Downtime can be a beautiful thing, whether it’s in school, at work or at home. For me, the times when my pen would be busiest with either writing or drawing are at school or at work. It must have something to do with the fact that I should be focusing on something else, but considering what has been developed in the past 23 years, I’m not complaining.
One of the biggest creative bursts I’ve ever experienced happened when I was nine years old, in Mrs. Matheson’s fourth grade classroom at St. Mary’s Elementary. One of my friends and I made sure to get our daily assignments done as quickly as possible, so that we had plenty of time to draw these very simplistic looking robotic characters. There was very little detail put into them, just rectangular bodies, arms and legs and square heads with a few lines on the helmets so we could identify them.
One of my biggest inspirations when I was a kid was TransFormers. I’ve been a fan of the show since its first season when it aired on Channel 11 on Sunday mornings in Poughkeepsie, and I still have vivid memories of my uncle taking me to see TransFormers: The Movie in 1986. Good times indeed. Fortunately, at the time when my friend and I were creating our characters, the show was very popular with all of the boys in fourth grade, so not only were they interested in what we were drawing, but they wanted to get involved and eventually created their own additions. It became a fun way to pass the time among my friends, and surprisingly didn’t affect our schoolwork. Everything was always done on time and my grades remained strong for the rest of the year.
When I changed schools in fifth grade, I barely heard from anyone at St. Mary’s and had to deal with a teacher that went out of her way to make my life a living hell. To say she was not a people person was an understatement. To pass the time, I went back to the characters I had created a year ago and started adding more detail to them. It wasn’t long before they were given a more elaborate backstory and some dangerous enemies to combat. One year later, in sixth grade, I wrote and illustrated my first comic book that would become their definitive origin story. Before long, history repeated itself when the friends I made in the new school became interested in the characters and even picked out their personal favorites.
The summer of 1988 passed and before I knew it, my mother, my sister and I were living in Richmond, Virginia. I was in a completely new school, I had no idea how to conduct myself and my self-esteem quickly bottomed out. Thankfully, I still had my characters, but now that I was twelve years old, I realized how much work they needed. So during my seventh grade year, I ditched the original designs with the rectangular bodies and – once again with TransFormers as a guideline – made a big improvement. I even ditched their original names and gave them something a bit stronger.
These characters continued to evolve as I went from Byrd Middle School to Godwin High, and it soon became less of a group of comic book characters and more of a group of characters in a series of short stories. From 1990 to 1992, over a dozen spiral notebooks were filled and it was safe to say my mother was none too pleased. While my characters were coming alive and the stories were getting more extravagant, my grades were much less than stellar. I was right in the midst of my underachieving phase, and my sophomore year was ending with my third session of summer school staring me down.
Summer School in 1992 would go down as my most productive class up to that time in all four years in Richmond. My teacher was energetic, she was approachable and she made me want to do well. As a result, I went from an F in English 10 during the regular sophomore year to an A over the summer. And if I could thank her for anything, it would be for showing us the John Boorman movie Excalibur.
If you haven’t seen Excalibur, please do so as soon as possible. It’s a wonderful telling of the King Arthur epic legend, and while watching it, I considered coming up with a character who would wield a weapon much like the Sword of Power. But what to call this person, I thought. Two images quickly came to my mind: a specific starship introduced in Star Trek III, and the word on the New York state flag. The word was the same as the name of the starship: Excelsior.
The name was music to my ears, and within a few weeks, I had a basic origin story written out for him. The next year, Excelsior would become a major character in my little universe as I teamed him up with John Baker, my main character who once led a group of soldiers called the Cybernetic Task Force. (Around this time, the characters’ G.I. Joe-style code names were tossed away and they were given real names.) The two of them would tangle with a couple of crime bosses that have tried to take out John Baker, and then meet up with Excelsior’s old nemesis Danak. It was during this period of storytelling that I started opening up this universe to other classmates by making them a part of it.
My fellow students in Drama II were intrigued by what I was writing, so to make it more fun for them to read, I started making them supporting characters. And since these stories took place in the mid 21st century, they were all grown up in this world and had some very entertaining careers. Kristin would be a high-profile Oscar-nominated actress who had been called “the next Julia Roberts” by the media. Jen would become a good friend of Excelsior and would later move on and join Kristin in the movies. Cara Jean would become a news anchor and would not only become involved with John Baker; the two would eventually marry. Basically, anyone who sat near me in a class had a good chance of being a part of these stories.
Senior year would be the high point of this universe, when my English 12 teacher Mrs. Whitten assigned all of us to keep journals. Periodically, she would read the journals and leave comments, and when I wrote about how far these characters had gone, she requested that I write about them in my journal. So I introduced her to Excelsior, John Baker, Robert Harlon, John’s son Jason, the Parademon army and my main bad guy Renegade (who would later be renamed Vindicator). I filled her in on the entire current state of this universe and where each character would go in their lives on Earth and on Excelsior’s home planet Denab IV. She was so into what I was writing that she would later give me a bit of extra credit that would push me a letter grade up from a high C to a B, making me exempt from taking my final exam. I made sure to tell my mother this as soon as I got home, telling her how “those stupid characters” raised my grade. God bless you, Mrs. Whitten!
After graduating from high school in 1994, another reboot of the universe was needed. Characters that were killed off were brought back to life, and by 1996, I had finally found the right order in which everyone would appear. Instead of bringing in Excelsior after the great battle between the Cybernetic Task Force and the Parademon army, he came in at the beginning and would become the catalyst for John Baker to get the powers he would need to lead his group. But before that would take place, Excelsior would do battle with both Danak and his leader Nocterar, and he would eventually meet his ultimate enemy Tornatrax.
What you can now read is the definitive telling of Excelsior’s first appearance on Earth and his quest to bring freedom back to the people of Denab IV. Just like the older stories, there will be occasional references to some friends, with one very special reference in honor of a loved one that is no longer with us. I’ll go into further details about who that person is in a later post...