Gary Carlson and Megaton helped many creators on their way, including Rob Liefeld and Angel Medina. See them in the Ink Stains way back machine!
Megaton Comics Explosion and Megaton Holiday Special: 1987 and 1993
Edited by Gary Carlson
Published by Megaton Comics and Entity Comics
I have known Gary Carlson for a fairly long time…in fact, I am not even sure when we first started talking, but I assume it was the mid-eighties, since he has some work of mine from that time. Gary has always had an obvious love for superheroes, especially the general aesthetic that comes with those from the golden and silver age (before all the grim vigilanteism that came in the 80s). Via email, he told me, “I grew up on the 50s and 60s material – mostly DC books and heroes. The one Marvel book I followed at the time was the Avengers. I did become a fan of Marvel in the early 70s, but was never a zombie. By then I was a fan of the artists & writers as much as of the characters. Modern comics don’t appeal to me so much – too many feel like they really want to be movies or books.” As for what and when he started reading comics, he said “I started in 1962 or so, when I was five years old. My brother Jeff was three years older than me and introduced me to the wonder of not only buying and reading comics, but trading them with his friends for other comics! He later introduced me to Mad magazine, rock & roll (the Beatles on Ed Sullivan) and other great stuff.” Carlson has also helped many creators to jump start their careers in comics, a few of which you will see in this column. And don’t worry, if you like Megaton, I have many other issues I will be covering at some point in the future. For now, though, if you like, feel free to go to Gary’s Big Bang site to see more. But first, finish reading this column!
The two covers you see above are two separate publications, from different companies and times. On the right you see a free multipage pamphlet that Carlson sent out free with orders (under the Megaton Comics banner). Within, set up as a sort of “secret files,” you will find the flagship Megaton character, as well as fan favorites such as Dr. Weird (drawn by a young Jim Starlin!), and Grass Green’s Wildman and Rubberoy, as well as new characters like Erik Larsen’s Vanguard, Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood, Angel Medina’s Bezerker and several others. Hey, even my Feral character is in there! Did I mention Rob Liefeld? You can see the whole booklet in the download that you will find on my site here.
The cover on the top left is from a special holiday issue from 1993. Since Christmas is only a few weeks away, I thought this might be a great time to cover that issue. The roster of creatives is just as impressive as the pamphlet (this special was done after several issues of Megaton were lodged under Carlson’s belt). Included are stories and pieces from Kelley Jones (who did a trading card included with the issue, seen at left), Fred Hembeck, Angel Medina, Howard Keltner, Grass Green, Frank Fosco, Jerry Ordway, Bill Maus (who did all the coloring), Liefeld, and others. Other issues included people like Erik Larsen, Jackson Guice, Sam de la Rosa, Mike Gustovich and many others. Gary talks about Erik Larsen, Butch Guice, and Chris Samnee below. Gary had big plans!
On Erik Larsen…
Always on the lookout for artists, I had ordered copies of Erik Larsen’s Graphic Fantasy fanzines and was very impressed. I think Ken McFarlane, who was drawing a story (I think it was the pulpish Skull story), decided he wasn’t up to it and sent the plot on to Erik without telling me. When I found out, I thought ‘Oh crap! Erik’s too good for that!’ and I came up with the basic concept for Vanguard. Erik was much more experienced than I was and taught me a lot about plotting, pacing and dialoguing comics.
I saw a few ads he drew for the Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find shows and wrote to them asking to put me in touch with Guice. He was working on the Crusaders (later the Southern Knights) at the time and I was surprised that he was interested in working with me. His work was very slick and polished. It was hard to believe that he couldn’t get other work. He went right from Megaton to Marvel’s Micronauts.
I think that I met Chris Samnee at a comic convention in St. Louis. Most of the work he was doing was manga at the time. Chris [Ecker] and I liked his work and we produced the Knight Watchman ‘Watchmanga’ story that ran in Big Bang Comics #10. He was as enthusiastic as Rob Liefeld had been, and kept sending pin-ups and sketches to me. Lots of fun, fun stuff. His style evolved into a more traditional comics style and we eventually did a New Whiz Kids story a few years later.
The first story in this issue features Megaton himself, as well as Ultragirl. The credits are plot by Carlson, script by Ron Fortier, pencils by Frank Fosco, inks by Aubrey Bradford, and letters by Brent Carpenter. Like the other stories in this issue, it has a holiday theme, more lighthearted than most superhero stories. The artists also don’t skimp on the details in the backgrounds, as you will see by a sample of the story below.
