From Suicide to Jack:
The Long Strange Journey of a Magic Man

It all began as a joke.
In high school I made a daily comic strip that got posted on the bulletin board in my chemistry class. It was set in the far-off year of 1999 and concerned my chemistry teacher reuniting with his grown up students. It was a horrible, dreadful thing that should be dowsed in gasoline and burned. Then the ashes should be sifted and sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, and then the vacuum cleaner should be put on a rocket ship and shot into the sun. And then the sun should be put on a bigger rocket ship and shot into a bigger sun.
But I digress.
One of the stories was a parody of the comic book Mister Miracle. Mister Miracle was a super-heroic escape artist created by Jack Kirby. I named my satirical version of the character Mister Suicide, and it was revealed that he was really my good friend John Barton, a real performing magician, all grown up.
I was always fascinated by stage magic in my youth. I mentioned the Mister Miracle comic book, but there was also The Magician TV series starring Bill Bixby, Marshall Brodien hawking TV Magic Cards in commercials, tricks you could buy in drug stores on revolving display racks and order from the backs of magazines, and I had a complete set of Mattel’s Magic Showstoppers. But magic was only a passing fancy for me, and it got left behind along with other passing interests like stamp collecting, puppetry, and counterfeiting money. But you can see how that old interest led to my close friendship with John.

In Vino Veritas

Mister SuicideMy first year at college was at Virginia Tech as a biology major (don’t ask, I don’t understand it either). Even though I was dicing frogs and fetal pigs by day I still pursued my interest in art. I bought one of those bound books with blank pages, and I began drawing a new comic book about Mister Suicide. This version, however, was done as a straight superhero story without any connection to that high school comic strip. It starred John Barton as a masked stage magician with a new blue and orange costume. I also came up with a gimmick that he would have a pet dove named Pocketsilk that could transform into a handkerchief and back again. This of course automatically makes Pocketsilk the lamest animal mascot in history since Scrappy Doo and Beppo the Super Monkey.
Mister Suicide was going to fight a secret organization of super villains called The World Hierarchy. I always loved secret villain organizations like SPECTRE, HYDRA and Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom.
One night there was a co-ed party at my dorm, and one of my friends was chatting up an attractive girl who was obviously drunk. Somehow the subject shifted to me and he began telling her what a “great artist” I was. She asked if I she could see some of my work. So we all went to my room and I pulled out the hardbound book I’d been working on. She glanced through the pages for a couple of minutes, then lowered the book and with a sullen expression exclaimed, “This is not art, this is just cartoons.”
And you know, I think I might have been fine with that, but she kept on going. She told me how frivolous my work was, and she asked me why I was doing this instead of real art. My friend tried to tell her that she was out of line, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She honestly wanted me to tell her why I was wasting my time drawing cartoons.
I don’t remember what I said. I remember I was very polite and tried to come up with something to say. I remember she left with the guy, and he told me later that she threw up on the sidewalk on her way home.
And I never drew another stroke in that particular book.

But then something happened that changed everything.
I had entered a cartoon contest a few weeks earlier and forgotten all about it. And then there was a telegram and a call from home. I had won the grand prize. The grand prize was a trip to England to visit the set of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Me.
Mister “Wasting My Time.”

(See my Star Wars page for more details and photos of this event.)

I came away from that experience convinced that I wanted to do something big, something extraordinary like George Lucas. But unlike most young fans that dream of making Star Wars or Star Trek movies, I wanted to create something original on my own.

