Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Belly of the Beast: More Marooned Sketches!

Border Worlds: Marooned #1 (1990) was the adults-only one-shot comic book that followed the seven-issue black-and-white mature readers series Border Worlds (1986-1988) by two or three years. In that time period, artist-creator Don Simpson was working on a number of creative projects in addition to freelancing for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, and DC Comics. These personal creator-owned labors of love included Bizarre Heroes #1 and Pteranoman #1 (both, as it would turn out, later published by Border Worlds and Megaton Man publisher Kitchen Sink Press). Last but not least "Underground Comix" the artist began creating under a pseudonym.

Two half-size (half of an 8.5" x 11" sheet of bond paper) roughs of the denizens of the hotrod in the city of smugglers deep inside the space station. The right-hand page, showing a banquet, does not appear in the final story. Jenny and Drake are shown leaving the banquet, with Drake looking in on his ailing sister Cody. Roller ball pen and permanent marker, with signs of cutting and taping.

In context, the brief, graphically sexual scene that earned Marooned an "Adults Only" label was right in the middle of all these endeavors. Recalls the cartoonist, "The work I signed as Anton was beat-off material, pure and simple; it was my id, my libido, completely running wild. I always do things the hard way, so of course it had to include a strong narrative too. Border Worlds, however, was different; it was my European art film. The hardcore sex scene in Marooned dramatically essential, or so I thought at the time. It was supposed to be a revelatory moment in which the two characters, Drake and Jenny, find one another in the least likely of places: in the bowels of a space station at the edge of civilization."

Frank and Drake partake of the eternal nightlife offered by the smuggler's city, deep inside the abandoned jet engines of the space station. Frank thinks he sees something funny at the dock where the hotrod is parked; he too later looks in on Cody.

Simpson took the dare of introducing explicit sex into his "arthouse" science-fiction saga in part because of the tenor of the time, with the traditional roots of the publisher in mind. "It was a rough moment in the comic book industry," Simpson recalls. "Sales were in a slump, and a lot of us were rethinking who we were as creators and imprints. Kitchen Sink Press had begun as an Underground publisher, and yet I had never truly done an Underground Comix work. Megaton Man was part of the indy comics wave, and was intended as a product for the Direct Sales Market of collector comic book shops, not the 'head shops' of the Underground days. It was printed in color and was PG, although at times it got racy, particularly with Ms. Megaton Man. Border Worlds was more adventuresome; it delved into nudity and profanity, but was careful never to cross a certain line. Considering I was drawing the very first experimental Underground Comix around the very same time, I suppose I wanted to test the waters in terms of what the market would bare with a hardcore, explicit sex scene in Marooned."

This 11" x 17" photocopy blow-up of a rough sketch was cut apart and rearranged. The first panel shows Drake looking in on Cody, perhaps an early version of the panel shown more fully above (this panel was omitted in the final page). The second panel, showing Jenny in the foreground disrobing, was flipped in the final art. The bottom two panels, of Jenny topless and Drake dropping to his knees before her, are much like the final rendition of the scene.

There was also a sense that this might be Simpson's last stab at Space Station Chrysalis. "Border Worlds had not been commercially successful, and yet here I had one last chance to at least find some closure with a one-shot," Simpson recalls. "Being away from the title for two years, I also wanted to make a stronger statement, and maybe get some attention in a crowded field. A full-on scene of the two principal characters finally fucking made sense, not only as a dramatic climax to their story as lovers, but also as an artistic statement - that the medium could be used in a frank and honest way. It may not have been any kind of practical commercial or branding move for the series, but I saw it as laying down my marker - that I wasn't going to go down without a fight."

The printed Border Worlds: Marooned #1. Drake's nudity is as essential to the scene as Jenny's.

"I also relished the fact that fictional characters, in comics and in prose at least, can actually fuck," the artist explains. "You can't do that with filmed, live-action actors, for obvious reasons - but I mean, who wouldn't have been at least curious about Diane Chambers and Sam Malone's more intimate moments in Cheers, on a purely fictional, character level? Besides, as Orson Welles points out, in cinema, eroticism kind of pulls the viewer out of the narrative and turns it into a documentary. But I wanted to see for myself what the result would be, and I could do that in a comic book without consequences."

[The explicit sex scene is discussed in greater detail elsewhere on this blog.]

From the surviving rough sketches recently unearthed, it would seem to be a late addition. "I must have had the scene in mind for awhile," says the artist. "But I spent more time elaborating the narrative surrounding it." Marooned features the hotrod, a sleek, black trijet that has been hijacked by desperate scientists Drasin and Cody Revell, journeying into the bowels of the space station, where they find an ad hoc city run by smugglers. "It's Mad Max in the sewers," says Simpson, "run be a character based on Last Gasp Comix publisher 'Baba' Ron Turner."

