By the time we started seeing less and less of Jim in the offices, Louis Small Jr had become the next penciller on Dark Dominion. Louis, an ex-US marine had received Jim’s approval and was now on board to take over from Joe, the trouble was there had been a slight delay in getting this sorted and, as a result, the deadline was now quite tight for everyone, once more.
Despite this, however, we managed to get the book out on time, but I remember working very long hours to do so. Louis and I had only spoken very briefly, but he had picked up the vibe from me about the way I been working with Joe and so we adopted a similar approach, with Louis leaving out some details for me to paint them in. As a result this issue became one of the more painterly in look, but this took a lot of time to produce. I had inked part of the cover for Joe on Issue 5 and now with Issue 6 I was inking and colouring the cover.
I still feel the book came out great, especially under such deadline pressures and Louis did a sterling job. I really enjoyed working with him on it and have to say much more than I at first anticipated following on from the successful team-up I had with Joe. I only wish I had received the pages back from Defiant, but they were never sent with the other artwork for some reason and by the time I noticed it was too late to track them down.
I was working on a late issue of Dark Dominion and some more War Dancer pages, some Good Guys pages, as well as some Charlemagne pages and it was now starting to tell on me. I remember switching room from the main office to the side office overlooked by the Pan Am building. I had been away from the apartment for five days by the time I started with a sore throat and I was feeling both tired and run down.
I was desperately trying to keep a pace going with the books, ensuring all of them saw pages fed back to the production department evenly, or at least as best I could. It finally took a toll though, as the sore throat gave way to a runny nose and then a cough, not much at first but then as I ached all over and my eyes streamed and I knew I was getting rougher by the hour.
Ron Zalme came into the office and asked how the pages were just before mid-day. I was still managing to fight off the illness at this point and said I would have them ready the following morning. As the day progressed however my output had almost come to a complete and utter standstill. I was working alongside both Sue and Ben on the latest Good Guys pages and I felt so rough I really was frightened they were going to come down with the same thing.
Su had been coughing all that morning and Ben was starting to sniff and it was obvious they were catching something from me. I refused any lunch, as I just couldn’t stomach anything. By around three o’clock I was lying on the floor coughing and becoming increasingly aware of less and less around me.
I awoke and tried to continue to work on the remaining pages I had promised to finish. This series of sleeping sessions on the floor, although not really sleeping and then trying to work, continued for the remainder of that day and the night too, as I strove, through the hours of darkness, alone to finish in time.
I had managed to get Su to go home, but Ben had insisted on staying on, alongside me to finish off the book, but he too was becoming worse, however. The only other person in the office was Joe, who was becoming increasingly worried about my condition.
By the time daylight had returned and the office was becoming populated again. Ron Zalme popped his head inside the office again. I was still three pages from completion, with Su at home in bed ill and Ben having left to go home feeling equally lousy.
Ron was not impressed with the pages still unfinished and I tried to apologise, but seeing me still working I don’t think he realised just how ill I was. Ron made sure the entire office knew he was not happy, but I couldn’t have done any more.
By the time Janet got into the office, Joe had gone straight to her to voice his concerns over my deteriorating health and about the outburst from Ron. The first thing she did was to take a look at me and then immediately ring Jim to tell him.
I then heard an almighty blow up between Janet and Ron, as she explained in no uncertain terms his actions had been uncalled for and about how ill I was and could he not see.
A short while later Jim popped his head into see me and his face said it all, he was really worried about my health. He asked if I needed a doctor and was about to contact his own, but I remember saying all I needed was some sleep. He asked how long I had been at the office and how long I had been feeling this way.
I explained it had been some six days since I had been back to the apartment, which was insane, but so too were the deadlines. The books were late and I was doing my bit to keep them as on track, as I could. When he heard this and saw how long I had been feeling ill he left me and a few moments later Janet, Joe and Ed came in and insisted I went home. I explained the pages need finishing and I was told they didn’t want that to be at the expense of losing me altogether.
Jim insisted I was sent back to the apartment and to sleep until I was better.