You Shouldn’t Be in Pictures

In 1980 I was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University with a mixed major in commercial arts and film, a change in my college education that had everything to do with winning the contest. I had the idea to turn Mister Suicide into a film. I mean, how hard could it be? I had a sound Super 8 camera. I knew how to edit film. I knew how to make props and costumes. So I pounded out a script on my typewriter, adapting the comic book story that I had never completed. I convinced some of my friends to perform. John Barton himself was more than happy to play the lead role. I wasn’t expecting to create a Hollywood style masterpiece, but I had high hopes of coming up with something entertaining and fun.
First of all, the name “Mister Suicide” had to go. It was a parody to begin with and needed to be more heroic. The replacement was easy. You have Superman. You have Batman. What’s more obvious than Magic Man? (It was also the name of Bill Bixby’s Thanksgiving morning TV special back in 1973). The superhero costume went out the window as well, since a live action movie is (supposedly) more closely grounded in reality.
Magic Man was set in Richmond, Virginia, and would be the story of a stage magician named Jonathan Blake (the same last name as Bill Bixby’s Magician character). One night he is performing a suspended strait jacket escape, when he is attacked by a costumed criminal known as Megavolt and is seriously injured falling to the ground (mirroring a real life incident in John Barton’s life and mine when we were both in a car crash.  John broke his neck and was almost paralyzed. I escaped without a scratch). Jonathan is lying in a hospital bed when he is visited by a mysterious woman. She cures him and awakens real magical abilities within him. She recruits Jonathan to help her fight a group of evil magicians called The Hierarchy, of which Megavolt is a high ranking officer. And then it goes on from there.
After some fair amount of preparation we were ready to begin making “Magic Man.” I was psyched. John was psyched.
It was a disaster.
Okay, what went wrong? Plenty. Note to future filmmakers: start small. You need to work your way up to movies with a dozen or more characters. Start smaller. Think My Dinner with Andre, only shorter, much shorter. Think about making My Package of Lance Crackers with Andre. People, you have to learn to walk before you start trying to run marathons.
It was a nightmare coordinating getting everyone to be available at the same time. And to put it bluntly, most of my friends couldn’t act. It was like trying to form a rock band without musicians. Super 8 sound film was expensive. And most importantly, I was an idiot who didn’t know what the hell he was doing.
Except for a few scenes shot at a theater, a friend’s living room and a rented community center, Magic Man never came together. It was, however, a good excuse for young people to hang out, dress silly and drink a lot of beer. I should have made a movie ABOUT a bunch of friends getting together to hang out, dress silly, drink a lot of beer and make a horrible movie that would never get finished. Now that would be a good project.

A Master of Magic, An Army of Sin, The Ultimate Battle’s About to Begin

Demon KnightsStill, even though Magic Man crashed and burned, I liked the basic concept. It was my first crack at making a “big” commercial project. I thought about trying a comic book version again, but I knew it was a daunting task. I took stock of my abilities and realized that I just wasn’t up to it, at least not yet.
Around this time I had taken up reading Stephen King and other horror, fantasy and science fiction authors. And I had gotten used to typing on my dad’s old college typewriter (two finger method, I never learned how to formally type) churning out term papers and creative writing assignments. Slowly the same foolishness that convinced me that I could be a filmmaker also goaded me into thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could be a novelist. But what should I write about?
Surely I’d be wise to start with something small, right?
Wrong.
In 1982 I wrote a Magic Man novel. Instead of logically adapting my original screenplay I decided instead to jump ahead and write a sequel to the unfinished Super 8 movie. Magic Man Chapter Two: Demon Knights chronicled the further adventures of Jonathan Blake. And since this was only typewriter ribbon ink and paper, there was no budget limitation on what could happen.
Set two years after the events of the first story, Jonathan and his friends have traveled around the country and are now on Broadway doing a big stage magic show. But the Hierarchy is New York City as well, and their leader is negotiating territory rights with the Mafia. There’s a betrayal, an attempted assassination and the serious wounding of the Hierarchy leader. He declares war on New York’s crime family and summons five special superhuman beings known as the Demon Knights to destroy them. But the head of the Mafia is crafty and resourceful and is able to force Jonathan to fight the Demon Knights on his behalf by holding his assistant hostage.
Lots of stuff gets blown up. People die. More stuff blows up. Jonathan saves the day.
It’s a pretty bad first novel.
Inspired by the action in the movies such as The Warriors and Superman II, it’s an okay romp but it doesn’t really advance the characters. It’s just another episode in the life of a superhero. His girlfriend doesn’t have anything much to do except get tied up and wait to be rescued. The portrayal of the Mafia and the villains is painfully inept. And once again I was an idiot who had no idea what the hell I was doing. Good grief, I was even trying to mimic the style of Stephen King and The Destroyer paperbacks.
Fortunately I had no illusions about getting published. This was just a lark that I undertook. I made a few bound copies for my friends. There was not going to be a Magic Man Chapter Three.

