Here at Ideal Comics, my main job is that of the historian – the Keeper of the IC secrets. Usually this pertains to our hundreds of years of continuity and alternate histories, but sometimes I get to delve into the real world history of our little slice of the universe. Today, I would like to take the time to tell you all how Chris Lawton ruined my life.
I first met Chris Lawton, well, I’m not exactly sure when. I was a classmate of his older brother, and I seemed to always know Chris. We first became friends in 1998, after my return to Nebraska, and while we were both working at the Lawn and Garden section of our local Wal-Mart store. Neither of us had a particular love of lawn and garden equipment and all, but we did love music, movies, and comics. And so, while stocking shelves or walking to and from work, we would spend hours discussing the minutiae of pop culture. It was a great time.
It did not take long for our discussion of our love for stories to mutate into talk of making stories. And so began many years of on-again, off-again partnership trying to find and craft a perfect story. We tried horror-detective mash-ups. We tried high fantasy. We tried comedy and noir-influenced crime dramas. We even almost sold a paranormal investigator story. We pitched to comic companies together and separately, and left and right, we were met only with rejection.
We had, in those days, been in the habit of meeting once a week over coffee and pie. We met to share ideas and brutally critique each other’s work, but also as a sort of mutual booster society. We cheered each other on to fight the fight, to keep writing and keep submitting. Surely, someday, someone will give one of us the chance – will notice the good, good stuff we were hammering out. And whichever of us made it, we promised to bring the other one along!
It was in this time, about 2003 or 2004, that Chris and I struck upon an idea of a story – no, a series of stories. It was kinda like X-men, and kinda like Saved by the Bell. It was a comedy – a satire of the pop-culture we loved and hated, and it was ours. We had our protagonists, a rough and tumble tough-guy with a streak of mischief and a slight, bookish goody-two-shoes, and we decided to send them to school. SUPER school!
We loved it. It had the real guts of something great. And tricked-out with a great title from my lovely Amy, The Forces of Good and Evil was surely ready for the big time! And so, quick as we could, we shot a proposal off to what we felt would be the perfect venue for what was destined to be “the Great American Comic Strip”: MAD Magazine. At the time, MAD had been running several comic strips filled with just the sort of pop-commentary and lampoonery we wanted to use in Forces. I tell you, it was the perfect fit.
MAD did not agree. In a rejection letter that can only have been a Kinko’s product, we were shunted aside. Oh, the HUMANITY! But, of course, we were never ones to take no for an answer. We wrote back. But this was no mere, “Hello, it’s me again,” note. We figured, this is MAD Magazine. Go big or go home. So, we did. We begged. We groveled. We made fun of ourselves. And if that wasn’t enough, I wore a dress. What follows is an excerpt:
Now, if the synopsis didn’t sell the story, perhaps numerous personal compliments will:
“Your hair is lovely, as are the clothes that you’re wearing.”
“I’m really glad I was here today. You have a lovely singing voice.”
However, compliments aren’t for everyone. If you are one of those people, we have provided this photo of co-writer Reese in a dress. We think it says quite a bit.
If that doesn’t say “buy our story,” than we believe you aren’t listening.
Why a dress, you might ask? Well, if there is anything I have learned from Monty Python it’s this: nothing is funnier than a grotesquely mannish man in a dress. Many things are as funny, but nothing funnier. Regardless, we never heard back from MAD.
It was about a year and a half, and a dozen rejections later, that Chris suggested striking out on our own. It was at one of our weekly meet-ups on, as I have mentioned before, a rainy Nebraska, summer midnight. At some point that previous spring or winter, we had realized that our stories seemed to co-habit a single universe. We had decided to keep that our secret so as to not try to pitch a universe to prospective companies, but there on that summer night, Chris was sitting across from me, suggesting madness:
“You know how tough self-publishing is, right? It’s crazy-talk.”
“I know it’s hard, but it is possible.”
“Look, we don’t have to do it,” he said, “but is anyone even looking at our stuff? This way, we can make our own stories and get them right to people.”
So, that night, we did something that I think took a lot more guts than putting on a dress–we stared down a road that changed everything about our lives. It changed us from a couple of fellows wanting to make stories into a couple of fellows making them all out there on our own. A few months later, we took our retooled Forces to the Internet (where you can still find it), and our dreams started taking a very real shape.
Webcomics are funny things, because on the one hand, there you are making comics, telling stories – giving life to the voices you hear on the wind. But, just because you are putting your heart and soul into them, is doesn’t mean anyone is noticing or caring. It’s a little like working out – if you don’t already love it, you won’t stick to it. You just won’t. But, if you have the love, making the comic becomes, well, unlike anything, really. It is a job, a labor of course, but it is also an indescribable rush – a thrill, as all of these ideas and characters that hum around your brain finally get a chance to shine. You start to feel like your story matters. And it is easy to get hooked on that feeling – to really invest your whole being in keeping that feeling going, and even to take it to the next level.
And I was there, I tell you. I was hooked, and so when Chris said, “Let’s publish an anthology,” I didn’t even question it: Of course we needed to stop our lives and produce this huge project. Let’s invent an entire Universe. Let’s rewrite history. Let’s make ‘The Beatles’ superheroes. How many Websites can we have? Start another Anthology? Sure! Once you are making webcomics, self-publishing just feels tangible—practically in grasp. But I tell you this: when you are all in, your life can never be the same. I used to have a life full of options, but now my options are to make comics or to make comics—all thanks to Chris Lawton.
And to think, all of this is because MAD didn’t like our idea! In retrospect, I think that is okay. If MAD would have taken us up on it, we wouldn’t have Al Djinn or the Expostioner or Brigid or The Night Terror or Gill-Boy, or a hundred other characters and places that have filled our hours and entertained many of you these past years. As a company, Ideal has tried to make a little something for everyone, and oh, so much more is to come. It’s just over there, on the horizon! We hope you all enjoy the ride as much as we have. And so, “Thanks,” and Happy Reading!