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Bubblegum Crisis epilogue

2011 June 7

Here’s another interesting item unearthed during spring cleaning, which seems worth a post: the unofficial Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 epilogue comic that never was.

Page from imaginary, unlicensed, incomplete Bubblegum Crisis comic book

Sample page, click for really large view

Like the vintage computers mentioned previously, I hadn’t completely forgotten about this, but it had been years since it’s seen the light of day. And looking at it now, after such an interval, it does surprise me in one or two ways.

First though, for context, as per usual we must flash back to dear auld ISU in the late 1990s. Cue wavy-line dissolve.

The mainstreaming of Japanese comics (manga) and animation (anime), here in the United States, has progressed so far that it’s difficult to recall how relatively recently it was still mainly a fringe phenomenon, if one tremendously-popular with its fanbase. And a dozen years ago, I was right out of central casting for one segment of that burgeoning fanbase: a 20-year old male college honors student.

Moreover, while not obligatory as demonstrated by various anime-fan friends of the time, it certainly did not hurt that I was also a comics fan. In fact, for a while in those relatively primitive days before DVDs and YouTube and Toonami and what-all-else, the local comic store in Ames stocked a respectable collection of anime on VHS cassette, for rental. A resource of which I and various roommates and other pals made frequent use.

Somewhere along the line, while feeling my way through anime’s “canon,” I recall coming across the original, incomplete Bubblegum Crisis series and its reputation as a “cyberpunk cult classic.” I haven’t seen any of these for many years, and suppose that they were entertaining enough, but very definitely a 1980s product.

When episodes of Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 began appearing, though, I took notice and it quickly became a major hit among our loose association of anime fans. It had everything we wanted from anime. Attractive young women, powered cyber-armor, explosions, cliffhanger-drama, monsters, and a pitch-perfect sense of humor. We must have snarled “I need some coffee” at one another, before breaking out into a giggle-fit, for years.

Sample page from BGC comic book

'Sylia Stingray.' Would even Stan Lee have dared that one?

It was also a rather drawn-out presence in our lives, or at least in mine; again, one has to try and recall a time back before most content was available everywhere in the world, immediately upon initial release (one way or another). We didn’t see new episodes until each succeeding cassette showed up for rental, with a wait of probably a month or more in between.

I seem to recall that wait for the final episodes being particularly long, and I know that by the time I found them I had graduated and moved to my first apartment in Des Moines. Which, at the time, had no VCR; so determined was I to brook no further delay that I just bought a VCR that same afternoon, which still strikes me as a remarkably precipitate purchase, by my standards.

But after that, unfortunately, it was over. And remained over; to my knowledge there’s still been no further development of the property. The ending was fairly complete, but still. I suppose I was subsequently in withdrawal.

And thus, about a year later judging from file-creation dates, began what would prove more-or-less the last gasp of my adolescent dream of making comics. I’d nursed this hazy goal rather indifferently through college, producing a few pages now and then, but by graduation I no longer had any serious expectation of veering into illustration as a career.

I still kept at it as a hobby for some years, though again, rather sporadically. Between late 2001 and early 2005, I did manage to come the closest I’d ever done to a complete standard-length comic book story, in the form of an “epilogue” story for the BGC2040 series.

I have 25 finished penciled pages (plus a redundant splash page which I completely re-drew because the first effort sucked it). I have a script which I picked over for years. I photographed all of the pages (this was pre-digital, for me) and then scanned the prints, so that I could use them as guides for lettering.

When that was finished, I would be able to block out the areas which would be covered by lettering and then ink everything else. Finally, per my original intent, I would have assembled this with a cover and other appropriate material to get a multiple-of-four page count, and then had a few dozen copies actually printed up and bound.

Didn’t happen, obviously. The project basically died over the course of 2004, I guess, with last, halfhearted attempts made in early 2005. At which point I had a lot of things going on in my life, and… that was pretty much that.

Sample page from BGC comic

Bar concert!

And so now, though I’m sure I’ve had these pages out of their bag at least a time or two since, in really looking at what I’d done I’m surprised by two things. One, how blush-inducing dorky the whole story was. Two, how simultaneously very respectable the art was.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still see all kinds of weaknesses; I’m not sitting here thinking “wow I could have been a professional!” Still, compared to the various earlier, rougher efforts from my ten or twelve years of trying to draw comics, I really had forgotten that I’d ever become this good.

Sure, I never could render worth a dang, and to some extent I dodged that here by drawing other drawings (i.e. styled anime model-sheet characters) rather than people. For that matter, a lot of the story is just “talking heads” rather than complicated action scenes, and I could get away with a dodgy grasp of anatomy since people were mostly pretty well-covered by normal (non-superhero) clothes. And taking ink to these pages probably would have produced an even more-amateurish effect, because I never got very good with pen or brush. Etc., etc., etc.

Still, some of what I see here impresses me for what it is. I think it improved over the course of the story, the longest I’d ever drawn, by far. By mid-way through I think I had my cast of characters down pretty well, and my compositions and layouts at least hinted at some degree of maturity. Some thoughtful “camera angles” were employed. It almost looks like, ten years after I’d first studied them, the lessons of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way had finally sunk in beyond a theoretical level.

Anyway, go 25-year-old me.

All these years later, meanwhile, I really don’t feel any longing to go back and complete this, or even that much regret about failing to do so earlier; as I say, the story was really dorky. (I should have worked in something actually happening, at least in a flashback or something if nothing else.)

Still, it’s a pleasant little discovery and a reminder that yes, when we work at things and keep working at them and keep working at them, we often really do begin to get good at them. And that, as a result, it’s probably worth giving more thought than most of us do to just what it is that we’re spending our time getting good at.

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