When I was a kid, I didn't want to grow up to be the President. Or a super spy. Or anything as easy or ordinary as that.
I wanted to be Stan (The Man!) Lee and write The Amazing Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four.
(If those comics weren't available, I was willing to do The Avengers or even Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. But not Millie the Model or any of those icky romance comics. I mean, jeez! A guy has got to have some self-respect!)
So, of course, now I write Last Kiss - a humor strip using old romance comic art with new dialogue.
Last Kiss's not-so secret origin began in 1987. I'd been a Seattle newspaper reporter and columnist, but I was shifting over to doing comics - writing Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics (something I still do). But I was looking for a project of my own - where I would own the rights.
Meanwhile, Charlton Comics was going out of business and selling off rights to its series. And I got this crazy - and by that I mean "stupid" - idea: "Hey, if I buy this stuff, all I have to do is rewrite the dialogue. I can do my own comics. It'll be easy!"
So, I looked for the most comics I could buy for the least amount of money. And that turned out to be First Kiss. Sight unseen, I bought the rights to all 40 issues for $400.
Back then, I thought great comics meant guys in tights bashing bad guys. So my jaw dropped when I received the First Kiss art. There was no action. None. Mostly it was just women standing around yearning for romantic bliss - and being very, very unhappy. (Until the last panel where they finally got kissed.)
So I went back to writing Donald Duck.
Years later, I realized the obvious. These romance ladies were virtuous icons of morality and repressed emotion. But they could be saying anything. And, the more outrageous, the funnier!
In 1996, Last Kiss debuted in Comics Buyer's Guide poking gentle fun at the comics industry and its fans. By 2000, Last Kiss was a regular feature, and thereafter appeared in every issue until CBG's demise in 2013.
Along the way, Last Kiss became a comic book miniseries, a newspaper comic (in The Seattle Times for a year) and was featured on a gazillion tons of merchandise.
But it wasn't until Last Kiss launched on GoComics in early 2009 that the series really came into its own. Instead of weekly, I started doing Last Kiss three times a week.
Suddenly, I was getting tons of feedback from readers. (Some of it very funny.) And, as those readers formed a community, the comments started to shape my gags. I started doing more and more outrageous jokes - particularly about sex.
Apparently GoComics readers like sex. (Who'd have thought?)
Wacky lust has always been part of Last Kiss. But I'm particularly grateful to GoComics (Thanks, Shena!) for trusting me to walk (or even skip) even farther along that oh-so-narrow line between clever sexual suggestion and crass sexuality.
And - along the way - I'm having a ball. I'm learning a lot about myself, my readers, the romance genre and (Yes!) even sex.
Last Kiss is continually evolving. Besides First Kiss, I've begun using art from old public domain comics. (Redrawn and colored for me by the amazing Diego Jourdan Pereira.) Most of it is romance art, but we've also used panels from Westerns and other genres. (Expect some surprises in the future!)
But what about my aspirations for writing for Marvel? Of being Stan Lee?
Well, a few years ago, Marvel asked me to be one of the writers on a five-issue series. Irony #1? It wasn't a superhero title. It was Marvel Romance Redux featuring old Marvel romance comics with funny new dialogue.
Irony #2. It turns out many of Marvel's romance comics were written by Stan Lee.
So, it seems I'm following in Stan's footprints after all.