Monday, November 30, 2009

A Self-Indulgent Walk Down Memory Lane

Now that I’ve posted the novel, I wanted to give a little background on its main character, Fontaine, as well as her world, and how she came about.
During my senior year in college I had been reading Heavy Metal magazine pretty regularly. For those of you who don’t know, Heavy Metal is a magazine that primarily publishes adult-oriented illustrated science fiction/fantasy stories, in addition to other types of stories. A lot of its content is culled from the underground comics scene and from European comics. At the same time, Penthouse magazine was coming out with its own line of adult comics (“Adult comics so good you’ll read them with both hands!”), featuring works by some of the leading talents in the comic mainstream who were taking advantage of the adult format to write and draw stories that the major comic companies wouldn’t touch.
(The quality of Penthouse Comics was hit or miss. Mostly miss.)
It’s no secret that I love comics, and that I’m kind of partial to porn, so it’s hardly surprising that it occurred to me that, as a hopeful creator, maybe I should jump on the bandwagon, as I figured it was a slightly-less competitive market than the mainstream comics or science fiction and fantasy markets, and that it would be as good a place as any to get my foot in the door.
After all, Neil Gaiman used to write for the UK version of Penthouse. Hell, Neil even wrote a Cherry story.
With that in mind, I came up with an idea for a character who would suit the tone and style of either Heavy Metal – which, while not actually being a “porn” comic featured a lot of sexual content – or the fledgling Penthouse Comics, which had content ranging from the serious to the silly, and I called her…Savage Scarlet.
(Yes, we’ll get to Fontaine)
Savage Scarlet was my idea for a sort of porn spoof of She-Hulk; she was a model who was granted superhuman strength – along with a superhuman physique (particularly in the boob department) – as the result of metabolic changes brought on through the overuse of assorted cosmetic products and procedures: breast implants, collagen and botox injections, liposuction, chemical peels, tanning beds, etc.

Artist's conception of the artist's conception of Savage Scarlet.