I changed the order of the pdf to accommodate the fact that Gary has two centerfolds (with one obviously being broken up), so I am also inserting one of the centerfolds here. This is a very early Youngblood piece by Liefeld and inked by Jerry Ordway. It was done long before this holiday special, but Rob let Gary use it (and on the inside front cover, Rob is very gracious to Gary for publishing his early work). Of Liefeld, Gary says “Rob wrote to me when he was 16 or so. I later found out that he was referred to me by my buddy Chris Ecker, who was at NOW Comics, where Rob had applied. His work was a little bit rough but he was the most fun and enthusiastic guy I’ve ever met. His work was improving by leaps and bounds, so he did some pin-ups, a story or two and we were set to do his Youngblood series. But when we solicited Youngblood in 1987 (as Megaton Special #1, I believe) we only got orders for about 1,000 copies. It was buried by the black & white glut along with the rest of Megaton Comics. Printers back then had minimums of 5,00 to 10,000 copies per issue.”
The next story is by Carlson (story), Steve Adams (pencils), W. C. Carani (inks), and Grass Green (letters), and has Vanguard as the star. Below is a sample.
The other centerfold you see below is an oil painting by John Thompson, a big three by four foot piece that Carlson mentions on his blog is still hanging in his home.
The third story is by me, and features my Feral character (I did the art, story, and lettering and Maus colored it). A funny side note is that the bumbling security guard is based on my late uncle Lee…Feral himself is based on me…well, what I looked like way back then! I also named a character mentioned only on paper after Milk and Cheese creator, Evan Dorkin (apprentice elf Dorkin). If you want to see the installment of Ink Stains that shows more of my Feral work, go here. Below are two pages. Don Chin played a part in my working with Carlson, who recalls “I think I only worked with Don Chin when he was writing Feral with you back in the Megaton days. I was certainly aware of his Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. Who wasn’t back then? Don asked about printing the Megaton Holiday Special in 1992 or so, after reading that it was complete but unpublished. I knew Bill’s [Maus] work at Entity with Don on the parody books that they had on the market. I believe that Don pointed Mark Lewis in my direction when the Mr. U.S. Book that Mark and Nat Gertler had done fell through. Mark become one of the cornerstones of Big Bang Comics”
The final story is a Dr. Weird entry, by Ed DeGeorge (story), Angel Medina (pencils), Howard Keltner (inks), and Grass Green (letters). Medina had a hard time remembering the story, it was so long ago (and of course he has gotten so much better since then…a totally different artist). He did say this via a Facebook message, though.
I do remember I wanted to draw that character because I was a huge fan of Jim Starlin’s work (still am). And if that story led to a Dr. Weird series, I wanted to draw it. The only thing is, not too long after, I was offered another Starlin creation, Dreadstar over at First Publishing. And even later, I got the chance to pencil Warlock for Marvel. Working with Gary was the best. He was about as much a comic book nerd as it gets, and so he published Megaton much more for the love of the medium more than anything else. Which is why his company tended to attract “fledging” artists who were just as a big a “nerd” as he was (like myself, Erik Larsen and Rob Liefeld). Since he couldn’t give us much in the way of money (although, he really made it an effort that we got paid), he gave us a lot of creative input into whatever we were drawing. Which is why I wanted to draw Dr. Weird. I wanted to go all balls out Starlin on that in the same manner that Jim did when he did Warlock. Particularly that one really surreal story when Warlock went on trial. Then followed by the intro of Warlock’s future self as the Magus. I was hoping to get that cosmically expansive with Weird (imagine Warlock’s star-faring theme combined with Dr. Strange’s mysticism).
Gary talks about how he started working with Medina with “I happened to see Angel Medina showing his portfolio to someone at a ComiCon and I was impressed. I followed him to strike up a conversation but lost him in the crowds. The next year, he brought his portfolio to my table and I jumped up saying ‘You’re that guy!’ and started describing the pieces from the year before. It turned out he lived about a half hour away, so I used to drive down to his parents house to drop off and pick up stuff. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
Lastly, there is a really nice back cover that would have fit much better as a front cover…but perhaps Gary thought S. Clarke Hawbaker’s Neal Adams like work would fill the seats. Below you see the back cover by John Thompson.
As an added bonus (well, I hope you think of it that way), below are pages from a Megaton character story that never saw the light of day…in fact, many pages are not even inked. So, gaze on the glory of my artwork in its juvenile stage!
Well, I ho ho hope you enjoyed that little bit of holiday cheer via Gary Carlson and the Megaton crew! Don’t forget to get that pdf download of the whole book on my site, so you can see the entire stories, Hembeck’s page, etc! Thanks this time out go to Gary Carlson, Angel Medina, and Chris Ecker. If you want to take a short trip though the history of Megaton now, go here and read Gary’s account.
Happy holidays, fellow comic and fandom nerds!
Ken Meyer Jr.