Every now and again, I still have to pinch myself that not only am I actively making comics, but I’m doing so by making MY comics. Then, thoughts typically turn to my graphic novel that started it all, MAN IN THE MASK:Emerging from the Shadow. And how really, not only was it to be the start, but also the end.
Let me explain.
Anyone who has followed my progress in this comic journey, has read my thoughts on the story of Man in the Mask. So I won’t recover that ground. This is more on the actual production, the work of it.
All I have ever wanted to do, is make comics. From the age of 11 or 12, it’s what I wanted to do with my life. First by working on a big mainstream title, but then wanting to create my own stuff as I grew older. Unfortunately, I let a lot of stuff weigh me down and for a good majority of my life, I put those dreams on the back burner.
The idea of Man in the Mask came to me in 1996. I toiled away for years on the story and approach, but just kept getting personal blocks to it’s basic construction. It wouldn’t be until both hitting 40 and Aiden’s very sincere offer to help me make it real, that I would seriously try to accomplish my dream. Some 15 years after coming up with it.
Why a graphic novel? I had never done a full comic before and here I was diving in the deep end. I’m a guy of the 1980s. I saw a lot of Indy comics come and then disappear. I didn’t want anyone to get a number 1 from me and never see a second issue. The graphic novel approach would be my promise to myself to not only start the story, but to finish it.
And then, that would be that.
I felt that I was getting a second chance and quite frankly I wasn’t going to be so arrogant to go any further.
Anyone that has bought the book (and THANK YOU for that) probably notices that it reads a little odd for the introduction of a masked hero. There’s action, but it’s kind of wordy. You have to understand that me at that point of my life wasn’t trying to set the stage. I was just happy telling a story.
It has it’s flaws. It’s expected because I had never done anything like it before. The pacing is odd in a few places. A lot of the scenes had been constructed purely in my head for years. But I wanted to do a rather quick (even within 120 pages) telling of both Tommy, his grandfather and their lives both masked and unmasked. It’s meant to be personal. It’s meant to be uneven and chaotic sometimes. Life isn’t a straight line and neither is this book.
I wanted to show how up and down even the most fervent person can be in their lives. I can’t relate to you how being a kid from Krypton is really. But you might relate to a guy that has issues with his dad and how that affects his life. Or, how the idea of taking on someone else’s dreams might seem cool at nine, but by the time 18 comes around, you could have another perspective.
It’s a story of humanity. And because of that, it does stand on it’s own. It was supposed to without necessarily, what comes next. The end can be both the culmination of the hero’s journey or setting the stage for something else. I got lucky on that.
I had foolishly released chapters as comics over the period of work and tried selling them, going against my edict of a whole story. Shouldn’t have done it. But it did bring me some feedback from readers who liked what they saw. Originally when I got to the end of the final page of the graphic novel, originally it said “The End.” It was that positive feedback from fellow comic lovers, that I would change it to “The Beginning.”
That was a pretty long winded explanation of why the graphic novel is so much more off in tone than the stories that came after. Much like Tommy in the story is unburdened with some things, so was I. Every story I’ve done since, and there’s now six of them, comes from a place of love and appreciation of what I’ve built. Emerging from the Shadow purged a lot of demons off my back. It allowed me to go forward when I was certainly standing still. And because of that, a lot of good has come from it. Despite it’s flaws, it’s still my proudest literary creation. May not be my favorite now, but that’s a good thing.
One of the biggest reasons I decided to take MAN IN THE MASK digital first, is the immediacy of the format. I can pretty much draw, ink and color a page and have it be seen in a day’s time. I like that because it allows me to do things on the fly.
Like Allies in the Alley.
I’ve had this little behind the scenes story in my head for a couple months. It really could have been left alone but I thought it would be a cool idea to make it a reality, if for anything, an exercise. Since I began this series I have created it between the cracks of any free time I might have. I’ve never treated it with any deadline in mind. I think the fastest book I’ve created was the Halloween Special and that was two months.
With everything going on in the world, my freelance design business has slowed a bit. Hence, the focus I’ve been able to put on the series as of late. I felt if there was any time to try to put out a short story while creating it daily, now was the time.
it’s a pretty simple story. One month after the end of the graphic novel and a few months before the beginning of issue 1, Tommy is just getting used to wearing his pop’s mask. Even though for years, he was running around Millerton, he was hiding as best he could, trying not to be seen or identified. This adventure puts him directly into a confrontation between two men. One who is the obvious victim, the other the antagonist.
i get to introduce a new street level bad guy in Thadeus Wulf and his sons as well as some motivation Gwen’s Uncle Felix has in my series as he becomes kind of a touchstone for Tommy.
if you read the graphic novel, you can see Tommy gained a mask by the end, but lost some things in the process. Felix and Colt’s Corner factor into Tommy rebuilding his foundations. A city is a big place. And for one masked hero, it’s good to have a smaller piece of the real estate to start with. Felix gives Tommy a home base to be able to stretch out but close enough to have a stake in what Felix envisions for the Corner. And by doing so, Tommy is reminded of the sense of community that his Pop was instilling into him about the mask.
