biz to become a dentist); Perfect-Boy (who turned out to be Astro-Boy’s surplus genetic make-up, and merged with his doppelganger in episode #100); and Multi-Boy (boy of 1000 talents).

Tired of sidekicks, she sanctioned the formation of her Teen Auxiliary (a nod to my favorite teen team, the Teen Titans). The initial roster included recurring teen allies Better-Girl and Rachel Moon, plus Perfect-Boy and Multi-Boy. Rachel was swapped out immediately for Johnny Magnet, and later Sunflower joined. The new Lady-Bird Beetle Lady and Cave-Boy became reserve members, and it was revealed that Better-Girl, Sparky, and Moon-Beam had been unofficially banded together prior to Arche-Lady’s official sanction.

Her doddering mentor, Professor Emile Peppercorn appeared throughout the series. His invention/plot device, the Ximometer, saved the day more than once. He maintains a lab in the science district of Arche-City, as well as an entire facility on Science Isle in the south Pacific. He cured Tiffany of the dreaded Hell-Hound curse, therefore curing another of Arche-Lady’s teen allies, Flying Boy, of his insanity. He also invented a power-dampener so that another teen ally, Kid Jinx, could live a normal life.

Mimi Chandler was introduced into the series as a friendly rival to Arche-Lady after being the protagonist in my mini comics Sigmund & Friends, which I created in junior high school. Mimi could and had done anything: model, astronaut, police woman, short order cook, reporter. She now runs a travel magazine. Another friendly rival was the “can-do dare-doll” Lorna Van Duane. Far less versatile, but far more action-y than Mimi, Lorna was a strong, graceful, beautiful ass-kicker.

In the man-department, Arche-Lady had three fellows she could rely on in a pinch. It was always ambiguous to what extent did their relationships reach with the heroine. Certainly, there was much innuendo. The Week-End Jock, Doc Marten Man, and Christopher Gallant, though each a masculine power house in his own right, could never quite hold a candle to the amazing Arche-Lady.

Most (but not all) of the allies are based on my friends and people I admire.

TOMORROW: the villains

Monday, December 5, 2011

Arche-Lady Primer: the series, the lady

Some people know, others don’t: for a decade, I wrote and drew campy mini-comics featuring a super-heroine named Arche-Lady.

Arche, from Greek: beginning, origin or first cause; power, sovereignty, domination.

It all began when my friend Miriam received a present from her sister (in the fall of 1991) of a pair of super-hero-ish shoes, brand Arche. She asked me to draw a thank you note, which I did. And, according to Greek, what a beginning! It led to a number of appearances in my mini-comic series Ten Minute Cartoons. And, eventually, to her own series. Originally titled The New Adventures of Arche-Lady and Astro-Boy, it was shortened with #51 to The Adventures of Arche-Lady. There were also 10 annual specials titled The Arche-Lady SPECIAL.

The series proper ended late 2000, but a spin-off series featuring her former side-kick Astro-Boy ran in 2001-2002, and the last special was in 2001, commemorating the heroine’s 10th anniversary.

It struck me late last year that 2011 is the 20th anniversary. I couldn’t let it go unnoticed! I decided to compile the original series into two 500-page volumes. I scanned, and scanned, and scanned. Then inspiration hit to create an all-new special.

It was going along at a good clip, until I became embroiled in a kitchen renovation, and was hired to write and draw an excerpt of Wuthering Heights. So, I slowed to a crawl. Further, my comics pals who graciously agreed to color the stories became embroiled in other work, too.

Here we are, December, with no jumbo compilations in sight. However, a B&W Arche-Lady SPECIAL #11 is on its way!

To prepare you, I thought it best to tell you a little about the lady herself.

My point of inspiration is my dear friend Miriam. Her shtick is to say horribly mean and conceited things, pretty much to me only. Then we laugh and laugh. She kills me. That mean and conceited brass is Arche-Lady’s leading characteristic. She never wears the same costume twice. She never shows cleavage.

She has no super-powers per se. Thought her “keen wit, concentrated righteousness, and super savoir-faire” gets her out of lots of scrapes. Often, her presence alone is enough to halt crime. It has been revealed that she was a quadruple major in university; hence she graduated second in her class. She is extraordinarily brilliant, though doesn’t spend much time creating gadgets. The only invention of note is the amazing Arche-Mobile.

Arche-Lady comes from a long line of super-heroes; her father was once known as Wing-Tip Man, and her mother was Saddle-Shoe Sally. They turned over their vast fortune, crime lab, and family mansion to her when she came of crime-fighting age. They turned up once in a while during the series, but mostly cruise around the globe in their luxury yacht. In her secret identity, she is a world famous accordionist. Her true name has never been revealed in the series.

At the conclusion of the 100 issue series, Arche-Lady slipped into an “ageless coma” after being exposed to Cosmic Devil radiation. In 2006, when I first thought to compile the material, I wrote an intro and conclusion which adjusted people’s perception of what became of her dog, Dog-Matic, and also pulled her out of her coma. Basically, the Arche-Lady SPECIAL #11 picks up from there.

The special includes two solo shorties, one which heavily features her former side-kick Astro-Boy, and one that heavily features her former Teen Auxiliary. It launches at least 4 new sub-plots, which may or may not ever be resolved (in true Arche-fashion).

TOMORROW: the allies