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The Ones That Got Away – Star Trek Manga

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ST_POABack in 2006, Tokyopop, a US based publisher of Japanese style manga comics produced a volume of new manga style stories featuring the cast and concepts of the original Star Trek series. A couple of more volumes appeared in the following year, and as we were working with Tokyopop on GOD SHOP our planned manga series at the time, I was asked to pitch several story ideas for the Trek series. This was pretty much a dream come true to be asked to pitch for Star Trek. Although none of my ideas were picked, it was an honor to even be asked.

While hunting through some old files the other day I came across a document outlining those long forgotten attempts to help guide the adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and thought it might be fun to share a few of them here.

THE GAME

Two years after its original visit to Sigma Iota II (in 2268 in TOS episode “A Piece of the Action”) the Enterprise returns to see how its “gangster culture” has progressed. The planet is now run like late 20th Century Las Vegas with the “mobsters” controlling strings of casinos. The landing party is captured by the current boss and Kirk must play a high stakes card game for the lives of everyone being held hostage. The game is “Fizzbin” an imaginary game invented on the fly by Kirk as a ruse during their previous visit. However the Iotians – known to be highly impressionable – have developed the idea into a real game. Can Kirk bluff his way out of this one, or will he be forced to play a game where he doesn’t know the rules? As the game progresses it turns out that the game’s underlying complex logic means that it is Spock who is the best player and wins the crew’s freedom.

THE GREAT HUNT

A young Klingon warrior is chosen by the empire for training on a special mission. A mission to totally eradicate one of the empire’s greatest foes. As the training goes one, the young warrior begins to wonder the exact nature of the foe he must face. Eventually he boards the ships of the armada being assembled to obliterate the foe’s homeworld, and once on board he learns that he has been assigned to take part in The Great Tribble Hunt.

THE THREE RUSSIAN PIGS

During a visit to a starbase Ensign Chekhov is nearly bowled over by a group of unruly kids. Deciding to try and calm the youngsters down he decides to tell them one of his classic “Russian” folktales. The tale he decides to tell is his version of the Three Little Pigs, in which the characters he describes pay more than a passing resemblance to Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while the Big Bad Wolf is portrayed by Khan. Unknown to Chekhov the three officers are stood behind him listening to his tale.

WAGON TRAIN TO THE STARS

The Enterprise encounters a convoy of old Earth ships deep in space being attacked by a hostile force. The Earth ships are clustered together for protection. The Enterprise arrives and scatters the attackers. The Earth ships belong to a collection of unauthorized colonists who had decided to set off on their own to find a new home on the frontier and had based their journey on the early American pioneers. Despite the unauthorized nature of the venture, Kirk decides to give them needed supplies and point them in the direction of the nearest uninhabited Class-M planet. The Enterprise crew is impressed by the spirit and determination of this “wagon train to that stars.”

 

 

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Under the Hood of the CARS Comics: The First Win

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Regular A and B covers for Cars: The Rookie #4 – art by Allen Gladfelter

My fourth issue of The World of CARS: The Rookie was designed to complete the story of why the newly nicknamed “Lightning” McQueen was considered to be the “rookie sensation of the year.” I once again kept the interview framing device at the start and end of the story, and returned to McQueen narrating what happened from his somewhat exaggerated perspective, which meant I could again use visuals to contrast between his narrative and what actually happened. As the story opens McQueen is seen is his now familiar Rust-Eze paint scheme for the first time, and having established his speed on ovals is about to tackle a road course for the first time.

If I recall correctly I wrote this issue after watching a pretty thrilling NASCAR race on TV that had been held at the classic Watkins Glen circuit in upstate New York, one of the few road races on the NASCAR schedule; so I decided to model my story on that.

Watkins Glen was renamed “Bowling Lake” and we were off to the races. But not before McQueen has a nap on the grid, a character trait I added that was borrowed from several top line drivers who have been known to nod off while waiting in their cars for a race to start.

In the race itself I focused on a particular tight corner for all the action to happen with the ever eager McQueen learning an early lesson about the  differences between ovals and road circuits that don’t have banking. He was quick on the straights but just couldn’t figure out how to get around the corners quickly. As the race progresses the young hot shot learned about the apex of a corner, and thanks to, Strip “The King” Weathers, that the key to speed on road courses is not how quickly you enter a corner, but how quickly you exit it.

I had some fun along the way having the Hummer crew chief throw in a few quotes from racing movies like Grand Prix, and Days of Thunder.

