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Unread postPosted: Sat Apr 11, 2020 4:16 pm

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Yeah, The Publisher Guy

Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2004 5:18 pm
Posts: 1120
My love of comic books
– Or a little piece of my origin story

I have loved comic books my whole life and that is not hyperbole. As far back as I can remember – and I can remember pretty far back – I have loved art and stories, and comic books are the ultimate combination of story and art.

I don’t know if that love of art and story is locked inside my DNA or whether it was instilled inside of me by my Mom and Dad. Probably a cosmic combination of the two. My Mom loved books. I mean L-O-V-E-D books. From as far back as I can remember, she would tell me how books could set your imagination free and carry you anywhere. Any place in the universe. Any time in our past, present, or future. They could introduce you to new people, new places, and new ideas.

Our house was filled with picture books, story books, and puzzles for kids. Disney stories of all kind, tales of Hans Christian Anderson, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Aesop’s Fables, Jungle Book and other Rudyard Kipling books, and many more. Two of my earliest and all-time favorite children’s books were The Little Train that Could and Little Black Sambo. I connected to the saga and tenacity of the Little Train, and adored the smarts and cleverness of Little Black Sambo. That title and book may be politically incorrect today, but in my child’s eyes I didn’t see bigotry, I saw the brave, smart, and resourceful child I wanted to be. (Mowgli from Jungle Book too!) I loved Sambo and the tiger, and the weird magic that turned the beast into butter as it ran in circles. I also loved the vivid, colorful artwork that mesmerized me. It made me want to make pictures like that and to tell stories. I’m sure Mom must have read it to me – and later, me and my little brother – 10,000 times, even after I knew every word by heart, and could read it myself. The spine of that book was held together by a pound of tape and love.

Dad dabbled with drawing, pastels, and painting. He was pretty good. He could copy the art and cartoons of others, making his images larger and somehow alive. But he had trouble depicting the images he saw in his own mind. My Dad’s first love was sports. Football, hockey, etc., but his favorite of them all was baseball. In fact, he was so good that while in the Air Force, he was approached by scouts for the Air Force’s national team. He turned them down because he didn’t want to be away from the love of his life, Florence. My Mom. They adored each other and showered the two boys that would come along a few years later with love and fuel for their imaginations.

When I was little, my Dad developed arthritis in his back. It was so bad that he could barely bend and had to sleep sitting up for 3-4 years. I remember my Mom having to tie and untie his shoes and work boots for him because he couldn’t bend down far enough to reach them. Though he suffered with arthritis all his life, his condition greatly improved. However, when I was little, Dad couldn’t play ball or catch with me or my brother, Brian. Instead he would sit at the kitchen table and draw. Me and my brother would try to draw with him. It was fun. He and Mom loved art and museums too, so we’d go to the Detroit Children’s museum, historical museum, the main library (all of these across the street from each other) and historic Fort Wayne on a regular basis. We were poor, so it helped that these places were free or very inexpensive to visit. Between this and the myriad books, comic books and animation (TV and movies), art and history became an important part of my life. Not just the artistry and creativeness of it, but the stories they told. The emotions they could evoke. The characters that came alive.

The first superhumans to enthrall my imagination were characters out of mythology: Zeus, Hera, Hades, Cerberus, Medusa, Harpies, the Titans, Poseidon, Icarus, Hermes/Mercury, Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, Odin, Thor, Loki, the Valkyries, and dozens of other Greek, Roman, and Norse gods. In fact, in 1963, Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and Argonaut was a favorite movie that brought many of these heroes and monsters to life in a way that would elevate my imagination.