So it was that one short taxi ride later I found myself in the warmth of my much-needed bed once more and then the next thing I remember was the phone ringing. I had insisted that Joe give me a call the following morning at eight thirty. It was now nine o’clock, but I felt better, stronger. Maybe not firing on all cylinders, but the worst seemed over.
I went back to the offices and the first person to come over to me was Ron, who apologised profusely for losing his temper the day before and explaining he had no idea I had been so ill.
I offered my hand to shake his, adding he wasn’t to have known, as I had been in the other side office for days, so he could not have seen me much during that time. Also from the time I had said he could have the pages to the moment he had come back into the little side office I had taken a big change for the worst.
The pages were finished that day and the rest of Dark Dominion was finished too. I still don’t know why Louis didn’t do any further issues with me, but the one we did together was fun to do. This, however, meant we were without a penciller once again - enter JG Jones, whom Jim had met at a convention. And so it was that a new team of penciller and painter was on the books.
Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse Ed Polgardy told me he was leaving for the sunny climes of Florida. So now we were looking at yet another Managing Editor leaving. Debbie Fix was promoted to Office Manager and Pauline Weiss (Alan’s wife) was added to the team of the editorial staff. Jim continued to give his seminars and appear at conventions across the USA.
With a shed load of pages to produce on the Good Guys, once again, it was decided to have Su, Ben and I work from the apartment over the weekend rather than risk interruption inside of the office. So on the Friday mid-morning we began a weekend session from the apartment. I had been given £100.00 as expenses for the three of us to eat there. On the Friday evening I asked the other two guys what they wanted to eat and having heard me speak so much about them, it was decided they wanted to try an Indian meal.
I looked in the phone book and found one solitary entry in it, which was luckily just around the corner, near Central Park. Now the décor should have warned me, but suffice it to say it didn’t and I ordered three main courses and a nan bread. I waited for around half an hour, but eventually the meal came inside a brown paper bag and so did the bill.
I still have the menu, which I picked up on the way out of the restaurant/take-away in my archives here somewhere filed away, but at the moment I am too busy to make a search for it. I will endeavour to put out more details in a future Blog, if I come across it though.
Now back home, here in the UK, the rice is not usually an extra, or at least not as a take-away. Here was different and the meals did not come with rice included. I was then faced with having paid almost the whole of the $100.00 dollars, expecting to have paid the same kind of money as for all the other take-away meals we had had for the duration of my stays there. This was not to be the case, however and I have to admit to this being the only time I felt ripped off at being charged some $93.00 for three main courses, and a single nan bread, but no rice.
I arrived back at the apartment and checked the contents and immediately rang the place up and explained that they had forgotten to put the rice in the sealed bag and as a consequence there was no rice included with the meals. I was told they didn’t come with rice and it was an extra. I told the guy on the other end of the phone that I could have bought a meal for twenty people with the cost of the three here. But the deal was done and I paid the price.
So for the rest of the weekend it meant I either starved the guys, or foot the bills throughout. I have to admit it did tickle me a little having paid so much for so little and we ate from the regular places for the rest of the weekend and for the three of us eating very well indeed, breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper it didn’t come near the cost of the Indian.
As the unease around the Defiant offices worsened and Jim’s presence was sorely missed, I felt, the crew soldiered on regardless. I felt, however that the original drive was being lost now and something was missing and folks continued to leave the ship, which was still very much buoyant at this point. By now I was in receipt of pages by JG Jones and so was working with yet another artist on the book.
Debbie Fix who had taken over as Office Manager could see I was worried about the state of things at the offices and asked if I would like to take a trip out to West Point Army Academy. So that Saturday morning we set off on the train for upstate New York, using the Metro-North rail service from Grand Central Station in mid-town Manhattan, up the east bank of the Hudson River to West Point. It was a lovely, if somewhat cramped train journey through some wonderful countryside.
It was a great day out and reminded me of many films where the backdrop had been West Point. Having taken a tour around the camp we ate at a nearby restaurant, before heading back to the concrete jungle of NYC on the train once more.