The idea was to engage in some mild satirical commentary on our image-obsessed society, and the depiction of women in comics (Image Comics was just coming to prominence at the time and was having a major impact on comics in general), and was intended to be rather light-hearted and more similar in tone to, say, Little Annie Fanny than something more hardcore, like Wendy Whitebread: Undercover Slut.
The only problem was that, beyond the basic idea for the character and some general ideas about what I wanted to do with her, I couldn’t really come up with any material for Savage Scarlet.
Still, I liked the idea of putting together some sort of adult-themed comic suitable for Heavy Metal.
Then one night I was watching TV and flipping back and forth between two low-budget science fiction movies. One was called Nemesis, and was about cyborgs living in some post-apocalyptic future, and the other was called Circuitry Man, which was set in another post-apocalyptic future.
What I found interesting about both of them was they were both rather sexually-charged, and they both prominently featured some ass-kicking women.
Circuitry Man in particular featured a woman who worked as a bodyguard, and there was one scene in which her sexual appetite got her into a spot of trouble. There was also a scene featuring a rival bodyguard, who, while riding in an elevator with her boss – also a woman – unzipped the fly of her male co-worker and reached in with her gloved hand.
Take those seemingly minor elements, the overall goal of creating something suitable for Heavy Metal, consider that at the time I was a walking idea factory, and throw in the fact that one of the comics I was reading at the time was Catwoman (with art by Jim Balent, who was actually pretty talented and had yet to go off to…err…follow his dream of producing a comic that “empowers women.”), and you had the seed of the idea that grew to become Fontaine.
These are the elements I was working with: women filling roles that were traditionally considered masculine roles (bodyguards, thieves, spies, crime bosses, adventurers), women who were as sexually active as any male filling those roles (James Bond, etc.) without being presented as or considered “sluts,” some sort of post-apocalyptic future, and gloves.
Yes, gloves. I originally envisioned a world in which essentially everything was a computer and special gloves served as the interface. Eventually I largely abandoned the notion.
Oh, and there was one other element I wanted to include: hot girl on girl action.
Lots of it.
Why? Well, if you have to ask the question, you’re never going to understand the answer.
So I gave some thought to how to explain the sexual dynamics of this world I was building, and thought, “What if men are in short supply?” That led me to come up with an explanation for the lack of men – a mysterious period in which birth rates dropped precipitously and in which the children that were born were overwhelmingly female, known as the “Generation Plague” – and how that might impact society. That led to a system of polygamy – one which was unlike polygamy as typically practiced – which led me to conclude that the complicated dynamics of this system would make family names problematic, which was resolved by assigning family numbers, which most people ignored for everything but official purposes, as the population of this new world was small enough that even relatively common first names were typically distinctive enough for most people’s purposes.
And that’s when the name “Fontaine” occurred to me.
As an aside, for me, the creative process seems to be a combination of following an initial idea to a logical conclusion and a kind of “revelation.” I usually don’t feel as though I’ve made up the details and histories of the worlds and people I create so much as I feel that these things are revealed to me.
(For the record, I don’t believe that there’s an external source for the ideas, but the manner in which I conceive of them simply feels like revelation.)
The oddest instance of this was the time I had a dream in which I was watching some movie on TV, and one of the stars – Pernell Roberts, of all people – actually stopped what he was doing, turned to look at me, and explicitly told me what to name a particular character whose name I’d been struggling to come up with.
As for all of the sex going on, the idea was that this was an extremely liberated society that had – partly out of necessity, partly out of a loss of the sense of the importance of history and tradition – abandoned a lot of the old ways of thinking and the mores of the past. However, there was also the idea of the more things change, the more things stay the same, and notions about gender constructs and roles and behaviors that shaped this new world. As women stepped up and started filling the roles that had previously been defined as male, there was an extent to which they started exhibiting the behaviors associated with those roles. It certainly wasn’t intended to be a treatise on gender politics, but there were some notions that I wanted to explore.
Further, some of the roles that women began to fill weren’t just the socially-acceptable roles of police officers, or politicians, or whatever, but also the roles that cater to the baser aspects of human nature. Thus you would have women becoming crime bosses, and pimps, and pushers, and thieves, and…well, you get the idea.
Anyway, once I had a name, I conceived of how she would look. Bearing in mind that this was well before the Matrix movies, I decided that in this sexually-charged world modesty would be a thing of the past – and the past was something most of the people in this world seldom thought about – and that in addition to a lot of exposed skin, what was (at that time) considered strictly fetish-wear would become the fashion. So I was picturing skintight latex.
I went to the old drawing board, grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, and set to work, and for the first and only time in the history of ever, I actually hit the nail on the head the first time, drawing a picture of Fontaine that looked exactly as she looked in my head.
(That picture has been lost to the ages in the course of moving more than a half a dozen times.)
Having already decided to invert a lot of conventions, I decided to go a step further and make Fontaine something of an oddity in her sex-crazed world: she would have no particular sex drive of her own.
The notion suited her personality, and I thought it made for an interesting contrast. Fontaine was an exceptionally beautiful woman in a world filled with exceptionally beautiful women, and she would be the object of desire for virtually everyone she met, but wouldn’t feel any desire for them.
Toss in some aliens, and a sentient Internet – at the time, the World Wide Web was just beginning to achieve any sort of critical mass – and I had what I needed to write the script for my first Fontaine story. While darker and more action-oriented than Savage Scarlet, I wanted to keep the high sex content, and so the first story was kind of silly, focusing on Fontaine being hired to recover a group of teenage boys who’d been kidnapped and held as sex slaves by an especially libidinous woman.
So, with script in hand, I picked up some Bristol board, grabbed a pencil and a T-square, and set to work on laying out the panels for the first page.
Then it was on to drawing in the first panel on the page, a shot of the futuristic skyline of the New New York (this was before Futurama, too) with its massive towers reaching miles up into the sky.
And that’s when I discovered the problem.
For the life of me, I couldn’t draw that skyline. It just looked like crap. So I skipped it, and moved on to the next panel, in which I did a decent job of drawing a mostly-nude Fontaine getting dressed. But as for the details in the background? Yeah, not so much.
Most of my life I’d focused on drawing people, and I’d gotten pretty good at it. But things? Buildings, backgrounds, etc? I couldn’t do it.
I tried. I did everything I could to try to acquire and develop the skill, but it just wasn’t happening.
And so, like Savage Scarlet before her, Fontaine was eventually abandoned, along with my hopes of ever being an illustrator.
After some months, however, I decided that I liked Fontaine too much to let her rot in the dustbin of abandoned ideas, and decided that I would bring her over from the realm of illustrated storytelling and into straightforward prose.
I decided to make the sex a little less over-the-top, but it remained a major component.
Of course, as with all creative endeavors, I only worked on developing Fontaine in little bursts before deciding, “I suck, and shouldn’t bother,” and abandoning the whole thing before finally deciding, “Okay, maybe I don’t suck,” and starting the cycle again.
Around 1995 I wrote a short story which introduced a lot of elements of Fontaine’s history, showing some of the things that shaped her into the cold, amoral, adrenaline-addicted, irredeemable narcissist I love so well, and I submitted it for publication.
(I may still have that story on a CD somewhere, but for all intents and purposes, it, too, is lost to the ages.)
I didn’t do much with her again – other than drawing the occasional picture – until I was living in Tucson and wrote another short story, which, upon second and third reading, I decided wasn’t very good.
I then started on another short story, which started expanding and was threatening to become my first novel. Before I could finish it, I moved to Virginia, where I went a couple of weeks without my computer, and by the time I had my computer and could sit back down to write again I totally forgot where I was going with the story.
I looked through it while writing Blood Drift, and while I still liked a lot of what was there, I still didn’t know where I had been going with it, and since that time a lot more has been “revealed” to me, much of which contradicts what I’d written. Still, the basic core idea is interesting, and I may have to revisit it someday.
In the meantime, I’m still looking for more feedback on Blood Drift, and steeling myself for the inevitable wave of rejection slips that will follow if and when I submit the actual finished product for publication.
And that’s more than enough about that, I guess.
I’ll be back at some point with a shorter, more typical post.

1 comment:

Merlin T Wizard said...

I can't recall if I knew that about Fontaine's origins. In that case, the characters may not have been over-sexed at all, probably just right for Heavy Metal and under-sexed for Penthouse Comix.

Savage Scarlet sounds intriguing, too. I could imagine her adventures as tongue-in-cheek spoofs of super-hero comics with mainstream villains reimagined for the beauty industry, like the Zoo Crew for the cosmetic world. At least, that's what I thought of when you mentioned what gave her powers.