The Story So Far…

I can’t remember if I’ve written a proper ‘About SAM’ page for this site yet, but in any case, this is probably going to be more of a ramble anyway, so we’ll save that for another day.

I can remember back around 1990-91, when I was finishing up highschool (a little late; I’d gotten sidetracked in 1990 and had to redo some stuff to get into art college), and I was just beginning to take an interest in something other than superhero comics as a field of endeavour.

At that time, I’d gotten the bug to go into animation, because I wanted to make animated features like Heavy Metal: The Movie. I didn’t think HMtM was the be-all and end-all of animated films (as my buddy Rodney once believed of me); far from it, in fact. Even in 1990 I knew of films like Nausicaa and Akira, and knew full well what feature animated films could be like if someone tried to go beyond talking animals and family themes. I just thought that SF/F feature animation on the scale of HMtM was the kind of work I wanted to be involved with, even though I was a decade too late.

I was also just beginning to discover the delights of more artsy comics fare. I’d been in love with John Byrne and Paul Smith, Art Adams and Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Kaluta and Bill Siekievicz, and thought that superhero comics had to look a certain way. Then I bought Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, and realized I was wrong.

My favourite comics author was still Chris Claremont, but I was growing tired of superheroes (even though my writing was still festooned with paranormal beings), and I was beginning to realize that there really weren’t any established comics titles I genuinely wanted to work on.

Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, but it was in 1990 that I first realized I actually wanted to write my own characters, not as a means to get into the industry and perhaps get to work on one of the major titles, but for their own sakes, because I actually felt like I could do better than just another rehash of Wolverine (which I’ll admit I had done myself, in the guise of a modular cyborg called Silencer, whom I may still do somethign with someday… but don’t hold your breath).

So there I was, just hitting 20, and thinking that the field I’d been aiming at for the previous few years of my life was perhaps not where I wanted to end up. Marvel was changing into a speculator’s paradise, and DC had lost me years ago. But then there was DC’s Vertigo imprint, which I wasn’t reading actively, but was drawing some insight from. I’d been interested in such things since the days of Epic, but I was underaged and hadn’t had an opportunity to delve into the full line while Epic Illustrated was still a going concern. But the idea that a major comics company would basically throw money away on more artsy fare was right up my street.

But as I said, I was also getting into animation, as my closest friends were all going off to Sheridan College, and I saw potential in keeping up with them and maybe keeping them close so I could get them to work on stuff with me later. Sadly, I really wasn’t Animation material. I washed out of Sheridan’s Art Fundamentals-Intensive course, on a wave of sleeplessness, student debt and manic depressive explosive decompression. I learned a lot, but produced very little in terms of finished work. I was so far gone into a depressive cycle by the last month that I can’t remember to this day what my final marks were. All I remember is that I wasn’t accepted into any of the programmes I applied to.

I went home, finished a few abstract paintings, and then sort of collapsed in on myself and tried to plot a new course for my future, which started with the kernel of an idea that I’d like to become a musician, another thread I’d played with during my final years in highschool, but hadn’t really pursued effectively.

But that doesn’t tell you where The Sunday Afternoon Matinée came from. SAM (which was what I started calling it in 1999 when I was trying to revive the project for this shiny new thing called the internet) was originally my attempt to capture some of the same anarchic fire I was picking up from reading things like Arkham Asylum. I hadn’t actually discovered Alan Moore yet; I wouldn’t discover him until the winter of 1991, when I was living with my schoolmates Derrick Rose and Dawn McKechnie, sleeping on the sofa and eating Ramen noodles (a dietary staple for the next fifteen years), and meeting all the cool animation students they were coming into contact with.

Dawn started dating this hotshot anglophile cartoonist from Montreal named Richard Morris, who was into silly cartoon characters, zombie movies, and Doctor Who. His room mate, (Jean) Marc Jensen, introduced me to The Watchmen series (and also the original Monty Python Argument Sketch video game), and Richard got me back into watching Doctor Who, which I hadn’t really followed since I was in my early teens, before the show started going to crap (thanks mainly to JNT). I guess you could say that those things, coupled with my growing interest in Surrealism, Abstract Expression, and Progressive Rock, really fuelled my desire to start my own graphic novel series, which I started outlining as I made the jump from highschool to college and beyond.

