Saturday, May 12, 2007

Chaos! Indeed Pt 2: Fun? At First, Yeah...

Chaos! was really a partnership more than a company-- it was Brian and Fran all the way. They had a number of employees, me among them (briefly), but it was their company, their blood and sweat and tears, their dreams and ambitions.

This may explain a lot to outsiders.

Brian was a high-energy idea machine and he preferred to work from home, as did Steven Hughes, the company's artistic director and founding artist (his Lady Death, to me, is definitive). We saw Brian every other day or so but most contact was by phone or email.

When I moved up to being managing editor, I realized that I didn't have the skills necessary to do the job. Confiding this to Brian, he urged me not to worry about it and began looking for a suitable candidate for the job. There were a couple of possibilities but nobody panned out, and things weren't getting better.

Meanwhile, I had work to do. Brian's philosophy was that we should run a 9-to-5 office. That usually is how it worked out but not always; being in the office until 6 wasn't uncommon, especially the longer I was ME. I did my best to apply what I knew from WildStorm to Chaos!, with mixed results. Mike Flippin worked hard to get each issue out the door, as did Jack Gray. The art moved through on deadline-- more or less-- and we got the books to print.

But cracks were starting to show, a number of them due to, well, me.

Brian brought in a chief operating officer and chief financial officer, one an old friend and the other met through a course of educational/life-enrichment training that many in Chaos! attended. Things, especially in terms of management, changed and I had the same sense I'd gotten at WildStorm in 1996: I wouldn't be around too long. There were things going on in the office that only made this clearer as we moved from June into July, and it became painfully obvious when Brian hired a new guy and asked me to start training him, right before Comic Con '97.

C'mon, the writing on the wall was in 48 point boldface.

Phil Nutman, one of the nicest guys I've known in the biz, invited me to breakfast at Comic Con in '97. He said he hadn't heard anything specific but that my job was on the line and I'd better right the ship immediately. (This came after an embarrassing blunder regarding publication of a special edition-- it was my slip-up, through miscommunication with our printer-- and Brian was livid.)

It was August of '97, about five months after I started, that things fell apart badly. Brian hit me (not literally) with two write-ups of things he insisted I had failed to do, and fired me on a Friday about a week before my birthday. It was startling but also a relief. I'd come to dislike nearly everything about Chaos! by that point-- there were some people I liked, some people I could work with, and some I couldn't even look at (luckily, this last group was very few in number). All told, though, I was relieved not to be in that job, just as I'm sure Brian was convinced he'd removed an obstacle to the company's success.

I cast around for another job, found a position through a temp firm, and worked for an insurance company until my year's lease in Scottsdale was up. (This job was, if anything, far WORSE than Chaos! but I didn't want to break another lease if I could avoid it. It didn't matter; I didn't get my security deposit back anyway.)

As with WildStorm, was there anything I miss about Chaos!? Anything that I liked?

Brian tried to run a happy office. Often it was-- a field trip to the local amusement park stands out-- but sometimes it really wasn't. He and I had different sensibilities-- he was passionate about certain types of horror, which didn't appeal to me as strongly. We co-wrote a pretty good EVIL ERNIE #0, with some stuff I'm rather proud of having written, but my enthusiasm for hardcore horror waned with every passing week.

In short, there's much less I miss about Chaos! than WildStorm.

Let me close with where I thought Chaos! might go. Some of you reading this may have already heard about how I suggested we head toward the millennium (some of which we incorporated into a card set), but here it is again:

  • Ernie and Smiley (his psychotic button) have a falling-out and Smiley leaves, which sets up Ernie falling apart-- his body (which isn't his) starts to rot fast and Ernie has to find his own original body before he collapses. (Smiley, it turns out, is an integral part of Ernie's undead vitality.) Along the way, he has to tie his arm-bones together with barbed wire lest they fall apart. He has a hellish encounter with the ghosts of his parents, an event that nearly destroys him, facilitated by the Dead Mind (a gestalt undead consciousness that wants to wrest control of the zombies from Ernie).
  • Smiley hooks up with Homicide and (GROSSOUT WARNING) pins himself to Homicide's eyeball so that his new partner won't toss him aside like Ernie did (or so Smiley thinks).
  • Lady Death realizes she's been played by Lucifer: If she pursues Mega-Death (note the similarity to the name of a certain metal band), Earth will become the Endless Graveyard (her Afterlife prison for hundreds of years). She can never return to a living Earth, which is what part of her always wanted. She begins to break past the attributes foisted on her by Lucifer (through a complex machination involving his creation of an "anti-Eve") and really fights the Devil's plans for perhaps the first time rather than being his catspaw.
  • Leonard Price injects himself with an anti-zombie serum and becomes "half-dead", an intelligent and independent zombie whose goal is to fight Ernie on more even terms.
  • Ernie's doctor (sorry, can't remember her name) is put on trial for 'necrocide' and nearly killed but survives.
  • Her little sister and her boyfriend are roaming zombie-killers.
  • The host of Chaos! characters align against Ernie, fearing that Mega-Death will kill them or put them under Lady Death's power.
  • Lady Death realizes that she does love Ernie; his love for her has been pure and selfless. It's a devastating moment for her. But she has to stop Mega-Death, putting her in the weird position of trying to save the world.
  • In a desperation move, she tells Ernie that she never loved him but only used his love to further her own goals. Ernie is driven further into madness by this betrayal and unleashes his full power to bend reality, even as the missiles fly, the zombie armies attack and Mega-Death is imminent.
  • The last double-page spread is a whiteout with little bits and pieces flying from an explosion in the middle: Smiley, part of Lady Death's belt of skulls, a shred of Ernie's leather jacket, and so on.
  • Close on THE END.
  • The next month, a new EVIL ERNIE series would launch with Ernie as a troubled delinquent high-schooler, his former doctor as a classmate (and the only one who remembers what happened before), and an evil greenish ghost-mist (Smiley?) that haunts Ernie; we'd also see an amnesiac Lady Death out in the middle of nowhere, depowered and bereft, put on a path to reclaiming the components of her identity through a series of trials and confrontations over the course of a year. The new Earth is broken in some significant ways, setting up new possibilities for horror moving forward.
  • And this would have been the springboard for the new Chaos! universe, circa 2000.

Ah well. Don't even get me started on the GEN13/EVIL ERNIE pitch I put together.

To be honest, I haven't so much as glanced at a Chaos! title (or Avatar or anything else Brian's written) since about 1998. Not much interest, really. It's not like I hate Brian; I haven't felt any animosity for the guy in a long time-- I even sent him a letter congratulating him on a deal with Marvel in 1998, to which he sent a gracious response-- and even wish him and Fran well. Besides which, they've weathered their own heartbreak: Ernie and the rest of the Chaos! lineup were sold when the company went out of business, but Brian held on to Lady Death (a character I always believed to be an homage to Fran, in a way) and has kept her in print, which is heroic in its way.

And that was the end of my days as a comic book professional. Let it be a warning to you, friends. Sometimes there are appealing, even dream jobs that you're better off turning down.

By the way, this post is subtitled in tribute to a Monty Python sketch.

Does anyone remember the Piranha Brothers by Monty Python? They ask a guy about his dealings with Doug and Dinsdale Piranha. He explains that after denying he was the guy Doug wanted to see "he loosed his temper and nailed me head to the floor."

The reporter, shocked, asks, "He nailed your head to the floor?"

The man replies, "At first, yeah."

This is to give context to my feelings about my time at Chaos!, in case you wanted to know.

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