There really wasn’t any time to be scared…
Months ago, an editor from Marvel hit me out the blue, inviting me to send along recent samples, if I was interested in pitching for a new all-ages project they were putting together. Because this is how things always go down, the e-mail found me at one of those points where I was seriously considering a step back from this whole “quest to become a professional writer,” and was honestly pretty miserable. And yes, I realize when people say stuff like that, it always casts situations in a more romantic and pre-ordained light, but it happens to be true, as I’d told myself if I couldn’t sell another script by year’s end, it was time to re-evaluate some things. Take a break and get my mind right. Close up the column and decompress a bit.
Every few months I have to go through this phase, where I realize just how much time and effort is being put in, with little or no result, and decide whether it’s all worth it. Each and every time I say “yes,” because I’m a stubborn bastard, and I refuse to let anyone tell me I can’t have it. I’ve left my days as an athlete behind, have a degree in something I could give a shit about, and this is really my only marketable skill. But come on, it’s so much more than that. Has to be, right? Why keep coming to this point, only to take another deep breath, and then start the run again? It has to be more than an aversion to the word “No.” This all means something, and I can’t stop until I find out what it is. So yeah, I was thinking about quitting again last fall, and just maybe, just maybe I was really serious this time. Thankfully, we’ll never know, because back to the main point—an editor at Marvel Comics was asking for recent samples. Of my stuff. For a project being put together.
Playing along, I checked the hard drive for “recent” material, which meant two scripts for creator-owned projects. Only thing was that content-wise, they were a little…unrestricted, to say the least. Nothing too graphic, but both of the scripts brought to light my penchant for the more colorful spectrum of human language. And considering I lost my second Cross artist over that, I was a bit nervous about sending them along, but like I said, no time. Was not getting my hopes up, because that’s always my first mistake, and it seems to be a better idea to expect the worse, and later be surprised when the situation turns in my favor, no matter how unhealthy that sounds. Long story short, the editor did get back to me, said she liked the scripts, and had me hook up a quick Spidey/Human Torch six-pager as a try-out. Now, almost eight months later, my first trade is on the stands, and so begins this series of columns to fill in all the cool stuff that happened in the middle. Along the way, we’ll hit some deleted/altered scenes, and some (but not all) of my rookie mistakes, in the interests of showing why this stuff is so much fun to put together in the first place.
Stories got re-sequenced in the collection, but we’ve gotta kick this off with the first issue, featuring my man the Black Panther. My unconditional love for the character has been well documented, so you know I was incredibly excited with being tasked to adapt Lee and Kirby’s original introduction. There was an intimidation factor of course, because I mean, this was my first full length Marvel comic, and I wasn’t quite sure how much of myself I’d be allowed to inject into it. I’ve heard the arguments on both sides of whether the Marvel Age material should’ve launched with these “remixes,” or went for completely original stories, but honestly, from what I’ve seen, the adaptations adhere to their source material on a very basic cosmetic level. My Black Panther issue was the one script that stayed the closest to the original, because I wasn’t trying to overreach at that point, which definitely happened in later scripts. But for now, I was playing everything by the numbers.
Photocopies of the original story hit my mailbox, and they gave me my first, and usually last major concern, which was lack of space. I haven’t written one script that I thought couldn’t use an extra page here or there to give things further room to develop. And with my creator-owned stuff, I could kinda cheat and sneak a couple extra pages into it, but Marvel wasn’t gonna let me pull that trick. Page 22 was like this door that kept slamming on my foot, before I could get out properly, and even though I’d been approved one extra page in this case, because I was collapsing two issues (FF 52 & 53) into one, things were still at a high premium. Lee & Kirby devoted at least 10 pages to the Panther’s origin, and my notes looked like I’d have room for maybe four pages. Maybe.
