Thursday, June 27, 2013

We've Moved!

Just a heads up to let you know that the BANG! is still going strong, but I've moved it over to the Big Bang Comics website. I've loaded the two most recent posts here, but from now on you'll have to go to that location for more of my blather. See you there:

Gary Carlson

Enter: Ben Torres

 In case you haven't been paying attention, the trade paperback of Knight Watchman: Graveyard Shift is currently available at for a measly $8.09 (plus shipping). This book collects the four issue mini-series originally published by Image Comics, written by myself and Chris Ecker and featuring the fabulous art of Ben Torres.

Ben's career as a designer began at the Hasbro Toy Group, working on Star Wars, GI Joe, Batman, Starting Line Up, Pokemon, Aliens, Predator, Monsters Inc, Planet of the Apes and others. He also served as creative consultant on various television series such as GI Joe, Vortech and Transformers and contributed concept designs and story content for movies such as Star Wars, Men In Black and Jurassic Park. 
As far as I know, Ben's comic book career started right here at Big Bang Comics. Actually, it began with the pre-Big Bang story Brother Hood, the back-up feature in 1993's Berzerker #4 which evolved into Graveyard Shift

The first two issues of Graveyard Shift were published by Caliber Press, but the series was interrupted by our movie over to Image Comics. Those first two issues were reissued by Image with new covers and back-up stories. The series concluded with issues 3 and 4 which contained all new material.  

I thought I'd use this blog post to share some of Ben's Knight Watchman pieces that are not reprinted in the Graveyard Shift trade paperback. These include the original two covers to the Caliber Press issues, a presentation piece and a drawing that he gave to me. 

Also presented here today are Ben's two original KW sample pages, which have never appeared anywhere except for one figure used in an ad. You will notice that KW's uniform features the second (unused) version of the chest logo, the black shield with the eyeball on it. It's also either the grown-up Galahad in the Watchman suit, or more likely just drawn before we decided that the older Reid Randall would be more massive than his junior partner.

Either way, once we saw Ben's take on the character we knew that we had to do the mini-series.


The Night Watchman?

That's right - - the Night Watchman. No “K”.
When Chris Ecker asked me to work with him on a new strip in the early 1990's, his original intention was to do a gritty, modern day Daredevil type of character. He even had drawn up a promo piece, which is presented here for the first time ever. In fact, I didn't even recall seeing this piece when Chris mentioned it last week, after reading one of my earlier blogs.

He emailed me back this scan of the art and said “That's the art you saw and said, 'Why don't you add a "K" and call him the Knight Watchman? I'm pretty sure it was at your house in Elgin in your comics studio. This is the real first ever drawing of Knight Watchman. It was really just a test-piece originally. I hadn't inked anything in a while and it shows. I had intended to white out some windows in the background buildings and stuff, but when we started developing the Golden Age and Silver Age Knight Watchman, I just put this aside.”

I must have only seen this drawing that one time. When we changed Night to Knight, we created an entire 50 year mythology for the character and started tinkering with his costume.

The second piece Chris drew was a Mr. Mask pin-up. Our apparently nameless hero still has the eyeball logo on his chest, but has gained his lace-up wrestler's boots. It definitely has a Bob Kane Batman feel to it, but the signature is not yet Tom King's.

Next up was the original “Grandfather Clock” story (inked by Paul Fricke) that ran in Berzerker #1. He was officially the Knight Watchman now, his chest logo having evolved to a shield with a full eye on it. I'm posting one of Chris' cover roughs from about this time. We had fully accepted the pastiche concept by this point and the layout was for a Deductive Comics issue featuring the Watchdog, Mr. Mask (using the name The Masque), Baron von Fledermaus, and probably the first ever drawing of an unrecognizable Pink Flamingo.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, our Knight became the Protector for a brief period. Neither Chris or I have been able to locate a copy of the original piece, which was modified into the “Who He Is And How He Came To Be” art which ran in the last post Through History with the Knight Watchman. The bottom panel didn't change much except for the chest logo and character's name. I'm running a re-edited version of it until we locate the real thing.

Chris was mainly a Marvel fan, but I was a DC guy from way back in 1962. My brother Jeff was three years old than I was, and he let me read his comics. Almost immediately I was trading comics with his friends and had grown up on a steady diet of 1950's and 60's Superman and Batman titles and annuals. To this day, I consider Dick Sprang and Shelly Moldoff to be THE Batman artists, with Wayne Boring, Curt Swan and Kurt Shaffenberger taking the honors for Supes.

