Many years ago, like any aspiring comic artist/publisher, I tried my best at creating a book for myself. But when it came to the title, I was always afraid I would come up with a name that someone else had already and I wasn't aware of it. When I created this book and concept, I of course wanted to name the book after the lead character. However, as I created the visual first and not exactly the name, I had some pause. What's a good logo and character without an equally good name?
I was fixated on the idea of Midnight. That's when the character would operate. So I came up with the Midnight Man. The same year, Howard Chaykin came out with a book called Midnight Men (google it, had nothing to do with masked men). So I thought about the Midnight Mask. Stuck for awhile, but whenever I'd add artwork under that logo, it just looked strange. I slightly remembered a book from the 80s called Masked Man. So that was no good.
Then, one day at the newspaper I worked at, it came to me very strangely.
I should have been working, I know. But that name was just haunting me. As I sat there, it just kept churning in my mind. "What kind of a name, that no one else has, can you come up with for a man in a mask?"
Definitely one of those d'oh moments.
It just resonated with me. It wasn't a name for my character. Never intended to be. But I thought, y'know, this is a descriptive title. Kind of like, "Guy in a hat." No one could trademark a saying. I had heard it for words to describe everything from criminals in masks, to Clayton Moore and the Lone Ranger.
I had my title.
Fast forward to the present day. Here I am finally publishing this book. The name man in the mask is still a descriptive word. No other searches came up with anyone using it as a title. If there were, being the overly prepared guy I am, I took a note from Lee Daniel's The Butler. He wanted the name The Butler so bad for his movie, but there were other uses elsewhere. The studio suggested adding his name to make it different. So that's what I did. I added my own name to a descriptive phrase.
It wasn't because of arrogance. I'm a nobody in the comic world. But it allows me to also introduce the guy who came up with the book in the same breath. Worked for John Carpenter when he was starting out. He was barely known when he added his name to Halloween. Not linking myself at all to him, but there's a spiritual connection.
My book is at the printer (still). So finally after two years of balancing work with the creation of my story, I'm catching up with some shows and movies I haven't given myself time to watch. Not a netflix guy, but I heard good things about Daredevil. So I finally got a free month so we could watch it.
Let me preface this with the acknowledgement that Daredevil, like Batman, like Superman, like any street level Golden Age character, was an inspiration for my book. I also know that Matt's pre-Daredevil costume in "Man Without Fear" is a black costume. But I felt that the outfit Tommy (the grandson runs around in) was different enough that when drawing this modern version, I didn't change anything.
However, as I've been watching (it's an excellent show btw), I wasn't prepared for as many uses of my descriptive title to describe Matt pre-Daredevil costume and name. Yes, my name is above the name of the book. Yes. I started promoting this book a good year before the show came out. But there's a part of me that feels anyone who has watched the show, and then picks up my book, will just think I'm trying to knock off on it. Which is the furthest from the truth as I can state.
In the years since coming up with this book, there have been many things I've had to change visually or tonally because someone beat me to it. Out of respect, I did the changing because I'm the one that delayed the book and let someone beat me to the punch. Yeah sure. My guy runs around in a tie and dress clothes like any masked character from the 40s. But I tried to do something as different as I could and make a reason for it. The stark contrast in his look I think does so. Nothing in masked comics is original. All the tropes have been done and redone and then rewashed. It's the story beneath the mask that you have to strive for originality. I think a coal miner moonlighting as a masked man is somewhat original. I'm pretty proud of that. His want to pass on something meaningful to someone he cares about like a grandson adds to that.
Creative publishing is challenging and frustrating. You'll hit moments where you think all your work might have been for nothing. Or that someone will accuse you of just trying to copy a fad (which no one has). But you have to take stock that something you cherish so much and have watched grow beyond you is strong enough to weather those rough times.
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.