While my original comicbook ideas all had a patina of X-Men wanna-beism, my graphic novels started in the areas that Chris himself had only occasionally dabbled in, such as Days of Future Past (to which, before The Age of Apolcalypse hit and the whole concept became overdone, we were treated to brief, charming revisitations every few years, in various other X-Titles). But then I started reaching futher, creating my own cosmology, fuelled by all these comics and films and magazines and the roleplaying sessions my friends were allowing me to subject them to. The LINK universe was born from those sessions, but it hadn’t received its name or the unwritten bible that has kind of been the guiding light of my writing ‘career’ (for lack of a better word).

But all that started with a series of story ideas I began hashing out for my graphic novel magazine, which I figured would be like Heavy Metal, except without the gratuitous sex references that made it difficult for artsy highschool students like myself to get their hands on. I hadn’t yet really come to grips with the idea that the sexiness was part of the selling point. I’m not entirely sure I have now, and I certainly have no aversion to sex these days.

I can’t remember exactly what day or even what year I decided to lump all of those stories under the banner ‘The Sunday Afternoon Matinée’. I’m pretty sure I was still in highschool. If not, it was definitely college. I’m also pretty sure I’d started dreaming up the first of the LINK continuum stories. I didn’t realize they were actually part of the same thing yet.

I do remember that the name itself came from my memories of visiting my grandparents on weekends and trying to keep myself entertained while they watched old black and white movies on this program called Movies for a Sunday Afternoon, which I think they watched on the Buffalo affiliate station to ABC (I think it was WUTV). I didn’t watch everything my grandparents watched (I remember 60s James Bond and The Marx Brothers especially), but the program’s title stuck in my head as being a window into the cinematic world of storytelling that wasn’t really for kids. It seemed like a grown-up thing to me, and since I wanted to tell grown-up stories, I needed a grown-up name.

The idea of framing it as a graphic novel magazine that posed as a TV programme that replayed old movies no doubt came from my interest in animated feature films, but I hadn’t really dreamed of it being a new medium, so much as an unpopluar medium that I thought would nevertheless be a good home for my talents as a writer/artist. For that matter, it could just as easily have been named after Elwe Yost’s Magic Shadows program, but somehow, that didn’t spring to mind at the time I needed a title.

I started doodling names on a sheet of construction paper, and wound up with Sunday Afternoon Matinée (thank you, highschool French). It just felt like a title that had been waiting to be, like I hadn’t made it up at all, even though I’d never heard or read it anywhere before. Thinking about it, Sunday Afternoon Cinema has a nicer ring to it, but really, the acronym would have been SAC, which I’m pretty sure I would have rejected on sight. SAM, on the other hand, brings to mind Humphrey Bogart, which suited the tone I was going for, even though I hadn’t yet sat through an entire Bogie film in those days.

So I had a format in mind, a style guide of sorts, and a concept of doing a series of slightly interconnecting bits of oddball fiction, written and at least sometimes drawn by me. And I had a name. A great name, I thought. Still do.

What I didn’t have were money or know-how. I’d been reading comics for years, but I didn’t really know how to write or draw an entire comic on my own. I could plot and script a little, and I could breakdown and render to some degree, but slowly, and I had no patience or inclination for repetition, which should have been my first clue that animation was not in my future. I’d made lame starts at a few comic stories, but hadn’t completed a single page of any of them. I’d get two or three panels done and then lose focus and drift off. I simply wasn’t disciplined enough.

I also hadn’t figured out about Bipolar Disorder yet. I just thought I was a moody teen with cool ideas and too little skill. The fits and starts have always seemed to have explanations other than wonky brain chemistry, so it hadn’t yet occur to me that the deck was–has always been, really–stacked heavily against me.

I had a few collaborators back in those days (Lee Turner, John Merrat (sp?), Fred Bulbeck, Derrick Rose, and finally Rodney Brazeau), but I never really got to work with an artist that could truly realize my stories and help me get the work done the way I envisioned it (Dawn McKechnie, the hands-down best comicbook/cartoon artist I knew, wasn’t keen to work with me, and none of my art class buddies were interested in comics at all). I certainly hadn’t found a writer I was prepared to devote all of my spare time to drawing for. By the time I got out of highschool, I’d just accepted that I was going to have to be my own artist, at least at first, which was what drove me to majoring in art in the first place. You might say that my entire artistic career has been an effort to become the artist I needed to tell my stories.