Not to mention that Marvel Age books were engineered to be repackaged as digests, which meant fewer panels, and less dialogue, so the pages could eventually be reduced, without losing their clarity. I took my dialogue quotient to its limit every month, but it took some doing to cut enough scenes, and accelerate enough passages to create a really tight walkthrough. After that page-by-page breakdown got approved, then came the fun part. When I start the actual scripting, I want to have as many notes as possible, because it makes it harder to get lost in the story, when you can duck in and out, and write things completely out of sequence. Dialogue usually comes first, then I jump back in and frame it into panels, though if I’ve planned for a really strong central image, I’ll jot it down in tandem. The construction of every scene is slightly different in regards to what came first, which is why I try to keep good notes, cause it gives me that mark to hit, and lets me know where every page begins and ends.
Very first scene I wrote was the capture of Johnny Storm, which was by far the easiest thing to manage, because everything was just right there and framed around the “spotlight panel” of Johnny ignited in flame, and flying up towards us on page 2. Tried to give every main character some poster-worthy rendition, that would jump out and grab the kids by the throat, but some of them worked much better than others. The ones that didn’t work were entirely my fault, because of space constraints, and the frantic clip the story was moving at, calling for more and thereby smaller panels. Visually, Sue and Ben got a bit squeezed out, but I’d make up for that later.
Second scene also went down nice and smooth, and contains probably my favorite page of artwork, which is page 5 where Tasmin plummets down the side of the Baxter Building. Think it was Michael O’Hare’s idea to give her the futuristic bodysuit to match her glider, which totally vibed with the 22nd century “black utopia” feel I wanted for Wakanda and its technology. Looks very Evangelion to me, the only anime I followed passionately in younger days, so I was really feelin’ that. And oh yeah, the whole idea of Tasmin is a very obvious nod to Priest’s work, as she’s filling the role of the Dora Milaje. If you don’t know what that is, please go ask somebody before it’s too late.
Panther himself got his big reveal on page 7, along with the credits, and my editor was nice enough to let me keep this, since it was preferred that the Marvel Age stuff have their title pages a little more frontloaded. Somewhere in here, with Panther throwing down with the FF, I found myself developing a very noticeable affinity for Sue Storm. Maybe it’s the Alba thing, but every time I looked up, I was giving her another line or another cool maneuver, and easily, she and the Panther have all of the really nice stuff in the story. I had planned to give her a “spotlight panel” where she was in the middle of turning light visible, half of her body viewable, with the rest melting into the background, but there just wasn’t room. Again, I’d try to make up for it in a later issue.
Next major thing was the origin of the Black Panther, which was the absolute last thing I handled. The notes had it settled in with three pages smack in the middle of the issue, but technically I only used two, bleeding some of the explanatory dialogue into the pages before and after the main flashbacks. Wish I could’ve shown more of Wakanda, but the brief shot of Panther’s glider flying over the main city is really nice, and gives it that sci-fi gloss.
From here, there were only seven pages left, and everything just starts crashing into everything else. I could’ve nailed this with another page, rocked it with two, but the door just slams. Monsters attack the main gates, Panther and the FF engage them, Panther runs off to confront Klaw, and it’s just cut back and forth until the last page. The Four’s defense of the gate isn’t too bad, but the fight between Klaw and Panther needs some room and was much more complicated in the earlier notes. Thought it would be cool to have Klaw taking shots at BP with the sonic cannon, while he flips around the room, barely a half step ahead of the blasts, until the hero uses some gadget to incapacitate the weapon. A frustrated Klaw tries to get the thing back online, and then notices there’s little charges placed all over the room wherever Panther touched the ground, and faces T’Challa, horrified. The hero presses a button on his gauntlets and everything detonates. Hell, that’s two whole pages right there, but I had to settle for a split screen, where once again, Panther and Sue get the cooler beats.
The final page isn’t too bad, bringing the heroes together, seeing Klaw carted off to some dark, Wakandan dungeon, and hitting that humorous conclusion we’re used to seeing in Saturday morning cartoons. My editor seemed to love the final pass at the script, and sent me this really nice, incredibly encouraging e-mail that had me feelin’ pretty good about myself for at least a couple days. Which was actually good for more than one reason, because I’d need that initial burst of approval to power me through the near disaster the Dr. Strange issue almost turned into…
Next time, we’ll get into the moment where I honestly thought I was going to get fired mid-series, and why even chaos magic needs to have some sort of rulebook.
Back in seven.