I am very proud to say I did do this story in 8 days like I wanted. I penciled and inked in one day, Aiden colored and then I would letter. I’m pretty happy with the results. Usually I plan everything out too much. Sketch model sheets of each character layouts etc. I did everything on the paper this time. Even the designs of the Wulf family. It was a exciting experience to say the least.
I tried to put action into it as best I could, but at the heart of the matter, I’m more a character guy. I like trying to make my guys as human and relatable as possible. And in that respect, I think I did it for this story. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
Preview for the webcomic that will be in an update in a couple weeks. “Have you seen Armand Tyler?” Introduces us to Sophia Tyler, a smart and inquisitive 15 year old that finds herself in a desperate situation. Her dad, “Army” hasn’t been home in three days and no one has seen him. During her search, she finds out more than she bargained for.
One of the characters she comes into contact with, is a small time loan shark named Bobby Burbs. In trying to come up with a design and personality for him, I thought about making him a slob and someone you’d feel uncomfortable to being around. I had this vision of a bearded guy in a dirty wife beater t-shirt.
But then I decided to make him extremely deceiving and approachable. When I did that, it changed his design. As I hinted in an earlier post, I fashioned him in honor of a geeky idol of mine, Harry Anderson. Harry’s work in Cheers and Night Court has always been a big favorite. His whole look of the fedora and glasses along with the magic gimmick, conjures so much imagination. Harry’s love of the 1940’s and the Velvet Fog Mel Torme touched me as I also had an appreciation of those. I just had to imbue Bobby with just a little of that.
Bobby Burbs is an example of what I thought would be a one off character that once I started working on his persona and dialogue, I will definitely revisit sooner than later.
Really liked what Aiden did color wise for these pages.
Stay tuned for more.
After the events of the graphic novel, Tommy has what he wants. He’s now wearing his Pop’s mask, but generally doing all the things he was doing while running around Millerton in the shadows without it. He’s having fun and maybe being a little louder than he was before.
We have two situations he handles without effort. The rescue of a kidnapped girl and the simple stopping of three inept criminals trying to break into a pawn shop. But unknown to him, there are two events happening involving his best friend, Nate and a couple of strangers to Millerton making a deal for the most infamous piece of real estate in town. Oh yeah, there’s also the possibility of another, more violent vigilante running around.
This whole issue is understandably setup. What I wanted to throw out there was a little example of Tommy in control before he has the rug pulled out from under him. If you read the graphic novel (and you can check it out if you want), Tommy has a penchant for cruising into situations, not necessarily because of confidence, but because his natural tendencies dictate it. He’s the hero. Sometimes that blinds him to the danger before him. He’s compelled to act. And despite training all his life to wear the mask, actually wearing it and the target that it makes him is new. He knew how his Pop handled it. But he’s now learning how he handles it.
I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’m not trying to create a magnum opus like Watchmen. This is a just a fun story who’s only agenda is me making the type of comic that got me interested in comics to begin with. I’m trying to relate the story of a regular guy with a very irregular legacy and how his own humanity grounds him to doing the best he can with it. I love characters and I try my best to develop very rounded, real people tinged with a little comic bookey skews to them. I love to write moments between Tommy and those around him. Action is fun but how everyone relates to each other is what I look forward to.
Add all of the above together and you have the best issue #1 I didn’t know I could write.
Tune in for more. I just want to share the fun. “Have you seen Armand Tyler?” is a nice, personal journey for a new character. Tommy is almost a guest star in it. But I’ll wait to talk more about that later.
When I was growing up, I couldn’t fly or lift a car over my head. I didn’t have a cool piece of armor or a magic ring that could do fantastic things. But I could make a mask. One out of paper. One out of cloth. That’s all it took to be one of the masked heroes I read about.
That stream of thought goes a lot into MAN IN THE MASK. It’s the idea of being very street level. Of being human, and going up and beyond what most think you can do. That is Tommy Franklin’s life. He’s not a masked man pretending to be an ordinary man. Nor is he just a guy that assumes another identity when he puts on a mask.