This pencil rough of the actual sex scene show Drake performing cunnilingus on Jenny, who clearly exalts in the act. She takes over and straddles Drake, who penetrates inside her as the hotrod pierced the interior of the space station. The equivalence between Jenny and Chrysalis, metaphorically, is established. Panel three of the left-hand page, showing Drake looking down on Jenny's face, was altered in the final, her face replaced by her breast, perhaps because it would have erroneously suggested he was on top of her, penetrating her; instead, in the final version, the responsibility for the penetration is entirely Jenny's.

The smugglers provide a haven for the renegades and crew of the hotrod, including Jenny Woodlore and her brother Frank, and mechanic Diggs. "Jenny and Drake, the scientist, are attracted to one another, even though she has essentially been kidnapped. She has by this point been persuaded that Drake's flight from the Domain to keep black-hole bomb technology out of the military's hands is a just cause." But it's not clear whether the hotrod has truly found a haven, or will be betrayed.

The sex scene continues after a page turn. Panel two of the left-hand page, originally showed Drake's hand brushing Jenny's cheek. This was removed in the final art, isolating Jenny's understated orgasmic facial expression, and making her experience the only focus of the scene.

"Domain Silverheel officer Kaarn Pinsen, who is pursuing Drake and Cody, is in hot pursuit, and she too has found the smuggler city," Simpson continues. "It remains unclear whether she will become a prisoner of the smugglers, or what." Looking at the roughs, the author seems to have juggled the sequence in terms of who arrives first in the underground city: the hotrod or the silverheel. "I was doing a lot of editing at the rough stage," says Simpson. "I must have chosen to have Pinsen arrive later, after Drake and Jenny hook up."

Kaarn Pinsen's ship arrives to find the hotrod parked dockside in the smuggler city. According to the page numbers on the roughs, the artist considered placing this scene before the banquet scene, and prior to Drake and Jenny's explicit lovemaking.

Hook up they do, in lodgings provided by the smugglers. After looking in on the ailing Cody, who is literally becoming sick from her knowledge of the black-hole bomb, Drake and Jenny disrobe. "I must have been in a hurry to draw this scene, because you'll notice, whereas the other rough sketches are tight marker, the sex scene is just very loose pencil. I wanted to get to the Bristol board right away!"

Pinsen is brought to Mudbelly, king of the smugglers. This is the final rough sketch in the sequence. Later additions made to complete Marooned utilized a different drawing technique and drawing material (Duoshade, a technique employed on classic EC Comics and many mid-century editorial cartoons), and were not given the same elaborate preliminary treatment.

The underground interlude, the heart of Border Worlds: Marooned #1, became a set piece that defined the series. "It was a kind of midnight for the soul," says Simpson. "The hotrod is lost inside the space station, and Drake gets lost inside Jenny. The identification of the protagonist and her world couldn't be more vivid."

More on the graphic sex scene deleted from the Border Worlds hardcover collection!

More sketches from an unpublished 21st-century Jenny story!

Jenny's Past: A Work in Progress

I am working on a scene from Jenny's past, prior to Border Worlds, when she was a college student on earth, and when she earned money as an artist's model for drawing classes (you didn't know that, did you? I didn't either). The scene began as a tiny page thumbnail in my sketchbook, and I have been working it out at a larger size with tracing paper. In this case I am not working from a script, and am learning about the character as I explore this period in her life. More to come.

This is the original thumbnail sketch, about 3 inches wide, made within the last year.
Here are some separate explorations in blue, graphite, and Uni-Ball, wherein I am attempting to find the right age, expression, and attitude of the character. In this scene, Jenny is supposed to be in her early 20s, whereas in the Border Worlds series she was in her late twenties. Not much of a difference, but significant. The top left head has the right balance of youth and inexperience; the bottom right she is a bit too old. I want to get the sense that she is young but tired from all her activities and burning the candle from both ends (she is also on an athletic scholarship).

This the development of that thumbnail, blown up to about 11 inches wide, and elaborated in blue and graphite pencil on canary yellow tracing paper, the kind once prevalent in the drafting industry, but which I have gravitated to for some reason.

Here is the second part.

As an artist's model in college, Jenny takes a break from a pose and puts on her robe.

Again a scene from college. An athlete, Jenny returns from practice, and has an issue with a dorm neighbor who seems a little too preoccupied with recording Jenny for a documentary.
More to follow!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Jenny and Drake: The Deleted Scene!

The dustjacket for the Dover Publications edition of Border Worlds (2017).

