Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Rising from The Ashes: TASK FORCE ALPHA

Back in the early 90s, I wrote my first - and to date, only - traditional superhero comic. I was working on staff as an editor and production manager for Maine-based indy comics publisher Alpha Productions (check out the Facebook Page for more info & pix) and, after a few years of steady B&W comics production, we were planning to move up into full-color publishing with our own, extensive superhero universe. We had big plans. Multitudes of characters and an elaborate backstory to set up our "Terra Alpha" universe. Ultimately, only the first two-issue Task Force Alpha miniseries was completed...

The pencils were by Paul Pelletier, who many of you might know from his past couple of decades' DC and Marvel work on titles like Nova, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Aquaman, etc. He was clearly a major talent even then. Back-up stories were created, designed to flesh-out and add to our new "universe," showcasing the writing and drawing talents of a number of then-young talents, including Mitch Byrd and Alpha Productions jack-of-all-trades, Bob Cram, Jr.

Sadly, it was never published.

Around that time, there was a major upheaval in the way that comic books were distributed to retailers. After a failed attempt by Marvel Comics to control their own distribution, the major publishers were obliged to sign exclusive deals with the big distribution companies, forcing all the other smaller, regional distributors out of business. They disappeared virtually overnight, owing vast quantities of money to dozens of publishers... including Alpha Productions. The financial blow was devastating. Not only did Alpha Productions have to cancel the Task Force Alpha title and related projects, but it was forced to shut down operations completely.

The Alpha Productions crew scattered to the winds, and aside from a few brief intersections over the decades, I didn't see any of my Alpha Productions colleagues for around 22 years or so. In February, publisher Leni Gronros, Bob, Paul and I had dinner at a local diner, and five hours later, we'd agreed that the unpublished Task Force Alpha: Forged In Fire miniseries needed to be completed and released.

Fortunately, Paul still had all of his original artwork for the main story, and between the rest of us, we were able to dig up the back-up stories that were intended to accompany the main feature. Honestly, after almost a quarter-century, I didn't remember half of this stuff - even the stuff I wrote or created! Fortunately, after reading the story this past weekend for the first time since '94-'95, I'm pleased to say that I think it holds up.

It's a product of its time, no question. The designs, the dated pop culture references, the "edgy" dialogue with scattered nuggets of mild profanity, all speak of its origins in the Nineties. But it's solid work. I think that, creatively, it stands on equal footing with the other superhero launches of the era, from publishers like Dark Horse and Malibu, even if we didn't have "name" creators.

We're shooting to have the book available by late October. Right now, the only sticking point is paying to have it colored, and we're exploring our options on that. It was, after all, intended to be in color, and it would be nice to pull that off.

Right now we're in the process of scanning and cleaning up all of the artwork, finishing a few pages that were abandoned back in the day, and collating material. The plan is to include all of the story pages that were completed, and fill out the book with stuff like some equally-unseen pin-ups, character designs, and the like, along with an essay or two to put the project in its proper historical context.

As it comes together, I'll post updates here. If this sounds like something you'd like to buy and read, sound off in the comments!


Unknown said...

I was working at a comic shop that dealt with Capitol Distribution back in this time in which you were referring to. I remember the chaos created from the fallout of Heroes World/Marvel mess and the birth of the juggernaut (but not monopoly in the eyes of the courts?) that is Diamond Comics Distribution. Sorry to hear the effect all that chaos had on small publishers and creators back then. I look forward to ordering this book when available.

Bill W. said...

You should publish this as is, and if it is successful launch the team 20 years or more into the future... to today... in the second installment. That would provide a rich, and I hope fun, backstory for any on-going work that might follow. You could lampoon tons of stuff while still saving the day.