by Beau Smith
I have a deep love for all of those great, and not so great, alien invasion movies from the 1950s. Most had that wonderful influence, if you can call it that, of the H-Bomb and the A-Bomb, not to be confused with today’s F-Bomb, not to mention the Cold War.
As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I caught most of those movies on TV. Every Saturday night our local TV station would run “Chiller Theatre”, complete with a local host. I’m sure almost all of you had something like that in your area as well. I always heard that the Los Angeles area really had great ones. Like I said, I had a great admiration for the monster movies, but I truly loved the alien invasion films. You just never knew what was going to step or slither out of one of those flying saucers or space ships. You also never knew their intentions, but you kinda figured and hoped they were bad, so our U.S. military could fire machine guns, bazookas, missiles and bombs at them. It was even better when national monuments and cities were destroyed in these all out fights. As a kid, I would play these themes out in my front yard with my bag of army men, dinosaurs and myHorrible Hamilton Invaders. Only on late night TV could you see such classics as Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another Planet, Invasion Of The Saucer Men, Mars Needs Women, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Killers From Space, Invaders From Mars, Not Of This Earth and This Island Earth. To a kid like me, this was some of the best TV time ever.
Later, as I grew into what passes as an adult, I found the same love affair with direct to video action and sci-fi films of the 1980s and early 90s. In my opinion, it wasn’t a really great action movie if it was released in the theatres; it had to be available only on VHS tape or shown on HBO at like 3 in the morning. I can still remember what fun it was to hunt down direct to video tapes at the local Blockbuster and mom & pop video stores that were on every corner. The lower the budget, the more fun the film was. Action, adventure, martial arts, sci-fi and horror films were king during this period. So many bad actors made so many good movies. No storyline was too over the top, it was real creative freedom with films like Drive, Back To Back, The Immortals, Top Of The World, White Tiger, Blood Guns, Guts and Octane, Crossworlds, Firepower, Automatic, Blackout, Phase 4, Dark Breed, The Elite, Acts Of Betrayal, High Voltage, and Project: Shadowchaser. These are just a small few of the great/bad films that were churned out almost on a weekly basis.
Needless to say, it was always a dream of mine to combine the love for both of these cinematic genres/decades into a comic book series. In 1990 I got to make that direct to comic book dream come true in Parts Unknown.
In 1990 I was working as the VP of Marketing for Eclipse Comics. I had been there three years and had written a few things for them such as Dogs Of Danger and The Black Terror. At the time, publisher Dean Mullaney wanted to launch a line of comic books under the FX Banner that expanded the Eclipse line into comic books that would appeal to the film/TV audience as well as regular comic book readers. I pitched Parts Unknown as one of those books. It was accepted.
I had the plot, storyline, characters and the series mapped out. After all, I had been working on it since I was a kid playing in the front yard, With the infusion of the 80s direct to video action/sci-fi films, I was ready to roll. I just needed an artist. Not just any artist, the RIGHT artist.
I was attending a lot of conventions during this time for Eclipse Comics. I had the opportunity to look at a lot of portfolios and wrangle some talent for Eclipse. I kept my eye out for an artist that I thought would be the “perfect” choice for Parts Unknown. I came across a lot of really great artists, new and veteran that could fill the bill as far as talent, but had yet to really find the right one that “got” what I wanted to do with Parts Unknown. I had a lot of folks try out and do samples, again, their work was top notch, but they either took the feel of the book and story too seriously or just didn’t get the mix of 50s alien invasions and 80s action. After a while I thought I was going to have to settle on one of these artists and really hold their hand through the process of Parts Unknown, something I didn’t have time for. Then I went to Mid-Ohio Con the one year they had to move to a more remote and out of the way part of Ohio. The con went pretty good for it not being in its regular location, not quite as crowded, but still a good run of people. I can still remember it like it was yesterday, I was sitting at the booth, promoting Eclipse, handing out flyers and looking at portfolios, when this tall, thin guy with glasses and a beard comes up to me and asks me if I had time to look at his artwork. I said “Of course.” And he laid out his stack of art, Xeroxes, photos and even a couple hand-sculpted items that he had done.
First thing that I was taken by was the vast variety of mediums that he presented that he had worked in; comic books, animation, toy and figure design, painting, and just about any other form of creativity that you could think of. I saw dinosaurs, aliens, beautiful women, westerns, military, funny animals, you name it. The bulk of his work was something that I didn’t miss either, naked women. He could see that and bashfully said, “Most of my recent stuff has been underground comics, in case you missed the lack of clothing.” I liked this guy’s dry sense of humor. The guy’s name was Brad Gorby (C. Bradford Gorby, check him out on Facebook).