Beyond Reason, Beyond Belief, Beyond Hope…There is Still Magic

MM Book OneAnd yet…
I started doing more writing. Different stories. Different kinds of stories. More reading. More writing. Just like anything else that you might practice at, you might not ever get good but you eventually will get better.
As bad as “Demon Knights” was, it was a project that I actually finished. And I kept returning to the idea that maybe Magic Man had potential, if it was done just a little bit better.
In 1983 I sat down at the typewriter again and took another stab at it. Not another sequel, this was just plain Magic Man, an adaptation of the original screenplay. I changed a lot of things, including the name of the main character to Jonathan Dexter. I dropped some of the campier elements and tried to improve what worked. I tried to make it a book that I myself would actually enjoy reading.
Once again I made copies and sent them off to friends. I was on vacation in Massachusetts when I got a long distant call from John, just to tell me how good he thought it was. This was a big deal in the days before cell phones. “You’re in trouble now,” he told me, “because now your part one is better than your part two.”
One of the best compliments I got was from the girlfriend of another guy who read it. She said she read it too and she liked how I had women as major characters and that they actually were integral to the plot and not just cardboard stereotypes.
I couldn’t help but think about the drunken girl who insulted me all those years ago. I finally found a woman I didn’t know who liked the stuff I did!

Let’s Finish This Damn Thing

MM Book ThreeBy 1988 I was ready to take another crack at Magic Man, or more to the point give the project closure. I never intended for it to be a trilogy, I originally saw it as a series like James Bond that could just go on and on ad naseum. But trilogies were in vogue in movies and novels, and I thought long and hard about how to bring everything together for a grand finale. I had graduated from a typewriter to an Apple Macintosh, I was confident in my skills as a writer, having written other amateur novels, short stories and screenplays. So I felt I was ready to give our magician one big send off.
Magic Man Chapter Three: Forever Endeavor was a very ambitious project. We move forward five years from “Demon Knights,” mirroring real time.
A brief bit of background information: it was established in the earlier novels that the members of the Hierarchy are exiles from another planet known as Kammalar. After a great war between the forces of science and magic, the surviving magicians of Kammalar were stranded on Earth. All the evil things that the Hierarchy committed on our planet have one ultimate goal: restore their full power and return to their home world for revenge.
Forever Endeavor opens with a mini-adventure in which Jonathan Dexter, now working as a United States government agent against the Hierarchy, thwarts an elaborate assassination attempt of a foreign dignitary at a “Disney-esque” amusement park.
Then we shift our focus to the city of Toronto (I chose Toronto for two reasons: it’s an ultra-modern, almost futuristic setting, and it’s also an inside joke about how a lot of movies and television shows end up being shot in Canada to save production costs). Things start rolling when a headless cybernetic creature known as Barradak enters the city through a dimensional portal. It learns about our world’s culture and history by absorbing the contents of a video store, theBarradakn sets about making an army of giant mutated rats and cyborg store mannequins.
Meanwhile, Jonathan is back in Richmond recovering from his earlier adventure when he decides to pay a visit on his ex-girlfriend (and former assistant). Their reunion is interrupted when they are both whisked away against their will to Toronto by Jonathan’s allies to tackle what is believed to be a new Hierarchy threat. Once there they learn that Barradak is an advance scout from the planet Kammalar, which had been depleted of resources and destroyed by the science rulers. Now they are preparing to invade Earth, and the Hierarchy, with nothing left to lose, join forces with Jonathan and the other “good guys” to stop them.
During a climactic battle, Barradak grabs Jonathan, crushes him into unconsciousness and hurls him through a dimensional portal. When he regains his senses Jonathan discovers that he’s a wheelchair bound quadriplegic living in a hospital in Richmond. Apparently he was crippled seven years ago doing his last magic act, and all the adventures he thought he experienced were really fantasy novels that he had written on a special word processor controlled by his head movements. He recently suffered a series of minor strokes that made him confuse reality with his dream world.
At first Jonathan is horrified by his fate, but with the help of his former manager and a compassionate nurse begins to accept his new life.
And then something happens that makes him believe in magic again.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

