Monday, December 7, 2009

Liner Notes for "Koman!"

As mentioned in earlier blogs, "Koman!"—now being serialized at the website—is the last of three stories originally produced in the 1980s but never released. These initial stories were produced on "spec" with no real plan at the time for how they were going to be released. Since they were my first attempts at doing work intended for print, they also functioned as learning exercises.

When I began publishing the series, I naturally started with my most current and representative work. ("The Care Package," released in March 1991 in a one-off Rob Hanes comic-book, was the first RH story to officially see print. The story was later included in the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback.) By the time I exhausted those stories and began going back to release my older work, I realized my first three stories were too crude compared to my current work, so they were shelved. As the series jelled, these early stories also fell out of continuity. For all these reasons, these three stories were not included in the above-mentioned Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback which collected the other early stories in the series that had appeared primarily in zine format but not in the regular comic-book series.

Nevertheless, "Koman!" was a real turning point for me. The earlier two stories—"Meet Rob Hanes" and "Loyalties"—introduced Rob as a new detective and the "odd man out" at Justice International, and provided the impetus for sending Rob overseas. Anyone familiar with the series will recognize that "Koman," a fictional Middle East country, is the locale for many other stories, including, "A Night on the Town," "The Two Lady Agathas," "The Assassin," "Masks," "The Care Package," and, more recently, in RHA #9, "Rescue in Koman." But it all started in "Koman!"

While Koman was not modeled on any one country, it included elements of places known at the time for instability like Lebanon and Yemen; and thanks to the continued volatility of the region, it shares many of the qualities associated with current hotspots like Afghanistan and Iraq. The common thread in the recent histories of these countries, which I tried to capture in the Koman stories, was the fracture among competing and warring factions along political, ethnic, and religious lines.

Since it was the early '80s, Koman was originally envisioned as a Cold War battleground, caught between the U.S./Western bloc and Soviet spheres of influence—with the U.S. backing a weak central government that controlled the more developed, metropolitan and westernized part of the country and the Soviets exploiting a "rebel" force made up of religious fundamentalists and disenfranchised ethnic groups and tribes that controlled the outlying areas.

Of course, with the end of the Cold War and the rise of fundamentalism, the Cold War piece has fallen away but the other factional splits remain in place. These are personalized in later stories by the figure of General Amra, a military strongman whom the U.S. supports, and Sayed Farsi, a moderate who leads a fragile coalition of rebel forces (both make cameos in "Rescue in Koman" in RHA #9). But given the volatility and rapidly-changing nature of the region, I decided to create a fictional locale for these stories. For the same reason Milton Caniff set his seminal adventure strip, Terry and the Pirates, in Asia because he saw the orient as "the last outpost of adventure" in the world, I saw the Middle East as having the same kind of potential for a wide range of adventure stories.

My goal has always been to eventually play out the Koman story arc in an adventure in which the country collapses and in which Rob might even be called to testify before Congress. This story is still in the cards, but I haven't yet felt the time is right yet for it.

But "Koman!" is also a turning point because it was a story in which I felt some real progress both as a writer and an artist—while it's still rough around the edges, I could take some satisfaction in knowing that I was improving. If you take a look at the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback, which collects the eight stories produced immediately after "Koman!," one can definitely see the steady evolution and growth in the series, and particularly the art.

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