The more I looked through his stuff and talked to him, the more Parts Unknown kept popping into my head. We ended up talking a long time. I told him about Parts Unknown and it was like talking to myself. Brad “Got” what I was talking about. In fact, he was able to finish thoughts of my own before we were done. It was great to talk to someone like-minded, who had seen the same monster movies and enjoyed them for the same reasons, who had read the same novels and comics that walked in the Parts Unknown path and had been influences.
I went over the main characters Maria Lucci, Pendleton Spurr, Sarah Lark, The Shark Tank and of course, the evil alien invaders-The Scalons, and I could see right then, Brad was already drawing them in his head. Needless to say, when I got back home, I sent Brad all the character sheets, reference photos, story outlines, background info on Parts Unknown and he started working on samples. I was stoked to see what he was going to turn out.
We spoke a lot on the phone, back and forth and at all hours of the night as Brad was working up art. It was one of the most fun creative times of my career. I hadn’t had that much fun since Flint Henry and I worked on The Dogs Of Danger. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed when Brad sent me copies of the art he had worked out. It was looking at stuff that Alex Toth worked up in a good mood, model sheets, character shots, designs of equipment, clothing, buildings, crafts, weapons, and so much more. I was just amazed at the amount of work he had done and how it looked like he pulled it all out of my head and put it to paper. Brad enhanced everything and added more layers of wonderment. It was like Christmas and I was opening up Horrible Hamilton Invaders, The Great Garloo, Captain Action, and G.I. Joe over and over.
Brad Gorby more than “Got” what Parts Unknown was about.
Just to give you, the readers not familiar with what Parts Unknown is all about, maybe this will help:
Unlike other stories of alien invasions, there is no time to “Watch The Skies!”
They’re already here.
Scalons are ruthless reptile-like beings that are well versed in the dark art of rape, pillage and plunder. When DNA enhancement experiments on their home planet goes wrong and kills off the female Scalon race, the Scalon military and science leaders realize they need to seek out suitable replacement females that only the planet Earth can provide.
Earth was to be their new home, but like any new home it had to be furnished to satisfy and provide the twisted needs of The Scalons. The Scalons needed to create a new hybrid race of Scalons to rule this Earth they planned to conquer so they could call it their own…for good. To make this happen, Earth women would be captured, the Earth males would be skinned and used for enhanced DNA experiments, slave labor or just destroyed where they stood. There would be no resistance.
Two members of an elite Chicago crime unit are going to do their best to make sure this doesn’t happen, those two are Maria Lucci and Pendleton Spurr, a couple of recovering alcoholic super SWAT members who could fall off the wagon and under the wheel at any time.
They are the only two things standing between Earth as we know it and a whole new world order of evil.
That sounds pretty dark, doesn’t it? Well, some of Parts Unknown is, and you shouldn’t read unless you’re in a well lit room, but there are also characters and bits of humor that fans of 50s sci-fi and 80s direct to video fans will truly appreciate. Pendleton Spurr has the build of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime and the attitude of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. He dreams of one day seeing his life on the silver screen and keeping bad guys from hitting him in the face so they won’t ruin his screen debut. Maria Lucci is a beautiful, punch first and never ask questions later woman, dedicated to ground and pound criminals into rehabilitation. When anticipating a major throw down (most of the time) she insists that Spurr hold her two false teeth so she won’t lose them.
Sarah Lark is a former beauty queen turned news anchor as well as Spurr’s girlfriend…not to mention the apple of every Scalon’s eye. The have found she has the perfect DNA to be a prime breeder for their Hybrid program. As a damsel-in-distress, Sarah proves that she can be more than a handful when pushed and prodded too far.
The Scalons have their own cast of characters, some, like leaders Tragg and Lanson, are pure evil with ego to match, making them the more than perfect villains that you’d love to see defeated. Sleezmond and Robokk are the science leaders who aren’t happy unless they are dissecting humans and meshing their skin and organs to themselves. Harkons is a massive Scalon thug whose voice is like that of Curly of The Three Stooges and is about as smart. He wants to be every Earth woman’s bad prom date.
The Shark Tank is a covert hit squad run by the D.A.’s office that joins up with Spurr and Lucci to Clorox-Wipe The Scalons off the surface of the planet. You won’t find a tougher bunch of head busters than The Shark Tank. One member, Duck Darden, finds it relaxing to sing the Debbie Boone song, “You Light Up My Life” when turning his WWII flame thrower on Scalons. The hulking Carl, enjoys going toe to webbed toe in battle with Harkons as they make collateral damage of anything in their way. The evil Tragg finds Lucci very sexy when she yanks out her front teeth, or “chewing studs” as he calls them. Needless to say, Parts Unknown is full of characters.