The recent Dover Publications hardcover collection of Border Worlds is complete and exhaustive, including even the original color back-up features culled from Megaton Man #6-10 (Kitchen Sink Press, 1985-1986) along with the seven black-and-white comic book issues (1986-1987). One slight alteration, however, is the omission of a two-page scene from the eighth issue, the adults-only one-shot Border Worlds: Marooned #1 (1990).

The sequence as presented in the Dover edition; two pages were removed in between these two, and Drake's erect penis was elided from the first two panels on the left-hand page.

"The original idea was to remove the scene to avoid distribution problems," says creator Don Simpson. "It was a move with which I wholeheartedly agreed; it was their money, after all, and as I say in the interview with Steve Bissette included in the book, I no longer see transgressing boundaries of eroticism as necessarily having anything to do with artistry. In any case, the original editor, Drew Ford, planned on removing them; Pete Lenz, the editor who saw the book through to completion, did not insist upon it, but I already accepted it, so that's how we decided to proceed."

In the scene, Drake removes his clothing; we see his unaroused genitals clearly, then his erection. "We decided to Photoshop those out," said Simpson. "Originally, it was important to me to show Drake's genitals as much or more than Jenny's, and in the original version, that was true, but when we shortened the scene, unfortunately, his had to go."

The sequence in the original issue of Border Worlds: Marooned #1 showed Drakes' genitals clearly in the first two panels of the left-hand page, Drake performing cunnilingus on Jenny on the first panel of the subsequent page, and Jenny mounting Drake, his erect penis clearly penetrating her vagina.

In the original version, Drake kneels before Jenny, and in the elided pages, he reverently performs cunnilingus her. At this point, the scene goes silent; no speech balloons, thought balloons, or other text interfere with the images, suspending the passage of time. "The close up is on Jenny's face as Drake goes about licking her," the artist recalls. "It was important for me to focus on her response rather than on his earthy desires, at that moment." She then mounts Drake, his erect penis clearly penetrating her vagina. "That was the panel that made Kitchen Sink decide to put an 'Adults Only' label on the book, whereas the seven-issue series that preceded it was labeled only 'For Mature Readers.'"

On the next page, Jenny continues to mount Drake, achieving orgasm; the two cuddle, his drained cock clearly spent. The entire sequence is presented without words or sound effects.

The scene continues on the following page, as Jenny continues to ride on top of Drake; the expression on her face suggests that she is fully in charge and achieves orgasm. "I thought it was important to show Jenny on top and going for what she wanted," says Simpson. "She's the protagonist of the narrative and it is her story. He's not doing her; she is definitely doing him."

At the same time, the silence of the scene made it stand out from the rest of the issue. "Words determine the passage of time in comics, to a great extent," the artist explains. "I didn't want the scene to go by too fast, or have to draw too many pages to show the entire duration of their fuck. Of course I could have gone on for pages and pages, but then it would have become an Underground comic."

The original pencil sketch of the intercourse scene on two 5.5" x 8.5" sheets of bond paper.

Long-time fans may miss the sequence, although there is plenty of material left to earn the "mature readers" tag the dark science fiction series originally bore: nudity, profanity, just-off-camera sex, and a violent attempted rape that results in the attacker's death. But fans just discovering the series may wonder what the fuss about such a simple and direct sex scene is about.

"To me it wasn't essential to the narrative, but it was an important breakthrough for me in terms of a more honest approach to my work," says Simpson. "While I was working on Marooned, I also was beginning to experiment with my very first Underground Comix, which clearly had a different intent. As I say in the Afterword of the hardcover, eroticism and narrative aren't really compatible, and I think those pages could be elided without harm to the story."

The hardcover addition includes 30 all-new pages forming a new conclusion to Jenny's story.

The loss of Border World's most sexually explicit moment is offset in the Dover edition by a new 30-page conclusion, which offers readers a satisfying denouement to the extant series. "It's not the end of Jenny's story by any means," says Simpson. "Where she goes from here, and whether I continue the saga of the space station of further explore her inner world - or both - remains to be seen."

The Border Worlds hardcover can be ordered from Amazon and elsewhere online, or through your local independent comic book and graphic novel dealer.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Border Worlds Commission Drawings: A Spring Break Slew of Art!

It's a fun time at the ol' drawing board these days! With a newly-complete Megaton Man graphic novel in the coloring stage, a 25-anniversary reprint of Splitting Image (with normalman vs. Megaton Man) as an 80-page Giant" coming from Image Comics on April 26, 2017, and the Dover collection of Border Worlds (with a new concluding chapter) arriving in August 2017, fans and collectors are requesting a wider variety of convention sketches and commission drawings spanning my 30-year career as never before!