The story ends with Lightning being true to character and ignoring his crew chief’s advice (again) and staying out too long on worn tires. But thanks to some defensive driving by The King to keep the charging Chick Hicks behind, the struggling McQueen just crosses the line as his tire blows, but it’s enough for the rookie to score his first win.

I’d had a blast writing this “prequel” series for the CARS movie building the backstory of Lightning McQueen, and was pretty proud of the miniseries – which would eventually be collected in both paperback, and a special limited edition hardback editions.

Now we just had to wait and hope that we had also scored a win and that the sales numbers would be good enough for the planned return to Radiator Springs.

Unused connecting covers for Cars: The Rookie #4 – art by Allen Gladfelter

 

 

 

I Never Met Stan

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I never met Stan, but one year at San Diego Comic-Con my daughter, Meggan, and I were sat in the lobby of one of the hotels chatting with the editor of our upcoming manga series when I felt a kick on my shins, and Meggan mouthed the words “Stan Lee” and pointed. Sure enough standing right behind me with his back to my chair was “The Man.” Several years later at a Con in Chicago my wife, Gill, and I were almost bowled over by Stan as he rushed to a panel or signing. Only her last minute side step avoided a up close encounter. Two chances, yet I never did get the opportunity to thank him for what he inspired in me.

I never met Stan, but he introduced me to some amazing people. While I love the mythic grandeur of the iconic DC heroes, it was Stan who made me invested in the lives of Peter, Matt, Tony, Bruce, Steve, Don, Hank, Janet, Reed, Sue, Ben, Johnny and the rest of the Marvel Universe.

I never met Stan, but his was the first name I came to recognize as someone who created the amazing worlds and characters on the comic book pages. He fired the imagination of a seven-year old boy that maybe one day he could write stories too.

I never met Stan, but I’m proud that we shared a couple of professions over the years, as technical writers (him during his brief military service, me for most of my career), and comics writers (him for a life time, me sporadically over the last decade).

I never met Stan, but he always reminded me of my favorite Great Uncle when I was growing up. Someone who would tell wonderful stories of his life and exploits, some of which might even have been true.

I never met Stan, and now I never will. It’s difficult to believe he’s gone. He’s been there for most of my life. But as I think about his passing I realize that I will never live in a world without Stan Lee. His words are on my bookcases, his cameos are forever in the 10 years of amazing movies he inspired, his philosophies on life, tolerance, respect, and a little showmanship inform ever character I create, every story I write, how I conduct myself in business, and in everyday life.

Thanks for everything, Stan.

Nuff Said.

Under The Hood of the CARS Comics: The First Race

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Cars3_special

The third issue my Cars: The Rookie series debuted around the same time as that year’s Heroes Con held in Charlotte, North Carolina; the heart of NASCAR country and home to many of the race teams. To mark the occasion a special limited edition of 500 was produced with a cover spotlighting the Strip Weathers character (above), based on, and voiced in the movies, by legendary 7-time NASCAR champion, Richard “The King” Petty.  One of my prized possessions related to my time on CARS is a poster sized copy of this special cover signed by Richard Petty himself. – A special thanks to cover artist Allen Gladfelter who made that happen.

For this issue I continued the TV interview framing device, but this time had Strip Weathers tell the story of how he had first seen the young rookie McQueen in testing and been impressed by him, which then led into a flashback sequence of McQueen’s first Piston Cup Race at the “Beachside 500.”

I have a vague memory that my friend, and occasional creative partner, Paul Benjamin, who was writing the Monsters Inc. comic at the time, and I talked about trying to sneak in some mutual cross-references into our scripts at this point. I think I asked for some of the gate signage at the entrance to the race track have the Monsters Inc. logo and Paul asked for one of his characters to be drawn playing with a Lightning McQueen toy car; but it didn’t work out. – Shame it would have been a fun Easter Egg moment.

Also on the art front, it was important for a pay off on the last page that McQueen’s race livery was just plain red with the 95 number and a single Rust-Eze logo on the hood at this point. Thankfully my description in the script was followed to the letter (not something that always happened in later issues).

One of the things I wanted to establish in this issue was why McQueen couldn’t keep a crew chief. I played up that having only recently come up from local events that he was used to working on his own, and that he felt himself to be a “one-man show.” It was a nice throw away line that highlighted his selfish character trait (at this point). It also provided the catalyst for him being taught a lesson when he comes in to the pits for fuel and tires and the crew don’t move, reminding him that he is a one-man show and should  be able to do it all himself.  His reluctant apology results in him getting the fuel and tires he needs. Once back on track he tries to use some of his old local track “bulldozer” racing techniques, but they don’t work and he is quickly schooled in the realities of big league racing, especially by Chick Hicks who doesn’t take kindly to the new kid on the block.

