Comics, Essays, Geek Culture

Al Simmons and Me: 25 Years of Spawn and Life

I had just turned 18, was graduating from high school, and about go out into the big bad world. Like many people my age, I was struggling to figure out what adulthood meant and thinking about how I wanted to spend it. Who did I want to be? Where did I want to go? What dream did I want to follow? One of my dreams was to create comics, but like many other aspiring comic creators at the time, how to follow that dream successfully wasn’t very clear. Sure, there were books like How to Create Comics the Marvel Way, but I wasn’t interesting in becoming a Marvel artist. Or a DC artist for that matter. I wanted to tell my own stories and with my own characters. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the classic superheroes, but rather that I craved something different, and I found my inspiration in the independent and underground comics world.

Too Much Coffee Man by Shannon Wheeler

My best friend at the time worked in a local comic shop, and I would frequently join her there to hang out, talk about Star Trek, music, and of course comics. The store had an entire section dedicated to indie books, and it was easy to lose myself among them. I had a steady diet of Too Much Coffee Man, TMNT, Usagi Yojimbo, Cerebus, Bone, and ElfQuest along with whatever else I could buy with what little money I made as a summer camp counselor that year.

One day in 1992, I walked into the shop and, as always, headed straight for the indie section to browse the new titles. There was a cover there that caught my eye immediately. I don’t know if it was the bold colors, dynamic pose, all those chains, or something else, but Spawn instantly drew me in. One look at the pages inside, and I was hooked. Spawn was something new, and so was Image Comics. As a young artist, there was something charming and inspiring about a company made of creators who essentially gave the Big Two the middle finger as far as creative content goes. They made the dream seem that much more doable.

The rest of that summer was uneventful, and in the fall, I started at the local community college. I went through a few jobs over the next few years: grocery store deli clerk, ice cream shop waitress, life insurance sales, and convenience store clerk. During this time, I also got engaged to my high school sweetheart and bought a house. My comics, including Spawn, went with me. The comic shop where my friend worked that summer closed, but a new shop opened with a bigger and better indie section. Life seemed pretty good, for a while. But life is unpredictable.

Panel from Spawn #1 by Todd McFarlane

Things turned sour between me and my finance. College was cut short for various reasons, and my art suffered while I struggled to make ends meet and just survive. Somewhere in there, I met someone else and got married, went through medical assisting school, started my first job in healthcare, and became a mother. As the sole breadwinner for my young family, I had to put my dreams on hold and traded collecting comics for buying formula, diapers, food, and other essentials. My firstborn was diagnosed with autism at age three, so I became completely focused on him and the services he needed. At the same time, I was battling depression, anxiety, and a failing marriage.

Shortly after my second child was born, I moved my family to Florida to be closer to my husband’s family, which I had hoped would be the fresh start we needed. Spawn, of course, came with me too. Somehow, holding on to my comics through all of that gave me comfort. They were a connection to my past and my dreams. The thought of giving any of them up, even for money, seemed like giving up essential parts of myself and who I was. Once things settled down, I started college up again, determined to finish this time. I also started drawing again, inspired by comic art online while searching for images of old Eastman and Laird turtles to show my kids. It was mostly just sketches and doodles in between studying or in the few spare minutes I had in my car between meetings at work, but it was something.

TMNT Leonardo art by Sophie Campbell. This was the piece that inspired me to draw again.

Back cover of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #15


I often thought about Al Simmons around this time; how his life seemed so good before everything literally went to hell. His confusion and loss of who he was, of what was important in his life started to make more and more sense as the years went on. Like Al, I too felt as if someone sold me on a raw deal that benefited themselves and trapped me far more than I was led to believe it would. Where Al was locked into service as a Hellspawn, I was locked in an abusive marriage that was slowly stripping me of who I was. My successes were no longer my own, but all my failures and shortcomings were. Eventually, I’d had enough, filed for divorce, and moved into a new home. I also made a pact with myself to never stop drawing again.

Panel from Spawn #1 by Todd McFarlane

The past few years have been a blur as I’ve graduated from college, adjusted to life as a single mom, and started to reclaim myself as an individual. I’ve attended a couple of cons, tabling at a few of them, slowly regained my footing as a creator and completed my first six-page comic for an anthology this year. It’s not perfect, and I still have a long way to go with my skills, but at least it’s mine. And my Spawn #1?It’s still with me on this journey and probably will be for a long time. That’s something, at least.

My copy of Spawn #1 that I bought in 1992

Spawn fan art by Carrie Schurman