Below: Various Pages of Comic Art:
Charlemagne Issue 1 Page 43
Dark Dominion Issue 8 Page 1
Dark Dominion Issue 8 Page 22
The absolute high point of my 1994 stint in New York was when I was taken to the Brandywine Museum to see NC Wyeth’s work. Originally we were going to see the Frazetta Museum, but this moved in the interim period, and as he was one of the biggest influences for Frank Frazetta, it was decided that we go there.
What a totally idyllic place it was and the epitome of beauty on this wonderful trip. I arranged to meet Joe outside his apartment and we both then got a taxi to Janet’s home in Brooklyn. There we packed our belongings for the weekend in her car and set off through New York across Pennsylvania to the Brandywine River at Chadds Ford.
We went on a thoroughly enjoyable guided tour of the museum and saw the marvellous paintings, which had captured the imagination of a young Frank Frazetta. Dimly lit they had a magical feeling about them, as though at any minute they may come to life.
Walking around the grounds and along the riverside we all three felt the same inspirational empathy with the land, which NC Wyeth and the other artists that formed the Brandywine art school, must have also been inspired by. It was a very tranquil experience and one, which I really feel the three of us needed as a getaway to the feelings of unrest that were rooting themselves in the offices back in the city.
We stayed at a nearby hotel and went to a few shops, whilst we waited for dinner to be served at the hotel. On the Sunday we again visited a small town and its shops, before heading back to NYC via a Lobster Pot restaurant, where we enjoyed a wonderful seafood meal of Lobster, Crayfish and all the other seafood that came with the platters.
With such a wonderful weekend spent with Joe and Janet I could see a massive difference in both the attitude of the staff at the offices, who seemed edgy now and obviously worried about things. There was also the additional worry of the running of the offices without the influence of the captain at its helm, Big Jim Shooter.
Despite the sombreness that could have prevailed had we all allowed it to, the worry was still being fought off by occasional frivolity, even if the brevity of it all made it all the more apparent afterwards. Usually in these situations I try to find some light-hearted thing to make folks laugh and this was one of those times.
Now I had played a prank earlier on my good pal Rob when every time anyone had spoken of him I had started to tell folks he was from the Bronx, or Harlem, Little Italy, or China Town, or Bedford Sty’ or anywhere except where he was from, which was Brooklyn. Now this went on for some time and was a source of sadistic pleasure for me as I saw him laugh, but want to kill me and then it got old and I stopped, which is unusual for me, I know.
Well Rob was very much into the rock band Pearl Jam. Now I was too, but I pretended I wasn’t for a bit of light relief. Now for those of you that know me well you know I love karaoke and that although I sing all sorts of stuff, my piece de resistance are my impersonations of Meatloaf and Phil Collins, which always go down great guns at parties.
Well I knew I could do a passable take off of lead singer Eddie Vedder; not as good by a long chalk as my Meatloaf and Phil Collins, but as I say passable…or should that be, annoying – I guess you should ask Rob. He was threatening to maim or kill me on occasion, so I figured I had him rattled…perfect.
Well I decided for some reason to keep taking him off every time Rob asked someone something, in order to answer him. Rob was okay at first, but then I knew I was getting to him, so I upped the ante and carried on even worse than before, so that the only way I spoke to him was as Eddie Vedder singing…yeah you get the picture. Well at least the offices were laughing again. This went on for some time until one late afternoon Rob had come past me saying something to me as he did so, when I replied as we walked away from each other as Eddie Vedder (well come on you would have thought he would have learnt by now – this had gone on for a couple of weeks, or so, at least, so the warnings not to speak in my vicinity were, for my money, quite obvious).
Without warning and looking like a cross between Wolverine and a Frank Miller Ninja I saw a hurtling shadow coming over me from behind me. It may have looked like that, but it felt like I had been hit as part of a Jack Kirby drawn, Thing versus Hulk slugfest! We crashed to the floor and I turned over to face him as we fell. Once on the deck he knelt over me with his hands around my throat saying, that was it, he could take no more, he had been pushed too far and now he was going to kill me, calling me a crazy Brit so-and-so as he did so.