McQueen ends up third (appropriately enough for the third issue of the series) behind Weathers and Hicks.

The issue ends back with the Strip Weathers interview who let’s it slip that he was so taken with McQueen’s zig-zag attempts to overtake in that first race that he told the young racer that he looked like a streak of Lightning.

The regular “A” and “B” covers for CARS: The Rookie #3

Under The Hood of the CARS Comics: The Big Break

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In many ways writing the second issue of a new comics series is a lot harder than writing the first one. When launching a new series or story arc you know what the overall idea is about, and you’ve already come up with an opening that you hope will hook the reader into wanting to pick up the next issue, and the one after that, and so on. This makes the second issue the real foundation of the series.  In the first issue we had introduced the young out of control McQueen. I wanted the second issue to progress his story to the point that he was ready to race in The Piston Cup and looked a little more familiar. So how did I approach that challenge? Once more I returned to the source material; the movie.

Cars2BThe World of Cars: The Rookie #2 – Cover B by Allen Gladfelter

In the movie Mack reminds McQueen that no matter how much he dislikes the clients of Rust-eze, it was the owners of that same company who gave him his big break. So what was that break, and how did he end up with the Rust-eze sponsorship in the first place?

I opened up this issue continuing the narrative caption overview with the TV interview switching to Mack who gave us his version of what had happened in the previous issue. A nice way of doing a recap for new readers yet still fitting it into the overall narrative flow.

At the end of the last issue, thanks to Mack’s connections we had McQueen arriving at a Piston Cup test session hoping to impress one of the big teams. Ever confident he starts off asking the top running Dinoco team to give him a chance with predictable results. With each refusal he works his way along the pit lane asking each team. The fun part in this sequence was coming up with different ways to tell essentially the same scene, McQueen asks for a test run and is refused, over and over without it becoming boring. I decided to pick five of the race teams we’d seen on track in the movie and give them each a distinctive personality that produced correspondingly different ways to give McQueen the brush off.

Mack eventually persuades McQueen to go talk to the Rust-eze team whose car is on track. I decided that the incumbent Rust-eze car should be a one time great racer who was past his best, sort of like an alternate version of The King. As the design of The King in the movie was based on Richard Petty’s iconic 1970 Plymouth Superbird, I thought it would be fun to have this racer be based on another Petty car, the Dodge Charger he drove from 1971 to 1974.  In the original script I had this car carrying the number #57. This was the number McQueen had in many of the early CARS movie concept sketches and story board images I’d seen. The #57 was a nod to CARS creator and Pixar head honcho John Lassiter’s birth year. But I guess that attempt to include a Pixar style easter-egg wasn’t approved as by the time the comic arrived in the stores this new race car was carrying the #01. And yes I’d broken the “no new characters” rule again but that transgression had slipped by.

The story had the old car crash during the test after blowing a tire, and promptly retiring on the spot. This of course leaves the Rust-eze guys wondering what to do, when Mack literally pushes McQueen into their pit and announces his buddy can run the test. The reluctant McQueen with newly applied Rust-eze logos promptly heads out onto track and breaks the track record.

With a new found sense of over-confidence and his place in the Rust-eze team secured McQueen heads of to his first Piston Cup race.

Cover A by Allen Gladfelter | Cover C – Photo cover

 

 

Under The Hood of the CARS Comics: The Start Line

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So I had been given the go-ahead to write a four issue story line to launch the first CARS comic book series. Where to begin?

To make sure we had an audience the decision was made that rather than an on-going series we would launch with a mini-series to be titled The World of CARS: The Rookie.

My pitch for a prequel story had been to explore the line from the first CARS movie where the lead character, Lightening McQueen, was introduced as “The year’s rookie sensation.” What made him a rookie sensation? How did he arrive on the Piston Cup racing scene.

My idea for the four issue arc was to have a bookend of McQueen being interviewed just before his intro in the movie, and as he told his story in typical self aggrandizing style it would continue in captions as a voice over while the art and dialog showed what actually happened.

