September 14th, 2007

The Zombie

Crusty Jensen? Dennis Bunker?

September 13 -  Now that I think about it, I was a "Crusty Bunker" of sorts once, except that I was a "Dennis Jensen."  For those who don't recognize Dennis' name, he is one of pro comics pencilers' most popular inkers, having provided beautiful inks to everyone from Carmine Infantino to George Perez.  He also, as I found out during my junior year in high school, is from Wisconsin.  Back then, I imagined what it be like to meet this local legend.  Little did I know that I'd one day get to "be" him!  So, into the WABAC machine we go...set the dials for 1992, Sherman.  To set the stage, I should tell you that, through back end contacts, groveling, and happenstance, I finally got to meet Dennis.  He even invited me, with the rest of now defunct Splash Page, Ink., to his home for a night of comic book discussions and jokes full of double entendres.  We also each showed our most recent artwork to Dennis, who gave us friendly, constructive criticism.  I had so little to show him, as I was really in the process of finalizing plans for the first issue of The Adventures of Monkey.  The only "finished" things that I could show him were the model sheets for some of my characters.  It was very kind of him not to laugh out loud.  In fact, he actually paused as he silently eyed the dozen or so pages a few times.  Breaking the uncomfortable silence, he said "John, have you ever thought about being an inker?  I could get you some small jobs, if you'd like."  I was stunned!  I don't know how to do much of anything well, and the least of these is inking.  He explained that, in his experience, being an inker helps shore up a young artist's talents.  While literally tracing the pencils of an established artist, an inker must get into that artist's head, finding the reasons for why the artist drew what he or she drew.  Dennis thought that I could really benefit from such a situation.  Flattered, and awash with unexpected pride, I was forced to decline at the time.  I had already cast my die on self-publishing (just months from completion at that point).  Yes, fifteen years of sad reality since then has proven that to have been a stupid decision, but it's the one that I made.  Even at that, Dennis was convinced that I'd be an inker some day.  Jump ahead a few months.  It was a terrible day.  I was grieving the loss of my beloved cat, Grey Ghost ("Kitty"), who had been my loving companion for seventeen years.  Wrapping Kitty in a quilt that was made by the friend who would eventually become my wife, we buried him on my parents' property.  I was so sad, so distraught, so..."John...phone call."  It was Dennis.  He was up against a next day deadline for a story he had penciled and partially inked.  On top of all of this, he had to work at his dread "real" job overnight, so he really needed help.  Already recruited was Kyle Bertelsen (founder of SPI), but he needed me, too.  I put aside my emotions and said "I'll be there as soon as I can."  I can't remember whether I picked up Kyle in La Crosse (probably), but, within hours, we were both at Dennis' place of employment.  Squirreled away into a back room, Kyle and I divvied up the work to be done.  We knew each other's strengths and weaknesses pretty well, so there wasn't much dissension.  The main figures and features either had been, or were about to be, inked by Dennis, so anything that was supposed to look clean and crisp was left for Kyle, with rough and organic stuff left to me.  With no time for second guessing or self-doubt, we dove in.  Swapping pages back and forth like crazy, we practically slaughtered Dennis' beautiful pencils, but, somehow, we got it done...just in time for the FedEx delivery guy!  Success!  Surprisingly, this furious art work probably was the best thing to help me deal with my cat's passing.  Oh, and I should mention that at the time, fearing possible legal problems, Dennis asked us to remain silent about our involvement (oops).  That's why the inking was simply accredited to Dennis Jensen.  So, I guess I do know a little of what it was like to have been a Crusty Bunker.  In case you're curious, the piece, a Wolverine story, was published in Marvel Comics Presents #131, in 1993.  If you read it, pay close attention to the distant ships, stacked crates, and wooden pier in the background; they constitute the entirety of my big-time comics career!  Now, here's your "Crusty Bunker" of The Day - Walter Simonson!