This question recently popped into my head during my appearance at Tulare Sci-Fi Con last weekend, when another vendor asked me if I use to doodle on my school assignments as a kid. That got me thinking about some of the things that inspired me to get into comics in the first place. The answer? TV, lots of TV. Yes, it may seem odd that watching television as a kid drew me to comics, but it's something that just happened in that order for me. As I have more than one small-screen-based inspiration, and because I have quite alot to say about each of them, I'll be breaking up these discussions into four parts. This week, I'll be discussing the show that had a lasting impression on me both professionally and personally: "Unsolved Mysteries."
Growing up, I was never a big fan of the horror flicks that were popular at the time (in my case, the mid-to late '80s) such as "Friday The 13th," "Halloween," or "Nightmare On Elm Street." Instead, I was drawn more to cheesy low-budget movies that were more comedy than horror like "Maximum Overdrive," and "The Stuff" (although parts of George Romero's and Stephen King's Creepshow series did legitimately scare me as a kid). Overall though, there wasn't much on television or in the movies that I could go to for a "terror fix." Enter "Unsolved Mysteries" in 1987. Originally hosted by "Perry Mason" himself Raymond Burr as a one-time special (which I don't think I watched by the way), it was a news-magazine style show that focused on of course, unsolved cases, everything from missing persons, murders, legends, psychics, and my favorite: UFO sightings and abductions. When it was picked up as a series, former "untouchables" star Robert Stack (though I knew him best as Captain Rex Kramer from "Airplane") took over as the show's permanent host. What made this show beyond scary and awesome were three things: Robert Stack's voice, the incredibly well produced re-enactments, and of course, one of the creepiest tv themes ever composed. As much as it scared me as a child, I couldn't get enough of it. Who cares if this show gave me countless nightmares? It's all in the name of entertainment, mental scarring be damned! Even though the show has long since been cancelled and I just have my dvd box sets, I still watch them religiously and only at night to really set the mood of this creepy program.
So you're probably wondering at this point: How did THIS show inspire me to write and draw comics? Well at first, it didn't. As I got older though, I had still been producing a superhero comic series that I had worked on since I was about eight years old. By this time I was in high school. and my tastes had changed when it came to stories in general, whether they came off a comic page, a tv screen, or film screen. I became much more interested in writing stories based on my personal interests, rather than standard superhero plots involving bank robberies. That's when I remembered how much I enjoyed "Unsolved Mysteries" growing up, and wanted to write a story based on elements from different episodes of the show (specifically the UFO stories), and involve my superhero characters. Out of all that came "Cosmic Force." Their origin story was based off of two of my favorite UFO stories from the show: "Australian UFO," where a pilot flying a single engine Cessna encounters a strange green light and vanishes, never to be seen again, and "Missing Time," which chronicles several people who claim they witnessed strange objects in the sky, and then cannot account for a large amount of time that was lost shortly thereafter. Aside from terrifying me as a kid, what I also loved about this show was the "mystery" aspect of it. Not knowing what really happened during a case and drawing your own conclusions as to what may have transpired. You don't always need to know the answer to everything, and that just makes things more interesting.
So that's the reason for my being inspired by the creepy, sometimes paranormal "Unsolved Mysteries." Next week, I'll be speaking about another TV show that helped steer me toward four-color panels, and while I won't mention what it is just yet, I will say this: It's not live action.