After the recent, sad passing of comedy icon Harold Ramis, I posed the titular question on Twitter and Facebook (speaking of comedy: titular. Hehe). It’s a hidden bit of HU trivia, one buried deep in the annals of our company’s history (hehe. Annals).
So, here’s the answer. And, because it’s me, it’s going to be wordy:
In creating comic book characters, much like actual human babies, one thing you usually have to do is name them (naming characters is such a pain in the ass, in an upcoming series, the five lead characters are literally named after colors). Take, for example, one of my most (if not my very most) popular characters, Bombshell (please note: I’m not claiming she’s a popular character, only that she’s probably more popular than any other character I’ve created). The name “Bombshell” was inspired by the contest that spurred her creation; the people at Shadowline Comics (a division of Image) were running a contest for writers to create a female superhero. They offered the use of their Bomb Queen character as an antagonist, if the writers so chose. I did not choose to utilize that character, but the “Bomb” part of the name inspired the name of the character I created, Bombshell. The whole thing about Bombshell is that she was a 16 year old girl, without a working knowledge of superheroes, who created her own superhero identity. The first artist on the book complained that he didn’t like the costume (one of the things that got him fired was turning in pages where she was intentionally drawn incorrectly. That and turning in those pages 6 months late), completely missing the point of the thing; it was SUPPOSED to look like a teenager who doesn’t read comics designed it, and could have made it from things she had around the house. The name, too, is intentionally on the generic side. “Bombshell” sounds like something a non-fan would come up with and think was a good heroic identity. It’s so generic, in fact, it’s un-trademarkable/copyrightable. True story. As I later discovered, almost every major comics publisher has a character by that name in their roster.
But, with superhero characters, you can’t just give them one name. No, no, they need to have two (mostly. Talk to most comic fans about Sprite and Marvel Girl, and it’ll take them a second. Mention Kitty Pryde or Jean Grey, they’re up to speed). Because they need to have a “real name” in addition to their “code name.” Let’s use, again, Bombshell as our example. Her first name, Katie, came from a girl I used to work with, who shared some superficial similarities to Bombshell (teenager, pretty average, perhaps a shade on the ditzy side). But the last name? See, the trick to coming up with fictional civilian character names is that they have to seem pretty average. If they sound too distinct, they take the reader out of the story. They also can’t be puns on the character’s power set, because what kind of crazy coincidence is it that someone gains superpowers later in life that relate to their given name? That’s why every Spider-Man movie with Doctor Octopus in it feels the need to comment on the coincidence of a guy named Octavius ending up with eight limbs (okay, it’s only happened once, but still). Yeesh. And this week’s episode of Arrow reminded us all that the Clock King’s civilian name is William Tockman. Groan. Which is perhaps a shade more nuanced than his name in Batman: The Animated Series, Temple Fugate, but, come on.
Katie gained powers that involved explosive energy control: her name was not going to be Katie Boomski, or Katie Exploson.
Naming characters after people you know is pretty common in comics. The aforementioned Kitty Pryde was actually named after a woman who John Byrne went to art school with, a woman who later in life started going by her initials, because she wanted to be recognized for her artwork, not her connection to the X-Men.
So, for Katie, what was her last name going to be? Well, I’d recently watched Ghostbusters when I created the character (of course, at almost any given time, you could probably say I’d recently watched Ghostbusters. It’s a good-ass movie), and the name “Spengler” kept jumping into my head. Which was no good, because it was too distinct. I know if I ever read a book with a character with that last name, I would keep thinking, “Is this character SUPPOSED to be related to the Ghostbusters character?” But, almost as quickly as the name jumped into my head, I realized that if you changed the “gl” to a “c,” you got “Spencer,” which is a common enough name to not be jarring to the readers.
And that’s the Harold Ramis connection. Katie Spencer, aka Bombshell, got her last name from a slight modification of the last name of Egon Spengler, the character Ramis portrayed in the Ghostbusters films.
And, if anyone out there wants to make a character called Katie Boomski, take it. It’s yours.