I never envisioned Parts Unknown to be mistaken for Neil Gaiman’s work or to win a Harvey Award, nope.Parts Unknown was always meant to be that B-Movie that you watched without guilt at 3 AM as you devoured a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos with chocolate milk. It’s the comic book you and your buddies read and steal quotes from.
Since 1990, Parts Unknown as had two different four issues mini-series, two trade paperbacks, a source book, a sketch book and has been published by Eclipse Comics, Knight Press, Image Comis, SkyStorm, and even a very limited run through Flying Fist Ranch Comics. It’s been sold here at Westfield Comics on numerous occasions and can be found digitally here.
Parts Unknown has surprised even me with its really hardcore following. After more than 20 years, a day does not pass without someone writing me about Parts Unknown. When I do conventions and store signings, it is still one of the most bought and signed comics at my table. I’ve had all sorts of Parts Unknown fan fiction sent to me, art samples and tributes and even customized action figures. I guess you could say I lead a Parts Unknown Cult.
Brad Gorby works for Disney down in Orlando Florida these days and has semi-retired from comic books. His days are busy designing all sorts of Disney stuff that you see and love. He also continues to customize and create incredible action figures, paints, draws and remains hyper creative. I hope that one day, Brad and I will team up once more and toss more Parts Unknown action at you and continue the invasion. I’ve got lots of stories and even a few yet unpublished Parts Unknown stories in the vault ready to be unleashed. I still look at submissions for Parts Unknown artists for future issues and stories, but again, as an artist, they will really have to “get” what Parts Unknown is all about.
All of the Parts Unknown stuff that has been published by Robert Hickey and the great folks at SkyStorm over the years, has been living and printed proof of their belief in Parts Unknown as a property worth reading. Robert Hickey has always backed Parts Unknown and made it a part of cutting edge publishing and entertainment. I cannot thank Bobby enough for all the work he does forParts Unknown on a daily basis.
I have to thank original Parts Unknown inker, the lateRandy Clark, for being such a rock solid inker and an inspiration. Randy is truly missed and as long as Parts Unknown is being printed, he will never be forgotten.
Here is some Parts Unknown Trivia for that you may or may not be aware of:
** My friends and then co-workers at Image Comics, Kenny, Teresa, and Ronna were all Parts Unknowncharacter models for Spurr, Lucci and Sarah. They posed and acted out scenes for Parts Unknown in the Image Comics Office. Photos were by Mary Buxton and guns were provided by Matt Hawkins.
** I still have my original Parts Unknown notebook with all my original notes, ideas and sketches.
** I once vocally acted out the entire first issue of Parts Unknown, playing all characters, to fans at a store signing in the early 90s. I am so thankful there was no Youtube then.
** Over the last 20 years, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper has been the most suggested in the casting of Pendelton Spurr, and still is today.
** Brad Gorby has a Scalon named after him in the original mini-series—Gorblon.
** Brad Gorby came up with the “Billy Dee Williams On Steroids” Look of Scalon bad guy, Miles Lanson, in the second mini-series.
** I wrote the Parts Unknown Source Book: Killing Attractions in a 6 PM to 6 AM marathon one night.
** Brad Gorby designed all the alien equipment and weaponry for Parts Unknown the original series.
** Spurr’s 90s mullet is trademarked.
** I had Parts Unknown take place in Chicago because the Chicago Bears are my favorite football team.
** Brad Gorby did great movie storyboards for Parts Unknown.
** There is a Parts Unknown Special, story by me, with art by Chris Ready and Bill Nichols that has yet to be published.
** There is an unpublished, 16 page wrap up to the original story by me, with art by Warren Martineck and Evan Quiring that has yet to see print.
** I had a meeting once at San Diego Comic Con with a well known female action start that wanted to play Maria Lucci in a Parts Unknown film. (Haven’t we all?)
I want to thank you, the student of Beauology 101, for not falling asleep during this extra long edition of class. I appreciate it and hope that if you have not read Parts Unknown yet, that you will and if you had, then….tell your friends and maybe they will. Let’s keep Parts Unknown alive for another 20 years so I can make readers out of your kids and their kids.
Also, thanks got to my editor and alien wrangler, Roger Ash for letting me get away with so much internet space.
Your original Thing From Another Planet,
The Flying Fist Ranch
, Parts Unknown
, Science Fiction