The plan all along was to tell some of these retro stories to lead into modern stories taking place more or less in the Megaton universe. It didn't work out that way. Knight Watchman: Graveyard Shift and Big Bang #4 of the Caliber run were the only modern stories printed until the recent Watchman's Skeletons In The Closet. Our move to Image Comics came with an agreement to stick to the retro stories after we finished up Graveyard Shift. It was an easy deal to agree to and we had a great time during our years with Image.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Through History with the Knight Watchman

I didn't set out to be a ghost. I don't mean a spook like Casper, but an artist or writer working anonymously to create work credited to somebody else. Comic strip assistants are generally ghosts, working for and generally in the style of whoever created the strip. Jim Davis has a number of assistants to write, letter and draw Garfield for him. Comic book creators carried on the tradition from the very beginning. 
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman shop included Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, John Sikela, Wayne Boring, Ed Dobrotka and others. Many graduated to doing the strip or others on their own, but Superman was only credited to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster until 1948 or so.

Similarly, an army of ghosts produced work under the Bob Kane name on Batman over the years. Writer Bill Finger helped create the character and strip but was never credited. Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang, Fred Ray and Win Mortimer all drew Batman, either for DC Comics or for Kane himself.

When Chris Ecker and I created the Knight Watchman and revamped Ultiman in 1992, neither one of us was thinking about ghosting Bob Kane or Siegel & Shuster. Chris Ecker really WAS Tom King, or maybe it's the other way around. As you can see by Chris' early Big Bang work, he was just tweaking his own style. The style that editors were telling him looked like old time stuff. So we were doing old time comics. Just having fun.
At that point, I'd have to say that our biggest inspiration as to what Big Bang could be was the Catalan Communications 1987 trade paperback collection of the comic strip The Cabbie by Spanish artist Marti Riera. In this violent 1970s strip, Marti mimics the artwork, style, and pacing of Chester Gould's classic Dick Tracy of the 1930's and 40's. In his introduction to the tpb, Art Spiegelman said that “other artists, from Al Capp to Andy Warhol, have paid homage to, parodied, swiped from or been inspired by Chester Gould's Dick Tracy. Only Marti has been able to recreate it.”

The idea of doing the retro stories in the styles of the classic writers and artists of the Golden and Silver Ages appealed to us. We wanted to do a Dick Sprang Knight Watchman story, or Shelly Moldoff or Neal Adams. Or a Simon & Kirby style Knight Watchman or one as if by Siegel & Shuster or Curt Swan.

Big Bang caught on pretty fast and the back-ups became more popular than the main Berzerker character. Suddenly, instead of two or three characters we were talking about an entire pantheon of heroes, an alternative universe! Our publisher, Caliber Press asked for a Big Bang Comics series and we were happy to oblige. But it became obvious that Chris wasn't going to be able to draw it all. 

Luckily, we starting getting submissions right away from our friends who enjoyed what we were doing. The first and most inspirational to me was David Zimmermann. His three pieces featuring the Knight Watchman in the 50's, 60's and 70's pointed out to us what COULD be done. 

I believe he drew the Wayne Boring Ultiman figure that became the centerpiece of “Who He Is and How He Came to Be”. Over the years Dave drew some of Big Bang's finest pages, including the cover to Big Bang #12, interior chapters in that Savage Dragon cross-over, the full-length Knight Watchman Meets the Verdict in BB #30 and my own personal favorite, from BB #11, Galahad in “The Library Looter”. Dave Zimmermann started us on the path to really make an effort to nail the ghosting of styles for Big Bang. Thanks Dave.

At the same time I met Mark Lewis who was mining similar ground with Mr. U.S. 50 Forgotten Years in which he was ghosting a number of art style. Mark has been an unsung hero of Big Bang, designing many of the characters and creating a boatload of logos for us. More on him in a future blog. The 1939
Watchman illo below helped set the stage for things to come.

My own other Big Bang inspiration came from the Solar Pons stories by August Derleth, which had originally introduced me to the concept of the pastiche, a dramatic,  literary, or musical piece created in a generally tongue-in-cheek yet respectful imitation of another's style. The Pons stories were styled very closely after Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. They seemed a bit too much like Holmes to me, where only the names had been changed. 