Somewhere along the line, children’s books, faerie tales, and fables were joined by comic books. At first, Harvey Comics with Casper the Friendly Ghost (also a favorite cartoon on TV), Wendi the Good Witch, Richie Rich, Baby Huey, and others, as well as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics. At some point early on, age 6 or 7, Superman, Superboy, Batman and various DC comic books had joined the library. And then came Supeboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure Comics with tales of heroics set in the far future and across the galaxy. As much as I enjoyed the DC comic books, something was missing for me. This was back in the age when DC comics tended to be more kiddified and goofy, with super-pets and imaginary stories. To this day I hate “imaginary stories.” Largely because, back then, the cover would lead you – a gullible kid – to believe something horrific or life changing had happened to your beloved hero, only to find out at the very end that it was an imaginary story. Or in Superman’s case, the influence of an odd colored piece of kryptonite whose weird, transforming effect would be corrected by the end of the story. Even as a kid I found that disappointing and hokey. Worse, I felt cheated. The cover sucked me in with Superman with an ant head or losing his powers, or marrying Lois, or some other astonishment, only to pull the rug out from under me time and time again. The Doom Patrol, Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes (and sometimes Batman) were what really got my imagination going. Them and a handful of delicious science fiction Dell/Gold Key comic books like Tarzan (jungle adventure), Turok-Son of Stone (Indians and dinosaurs, who could beat that?), Space Family Robinson (basically Lost in Space), and Mighty Samson, but an eye-patched, fur cape wearing Samson in a post-apocalyptic future Earth with a sort of Planet of the Apes feel to it. (Hmm, was this an early subliminal inspiration for After the Bomb?! I’ll never know.)

Then something happened that changed my life forever. And I’m not kidding or being theatrical. I discovered Marvel Comics for the first time.

Fourth Grade. Age 9. I was in class at lunch time and some kid (Johnny Lisz?) had a handful of comic books the likes of which I had never seen. The cover art (Jack Kirby) was dark and ominous. There was a group of costumed characters, an orange rocky humanoid, and a guy in a red suit with little devil horns using a cane as if he were blind. Behind them was a gray cityscape with a dangerous and threatening guy clad in armor and a green hooded cape. I would soon learn this was the nefarious Doctor Victor Von Doom. But it was the unique art style and the title of the story that transfixed me and demanded I learn more: A Blind Man Shall Lead Them.

The blind man was Daredevil and the comic was Fantastic Four #39, one chapter of a multi-part story in which Ben Grim has been given his heart’s desire by his best friend, Reed Richards: to be human again, and not the rock monster known as the Thing. It and issue #40 were the big climax to the story arc. As fate would have it, the kid had both issues with him. I devoured them. Hanging onto every word. Every image. Every emotion and idea. And then I read them again. I wanted to borrow them but the kid said no.

As Stan Lee might say, they were "pulse pounding and fantastic" and captured my nine year old heart and brain. Forever changing what I expected from comic books and storytelling. In that moment, I became a Marvel Maniac. Sure I still read some DC and other comics, but Make Mine Marvel! I could not get enough of Marvel Comics. I had discovered a fantastic new dimension of adventure and super-heroes that rocked my world. I tracked down more and continued to be wowed by the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Avengers, and all the rest. I joined the Marvel fan club. Played the cheap record with the Merry Marvel Marching Society song a hundred times. I saved every dime I could earn to buy more and begged for Marvel comic books for Christmas, birthdays, and whenever I could get one.

As my Dad liked to tell the story, a few months after my mind was expanded by F.F. #39 and #40, nine year old Kevin, proudly strutted out of his bedroom, a comic book story in hand, and loudly, confidently, proudly announced: “When I grow up I’m gonna be a comic book artist.” Handed them my cover and first few pages, and marched back into my room to finish my story. My Dad would go on to say that he thought is was “a phase” that children go through and that I would “grow out of it.” But I persisted on my mission, drawing constantly, reading novels and comic books with an insatiable appetite, and creating my own characters and stories. After a few years, my Dad would say, “Kevin will grow out of it when he becomes a teenager.” No? “Then, Kev will grow out of it when he discovers girls.” No? “When he gets a car.” No? “Goes to college.” No? Finally, after I self-published 5 issues of A+Plus (Detroit’s First Comic Book) with my best friend Alex Marciniszyn and other pals, plus several fanzines, and I went to New York with William Messner-Loebs to show my art portfolio to Marvel, DC, Heavy Metal, and other publishers, my Dad finally came to accept this might not be a “phase” after all.

From the day I had made my pronouncement I spent the next 20 years working at becoming a comic book artist and writer. I was on the verge of breaking into the comic book industry when role-playing games grabbed hold of my imagination and stole me away. Even then, for years I thought creating and publishing RPGs was a “temporary sideline” until I got back into doing comic books.

