5 Famous Folks You Had No Clue Were Comics Nerds
It's not uncommon for famous people to end up creating their own comics as vanity projects, and by "creating" we mean "letting someone else ghost-write the entire plot based on a 15-minute phone call." You know a celebrity is a true nerd when they have comics-related credits under their name from before they got famous ... even if it's stuff they'd rather forget about. That may or may not be the case with ...
The Wachowskis Wrote A Low-Selling, Short-Lived Marvel Comic ... Which Led To The Matrix
It's a mystery why Marvel doesn't make a big deal out of the fact that Lana and Lilly Wachowski, some of the most successful and influential directors ever, started out writing comics for them. Unless you've read those comics. Then there's no mystery. The Wachowskis' first professional writing work was part of a failed line of comics created by horror author/director Clive Barker, A.K.A. the reason why a Hellraiser Holiday Special exists. Sorry, Hellraiser DARK Holiday Special. Yeah, that's more dignified.
After writing a few issues here and there (including a Hellraiser Spring Slaughter special, which is probably just 30 pages of Pinhead posing in a thong), the Wachowskis became the regular writers of a series called Ectokid, about a teen who is "the child of a mortal and a ghost." That seems like they skipped over the most interesting part of the story -- in an ideal world, we would have gotten a comic called Clive Barker's I F#@%ed A Ghost!!!. Incidentally, one of Ectokid's amazing abilities was the power to shoot white, gooey "ectoplasm" at his enemies, then probably feel extremely dirty the entire rest of the day.
A comic about a half-ghost teenager seems like a strange fit for the Wachowskis, until you find out that Ectokid can "jump back and forth between the real world and the ghostly 'Ectosphere' that overlays it." It's like a spookier/stupider version of Neo moving between the Matrix and the real world, complete with the extremely powerful and humorless demons/agents who chase our "very special boy who can save the world" type-protagonist around.
While working for Marvel, the Wachowskis began developing an idea for some weird comic that eventually turned into a weird screenplay. And since studio people don't always do well with "weird," the Wachowskis recruited Ectokid artist Steve Skroce (whom they'd never met before Marvel paired them together) to create a hundreds of huge storyboards so they could "walk executives through the script." So it's no coincidence that Neo looks rather Ectokid-ish in the storyboards, minus the goo and the eyepatch (sadly).
Ectokid's assistant editor, Spencer Lamm, also ended up creating those freaky Matrix promotional websites that made 1999 people feel like hackers just for typing a URL and pressing enter. Ectokid only lasted nine issues, six and a half of which were written by the Wachowskis, but it kickstarted their careers and made a lot of money for the lucky bastards that Marvel randomly assigned to work with them.
9/11 Pushed My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way Out Of A Comics Career (For A While)
My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way is the rare rock star whose comics are good -- not "good for a rock star," but actually readable and even enjoyable. His series Umbrella Academy earned a bunch of accolades and was adapted into a popular-in-its-own-right Netflix show (if you enjoyed it, you are now legally emo). Well, that might be because Way started in comics, but took a long detour as a rich and famous rock star ... because of 9/11.
Way popped his comic book writing cherry pretty early: at age 16, he wrote two issues of an independent comic called On Raven's Wings and, uh, it definitely looks like something a 16-year-old made. At least this led to his TV debut when he appeared in an episode of Sally Jessy Raphael about serial killer-themed comics. He's the decidedly un-rock star-looking kid in the audience at 0:02:
After the quick and completely explicable cancellation of his first comic, Way enrolled in the School of Visual Arts in New York for the specific purpose of becoming a professional (read: non-cringey) comics creator. While there, he managed to score an internship at DC Comics' Vertigo line, which mostly consisted of "photocopy duties." He had better luck when he interned at Cartoon Network, where he got to pitch a show called Breakfast Monkey about "a superhero cartoon Scandinavian monkey who wants to spread the goodness of breakfast to the world." The network optioned the idea but ultimately passed on it because they already had Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and the world wasn't ready for two totally random food-themed cartoons.
That same year, Way did tiny jobs for Marvel, DC, and Image Comics. His dream career was within reach! And then 3000 people died in front of him and that sort of changed his priorities. Way was heading to Cartoon Network's Manhattan offices one morning when he witnessed the Twin Towers crumble and that, understandably, messed with his head. In his words, he said to himself, "Fuck art. I've gotta get out of the basement," so he quit everything and formed a band, turning his angsty apocalyptic thoughts into angsty apocalyptic songs that have sold millions of copies.
Between Umbrella Academy, some work for DC, and a little for Marvel (he co-created Peni Parker, the Japanese Spider-Person in Into the Spider-Verse), Way seems to have ended up exactly where he would have if he'd never taken his detour. He's probably signed more nude body parts than the average comics writer, though.