While we were trying to tell a Superman or Batman-type story, we tried to make the characters as original as possible with their own origins and quirks.  We always aimed for that “left-hand turn” to add a different spin to the archetype. As Mark Lewis said, "whenever anyone asked me to describe Big Bang, my take was that it was 'comics history through a funhouse mirror.' Things were supposed to be familiar, but different. Otherwise, if they were note for note the same, what would be the point?"

Hopefully we accomplished that.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Knight Watchman part 1

Big Bang Comics was originally going to be the backstories or history of the universe of my Megaton comic book from the 1980s. The Megaton characters were a new generation of super heroes. Ultragirl was replacing her father Ultraman, kid sidekick the Sentinel had already replaced the Crusader, Vanguard was newly arrived on Earth from a distant planet and Matt (Megaton) Scott was the new kid on the block, not really replacing anybody but becoming the hero everybody already thought he was. 
The other strips in Megaton #1 were all origin stories too: Ethrian, Berzerker and Wizards of War all took place elsewhere but would have returned to the main continuity. (Ethrian and Berzerker eventually did, more or less, at Image Comics in my Vanguard stories).

I mentioned last time that Big Bang Comics began in 1992 when Chris Ecker told me that he was tired of comic book publishers and art directors telling him that he drew like an “old guy” and that he was going to sit down and draw an old style comic book story and that I was going to write it. We
were at a local one day comic show and Chris wouldn’t let me leave until that damn story was laid out and written. They eventually kicked us out and we went off to one or the other of our houses and kept working on it.

Chris had drawn the Sentinel story in Megaton #1. For this new story we decided to turn back the clock and do a “classic” tale featuring his mentor, the Crusader, who had only appeared in a single flashback panel in that story. However, Chris had drawn him for the full page entry in our who's who Megaton Explosion. (Sidekick Sparky, eventually the Sentinel, was drawn by Gordon Purcell in one of his first published pieces, I believe).

Unfortunately, the Crusader seemed a bit too blah. We redesigned and rechristened him as the Protector. That wasn't right either and so we went with Night Watchman. He had an eyeball on his chest as in “always watching”. Chris signed the first drawing using the pen name Timothy Allen. 

Night Watchman still seemed a bit blah. We debated and finally added a “K” making him the Knight Watchman. Everything seemed to fall in place. Chris’ first professional work in comics had been as an assistant to Rick Fletcher on the Dick Tracy comic strip, where he learned to letter. The early Batman comics seemed heavily influenced by Dick Tracy, so we took our Knight Watchman in that direction. 

We devised a bizarre rogue's gallery. Chester Gould had Flattop, Pruneface, the Mole, the Brow, Itchy and Mumbles. Batman had the best villains: Joker, Catwoman, Two Face, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Mad Hatter and the Penguin. The Knight Watchman was going to face Mr. Mask, Pink Flamingo, the Little Giant, Paper Doll, Quizmaster, Grandfather Clock, Baron von Fledermaus – the Bat, the Creep, Cheshire Cat and many more.
Because Tim Allen was becoming a major TV star on “Home Improvement”, Chris changed his nom de plume to Tom King. With a nod to Bob Kane, we placed the "Created by" and signature inside of a crown shaped box (fit for a king, naturally).

The eyeball was still part of Knight Watchman's chest logo when that first story, “The Time Crimes of Grandfather Clock” appeared in Berzerker #1 in 1993. By the time Big Bang Comics #1 appeared the next year, his chest shield had been darkened to its familiar form. 

Next time: through history with the Knight Watchman.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Graveyard Shift

 Yes, the Knight Watchman is an homage to Batman, and yes, “Graveyard Shift” is something of an homage to Frank Miller's classic “Dark Knight Returns”. No, I don't consider either to be merely a rip-off. There are two or three definite and obvious nods to “Dark Knight Returns”, but it was no secret as to what we were doing. We were telling a story combining Frank Miller's style from Dark Knight with what he was then doing on Sin City.

Big Bang Comics began in 1992 when Chris Ecker told me that he was tired of comic book publishers and art directors telling him that he drew like an “old guy” and that he was going to sit down and draw an old style comic book story and that I was going to write it. Chris and I both broke into the comic book industry with my “Megaton” independent comic in the 1980s. The idea behind Megaton was of presenting a new generation of super heroes.

We had included a few members of the previous generation: Ultraman and the Crusader. They were
somewhat generic archetypes who existed mainly to set up the new heroes. Now we decided to tell the back stories of these characters. Except that the Crusader was a little too generic and bland.