After the two page intro the action flashbacked to young aggressive “Bulldozer McQueen” in action on a local short track. And promptly broke one of the Disney rules; when I’d landed the gig I’d asked what the rules were. I was told:  “(1) Don’t create any new characters (2) Don’t write anything that will be in CARS 2.” Of course I asked “Does that mean you’re going to tell me what will be in the next CARS movie?” – The answer was “No. But if you do something we don’t like we’ll let you know.” – Well Rule #2 would come in to play later, but for the first issue I broke Rule #1 on page 3 by introducing two stupid race cars numbered 66 and 99 so I could do a joke about the numbers being flipped when one of them rolled over after being barged off track by McQueen.

Not only did I get away with that in the pages of the comic, those two guys ended up on the cover, and on the poster used to promote the Free Comic Book Day version.

carsrookie1a

The  track I chose for the introductory action was modeled on and named for Thunderhill Raceway, our local short track just south of Austin, TX where the family spent many Saturday nights watching some great local racers in action.  About six months after the book came out I got to do an signing at the track, which was a cool event.

After wrecking at the track’s championship race I had the dejected McQueen meeting Mack for the first time. At this point in the story Mack held ambitions to be a race transporter and had studied race car dynamics and was able to offer McQueen some unwanted advice. But poor Mack was stuck working for Eggman Movers – a nod to the moving company featured in Toy Story.  When Mack says that he’s friends with the truck for the leading Dinoco team and could get McQueen into the Piston Cup test sessions a reluctant partnership is formed.

Shortly after this first issue was completed we found out that the book had been selected for BOOM’s Free Comic Book Day title, which meant a 100,000 print run of the FCBD issue. The original plan was to run an interview with me and a few pages of my original script in the back of the FCBD issue, but they were replaced by some preview pages previewing the upcoming Incredibles title by Mark Waid instead which made a lot more commercial sense. Free Comic Book Day that year was special as I ended up doing signings at three different stores across Austin and met a lot of CARS fans of all ages.

The first regular release came with two covers, which became standard procedure for the rest of my CARS issues. It debuted fairly high in the comics sales charts – the best selling all-ages comic that month – and soon sold out with a second printing under yet another cover issued.

Then more special covers were issued for the Emerald City Comic Con, and even a 1:25 store incentive version. – We were of to a great start.

Left to Right:

  • Alternate cover for the regular issue – also used as the cover on the trade-paperback collection.
  • Cover for the second printing.
  • Special foil edition for ECCC limited to 500 copies
  • 1:25 Retailer Incentive edition.  – This design was also used for a special San Diego limited edition hardcover collection.

Under The Hood of the CARS Comics: Getting to Radiator Springs

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With the Disney publicity machine gearing up for the release of CARS 3 in June I’ve seen a renewed interest in the CARS comics that I was lucky enough to write back in 2009/2010 following on from the original CARS movie. So I thought it might be fun to post a few short articles reliving my time hanging out with the denizens of Radiator Springs  and sharing a few of the behind the scenes insights, and some of the references, homages etc. that we sneaked into the scripts.

Getting to Radiator Springs.

disney-and-pixar-cars-logo

I’m often asked how I landed the gig to write the CARS comics, and my answer is that I simply begged to do it. It was at ComicCon 2008 in San Diego that comics publisher BOOM Studios announced that they would be producing a line of comics based on the Disney*Pixar movies. The announcement also included the news that the editor of the new line would be one Paul Morrissey, who had joined BOOM from manga publisher Tokyopop. It so happened that Paul had been my editor at Tokyopop on the GOD SHOP project.

As a total gear-head CARS was my favorite Disney*Pixar movie, I also think it is a straight forward fun movie with a great message even if you aren’t that interested in cars. So at San Diego I tracked down Paul and basically begged saying something along the lines of, “I don’t care what anyone else is pitching for, I want to write the CARS comic.” It turned out that most people had asked about writing The Incredibles, or Toy Story*, so the list I was competing with was shorter.

As we walked and talked I pitched Paul a story I had in mind that he seemed to like, so he asked me to come back the next day with four story ideas. I was back at the BOOM booth at 8:00am the next morning with five, the last one being a throw away idea of doing a ‘prequel’ to the movie that told Lightning McQueen’s back story that I knew that Disney would never let me do. I mean if anyone was going to do an ‘origin’ story for one of their lead characters it would be Disney. Right?

Paul reviewed the ideas and took them to Disney, who also approved them. The last day of the convention I got the news from Paul that I was to be the writer on the new CARS comic book series, oh and Disney wanted to kick things off with the origin story.

It was time to start writing – Ka-Chow!

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* I also  also asked to pitch for Toy Story and developed a four issue story arc that was approved and even announced and promoted, but that never saw the light of day – but that’s a whole other story for another blog entry.

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