Another “note” Eva passed onto me from somebody at Gold Eagle with editorial aspirations was a suggestion to change the code-name for the so-called alien organization from “Archon Directorate” to “Argon Directorate.”
In Gnostic lore, Archons are otherworldly entities who act as jailers for the human spirit to prevent a full communion with the divine…the Demiurge.
Substituting the name of an inert gas was so dumb, Eva didn’t even bother to respond to whoever made the suggestion.
To be fair, not all of the suggestions that came my way were dumb. For example, the character of Domi was originally conceived as a tattooed half-feral wild child from the Outlands. Eva’s idea was to make Domi an albino, like the character of Jak Lauren in Deathlands. I resisted the suggestion for awhile, then ended up liking the visual.
The prototype for Domi reappeared in Cryptozoica as the Maori girl Mouzi…depicted here by the awesome Jeff Slemons.
You can order the Cryptozoica TPB or ebook here: http://tinyurl.com/ct3tfnz
(Yeah, that’s a plug. My blog. I’m allowed.)
Just for the sake of being thorough, I’ll state that the prototypes for Brigid, Kane and Grant had appeared years before as The Miskatonic Project in the H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu comic series. Here, depicted by the inimitable Darryl Banks, they were named Fleur Averoigne, Justin Sabbath and Augustus Grant. Yeah, that’s right…Grant.
Due to my background as a comics creator, I crafted many elements in Outlanders based on their visual impact. Known in the days of radio drama as “shiny things for the mind”, it was a way to provide the imagination of the listener with strong imagery. A good example are the Lone Ranger’s “shiny” accoutrements—mask, white hat, silver bullets, white stallion, Indian companion, so forth and so on.
So for Outlanders, I came up with the black Magistrate armor with the red-tinted visor and bright red badge…
…as well as the Sin Eater firearms which slid out of forearm holsters–a tip o’ the Stetson to The Wild, Wild West, where the whole thing began.
There were props like the Mnemosyne, vehicles like the Deathbirds and the Sandcats and of course, the creepy Barons/Imperators, their creepier hybrid servants and of course…the last “Archon” himself–Balam.
From the actual storytelling standpoint, I knew from the outset I wanted to go in the opposite direction of most Gold Eagle series, which were told in a stand-alone, very episodic formula. In Deathlands, I found the formula particularly stultifying—most of the plots were small and simplistic (some less charitable observers might say simple-minded) and the books almost always ended where they began. Very often characters were defined by catch-phrases like “By the Three Kennedys” and “Hot Pipe!”
Just as an aside…as far as I’m concerned, when you give characters catch-phrases that they trot out on cue, you’re not writing books…you’re writing a cartoon (“Ay Caramba!” “Jinkies!” ) or a comic strip (“Leapin’ Lizards!”).
Anyway… I chose the serial story arc approach and planned subplots that ran from book to book. I also decided early on that Outlanders would be global in scope and the threats the main characters faced would frequently be world-threatening and grounded in some scientific theory, from quantum physics to genetics.
As another major departure from Deathlands, I wanted big villains—not necessarily in stature, but in their goals. My favorite bad guy remains Sindri who made his debut in the fifth novel, Parallax Red. A dwarf and a genius with, as Brigid said “ambitions to challenge God”, Sindri was my homage to The Wild, Wild West’s Dr. Miguelito Loveless, so memorably portrayed by actor Michael Dunn.
Sindri, with his unrequited love (or lust) for Brigid and his obsession with getting the best of Kane, returned in five more books over the years.
A lot of what became canon in Outlanders was planned while writing the first book. Much more of it grew organically in the next couple of years worth of novels.
Months before Exile to Hell was published, I asked the then-executive editor what the promotional plans for Outlanders were. I was informed such plans were basically non-existent. There would be some in-house advertising (poor reproductions of the cover of the first book printed in the backs in other Gold Eagle series books), but that was about it.
He also opined that he expected Outlanders to last no longer than all the other series Gold Eagle had launched in the previous seven or eight years—a maximum of four books.
The editor went on to complain that Harlequin viewed Gold Eagle as a red-headed stepchild and was not going to give the imprint a promotional or advertising budget beyond the absolute bare minimum. He said variations of this so often over the years, it became a refrain.
During that same period, when I suggested Gold Eagle might consider taking a booth at that year’s (1997) San Diego Comic Book Convention to show off their wares, the suggestion was met with a patronizing laugh: “That’s not our audience!”
Oh, excuse me…you publish books about a vigilante who inspired the wildly popular Marvel Comics character The Punisher, and a post-apocalyptic series full of insane sexual perverts, gun porn and biologically impossible “muties”…but people who read comic books are “not our audience.”
I should note that both of those stances—the no promotional budget refrain and the dismissal of my SDCC suggestion—had severely toxic repercussions a decade later.
By the time Exile to Hell was published in the spring of 97, I was working on the fourth book, Omega Path, half-assuming it would be the last one. Before I turned it in, I was offered a contract for another four books in the Outlanders series. Eva told me that it was safe to assume Gold Eagle finally had a hit… and went it on from there for roughly the next dozen years.
I wish I could say those were happy years but once Eva Kovacs left (or more accurately, was forced out), the tenor sharply changed—and definitely not for the better. I’ll most likely blog in more detail about some of those years, but here the focus has been on the genesis of the Outlanders series—a series created and guided by a single writer for many years, a series that was not promoted nor advertised by the publisher in any meaningful way, a series that was in most respects a complete departure from anything Gold Eagle had ever produced before.
Yet it has been consecutively published for sixteen years and at one point was touted by Gold Eagle as having sold over a million copies. By most standards, all of that makes Outlanders the most successful mass-market paperback original series published in the last 25 years.
Yeah, I know…in the scheme of things, creating a mass-market paperback original series that has run as long as Outlanders isn’t likely to get me featured in any historical retrospectives.
But when you consider that almost none of the MMP series that have been published over the last 40 years are still around and when you also consider the truly horrific state of the publishing industry since 2008, then “by Mark Ellis, creator of the best-selling Outlanders series” is not a credential I’ll allow anyone to diminish, ignore or to appropriate.
There’s an attitude I’ve seen among Gold Eagle readers—and even among some Gold Eagle writers—that these series sort of self-generate and no single vision is responsible for their creation.That may be true of some series…Deathlands was created by one writer and developed by another…and certainly Gold Eagle’s Rogue Angel was creation by committee.
But it’s not true of Outlanders and despite the best ego-fuelled efforts of some revisionists to pretend otherwise (mainly by deliberate omission), it never will be.
So now we come full circle back to Hopalong Cassidy’s rhetorical question: “That’d be showin’ off…and we don’t do that, do we?”
Actually, we shouldn’t have to do it. But all too often, just to establish a minimum set of bona-fides, we’re forced into it.
More’s the shame.