Saturday, November 7, 2009

A not-at-all brief visual history of MonstaLand

Won't you indulge me as I take us on a vainglorious journey through the wayback machine? As always, we must proceed with due diligence as we shall be encountering smutty images along the way. And quite a way back we shall go, for starters: 1995, to be precise.

I've always kept a sketchbook as a hobby and sanity-anchor, before the notion of making comics in any serious fashion seemed like a thing for me to do. Therefore I had no clue at the time that this little inking exercise from '95 actually depicted, in prototypical form, my two main Monstas: Gaa-Zomn and Star*BEM Wheetie.

For some reason, the as-yet unnamed Gaa-Zomn had a particular appeal to me, and he kept showing up from time to time.

Soon thereafter, I had really started gravitating towards the idea of making comics, so my sketchbooks started to reflect a focus on specific ideas towards that end. Such as this travesty from 1997, once again featuring proto-Gaa-Zomn:

Yeah, a semi-autobiographical story about a slacker cypher and his monster buddy from some ambiguously-defined monster dimension, who commiserate with one another about the usual boring bullshit that such buddy teams typically concern themselves with. I think we can all be thankful that this one sketch is all that sprang forth from this terrible concept.

Anyway, yeah! Comics! I forged on and started doing them on a sort of experimental basis. I hooked up with Cheese Hasselberger and the mighty House of Twelve (see links) in 2001. I put out a minicomic collecting what I had accomplished to date, and was preparing to do another one. I had some hazy ideas about doing a "what if giant monsters really were people in rubber monster suits" story, when it hit me: "what if giant monsters really were people in rubber monster suits...who wanted to fuck each other?" Thus I began work on a short story whose only intention was to get this silly concept out of my system and into my minicomic. Once again, I recruited my little monster friend.

By now, both he and his dance partner from 1995 had acquired humanoid incarnations as well as names: "GaGa" and "WooWoo".

I had settled on a sort of neanderthal rocker look for "GaGa". "WooWoo" would be a weird space chick.

So "MonstaLand", the short story, was finished in 2002 and presented in my minicomic in '03. It wasn't very good. As I was working on it in my then-typical impromptu, undisciplined manner, it morphed in mid-execution from a one-off riff into the first "chapter" of something longer, so it doesn't know what it's supposed to be. It lacks the tightly consistent tone that a good short story requires. Nevertheless, I began work on the second "chapter" of "MonstaLand", refining and expanding my cast of characters. Back then, my protagonist was called "Hilary", and her cohorts were "Sami" and another dude whose name at the time escapes me. In their current form they're known as Julie, Kia and Spencer, respectively.

So I wrote a script and even started to pencil the first page of this second chapter, but this only served to amplify my misgivings over the first story. The whole thing just felt too half-assed, so I back-burnered it. All the same, I still couldn't shake it; bits and pieces of MonstaLand kept getting jotted down in notebooks or popping up in sketches. I was building up a little library of ideas for it. I would talk about these ideas, and how maybe one day they might just add up to something. I kept on jotting and talking. I really can't take responsibility for eventually doing something with MonstaLand other than jotting and talking: that honor belongs to Cheese Hasselberger, who basically took me aside one rainy night at the Jam and ordered me to get working on the goddamn thing, already. Hey, that's what friends are for! This would be in, oh, late 2003 I guess? So I began re-building MonstaLand from the ground up, with the intention of finally getting it right. I did a great deal of writing, which was something of a novelty for me at the time. I didn't particularly relish the idea of doing a great deal of writing. I was still laboring under the mistaken impression that "spontaneity" was a virtuous quality to bring to one's art, rather than the excuse for being too lazy to do proper planning that it truly is. In spite of this, I knew in the end that that was what was required of me: before a script could even be written, I needed to establish all the "hows" and "whys", the ecological ground rules that drove my fictional premise in a consistent manner. I also did the important work of creating the back-stories and individuating characteristics that propel my characters. I know this is all Fiction Writing 101 stuff, but what can I say? All I knew was that I needed a road-map for MonstaLand before I could ever get the engine revved up. It was all purely utilitarian to me at the time (2004-05 to be accurate). Anyway, soon enough I had a script and it was off to the races. Interestingly, there are surprisingly few preparatory sketches from this time. I suppose during that period of ruminating and writing I was subconsciously internalizing the physical appearances of my critters and people, so any further elaborations in my sketchbook were unnecessary. Nonetheless, the newer story elements did require some tweaking, such as this initial study of an astral being for the big psychic sex orgy:

I did spend some effort in coming up with a somewhat credible design for the atomic tank.

Of course it changed a bit once I got down to drawing it, but I thought it was important to work out its basic geometry as thoroughly as I could, if only to put my mind at ease. Incidentally, that telescoping cannon follows a plausible line of logic: being an energy weapon, its discharge is not subject to the laws of gravity that govern traditional iron projectiles, so it must rely on direct line-of-sight for aiming, rather than an arcing ballistic trajectory. Therefore its operator must be able to raise its emitter (housed in a swiveling ball in the head) to whatever height may be necessary so as to avoid simply hitting whatever obstacles might lie between it and its intended target. The fact that this arrangement is also unmistakably phallic doesn't hurt either! Lastly, just for fun, a size comparison drawing.

I should mention that the visible staining in the previous three images is due to water damage suffered during an incident involving a catastrophic failure of the plumbing in the apartment upstairs.

So: I drew a 32 page version of the first issue of MonstaLand (I'm allowed to put it in italics now!). Minimal efforts to get traction with a publisher unsuccessful; I judged that there were still a few too many rough edges as well. Made the decision to expand to 48 pages and self-publish. I will not discuss why that took so damn long on this blog; suffice it to say that life happened. Debuted to great success at the 2009 Small Press Expo. Plans for issue two well afoot. Paypal button on the upper right. Promise the next post will be about something else.

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