My quest to become a comic book creator was helped along by the fact that Detroit was where the action was when it came to comic book conventions and the appearance of new talent. You name the comic book artist or writer, and odds are me and Alex met them: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Neal Adams, Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Mike Kaluta, Walt Simonson, and quite literally a couple hundred more. Not exaggerating. Guys like Tom Orzechowski, Terry Austin, Richard Buckler, and Arvell Jones were friends we hung out with and learned from. It was a magical time for Alex and I in our impressionable teens and early twenties. We breathed, ate, lived, and dreamed comic books. I have a million stories about the legends we met and hung out with at these events. Guys and gals (okay, Marie Severin) who took the time to sit with us up and coming “kids” and give us critiques, tips, and encouragement. Detroit was also the scene of one of the first Star Trek conventions. It was awesome and gave me a life line in my day to day struggle with poverty and dreams that seemed unlikely for a poor kid in a factory town like Detroit.

One of the greatest bits of advice that stuck with me forever came from a lesser known Detroit area artist, Mike Vosburg. He and I were just sitting around and talking for like an hour or so after he looked at my art portfolio. He asked me who I thought were the best artists at the time (1970s), the guys that truly inspired me above all others. I said Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, and Frank Frazetta, and one day I wanted to be just as good as them. Mike smiled and said, “Why stop there?” I didn’t understand the question. “Why stop at being just as good as them. Why not aspire to be better?”

Mind blown, again. Try to be better than Steranko, Adams, and Frazetta? The best of the best? What a concept.

That has stayed with me to this day. To always strive to not just to do your best, but to be the very best at what you do. To never stop learning. Growing. Trying new things and getting better.

So maybe now you know why so many of Palladium’s artists have done work in comic books, many of them rather famous: Jim Steranko, Richard Corben, Dave Dorman, Stephen Hickman, Steve Bissette, Timothy Truman, Flint Henry, Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, James Lawson, Eric Talbot, William Messner-Loebs, Paulo Parente, Ramon K. Perez, Tyler Walpole, Freddie Williams II, Scott Johnson, Michael Gustovich, Steven Cummings, Robert Atkins, Larry MacDougall, and others. My apologies for not listing all of you. And man do I have stories to tell, but not now. lol. I do want to say, Eastman and Laird are two of the nicest people on the planet and deserving of their success with TMNT. Richard Corben is a sweetheart. Steve Bissette is another gem and fun to chat with, so is Tyler Walpole and Dave Dorman. Okay, I need to stop. This Murmur is already super-long.

Comic books are my first love. It’s why my first sourcebook and licensed property for Heroes Unlimited was based on the Justice Machine comic book created by my dear friend Mike Gustovich. It’s how I knew about and landed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles® as my second licensed I.P. and before the TMNT was on most people’s radar.

However, as Chuck Walton likes to remind me, while comic books (and I’ve read well over two hundred thousand of them!) may have helped inspire and shape me, my library of knowledge is shaped by all forms of storytelling and entertainment. Children’s books, comic books, animation, anime, novels, role-playing games, radio, television, film, live theater, music, wildlife, mythology, history, real life experiences, artwork of all kind ... the list goes on and on. They all inspire me and give me ideas for the games I create, the worlds I build, and the characters I breathe life into.

I am delighted so many of you, around the world, have enjoyed the ever expanding Megaverse® I continue to weave for you. I do this as much for you as I do for myself. Yes, there is a block of DNA that fires up my imagination and compels me to create stories, but I love to take other people on these journeys with me. I revel in the thought that my humble works have inspired – god only knows how many – gamers, writers, artists, game designers, actors, directors, world builders, and ordinary Joes and Janes. Freakin’ awesome. Truly and humbly.

Creating stories is a big part of my life and who I am. My medium of choice for these past 39 years, role-playing games, though I dabble in other mediums and fantasize about all kinds of things.

I find role-playing games the greatest exercise in creativity because it involves world building and setting the stage – the launching platform – from which a countless number of gamers build their own endless array of fabulous adventures. Stories that are created as a group by the G.M. and the players. Stories filled with love and laughter and camaraderie and fun. Stories limited only by your imagination. Wow, right? The ultimate in creativity and fun. There is nothing like it and I have been so in love with it I can never leave it.

God willing, I hope to have a few more decades of world building and RPG storytelling in me to share with you. Thanks for listening my thoughts and murmurs. Please enjoy a nice weekend and dare to follow your dreams.

Stay Well and Game On!

Kevin Siembieda
That Publisher Guy

Copyright 2020 Palladium Books Inc. All rights reserved.
This Murmur may be reprinted, reposted, linked and shared for the sole purpose of advertising, promotion and good will.

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