Writer/Director James Gunn recently posted on Facebook that one of his goals as a younger man was to one day write a graphic novel. This got me thinking about my early (and now, unfortunately, past) obsession with a career in sequential art.
As a teenager and wanna-be comics writer/artist, I was lucky enough to correspond with many of my heroes, mighty most among them the legendary Will Eisner, with whom I kept up a correspondence for years.
Eventually, I went off to art school, where one of my instructors informed me at the top of my second year that cartooning really wasn’t an art form. There were only a few art instructors at the school and as much as I liked the others, I felt dumb and incapable around the guy, so I left. Shortly after that, I fell into writing (thanks to a fluke opportunity to write TV commercials celebrating Woody Woodpecker’s 50th Anniversary) and got set on the path I’m still on today.
I put out my first comic book — IKE AND KITZI — in 1991. It was, to put it kindly, so-so. I’m convinced that the only sales it got were due to the Weird Al Yankovic intro that Al penned for me while dating a friend of mine. The silly plot? 1950’s teenagers stumble on a record company plot to kill off a million-selling artist in order to make him a legend. Not great. A second issue was written and drawn, but never published. The plot involved aliens who’d dropped off a girl from 1992 in 1957, and Ike and Kitzi had to help her keep them from taking over the world. The aliens are allergic to only one thing — rock and roll. A little Elvis Presley over loudspeakers saves the day. The weird thing was that the device so closely mirrored the Slim Whitman bit from Burton’s “Mars Attacks” a few years later.
But I digress…
By 1995, I was chugging through film school at Full Sail University and had long forgotten comics. I’d started performing spoken-word material at Yab Yum, a coffeehouse down the road nearer to the University of Central Florida. There, I became fascinated by a rather glum poet by the name of Sandra Monday and the cast of characters that came in every week to artfully vent their spleens about the cruelties of life. My stuff, however, was always upbeat, which apparently irritated more than a few “serious” performers there. The whole experiment went irreparably south during a performance wherein my pal John Pett performed psychic surgery on me during a set, extracting two pounds of raw liver from a ziploc bag I’d had taped to my back for nearly an hour, extracting the plastic Smurf figurine embedded therein that was making me so cheerful.
Oh, well. Screw ’em if they can’t take a joke, right?
That very same night, I went back to my apartment and created Jinx Oople… after a shower and proper disposal of my liver-scented sportcoat, of course.
I went back to Yab Yum after the holiday break (at least the owner thought I was funny) and left a few hundred photocopied free issues of the first story for patrons among the free papers and flyers. Friends dropped other free copies around town… about fifteen hundred in all, as I recall. The back of the 8-page booklet invited readers to yank the staple and reprint at will to distribute to friends. I hadn’t made any money off of comics, and just wanted to put something out that would be fun to share. The rules: Don’t change the art, don’t charge for the reprints. (Hey, look at me! I’m a Creative Commons pioneer! Okay, no. Not exactly.)
That was in 1996.
Since then, I’ve heard from people all over the world who’ve had the chance to read Jinx Oople: Psychic Performance Artist, and the hastily-drawn little 8 page story has been reprinted countless times. I’ll do little stories now and again when I have a moment, then copy a bunch and just leave them around Los Angeles. A special 2-page story I did to honor my pal Rachel Kann helped redefine Jinx’s look, altering her bubble hairdo from the earlier comics and earning me a lifetime pal in the wonderful Katy Lim, who’d asked me about the book while working in development for The Donners Company.
I never made a nickel off of Jinx Oople, but she’s still one of my favorite things I’ve ever created. I’ve tried writing a graphic novel for her, but to be real, I’ll never have the time to execute it.
I hadn’t looked at the books in a while, but came across the origin story today in a 2001 reprint and thought I’d share it here, just for the heck of it. Shot with my cellphone, so forgive the quality.
For comparison, check out Jinx’s evolution between 1995 and 2001 in the Rachel story…