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On McBlack

When I was young and stupid, I decided that I was going to draw and write an ongoing comic series called The Bad Man. It was about a monster who wandered all over a strange landscape, picking fights with more or less everything he came across and stopping only to replenish his supply of ammunition, which he would spend in vast quantities.

I went through all of my sketchbooks looking for monster designs which I could pit against him. One of these designs, which I think dated back to high school, became the character McBlack, who was to be a recurring antagonist in the series. The concept was a simple: an unkillable gunslinger who operates as a private eye, except instead of solving mysteries he does freelance dirtywork.

I say that I was young and stupid not because it was a bad idea, but because f the way I underestimated the size of the undertaking. It took ages. I penciled most of the first issue, but when DC’s Helix imprint rejected a separate project, which I had cold-pitched to them, I gave up on comics and decided to focus solely on prose. (I’ll talk about that Helix pitch one day–failing to follow it up despite the editor’s invitation was a rookie mistake.)

Fast forward about five years. I’d sold my first prose short story and I was working on a novel, but I somehow also managed to complete a handful of comics shorts–illustrated by other people–and my confidence was up.  Of course the next move was to attempt a graphic novel. I didn’t think I would be able to find an artist willing to commit to drawing a whole book for me, so was going to have to be fairly short. It had to be something that I thought would be fun to draw if it was going to hold my interest as an artist through long hours at the drawing board once the fun part–the script–was over and done with. I thought about doing The Bad Man again, but it was too big and open-ended. I decided that McBlack–a recurring villain from a book which is about a villain–seemed like a good candidate for a stand alone multi-genre adventure.

‘Mainstream’ comics writers are generally very good at high concepts, but not so good at character and plot. Feels like nine times out of ten, if they don’t have a story to wrap the concept around they’ll just do a half-assed version the Maltese Falcon and call it pastiche. McBlack, I decided, would grow increasingly unhappy about being slapped into a boilerplate crime noir mystery and, as a result, he would actively work to bring the plot itself to its knees. Then put a bullet in the back of its head.

So it was to be metafiction, then. I figured that if enough people got shot and stuff blew up most readers wouldn’t hold that against me.

The Bad Man appears in just about all of the McBlack stories, where he serves a different purpose than originally intended. McBlack’s role is to violently deconstruct genre tropes; the Badman’s role is to violently deconstruct McBlack. He literally tears apart the protagonist every time he appears. In text, you might consider this karmic justice. Out of text, you might look upon it as auto-criticism. If neither of those work for you, you may simply enjoy it as a bit of the old ultraviolence. Who says I don’t cater to everyone?

I wrote the script for McBlack in 2005 and, once I had given p hope of finding a real artist to draw it for me, I penciled 3 pages. Once I was convinced that I might be able to pull this off, I started looking for an inker. I tried out a dozen different inkers and eventually I chose the best of them. He completed one page and then refused to return my email about the remaining two, for which I had paid him in advance. That was when my friend Chopper John suggested I talk to Dave Gutierrez. I didn’t think Dave would want anything to do with it when he saw the pencils he’d be working from, but Uncle Chop-chop approached him for me and to my surprise, Dave agreed to do it.

Dave was the best thing to happen to McBlack. The look of the books is as much him as me–he fixes a lot of poor anatomy, he works out most of the lighting, and he generally adds a layer of professionalism that you otherwise wouldn’t see on the books. He’s also streets-and-miles better than the first inker I hired.  Ron Salas, co-ceator of Existence 2.0, produced an amazing cover for me and we were off to the races.

McBlack was a marathon, not a sprint. It took about five years to finish McBlack vol.01, all told. I think it’s clearly a freshman work and you can see me learning to draw as the book progresses. I had a more difficult time translating my own script into artwork than any of the artists I’ve worked with, before or since–I just didn’t have the chops to draw a lot of what I’d written, which necessitated a lot of rewrites and a lot of improvisation in the lettering. In some ways this works to the benefit of the story. A lot of the funniest moments are the result of that improvisation, especially when it comes to the dialogue. In the script, McBlack’s dialogue was very terse and all of the smart aleckry was confined to the captions. Glad I ditched that idea.

I self-published McBlack vol.01 in 2010, a few months before my graphic novel The Sixsmiths–my Direct Market debut–came out from SLG.

In 2011 I had the script to vol.02 written, but I knew it was going to be a long time before I had any of that ready and I wanted to put out another McBlack book in the short term. My initial idea was to do an anthology of short stories, so I could get some other artists to work on the book for me while I concentrated on vol.02–but one of the short stories, in which McBlack is hired to be the protagonist of a sequence of video games, need more space, and also provided a story-based reason to change up the artwork. I enlisted Tom Bonin, Mike Athey and Trevor Wood to help me out on McBlack One Shot, with Luke Pickett on colouring. I drew the framing sequence and one of the game levels myself–the level in which McBlack must fight the Bad Man. My one regret remains that I did not have enough budget to get Dave in on inking duties. Rhys James provided a beautiful painted cover for the book.

McBlack One Shot proved to be a popular seller at local conventions. On the strength of this, Black House Comics approached me about taking over the publication of McBlack. Just in time, too–I’d just sold out the entire first edition print run of volume 1.

Better still, Bruce Mutard became interested in the story at Supanova Brisbane and offered to draw a sequence if I ever produced another one shot. I came up with the idea for McBlack Two Shot that night–the Two Shot is about dreams. I knew who I wanted to draw the first three of the levels I had planned–Bruce, Luke, and me–and I had a very specific idea about how I wanted the fourth level to look… but no artist. On day 2 of Supanova, John Stewart of Phatsville came up and showed me his portfolio. Jackpot.

Two Shot came out early this year, in time for Oz Comic Con. I had Dave back on inks and Luke back on colours and I once again drew the framing sequence. Rhys of course did the cover again, and when he asked for some interior pages I gave him my ‘level’ of the story as well–the compulsory fight with The Bad Man.

I have now completed the pencils for the first issue of McBlack vol.02–Lady McBlack–and Dave is inking them. I’m most likely going to serialize vol.02 into issues so that I can keep the story coming out through 2013. No schedule yet, but expect the first issue around March. I expect there will be a third one shot in 2013 or early 2014 as well–I have the art team lined up, but I don’t yet have the plot nailed down. Stay tuned, space ranger–you’ll hear it here first.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read the books yet and you’d like to they are all available for sale  right here. If you’re a digital comics sort of person the books are now available from comiXology.

Asbestos underpants sold separately.


1 thought on “On McBlack”

  1. Pingback: Looking back: McBlack – The Australian Comics Journal

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