Here is a selection of drawings I inked over the past week, including a lovely sketch of Jenny in her obsessively-textured space suit! If you are interested in acquiring a custom drawing of your favorite Don Simpson character before the 2017 rush turns into an outright frenzy, please send me an email at donaldsimpson1713 circle "a" symbol gmail period com, and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Pencil drawings in light blue Col-Erase and graphite on Strathmore 400 Drawing, ready to ink.

Partially inked.

Batmegaton, inked.

MODOK inked.

Connie Carlyle and friend, from a sketch started at a comic book convention, inked (and poorly lit).

Aja, the alternate Ms. Megaton Man, and Connie Carlyle, Megaton Man's new sidekick.

Jenny Woodlore, partially inked.

Jenny inked.

Several days worth of work!

More commission art here.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dover Dustjacket for Border Worlds GN Collection!

Designed by John M. Alves, here's the forthcoming (August 2017) dustjacket design for the Border Worlds hardcover collection from Dover Graphic Novels! Color and black and white, 340 pp., $29.95!

Border Worlds ad for Image Comics' Splitting Image 80-Page Giant, a 25th anniversary reprint that includes normalman vs. Megaton Man Special #1, coming from Jim Valentino's Shadowline imprint on April 26, 2017.

Dustjacket design by for the collected Border Worlds by John M. Alves.

Author's bio from the flap of the Border Worlds dustjacket.

Front flap with excerpt from Steve Bissette's Afterword.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Dover Announces Border Worlds Graphic Novel for August 2017!

Dover Graphic Novels, an imprint of Dover Publications Inc., has announced the Border Worlds graphic novel for August 2017! It is already listed on The hardcover will be 336 pages, with a new 30-page concluding chapter and portfolio of unpublished art, with an historical overview introduction by comics legend Stephen R. Bissette.

This is the Image Comics house ad which ran in Splitting Image 80-Page Giant (2017), announcing the Border Worlds hardcover.

The official blurb: "With nothing left to lose, Jenny Woodlore joins her brother's ramshackle trucking business on Chrysalis, a huge floating platform on the edge of the galaxy — only to find herself in the middle of a cosmic conflict that could change the very fabric of the universe. This deluxe hardcover collects the complete run of Simpson's epic space drama as published by the Kitchen Sink Press in Megaton Man and its own self-titled series, finally adding an all-new concluding chapter. New Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette. Suggested for mature readers."

Another dust jacket design under consideration.

About the Author

Donald E. Simpson is an American comic book cartoonist and freelance illustrator, most noted as the creator of the series Megaton Man, Border Worlds, and Bizarre Heroes, as well as the official King Kong adaptation. He has also freelanced for nearly every major comic publisher. His most widely seen work are the illustrations he created for Al Franken's 2004 bestseller, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. In 2013, he earned a doctorate in history of art and architecture from the University of Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Shades of the Futures Past: Border Worlds #8 Unused Cover Art!

Here is a detail of the original art for Border Worlds #8, which was announced and appeared in a house ad in Border Worlds #7 (August 1987). However, because of sales that continued to slip in the wake of the black-and-white comics boom-and-bust (paradoxically fueled by Rolling Stone's recent coverage of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns that set off a speculative feeding frenzy for titles like the Miller-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- I told you, paradox!), I made the painful decision to put my sci-fi saga on hiatus to focus on freelance work like Wasteland to pay my bills.

Jenny Woodlore and Drasin Revell in an intimate moment (detail).

When the issue finally appeared as Border Worlds: Marooned #1 (1990), the scene depicted was still a part of the story, but I decided to go with a more dramatic cover. The original cover was drawn on Duo-Shade, a classic medium memorably used in EC Comics and still available in the 1980s, but now another historical oddity. I'm glad I got the chance to use it on #7 and portions of Marooned!

The entire cover shows a more organic logo than the one I created when Border Worlds was a back-up feature in Megaton Man. Somehow the figure of Drake looked more dead than about to have a romantic moment with the series' heroine, Jenny.
The collected complete Border Worlds, forthcoming from Dover Publications in 2017, will include rarities like this and other unpublished art, plus reflections by me (the author) and an essay by comics legend Stephen R. Bissette! Stay tuned for more details soon...

The greyline, hand-painted with Cel-Vinyl paints, didn't do much to enliven the mood of the scene, and no doubt reflected my own mood as I watched my labor of love succumb to the tumultuous comics market.
My second stab at the cover was much more dramatic and pleasing (and the romantic scene between Drake and Jenny much more dynamic, earning the book and upgrade from "Mature Readers" to the more properly Underground "Adults Only").