I want 2005 on lock.
Gearing up for the rapidly approaching convention season, and with the plane tickets paid for and the hotels booked, it’s on to wrapping the scripts and pitch-worthy material I’m intending to hit the editors and companies with. Looked at my microscopic checklist of published work with that suspicious eyebrow, and made a decision, a goal of sorts to point myself towards in the coming months. I’m printing this here for a couple reasons, chief among them being that the statement now becomes one click away, offering a response to the haze of overriding frustration that settles over me every few weeks. It’s stupid, it’s counter-productive, and hopefully this’ll be the last we speak on it, but just in case it’s not, here we go…there are twelve months in 2005, I want to have a comic written by me released in nine of them.
Facilitating this led to that unavoidable skip week seven days prior, and I figured that detailing exactly what led to it seemed an appropriate topic, so this week I’m doing another “procedural” column, which I haven’t done in a while and are always fun to write. The finished 32 page script I was working on is resting comfortably on the hard drive right this minute, and I do know a little more about Damon Cross than I did last week, so can’t complain much there. The newly scripted project is one of two things
I’d like pitches sent out for by the end of the summer, and with an insanely talented artist cranking away on the first several pages, it was time to man-up and finally complete the first script. Typically, I like to have, at the very least, one full script finished before pencil hits paper, though I’ve yet to adopt any definition of “finished” that means anything, but the detail of my notes provided the justification I used to make myself feel better. Seriously though…I was probably just scared of the damn thing.
I’ve tried writing two scripts concurrently a few times, and thus far, I haven’t found the discipline to make it work very well. Before long, one of them takes precedence for one reason or another, and I end up completely focused on it, until it’s “finished” allowing me a small break before polishing its neglected partner. Point being that the last thing I’d just finished was more Damon Cross, and I’ve written that dude so many times that I have to remind myself to slow down and pay better attention to what I’m actually doing. You’d be surprised how well you know someone once you’ve spent two years with them. But Project: Conspiracy (fake name of course) is drastically different from Cross both in scope and in tone. While Cross has a few ensemble elements, it’s largely the story of one guy and his small support system of girlfriend, best friend, and mother, which makes him far easier to manipulate and more difficult to screw up.
This new thing is a monstrous conspiracy epic focusing on an incredibly diverse cast of characters, who are thinking one thing, saying another, and in the presence of four other people who might be doing the same thing. More characters who I don’t know as well, larger stakes, infinitely less action, more scenes, more transitions, more mood.
The incubation period on this has also been extensive, this being The Pitch That Killed Mark Powers At Marvel, after all. Since then I’ve watched titles like Wildcats, Sleeper, and finally Wanted chip away at its shiny coat of paint, and I can’t even get upset about it because one, they’re all incredible books, much better than I’m even capable of at this point and two, that’s how the game works. You come up with something you think hasn’t be done before, and race to the finish line, hoping no one will beat you there. Win some, lose more. Only thing you can do is respond and make sure it’s enough.
I know, I know, should just write the thing, and sort out all this extra shit later.
My actual writing process might be slightly unorthodox because of the fact that I write everything out by hand before it even touches the computer. Most of my columns are written this way too, but every once in a while I can just type directly into the Word document, which I’m doing now, but only because I’m sitting next to a nice outline. Keeping a decent outline or set of notes makes it easier to focus, so that’s the first thing
I work through, coming up with at least a page of straight prose that describes plot progression, and any good lines I’ve come up with already. Take this and break it into concrete scenes, place notes in margins, how they’re starting, how they’re ending, and how many pages it should take me to reasonably get there. Then I start building the scenes, often in sequence, but if the outline is tight enough, I can skip around.
All dialogue is roughed first, and then I come in later and frame it with panels, and this is the stage of the game where my spatial constraints become a big factor. Notice how I mentioned that the script ended up 32 pages? Well, that was an accident, and this is where it stretched. Every scene is supposed to advance either character or plot, both whenever possible, and is exactly the point where scripts can fall apart, moving things from point A to point B, because that’s where “cheating” is going to be the most obvious. You know what I’m talking about. Betraying character to service plot. Moving on to point C without hitting point B, so everything feels false and manufactured, which it is, but the entire point is cloaking things so they read the complete opposite. I’ll go through my “confession” scene to show all of this in practice, because I rewrote it the most viciously.
