02 March 2011

crippled baby steps


Ally Comix has been a part of my life for 25 years.

In 1986 I met my oldest friend, Craig Thompson in Mrs. Sparr's 5th Grade homeroom. We instantly hit it off as geeky, goofy low-income kids. We also happened to be the two "best" artists in our grade level, according to our classmates. (One guess as to who was considered the best.) Soon thereafter, during a sleep-over at his place, Craig introduced me to the world of comix via an honest-to-god spinner rack of comix in his bedroom... Jim Shooter's Marvel and the black-and-white independents of the time were a revelation. I was absorbed -- obsessed -- and instantly started collecting them and dreaming up my own stories featuring my favorite characters. I also intuitively became obsessed with the craft of comix. How they were created and by whom became a favorite, years-long library research project. Which led to Ally: Phase One... Moving beyond dreaming up stories for established characters, I started dreaming up my own characters and stories. As did Craig, as did our little brothers, as did a neighborhood friend. So we started our own comix company -- Alli ("with an 'i'") Comix, which evolved over the next couple of years into Ally Comics. Our li'l bullpen would take turns meeting around our families' kitchen tables, brainstorming, jamming, drawing, and making comix for ourselves and each other. We kept our "company" and our comix going through Junior High.

In hindsight, Ally: Phase Two established itself during and after High School in a couple of forms. I met my second oldest friend, Chris Wood in 1991 when his family moved (back) to Wisconsin. Chris and I attended the same church with our families and frequented the same comix shop. The initial meeting was awkward, but we quickly bonded over a desire to create comix; he was an artist and I fancied myself a writer. Over the next number of years we'd sit at the coffee shop brainstorming, jamming, and planning submissions and publishing endeavors. Then he moved. Around that time, Craig had gotten back into comix (after taking a lengthy break for non-geeky socializing and girls) and I had recently befriended another comix-creator wannabe, Tim Seeley. I introduced Craig and Tim, and we -- no surprise -- started brainstorming and jamming on prospective self-published ventures. Thus was born Ally Publishing, which became Duck Puppet Press, which promptly went the way of the dodo bird as we parted ways for educations and careers a few months later.

A decade passed, and I had given up on what I perceived to be an "impractical" dream. I still read and loved comix, mind you, but I had no desire to create them. (Or so I thought.) I thrilled to Craig and Tim's established professional comix careers, a proud friend. Chris and I had drifted apart. And I had become close friends with a fellow ROBOTECH fan and comix enthusiast, Jonathan Switzer. We'd talk daily about our favorite fictional universe, the latest comix we'd read, and life in general. At some point, Jonathan had shared with me a character and story he'd dreamt up when he was a kid -- Scwonkey Dog -- a story he still tinkered with and hoped to publish someday. "Inspiring! That reminds me of Ally Comics..."

Cue Ally: Phase Three. The Summer of 2007 found me heartbroken, unemployed, and in a rut. I had picked up my final paycheck from the job I'd been let go from just a couple of weeks before. Driving to the bank, I was thinking: "What's my one constant love in life...?" Then it hit me. "Comix, of course!" I wanted to explore them again, create them again. And -- for some unknowable reason -- I was moved to reconnect with Chris after far too long a time to share my revelatory moment. "I'll call him after I cash my check." I cashed the check, was rolling out of the bank parking lot, and my cellphone rang. It was Chris(!). Before I could share with him my own news, he -- in his charmingly manic way -- shared with me his... He was creating comix again! We talking for hours. We brainstormed, jammed on ideas, and started making plans. When Jonathan and I next talked, I shared with him what had happened. Jonathan started laughing. "Just a couple weeks ago, I started working on SCWONKEY again!" Brainstorm, jam, plan. Ally Comix was back. Over the next year, we conferenced, created, and made arrangements. Things felt fated.

Unfortunately, life got in the way for all of us. After an underdeveloped "company" premier at Wizard World Chicago 2008, the fire we had faltered. But it's not been extinguished. Jonathan has never given up working on SCWONKEY. Chris is back working on THE GOLDEN AGE. My own AMERICAN NARADA is coming soon, and old projects are being dusted off. The Brain, the Heart, and the Soul -- all allies in making each others' dreams and stories a reality. But it won't be easy. I know that. Lives are being lived; lessons are being learned. "Baby steps" may be too ambitious a goal for Ally: Phase Four. "Crippled baby steps" is more like it.

If you can't walk, crawl. If you can't crawl, roll. Just never give up.

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* Logo designed by Jon Thompson.