We turned him first into the Night Watchman and at the last minute added a K and he became the KNIGHT WATCHMAN. It occurred to us that this way we could develop a mythology for the character and tell stories in the style of classic Batman creators like Dick Sprang and Shelly Moldoff. With a nod to Bob Kane's signature, we added a serrated box that looked like a crown with a caption in it that said “Created by Tom King”.

That first story, “The Time Crimes of Grandfather Clock” appeared as the backup story in Berzerker #1, a book of mine published by Caliber Press featuring another old character from the Megaton days. Berzerker #2 featured the rechristened Ultiman and #3's backup featured another Megaton alum, Doctor Weird, who had been created by Howard Keltner. The fourth Berzerker backup was Brother Hood, a modern urban version of Robin Hood written by Chris and myself with art by Ben Torres.

We christened the batch of stories “Big Bang Comics” and right from the start, fan reaction to the characters, especially Knight Watchman was amazing. Fans thought they really were forgotten Golden Age characters! This led to a three part mini-series. Issue one would introduce Golden Age versions of a batch of characters, number two would feature Silver Age incarnations of the same characters and the third issue would be a modern version, taking place roughly 30 years after the events in issue two. (It didn't work out exactly that way. The 64 page Golden Age issue was eventually split into three separate issues by Caliber Press.

Right from the start, it was obvious that the Knight Watchman was our most popular character. As we started work on the Big Bang mini-series, we also started on Graveyard Shift with Ben Torres, plugging the Watchman into the world of Brother Hood (who only appears in a few pages in the story).
This is where we fleshed out the history of the Knight Watchman. Galahad and the Pink Flamingo appeared in Graveyard Shift before they debuted in Big Bang.

I can't help it. I keep picking up my copy of Pulp 2.0's trade paperback collection of “Knight Watchman: Graveyard Shift” and thumb through it, impressed over and over again by Ben Torres' beautiful black and white art and storytelling. I'm impressed at how fully formed the characters and mythology are. Yeah, I co-wrote it and yeah, I originally published it about twenty years ago but I am still amazed by how well it has held up and how proud I remain of it.

Check it out at Amazon. Type in “Knight Watchman: Graveyard Shift” and click on the cover for a preview of the first chapter. The book itself is only $8.99 and I heartily recommend it. It's a stand alone graphic novel and you don't need to know anything about the characters to read it.

There are two more volumes of Knight Watchman adventures on the way from Pulp 2.0, featuring stories “from” the 1930s through the 1990s, another 300 or so pages of material. If I were you, I'd start reading now.

Big Bang Comics, Knight Watchman, all art & characters are copyright & trademark 2013 by Gary Carlson & Chris Ecker. “Knight Watchman: Graveyard Shift” tpb cover is copyright Pulp 2.0. All art shown is by Ben Torres.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Welcome to the BANG!

When Chris Ecker and I first created Big Bang Comics about twenty years ago, some of our earliest champions were Golden Age comics legends Mart Nodell and Shelly Moldoff. Both were kind enough to provide covers for our early issues and appreciated the homages that we were creating. My wife Margie attended most comic conventions with me and we always enjoyed spending time before the day's activities visiting and catching up with Shelly and his wife Shirley. Chris was friends with Mart and Carrie Nodell and I got to know those wonderful folks through him.

Carrie Nodell was a wonderful, sweet lady and she always referred to us and Big Bang Comics as simply "The Bang" and Chris and I started to refer to the project that way and still do after all these years. When I decided to start a blog featuring unpublished art and stories from Big Bang and Megaton, I never had any doubt as to what to call it.

Mart and Carrie and Shelley and Shirley are all gone now and I miss seeing them at comic shows. As an "old guy" now 20+ years on, I have even more respect for how hard they worked at those shows and for the fun and enthusiasm they generated. This blog is dedicated to their memory and spirit.

What can you expect from this blog? I'd like it to be a companion to my two websites: and . If you're not familiar with them or my work you might want to check them out. Over the years there's been a lot of work that didn't make it into the books, and I'll be sharing some of it here. Sketches, covers, complete comic stories, character designs, even scripts.

I'd like to encourage any of the artists and writers who were part of the gang over the years to comment, submit art and/or their recollections about the good old days (or not so good, if that's the case). Hopefully they will not mind me sharing some of their old work here.

Next time: Graveyard Shift