Monday, October 12, 2009

Everyone has to Start Somewhere!


As promised in my previous blog, today at my webcomics site (rhadventures.com) I begin posting never-before-seen stories from my series, Rob Hanes Adventures, that date back to the 1980s! The first self-titled story went live in its entirety today. Then on Friday, the second story will begin serializing, with a new page appearing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After that story concludes in early November, the third story will begin.

As noted earlier, these stories—"Rob Hanes," "Loyalties," and "Koman"—were the first completed that were intended for publication, and were used to show to potential publishers. I say "intended for publication," because as anyone familiar with my work knows, the character was actually created in the mid-1970s and envisioned as a syndicated comic strip patterned after classic adventure strips like Terry and the Pirates (samples of these early efforts have appeared periodically in the comic-book series).

But it wasn't until after college that I became more serious about publishing the series. Throughout college I kept a sketchbook and saw steady improvement in my work; afterwards, however, I began to focus on producing finished work for print that was polished and professional looking, using the correct tools of the trade. The three stories being released at rhadventures.com are the first of these efforts completed. When one is starting out, getting through a full story requires a lot of discipline and concentration, so completing these stories was quite satisfying, proving to myself I could indeed do it. (There's an old axiom in the comics business along the lines of, "Your first 1000 pages are going to be crap, so you might as well get those pages out of the way as quickly as possible!")

By this time, the independent/alternative comics movement was in full swing, which also probably provided me some additional impetus to work on the series. Up until the '80s, with a few rare exceptions, comics primarily featured only superheroes and consisted of pretty much only two publishers, DC and Marvel, which limited one's options. However, the rise of the direct-sales market in the '80s, and the appearance of independent publishers which produced more alternative work like Cerebus, American Flagg, and Love and Rockets, gave me some hope that there might actually be a niche for the series.

When I completed these stories, I sent proposal packets to numerous publishers. As mentioned in my earlier post, Renegade Press actually picked up the series. Unfortunately, the company went under in 1988 before the first issue was released.

These early efforts obviously are the work of a different artist—the work is much more cartoony and, as one can see, I wasn't using zipatone shading yet, so the work is pretty stark and flat. Though the figurework is expressive, it's still rather stiff and a lot of the proportions are off—Rob's head and the head of the female lead, Samantha Archer, seem a bit too large in some shots (not helped, admittedly, by the very '80s mullet cuts featured in the stories). The inking is nothing to write home about but at least fairly clean. (I think I was primarily using a waterproof rolling ball writer at the time). Hey, it was a start!

As for the story, while again perhaps not as polished as my work today, I must admit that in re-reading it, I find the story and dialogue fairly concise and to the point: Rob's character and his reputation at the agency and his relationship with his boss, Gabriel Evans Girard, and with his co-workers at Justice International are fairly sharply defined. And I wrapped it all up in only 16 pages!

Since most comics are by design a periodical/serial medium, comics fans tend to get fixated on continuity and consistency. As such, I don't consider these stories official series canon, not only because they were a freshman effort but also because of some inconsistencies longtime readers will notice the stories have with the current continuity.

For example, the main "villain" of this piece is Jarret Cox, a fellow agent at Justice International. Anyone familiar with the current series will know that Cox is currently a major recurring character in the Rob Hanes Adventures universe: he is one of Rob's primary CIA handlers who, though he still has it in for Rob, nevertheless is not a corrupt turncoat as he appears in this first story. I always liked Cox's character design and the natural tension he brought as someone who didn't like Hanes, so when I decided to re-boot the series early on, I made Cox part of the regular cast of secondary characters.

Cox's two henchmen, seen in the very first pages of the story, are also minor secondary characters (click on the page image above to see the characters in more detail). The one with the thin shades is Clemson, seen intermittently in the current series as a lieutenant to international crimelord Nicolai Korda (Clemson's backstory describes him as a former CIA agent, though I'm not sure that's ever been explicitly revealed in the series); the other character, with the curly hair and mustache, is Rocco. Though he hasn't appeared much in the current series aside from "Introducing Rob Hanes" which appears in the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback collection), he was actually among the first characters ever created for the series and appeared frequently in earlier story outlines before I began working on the series as a comic-book series. Always intended as a kind of mob-type enforcer, his calling cards were that he never spoke and always wore a leather leisure-suit style jacket. Remember, I created him in the '70s, but I must admit this look still suits the character!

Anyway, as I have said, these stories are presented purely as an historical curiosity: while it's certainly rough and amateurish, at least it's clear that I've come a long way since these early efforts!

Next up, I'll talk about the second story, "Loyalties."

1 comment:

John Ellis said...

Hey Randy! Thanks for sharing this...looking forward to the other two!

John Ellis
The Milton Caniff Estate