Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Swash" Buckler Saturdays: Xenogenesis, Atlas, and Me (Updated with Original Art!)

What exactly is "Xenogenesis"? Why was that part of the concept of Demon Hunter, what was it all about, and where did that idea come from?

Wasn't "Xenogenesis" James Cameron's first film? Well, yes. But that was four or five years after I introduced the concept in fictional form. Cameron's version deals with robots. And then there was the Alien vs. Predator Xenogenesis and the X-Men stuff, but that's all post 2000. Most, if not all, of Cameron's ideas are borrowed from other people's work anyway (just ask Harlan Ellison)--and we're going back a bit further here to the 1970's.

For me, "Xenogenesis" meant a supernatural "New World Order"--the engineered darkly occult "birth" into our physical universe of an intelligent and evil race of beings bent on subjugating all of mankind. In short, a demon race. Does that sound like an overarching conspiracy theory or a classic paranoid fantasy? Well, it was. Shades of Philip K. Dick!

In entertainment form I was expounding the theory that our world is run by a vast satanic system--and it does, at times, seem these days like that is what is happening in our "real" world. Some of the ideas I explored like secret societies, inter-dimensional travel, occult control of government and perceived reality (mind control) and demon possession on a grand scale-- these were not exactly things in our "cultural meme" in those days. Nowadays it's on the public mind frequently and it's all available in books and all over the Internet.

I knew this idea was pretty "out there" and beyond even the most unconventional ideas in mainstream comics and movies of the time. I don't know, maybe that's why it didn't "fly" the first time around (or slightly afterward, in the Marvel version of the character "Devil-Slayer").

Was the Demon Hunter character derivative of Dr. Strange or Ghost Rider? I don't think so--he was never meant to be anything like them. I only got a small "creative window" to present my concept to a mainstream audience. But for the record, nobody at Atlas Comics had asked me to create an occult costumed character that could compete with Marvel's characters. There was no commercially minded editor who asked me to dial up a new version of the old to pump up Atlas' sales. If there was, he certainly would not have been looking for this.

My collaborator/writer, David Kraft, wrote the dialogue and narration from my story notes. We were both Marvel guys and fans of the rock band Blue Oyster Cult, but I think between the two of us, I was the only one who understood the alchemical and Freemasonic origins of much of their material. Who knows how much of the occult meanings were actually understood by the songwriters in the band? That's anybody's guess.

The whole book was plotted and drawn by me with finished pencil pages produced before the final "script" was written (the "Marvel Method"). I don't think Larry Lieber, or anybody at the Atlas offices, thought anything about the book other than that it looked "cool"--nobody understood much of it, and I remember Jeff Rovin hated it. I can't imagine Jeff being too crazy about the "Man Monster" character that Tony Isabella and I did for Atlas either.

Art credits have me as the inker, and overall that was so, but I had some uncredited inking assistance from Aubrey Bradford on much of the work. There was a bit of a deadline crunch and in order to get the book out on time I asked early on for some inking help from a few other artists--Frank Giacoia and P. Craig Russell inked a few pages.


It's Ironic that Atlas was in such a hurry to get the book out. I think they only had one slot open for one new book, so even getting that was a bit of luck. My timing at Atlas, though, was unfortunate. All of my work for Larry Lieber was done in the latter part of Atlas Comics' short publishing life (roughly one year). It was Larry who hired me and he had a lot of faith in me.

The real enticement was not the cover work (I got to work on most of their titles) but the promise that I could create something new with no creative constraints. Who could turn that down? This kind of opportunity was almost entirely unheard of at the time and certainly extremely rare for an artist/writer as young as I was at the time (I was twenty six).

Like Deathlok, the premise for Demon Hunter was probably ahead of it's time. Being the first with an idea or character or concept is not always rewarding or gratifying. The popular versions that come later are usually the ones that people remember or identify as "cool" or original.

I might sound to some like I am beating my own drum here. Maybe I am, just a little. But I've always thought of new concepts or ideas of mine as things that have a life of their own which actually arrive at my "address". It's what I call a "Eureka moment". When that happens, it's almost a magical phenomena--and definitely not something to keep to yourself.

The comics business today is very different from the 70's, and even the 80's. There is such a frustrating gauntlet of corporate structure and nonsense between the creator and the money now, that it's an almost nonsensical bureaucratic process that beleaguers and wears you down--and that's to just get something creative to the right person who, maybe, can help make it happen.

Think about it. All it really takes is one person in a position of power to have faith in you and let you do what you do best. How many times these days does that happen?

(Note from Ol' Groove: Here are the covers Rich rapped about. Enjoy!)

9 comments:

  1. COOL! Your back again Rich, I hope your feeling much better. I loved your work over at Atlas in the 70's. Too bad the company collasped so damn soon.I loved your Demon Slayer & Man-Monster especially. I forgot how many covers you did for them.

    I agree with what your saying 200% on the corporate BS the companies today have. It's a real shame, they've ruined the industry & took alot of the fun & creavtity out of for the creators. I know even Gillian's Island was abruptly cancelled, simply because CBS's president's wife.

    She was a huge Gunsmoke fan, Gunsmoke was slated to be cancelled. She threw a hissy fit & her hubby kept it on! Only to cancelled the top rated Gillan's Island! DUH! I still strongly believe The Terminator was directly stolen from Deathlok & the 1983 updated verison of Superman's foe Braniac. Redesigned for the Super Powers line of toys.

    The metal skeleton version of the Terminator is almost identical to it! Ironic they filmed the Terminator in 83 also. Can u say Rip Off! I remember vividly a roomate I had while in the Marines. Threw me his copy I believe of Soldier of fortune magazine.

    There was a very cool airbrushed pcture head shot of Arnold Schwanegger. Half his face the robot skeleton. I immediately said that's Deathlok the Demolsher! This picture is up on youtube for the original teaser trailer. I figured the Terminator was either just a working title. Or someone in Hollywood thought it sounded better. can't wait to read your next installment Rich! Happy New Year!

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  2. Rich, I think you're totally justified in "beating your own drum" in this case. Demon Hunter did seem like a fresh and exciting idea back in the day, and remains one of my favourite Atlas comics. ( And I didn't have many favourites, TBH. )Their supernatural characters were far more interesting than their Marvel-clone superheroes, and it's a shame the line never lasted long enough for them to develop.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts, Rich, and thanks to Ol' Groove for making it possible. Always a pleasure to read.

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  3. What could have been if Atlas had lasted and stuck to the original game plan of pushing the envelope.

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  4. Awesome! And Groove, loving the new look of the site! Everything loads faster and is much friendlier to navigate. Nice one!

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  5. That was what I was shooting for with the new design, Matthew. Glad to hear it's working!

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  6. Love the new look also Groovster! I forgot to mention it in my above rant! LOL!Love the Star Wars piece header as well. Just wish everything was a wee bit larger. Like the white background,much easier to read everything. Especally very late at night.

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  7. The blog is always a work in progress, and since the wishes of my Groove-ophiles are Ol' Groove's command, viola! Larger fonts, Mike! Howzat?

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  8. @ The Groovy one! Awesome Dude! Thanks!

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  9. Good to see you participating at various sites around the 'net, Rich! I've been a big fan of yours almost from the beginning of your pro career but it was Deathlok that really first knocked me for a loop. (See more of my gushing praise for your stuff in my book for Twomorrows Marvel Comics in the 1970s!) After that, I tried everything you did. I loved Demon Hunter and was vastly disappointed that it only lasted a single ish. Recently, I came across some early issues of your Mighty Crusaders and noticed with delight that your layout style was still on your early, experimental period. Good stuff! Have to find the rest of your run now!

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