See, I’d always fancied myself a writer, but I didn’t really want to write prose novels. It seemed to me back then that the kinds of stories I wanted to tell needed a visual component that wouldn’t translate as well to prose. In fact, my first fiction writing had cartoon pictures drawn in crayon in the margins. Not good ones, I’ll grant you, and I remain eternally thankful that those pages no longer exist (I checked). So comics have been an integral part of my storytelling technique from the beginning.

But by the time I was in college, and even afterwards when I was casting about for my next path, comics had ceased to be the direction I wanted to go in. Like most comics fans, I’d been greatly impressed with the work of Jim Lee and Todd McFarland, and even Rob Liefeld for some inexplicable reason, but when I saw what they did upon creating Image comics, taking their stylistic excesses and building entire comics lines out of them with little consideration to good storytelling, I finally realized that superhero comics were dead. Making millions, but creatively bankrupt.

As well, the stories I’d been hoping to break into the industry with–my Nova Comics line–were precisely the same kind of tired rehash that Image wound up doing just a few years later. I realized then that I had been on the same wavelength as those artists and writers, and that they had not only beaten me to the punch, but had beaten the proverbial horse to glue, without me ever having fired a shot.

The Nova Universe remains my greatest personal reminder that some ideas really are ‘of their time’, and should not be allowed to proliferate beyond that point. Superheroes have a Sell By date, and it would be a great service to us all if comics companies would learn this and stop rehashing old favourites over and over and over again (he says as DC prepares to rehash their entire line of comics one more time).

I went off and did the music thing from about 1993 to 1998, some of which I still revisit now and again in the hope of doing with my music what I’d intended to. But after years of fruitless noise-making, I returned to fiction writing, and to my beloved LINK Continuum, and thus to The Sunday Afternnon Matinée.

I started a website on GeoCities, which then was swalled by Yahoo Pages, but I was still struggling with an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder, which I still hadn’t mastered after years of trying to sort it out for myself. I put up drawings and wrote numerous blog entries (before it became widely known as ‘blogging’), but I never really got around to finishing my stories. I’d scarcely started, in fact, when my sister hatched the scheme to make me into a Professional Graphic Artist. The money was good, when it was there at all, and it helped me to polish up a number of skills I’d always been pretty lax at, so it wasn’t an entirely unwelcome change, but it definitely took me away from where I’d planned on going. Where my heart wanted to go.

It’s a decade later, and graphic design has largely proven to be a glorious detour that lead nowhere in particular. In the meantime, I started dabbling in game design, which has mostly gone nowhere as well, but infected me with a love of the concept of Interactive Storytelling, an idea I’ve been intrigued with since the days of Choose Your Own Adventure books. However, some of those abortive projects inadvertently led me to thinking and planning in comic layout again. I find that I default to comics even when I’m trying to do something else entirely. So I’ve drifted back to my roots, which has also led me to reviving the Sunday Afternoon Matinée project once more.

If I don’t lose my way again, new art and scripts and such will start making their way onto this blog, and the final product, in whatever form it takes, will be made available here first. It’s been more than twenty years in the making, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it all work, but it feels like the right time in my life for this. Lots of things exist now that didn’t when I started; things that seem to better fit how I operate. The medium I’ve been searching for my whole life is still non-existent, but it seems to be within reach now, if I can just wrap my brain around how to put the disparate pieces together and get the work done at long last.

Thanks for reading. Hope to speak with you again soon.

Oh, and just for the fun of it, here’s a rough vector of the logo I devised back around 1998 or ’99, which I don’t believe I’ll be using this time around. It’s kind of charming, and has little things I still like, but over all, it’s just too wonky. Even if I went in and straightened out all of the things that don’t work for me now, I don’t think I’d wind up with something I felt fit the project. Still, it’s amusing, and goes on record as the first fully realized comicbook logo I’d drawn since junior highschool. Enjoy:

SAMLogo1

Lee.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.

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