I’m putting together the new issue of my zine,Â The Inner Swine, and thought I’d cross-post this essay written by me and old friend Jeof Vita (also the cover artist for TIS). It’s about the comic book we co-authored a decade ago, mentioned previously on this blog. Enjoy! Or don’t, bastards.
Jeff and Jeof Wrote a Comic, Once
The Birth, Glorious Existence, and Sudden Demise of Evil Boys, Inc.
by Jeff Somers & Jeof Vita
JEFF SOMERS: THE YEAR was 1996. I was 25 years old and had just started to realize that working a 9-5 job for a living was a liquor-greased slide into hell. Bill Clinton was President, and everyone was complaining that Alanis Morrisette’s hit single Ironic didn’t contain a single ironic statement in it. The Macarena was waiting in the wings like a bloated spider eager to feast on your bodily fluids, and The Inner Swine was not yet the international sensation it was soon to become.
This was also the year TIS cover artist Jeof Vita and I co-wrote a comic book.
Until I sold The Electric Church to Orbit books in 2004, the comic was the most money I’d ever made for writing something. It was the first and last comic book I ever wrote, and also the only collaborative writing I’ve ever done. Writing is usually a pretty solitary experienceâ€”me, a keyboard of some sort, a pen and paper, a bottle of suspicious whisky, my failures and squicks, boredom, horror, and headphones. I generally dislike other people’s ideas and am generally timid about explaining my own to anyone. This is a personality defect, but it’s one of those glorious defects where there’s no margin in actually trying to rectify it.
At any rate, I came across the preserved written records of this collaboration recentlyâ€”every awkward jotting, shorthand note, and doodle, along with lots of correspondence and other arcana. I have piles of this sort of shit all over the placeâ€”I am a huge fan of saving things, and a huge failure at organizing it in any way. Every single line I’ve ever written is stored here in Camp Levon. Every. Single. Line. Meaning that totally deep and dark poem I wrote when I was fifteen and slightly buzzed on wine coolers? Yup, totally in a file in my office. That murder mystery told from the POV of a cat that meandered for thirty-three pages before collapsing into a tiny White Dwarf Star? Yup, in the filing cabinets, causing minor time dilation every time I walk past it.
I mean, piles of this stuff.
Anyway, I rooted out the comic book stuff because someone contacted Jeof Vita and I about it recently, seeking archive stuff for a web site. Because, you see, the comic book was a tie-in to the old TV series Sliders, and as Jeof Vita wrote in his email to me about it the other day, Sliders Won’t Let Us Forget. The fact that there is sufficient interest in a mediocre sci-fi series from the mid-90s to sustain more than one web site is pretty amazing. While going through the mass of notes, I decided to try and pull together the events that led to my only collaboration. Here’s how I remember it:
ME: Joe’s Morgue, you kill ’em we chill ’em.
JEOF VITA: That wasn’t funny in 1990, man. Stop it. Listen, I have an opportunity to pitch a story idea for a Sliders comic book.
ME: That’s cool. (casually glances over at a box labeled DISCARDED COMIC IDEAS FOR SLIDERS)
JEOF VITA: Problem is, I don’t, uh, have any ideas.
ME: Gimme half the money and I’m in.
JEOF VITA: Done!
(I reach into the box and extract an idea at random. It is a blurry cocktail napkin on which is written SLIDERS BURGER KING. I stare at it for a moment)
ME: Uh, we may need to sit down and brainstorm a little. Got any booze at your house?
JEOF VITA: Bathtub’s full of it.
ME: I’ll be there in twenty minutes.
JEOF VITA: Whoa whoa whoa hold up one second. I donâ€™t remember what you WERENâ€™T drinking back in â€˜96 but whatever you WERE having on this day has obviously warped your brain pretty significantly. And thatâ€™s no easy feat. Hereâ€™s how it actually went down:
Dials phone to Jeffâ€™s motel room. Jeff picks up.
JEFF SOMERS: The keyâ€™s at the front desk under â€œValkyrie Maiden Ingaâ€ â€¦ did you bring your shield?
JEFF SOMERS: Inga?
ME: Uhm â€¦ Somers, itâ€™s Vita?
JEFF SOMERS: Vida? Weâ€™re not scheduled for today you little minx. But if you want to put it on my tab, come on up.
ME: No, you idiot, itâ€™s Jeof Vita.
JEFF SOMERS: â€¦ â€¦ â€¦ wrong number, Jeof.
Dials phone again.
JEFF SOMERS: Hey Jeof! Uhm, I mean â€¦ hello?
ME: Dude. Inga?
JEFF SOMERS: I donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about. Iâ€™m afraid of shields.
JEFF SOMERS: â€¦
ME: OK look whatever, Iâ€™ve convinced my company that I can write a comic-book adaptation of a mildy popular sci-fi TV show and that they should pay me for it. Only problem is â€¦ I donâ€™t write. I hate words. If you co-write, I can give you 3/4ths of the payday.
JEFF SOMERS: Oh no you donâ€™t, I write half, I WANT half!
ME: â€¦ uhm â€¦ OK â€¦ you drive a hard bargain. But itâ€™s only fair. We split it 50-50.
JEFF SOMERS: Thank you, Jeof. I am now divorced.
