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!

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