David Lynch Did A Comic Strip With The Exact Same Panels For 9 Years
David Lynch is responsible for some of the most disturbing images ever displayed on a multiplex, and he's also one of the sweetest people working in the industry. It's hard to imagine Lynch getting angry at anyone or anything (with the exception of five Woody Woodpecker dolls) -- and yet, during the years-long making of his first movie Eraserhead in the '70s, Lynch says he went through a period of "great anger." And how do you deal with anger? By going to therapy, probably. Or, if you're Lynch, by creating an absurd comic strip about a dog frozen by anger, The Angriest Dog in the World.
It took Lynch until 1983 to convince a few newspapers to publish his idea: a comic where every strip shows the exact same panels of an angry dog chained outside a house, with only the dialogue changing. The protagonist is a "dog who is so angry he cannot move," although Lynch himself wasn't angry anymore by that point, so his jokes were inspired by "the memory of the anger." Note that we're using the word "jokes" loosely here.
Sometimes he'd throw an actual gag in there, but other times it feels like he's just phoning these in:
It turns out he literally was phoning these in ... possibly? A former editor at the Los Angeles Reader claims Lynch would call them once a week and dictate the latest nonsense sentence, but there's also footage of the newspaper receiving an envelope with a pre-cut word balloon from Lynch, so in true Lynch fashion, no one knows what the hell's going on.
Lynch kept doing the strip every week for 9 years, until 1992, even as his career took off and he worked on movies like Dune, Blue Velvet, and one a half seasons of Twin Peaks. After 28 years of inactivity in the Angriest Dog in the World brand, the first official collection ever was published while we were preparing this article, which probably has a deep cosmic/psychosexual meaning that eludes us (or someone's been snooping into our search history -- expect a Garfield Rule 34 collection from the same publisher soon).
Neil Tennant Of The Pet Shop Boys Censored Marvel Comics For The UK
The Pet Shop Boys are renowned for bringing the type of music played in '80s gay dance clubs to the masses, partly by making the LGBT themes too subtle for general audiences to notice.
But, before he was making mainstream music more tolerant, one of the Pet Shop Boys was in charge of making comics more prudish. In the '70s, Neil Tennant (the "pop" in "synth-pop duo") worked as an Editor-in-Chief on the UK branch of Marvel Comics, where he oversaw dozens of issues starring Spider-Man, Hulk, and others. What did "overseeing" entail? Well, aside from adding superfluous "U"s to the dialogue and such, part of his job consisted of (to quote the official Pet Shop Boys website) "indicating where over-risque women needed to be redrawn decently." This was because Marvel UK reprinted comics for children alongside comics for older readers, and they couldn't have impressionable British kids looking at Ms. Marvel's midriff or something.
On the less soul-killing side of his job, Tennant got to interview Marc Bolan of the glam band T. Rex on subjects like how Stan Lee is the most perfect being ever to exist or why rock stars love superhero comics.
Tennant was fired after two years in the job when kindly ol' Stan brought in a new editor. He stayed in the world of publishing, though, and eventually landed in a music magazine called Smash Hits, which is where he made the connections to record the first Pet Shop Boys songs, so it all worked out for him. There's a cute story about Lee "shaking with excitement" during a 1991 interview when informed that PSB Neil Tennant and Marvel UK Neil Tennant were the same person ... possibly because Stan's memory was terrible and he didn't remember the "I fired him" part.
Martin Landau Was The Most Handsome Comic Strip Artist Ever
Martin Landau's 60-year Hollywood career included working with Alfred Hitchcock, starring in the original Mission: Impossible, winning an Oscar for Tim Burton's Ed Wood, and, of course, guest-starring in HBO's Entourage (they nominated him for an Emmy just for refraining from punching the other douches in that show). But, before all that, he had a whole other career as a cartoonist who simply looked like he belonged in movies.
But dapper young Landau had no intention to get into acting: he freaking loved comics and dreamed about getting to draw silly crap for a living. That's why he lied about his age to get a job as a cartoonist at the New York Daily News, which put him to work on a popular comic strip called The Gumps. Landau started out drawing backgrounds and such, but those must have been fancy-ass backgrounds because he was soon ghost writing and drawing entire strips himself. He did that for five years and was making good bank, but then something happened that changed his whole life: he found out acting is easy as hell.
Part of Landau's job at the Daily News involved going to plays and drawing the cast. One day, he saw an actor so terrible that he figured even a dork like himself could do better. So, he quit his cushy cartoonist job to join the Actor's Studio, where he became best buds with some other out of work actor, a young "James Dean" type called James Dean.
Even after he made it to Hollywood, Landau's cartooning talents continued to come in handy: he helped Hitchcock with the storyboards in North by Northwest, bonded with Tim Burton over their shared cartooning background, and needed no additional training of fakery to play a doodle artist in the 2008 film Lovely, Still (Tom Cruise isn't the only Mission: Impossible actor who does his own stunts). By then he was still cartooning on his free time and collecting original comic strip art, because geekery is something that never truly dies, no matter how handsome life tries to make you. Sigh.
Top Image: Netflix