While I deny everything just said, I suppose we can agree that however it happened, we formed a partnership to write a comic story set in the Sliders universe. Based on the notes I have from those heady weeks in your dank, dark basement apartment, drinking peach schnapps and absolutely terrified of your bathroom, I think I can accurately reconstruct the creative process that birthed Blood and Splendor, a comic book that still gets five or six hits on teh intarwebs every year or two:
STEP ONE: I would drive over to Jeof’s Jersey City apartment after work. Find his door unlocked, so I go inside and find Jeof passed out on the kitchen floor with his head in a plastic mop bucket. This is how all of our creative sessions start, with me dragging Vita into the shower and running the cold water until he starts screaming. There is usually a chicken in the bathroom with us, and a bowl of milk.
STEP TWO: When Jeof is conscious again, he towels off and we enter his bedroom/office where he fires up his powerful Mac computer. Since this is 1996, I believe this was the Banana Jounior model, which had just added the color red, making it the most advanced computer evah. I can remember the beautiful wooden handle Jeof had to crank in order to make the computer work.
STEP THREE: Jeof becomes engrossed in pornography on the Internet, while I sit quietly on the floor, alternately fending off the hostile and aggressive chicken and writing the story that would become Blood and Splendor. I show my pages to Jeof and he glances at them. â€œYeah, that’s great,â€ he mutters, and continues surfing. After a few hours I let myself out.
JEOF VITA: Itâ€™s so interesting how things get so distorted when looking into the Way-Back Machine â€¦ But let me set some facts straight before we move on.
FACT: We did indeed collaborate on a comic book story based on Sliders. It was billed and marketed as a LOST EPISODE of the TV series when in truth, it was a moment of sublime scavengering by yours truly when no one else in their right mind would be caught dead writing a Sliders comic book.
FACT: I did live in a basement apartment from which nothing, not even light, could escape â€¦ or enter for that matter. I called it â€œThe Caveâ€ and I â€¦ well I was â€œBatmanâ€ natch. â€œBatgirlsâ€ and â€œCatwomenâ€ rotated on a nightly basis. Somers was â€œEggheadâ€ once but we vowed never to talk about that ever again.
FACT: I did have a Mac because Somersâ€™ PC was riddled with viruses â€¦ mostly STDs.
FACT: Iâ€™ve never been caught with my head in a mop bucket. Toilet, yes. Bucket, no.
FACT: Pron rules.
FACT: Somers presented many pages to me during that collaboration. 3 out of every 4 pages were filled with an epic series of doodles called the â€œFugue of Painâ€ which usually centered around large women with mustaches. Jeff destroyed most of these. He keeps his faves under his mattress to this day. They all feature shields prominently. One even showcases Robert Shields of the mime duo â€œShields and Yarnell.â€ Google it.
Now that thatâ€™s clear as mud, this collaboration effort was primarily fueled by the promise of cold hard cash. Jeff and I had bandied about other ideas for collaborative writing but given my fear of all things word-related, they always went something like this:
ME: Hey Jeff, I have an idea about a hooker whoâ€™s really an undercover microbiologist and sheâ€™s trying to track down a john whoâ€™s really an evil genetics weaponeer who wants to create an army of super-whores to overthrow the government. Problem is, the weaponeer is the hookerâ€™s son. I have a cover designed already. It pretty much rocks.
JS: Uhm. Yeaahhh. Yeah that sounds â€¦ wow. Write up a synopsis and send it to me and Iâ€™ll see if I canâ€™t flesh it out. Wow.
At the words, â€œWrite up a synopsisâ€¦â€ I typically hung up the phone because I was already bored. To Jeffâ€™s credit, there was never an idea that he wouldnâ€™t entertain for at least three seconds because after all, he could only write so much obtuse poetry before even he began questioning his manhood.
The Sliders comic however was different. Did I mention the promise of cash? So we actually tried to get work done because every page of words meant another $40 for each of us. Of course, I tried my hardest to make it a 40-page book consisting of one word per page but Jeff kept trying to shoehorn in â€œcharacter developmentâ€ and â€œplotâ€ and â€œreasonable scenariosâ€. I finally gave up and decided to find out what Sliders even was about.
What we came up with finally was a true work of genius. It was sublime. It had pathos, ethos and the other Musketeer too. Unfortunately, since Jeff stored it on his computer, it was corrupted by one of the roaming STDs and we had to start over from scratch.
The stillborn result? â€œBlood and Splendor: A Sliders Lost Episodeâ€
JEFF SOMERS: And there you have it: Egotism, personal anamosity, voodo involving chickens, and pornography: That’s how we wrote a comic.
They actually paid us for it, too, and then actually published it. And the artist was nice enough to include a shout-out to The Inner Swine in one of the panels. Jeof and I were flush with our own success and genius, so we formed a little partnership, called The Evil Boys.
What can I say; we were young.
The Evil Boys wrote a few more things, none of which met with any success. We wrote a script or the actual television show Sliders, now that we were familiar with its universe and all, but the show was canceled not long after that. We worked on a few treatments and then just sort of gave up, which is my preferred way of doing just about everything. This article, in fact, is the first time Jeof and I have collaborated on writing since 1996.
Twelve years on, Jeof Vita now sits in an office all day and knows what the words â€œoffice casualâ€ mean, whereas I am the 1,956th most popular science fictiony author in New Jersey. The only constant in all this? That’s right: The Inner Swine.