DexterIn the early 1990’s I had many other projects in various stages of completion, but most of my time was preoccupied with a self-published fanzine called the It Figures Collector’s Guide, a computer generated and photocopied magazine dedicated to G.I. Joe and action figure collecting. It didn’t set the world on fire, but I made a lot of friends and contacts with collectors around the country (in the pre-internet days) and toy companies actually sent me free samples to review. Sweet!

None of my friends ever saw it, but I actually began writing a fourth Magic Man novel with the working title of Magic Man Chapter Four: Circus Maximus. The plot concerned Dexter traveling to Las Vegas to find his long lost father. It was a little too much like the father-son team up in Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade. It wasn’t planned out very deeply and I didn’t have my heart in it. I don’t think I ever got any farther than the first two chapters and an illustration for the cover.

I also had an idea to spin off certain characters from the original trilogy into their own separate adventures. Demon Knights Unleashed would have been about, what else, the Demon Knights being released from prison under the control of their former leader’s brother, this time to fight on the side of the “angels.” Distant Neighbors would have been the adventures of a “Cyborg, Psychic and Psycho” as a man and a woman from the Hierarchy and the child heir to the throne of Kammalar go undercover as a “normal family” in the American suburbs. Think of Bewitched on acid. I would love to revisit this idea some time. Unfortunately nothing exists of these projects except for a few pencil sketches and idle daydreams.

Go Back Jack, Do It Again

What do we call this decade we are in now? “ The Aughts?” “The Y2K’s?” Whatever, around the turn of the century I begin to think about Magic Man again, but this time going back to its roots and doing an actual honest to goodness comic book. My skills as an artist and writer had matured to the point where I believed I could pull it off. Technology made the price of having a quality color comic book self published surprisingly affordable. And most importantly the rise of the internet meant I had an outlet available to promote my stories and reach a potentially large audience.
I began making detailed notes and character drawings. I also decided to completely revise and update the entire concept, including one big part. “Magic Man” was never really the main character’s name, it was mostly a derogatory term used by his enemies. I decided on rechristening him Jack Magic, and I applied for a trademark on that name in 2002 with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
I decided that there would be a 16-page self-contained comic book that would launch the concept. Jack Magic: Tricks of the Trade would a short stand-alone story that would show my hero in action and introduce you to his world.

This is a complete “re-imagining” of our heroic magician. His first full adventure will be called Believe Your Eyes, and while it does essentially follow the basic plot of the original Magic Man, a lot will be different. I see this new comic book as a magic show on paper, and there will be jolts and twists and surprises. The sequels I wrote in the 1980’s? Gone. Anything can happen now. And Kammalar? Forget it. It doesn’t even exist in this new continuity. Something bigger and crazier is waiting in the wings.

This time it's definitely not a dream. Believe your eyes.

I hope you enjoy looking through this web site and checking some of the things I have in store. This should be a wild ride.
Of course there always is that possibility that once again I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. What then?
No problem. We’ll take all my notes and sketches and dowse them in gasoline and burn them. Then the ashes should be sifted and sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, and then…

Matthew B. Pak
December 2006

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