As a summer cleanse, I’m detailing some of my failed projects over the years. (Believe me, there are a lot of them.) One of these failures was GLADiators, a webcomic about goofballs locked in deadly combat. This week, I will focus on a spin-off.
Having dropped Gladiators, Phil and I decided to create a shorter, more focused fairy tale that took cues from sci-fi and Peter Pan. We cut the Cloudiseum, dropped Roland and Coolio and our wacky cast of sword-whackers and whack-jobs, and tossed out the Battle Royale for something simpler but no less sinister.
Instead, the focus would be the conflict between two planets, and really, two ideologies.
We called the series Mudball.
In this cosmos, there was a planet called The City made up of freeways and skyscrapers. Only grown-ups lived in The City, where suits and ties were mandatory, and everyone possessed a white-collar, corporate job. The form of government was Bureaucratic Monarchy. Due to a string of filing mishaps, there was no king, just a council paralyzed by paperwork and parliamentary procedures no one could recall.
The City had a counter-planet (really a moon) called Mudball, a marsh world full of children. This is where the adults of The City grew up (literally from pea pods). On Mudball, the children grew wild and free, playing imaginative games and exploring. All of this was secretly (and actively) monitored by machines disguised as animals and plants.
Every winter, harvesting machines picked the oldest kids to become adults. The children were brought to The City, given suits, given jobs, and spent the rest of their lives in the unhappy humdrum of cubicles and cafeterias.
In-story, Maebee, our protagonist, has just turned 12 (the proper age for collection) but doesn’t want to leave her friends or freedom.
Maebee decides to trek across Mudball in search of some place to hide. This is her ‘Call to Adventure’—to seek an alternative to adulthood.
Her adventures lead to an adult living in the swamp, a stubbled, dirty-suit-wearing man named Patricks, who has never grown up, but lives a slouchy, unhappy life in a stolen reaper. Think Peter B. Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
The story would continue to The City, where Maebs joins a resistance group called The Jobless (blame this on the writer’s anti-establishment attitude), and seeks independence for Mudball.
The webcomic would have explored the conflict between our biological compulsion to grow up versus the unnatural but hegemonic cultural expectations of what that actually means.
However, like GLADiators, the project didn’t make it past a few pages, partially due to the influence of a mutual friend who advocated against our project without really understanding it, calling our scripts amateur and pointless.
Later I would discover that he was trying to convince Phil to work on his project—a Dune-like comic where one’s reputation is both a physical and psychic currency. Phil would go on to assist this friend for a while, but quit when the man turned out to be a frustrating micro-manager.
It didn’t help that I was seriously depressed at the time, living in a small town without nearby friends, working as a tutor and substitute while pursuing my teaching certification. Even my girlfriend (now wife) was three hours away. I put up little resistance when the project ended, taking my friend’s criticisms for truth. It wouldn’t be until 2016, two years later, that I would shake off self-pity, smack my inner demons, and begin writing again.
Today, I keep a wary vigilance of friends with ill intentions, although I’ve forgiven this particular intruder for his self-concern. There is a lust for celebrity that consumes people and hurts their ability to rationalize or promote the dignity of others. I understand that, and try not to fall prey to it myself.
And when it comes to Mudball, I hope to revisit this project someday as a short story or novel.
I guess what I’ve learned is this. Don’t fall with your failure. Just steal from the ruins.
All of this post’s art (except for my crayon drawing of Patricks) was created by Phil Kiner.