Despite the death threats I could not help myself, but to laugh my head off and it must have been funny to everyone else, as the entire office soon became aware of the situation of two writhing bodies thrashing about and they all joined in laughing. By this time Rob was laughing and giving me a hug, as we got to our feet. This had been just what everyone needed, a chance to smile and laugh again and it worked.
Then one morning, shortly after the trip to Brandywine, I was told I could now go home, as Dark Dominion was still on track and I would continue to be sent more Dark Dominion and I was commissioned to work on an issue of War Dancer with Dave Taylor, which would be issue 4.
Jim had returned to the offices, at least for a while, by this time, but I still felt there was a growing unease, which had not been there at all when I left for home at Christmas some months earlier. I had been there in total for around nine months by this time.
I figured I wouldn’t be coming back to New York again after this, at least not unless it was under my own steam and so I saw the folks in the office on an individual basis and said my goodbyes and this time, as I say, I felt it really was goodbye. I stood on the sidewalk outside Defiant with my belongings with Janet and Joe and we hugged for one last time and this time it felt more emotional and I felt we all sensed a storm coming, one we may not be able to weather any longer.
Joe had given me a gift, The Art of Arion, a Japanese art book about a forthcoming Anime project at the Christmas leaving, now it was hard to even speak. I for one had an enormous lump in my throat and as I fought off the tears we said our goodbyes and I set off in a taxi to return home to the UK for a final time knowing that soon I would find myself on home soil once more.
This time I arrived at JFK on my own and I was saddened to think Defiant may not be strong enough to survive this period of unease within its ranks, but happy to be going back home to my family once more.
It was a night flight and I had a window seat on the starboard side of the plane that overlooked the wing and although it was still dark I could see the rain pouring outside as it ran down the glass. I had been speaking to an American guy on his way to see family he had in the north west of England in the seat next to me for most of the trip. He was excited about seeing them and I could not wait to see my family again. The weather had been sunny when we set off from JFK but by the time we were coming down to land in Manchester the weather was torrential rainfall. The flight had been made quicker due to the high winds, which had propelled us across the Atlantic and had shortened the trip by an hour.
We were on our final decent, minutes from landing and coming down through the rain clouds when there was an enormous bright flash on the starboard wing outside my window that lit up the entire wing accompanied by an almighty bang. The entire plane full of passengers let out an audible gasp; okay it was almost a scream and then there was darkness. My heart was in my mouth, as I pushed my nose to the window and peered out. I remember turning to the guy sat next to me and telling him, “I think it’s still there!” The plane continued its decent and eventually we touched down, without further ado, but with a deathly silence from its passengers.
As we taxied down the runway towards the airport departure lounge the Captain’s voice came over the cabin intercom system; he sounded Dutch. “ Hi this is Captain (I can’t remember his name) speaking.” He gave us the usual spiel thanking us for flying with that airline and hoped we had enjoyed the flight. He then added he hoped the explosion on the starboard wing had not caused any one undue stress, as it was an arc of electricity, which had caused it to happen. This was caused by the heat of the outside of the plane due to the high speeds of the return flight reacting as a conductor as it was coming though the rain clouds, which in turn caused an arc of electricity to hit the wing.
I couldn’t resist answering his comment and laughing, shouted, “No worries, but we could do with a few changes of underwear down this end of the plane,” which broke the ice and made the entire plane break into laughter. The only regret I have is not being able to remember the theme tune to the film St Elmo’s Fire, as that’s the name for the phenomena we had just experienced.
I arrived home, much to the relief of my wife, Margaret and our children, Joanne and Simon and my close family and friends. I had with me some pages for the next Dark Dominion by Jeff and the promise of a War Dancer book, which was to be drawn by Dave Taylor and more Dark Dominion to come, although I was still a little worried about how long this could last, especially being here in the UK now.
With all the cost cutting measures now in place, I saw myself, as surely they did too, as a very expensive and also potentially expendable asset. I wondered whether the cost of couriering the artwork via Fed-Ex and the time to get pages to and from me, if the pencillers and inkers were late again, would prove the killing blow for me. I supposed only time would tell.
But I’ll share that in my next and final Defiant Blog.
Until next time have fun!
August 9th 2009