We start with Tracey Quinn, the large man with the girl’s name, visiting a run-down church to attend confessional, strangely upset by something he’s done. Now mind you, I’ve established in the scene that bleeds into this one that Quinn handles the dirtier aspects of this secret initiative, a big pierced, tattooed bastard that’s killed with reckless abandon and little care, but for some reason, I’ve got him in a church babbling like an emotional misfit to a man he’s never met. What makes Quinn’s latest transgression notable, at least from his standpoint, is that for the first time in his crooked life, he’s been forced to a kill a member of the fairer sex. Sounds like nothing, right? The “explanation” for this stems from Quinn’s particularly harsh childhood that was marked by an abusive father who’d routinely beat the mother of his children, right in front of them if necessary. Tracey had this hiding place for when it started, under the kitchen table, and every time he hid there he’d tell himself the next time he would emerge and stop his father, permanently if necessary. He never did, which led an understandably traumatized Tracey to swear on his mother’s grave to never harm a woman in the same way that his father harmed her. Personally, it doesn’t make any sense to me for a man whose bodycount that’s likely nearing triple digits to make such a distinction, but it does to him, and no one’s man enough to tell him otherwise.
So I needed all this conveyed in three pages, along with leaking a bit of the premise into the open, setting the stage for the turn in the final scene. In the written plot, it’s takes up a lone paragraph, and considering it’s an emotional touchpoint, I went ahead and just wrote it loose, without care for its length, drafting it until it was finished and got three pages back. Three pages of utter utter shit, and take that for whatever it’s worth, as I think everything I’m doing is utter shit, but I mean…this was utter utter shit. Clumsy. Fast. Manufactured. Wack. Hell, it was extra wack.
On the second pass, I really looked at why it wasn’t working, and realized it was just trying much too hard to accomplish everything at once. Removed all the plot/premise stuff and focused directly on Tracey Quinn, because the additional info. ultimately made the scene crack, at least within the space I was working. Something still was missing though. Don’t know where this came from, but changed the priest to Quinn’s younger brother, gave him my own brother’s middle name of Ryan, and rewrote the whole scene. Now I was working with the shared history between these two brothers, the hopelessly divergent life paths, the mixture of respect and disappointment, and cranking the panel count to breaking point to really drive home the claustrophobic nature of this relationship. This solved several problems in the dialogue driven narrative because I instantly filled in the blanks, made it obvious that Tracey has been clueing his brother in on his often depraved activities, taking complete advantage of the fact that the information will never leave the room.
This understandably aggravates Ryan Quinn, who naturally wants to help his brother, but is exhausted at this repeated conversation they keep having. Then I bring everything together and just drop layer after layer after layer into the exchange, making it so on your first reading you’ll be more than able to follow along, but when you read it the second time, you’ll find something else you glossed over the first time. It’s not long before a heated argument breaks out, Tracey shrinking before his younger brother’s tirade, and I only needed one extra page to do it. Broke it into panels, and transcribed it into Word, and moved on. But I kept coming back to it, something still bothering me. Four pages were allotted for Ryan Quinn to move from disappointed brother to pissed off brother, but it still felt too fast. Starting re-writing it, building the blow-up earlier so when he erupts it doesn’t come from nowhere, but it wasn’t enough.
Removed Ryan Quinn’s temper tantrum altogether and just focused on his own guilt and disappointment in not being able to “save” his brother. I was cheating, using Ryan’s anger to drive Tracey out of the church and into the next scene, but I just used a beeping pager to accomplish the same thing, which also allowed the conversation to end more abruptly, adding a more realistic spin. It also lets you know this scene will likely repeat itself at some point, the conversation remaining unfinished. For the moment, I’m happy with how it turned out, and I only burned one extra page making it happen, though granted, I added extra pages to every scene to help with overall tone and balance. But these are several of the concerns that went into crafting only four pages of actual story, and the only thing stopping me from posting the actual pages here, is that you’d have to read a large chunk of the script for proper context, and I don’t want to give everything away at this point. With any luck though, I can convince a publisher to back it, and it’ll help me accomplish that goal for ’05.
All of my recent projects, the creator-owned ones anyway, seem to ultimately stem from a fear of something. Fear of betrayal, fear of death, that sort of thing. Project: Conspiracy (swear that’s not the real name) originates from a fear of the unknown, the possibility that there is a very small group of men and women making decisions that affect even the smallest aspects of all our lives, without our knowledge. Even scarier is the idea that these people know the choices they’re making are causing more problems than they’re solving, and they don’t care. That the world isn’t really fucked up by accident, or by poor design…but because someone wants it that way.
Might have some pages from this around San Diego, so be on the lookout. My bad about last week, and hope this makes up for it. Take it easy.