He’s more than just both.
He’s a man that puts on a mask and does his best to be a servant. A helper to those around him. So in truth, he’s not that much different with or without a mask. He’s a man in a mask. And whether or not he’s hanging out in flannel or a utility belt, he’s the same guy trying his best for whatever situation.
And he does it all with a smile on his face.
Starting June 2, the relaunch of MAN IN THE MASK gives me an opportunity to roll out the future of my stories in a much wider format. From that date and on, I will be “digital first.” Meaning I will be releasing comics on my website before going to print with them. And here, there will be no pay wall or subscription. You can read them for free.
I love print. I love holding a comic in my hand. But the truth of the matter is that print is expensive and with no distribution past cons, very limiting in getting the stories out to potential readers.
Going digital and free access isn’t that big of a stretch. Considering I have been known to give my stuff out on occasion. It’s not that I think my stuff isn’t worth the purchase. I just like to share the work I put into MAN IN THE MASK. I like to show my enthusiasm and love for it. I have so much fun with it. I want to turn around and show the world how proud of them I am. Going digital is an opportunity to reach more readers.
Right now the plan is to release every Tuesday. Originally I was going to put a page count on the releases. But now, I don’t want to limit myself creatively. If I have a 3 page story I want to show, that’s what I’ll do. Same for a 10 page.
Initially, on June 2, I will be releasing the first issue in 8 page increments weekly. This is to make sure everyone is on the same level story wise. Then, the new material will begin. All material will be collected serialized in comic form and will be available from Indyplanet and myself, before the story finishes digitally. If you wish to help support my efforts, please consider purchasing the print offerings.
I plan to experiment as I go with some different things. And, I will be releasing spin off material featuring characters introduced in MAN IN THE MASK and giving them more of a spotlight.
Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you have plans to read the book as it’s released. Thank you so much. My hope is that you can enjoy this book as much as I do.
The “new” costume.
I first designed Tommy’s costume in the mid 90s. When I got to the graphic novel, I did make a new design for Tommy’s grandfather, but very much wanted to keep my original design for him. At least, for a short time, because I had drawn it so much over the years. And for the first issue I kept it for the same reason. Issue 2 was going to be the debut. However, since the backup story in #1 was so special with the story by Michael A. Baron, I thought it was a good place to debut it.
The thinking behind the design? To be honest, it was from a presentation point of view. When you draw a character with an all black shirt and then put him in all black panel you have to cut out his form with a white outline or scallop out white on his outfit like a reflection. I did it a few times and really didn’t like it. So it just made sense to make the white part of his costume to make it look intentional. The added benefit was that it allowed me to add white to his costume and reflect the white that was in his Pop’s suit.
Simple as that.
Hope you enjoyed the behind the scenes stuff this past week. Thought It was about time I showed some unlettered preview pages from “Have you seen Armand Tyler?” Proud of the story and I think it’s a little more indicative of the pace and action I plan with MAN IN THE MASK. I had to start so much off in the first issue. Lots of beats. This one allows me to settle in and show what Tommy’s new masked life entails.
Colors, of course, by Aiden Belcher. I think you’ll see his work is starting to evolve into it’s own thing and less what I suggest to him.
Reminder the series starts digitally for free June 2, with issue #1 for those that don’t have it. Colors by Aiden Belcher.
When you need to anchor your lead in a new city that he initially hates, you gotta find friends for him. When Tommy moves to Millerton, it’s not fun. Change in routine. Homesickness etc.
Enter NATE BRADY
I’ve only had a chance to show you a couple of scenes with Tommy and Nate, but trust me, I try to make it as fun as I can. Nate is a tried and true friend to Tommy and helps him get adjusted to the big city life. Through a kinship of geekiness, Nate is a nice stabilizing force that gets Tommy through the culture shock of moving from Freebourne City.
When the series opens up, after years of being an officer on the street, Nate is a newly minted detective. The latest in a proud line of cops, Nate has his own legacy to live up to. But this new position has a lot of adjustments Nate wasn’t expecting. On top of that, Nate’s thrown another curveball he wasn’t expecting.
As I said before in other posts, I’m a character guy. In my head there is no minor character. If I’m taking the time to introduce a character, I can give you their life history. Nate is no different. In fact, there are times that Nate is probably the co-Star to Tommy’s lead. Seeing how he and Tommy have started new directions in their life roughly at the same time, the next couple of stories should be fun.
A lifelong comics fan, Mike W. Belcher is the writer/artist of MAN IN THE MASK. A story he's had with him for over 20 years.