Well that was real mature...

Well that was real mature...

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Football Field from International Waters



            Funny story here: So I'm on vacation. In fact, I am about 100 yards from a ship that would be headed for international waters. Which means I'm about 100 yards from turning off the cell phone for three days. Matt calls. "I made a mistake. I got the Man in Black and the Alien backwards. But don't worry I added a line and fixed it." Now, my suggestion would be to simply swap balloons since they are both aliens. Panel 4 was going to illustrate that fact thusly: "The MIB is leaning over Ruby near Ruby's ear, with just his mouth transformed into the sharp alien teeth." But, to save the page, Matt took a slightly longer route. He pushed the "transmission point" balloon from panel 3 to panel 1 and he added the "impatient" balloon in panel 3. It works. The only thing lost was making it clear that all the Men in Black were shape shifting aliens. As you will see on the next page he took care of that in glorious fashion, so it was no big deal. Besides, he more than made up for it with the fantastic framing of panel 2. It was originally simply scripted as a separate panel but the way he positions it (like it magnifies a portion of panel 1) was, again, absolutely brilliant.  It really is the little things that thrills writers when the pages come in. Matt's great at the little stuff. Look at Dick's expression as his face is smashed to the ground. Priceless. We are still moving at a good pace, and I even manage to set up the climax sequence with a few lines.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The FINALE of "Hawk and A Handsaw" is up at adventuresinpulp.com

My first double post day!

The big finish to our second short story went live this morning. Find out how we wrap the adventures inside Sterling City's Super Hero Asylum.

We will be taking a little break before starting our next tale - "Four Horsemen" - a sword and sorcery fantasy about a good witch and her hopes to overthrow an evil king. But have no fear, Matt will be posting some sketches to keep things fresh and both of us will be posting commentaries (my page 7 commentary for "Dick Ruby" is below).

So please come by the site, post some comments, like us on facebook and follow us on twitter.

Eye See What You Did There



            Again, pretty much as scripted. Matt did add two panels: the actual taking off of the blindfold and the brilliant close up of the eye. The former was covered in dialogue so it was not really needed but it probably made the transition smoother. The latter really packs a punch and  it's one of my favorite moments. It's amazing how something so simple can up the emotion levels. Overall, while the action has slowed down, I think we do a good job of keeping the tension high and pulling a shocker to close out the page. Funny note... when the page first went up, Matt forgot to put the blindfold on Dick in the second panel. When I pointed it out his reaction was hilarious. Partially unprintable but funny. I'll give you a hint: Monkeys made of Excrement.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Planting Seeds


     This page went pretty much as scripted. The only real change (as I mentioned a few pages back) was that I originally had Dick "undercover" as a city worker wearing coveralls. In panel two, Dick was ditching his "cover" but now he is ditching his alien chewed coat. I love that Matt's cave in has a green glow that echoes the sewer water from previous pages. We get a brief breath before the next cliffhanger, but  I manage to plant two very important seeds for later on. I feel like I was better learning to plant the functional stuff between the action beats and I was proud that they seemed subtle enough that no one would get them until the second read through. I love my last line on the page.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Piece of the Action



            We did a good job here of keeping the action going. Originally scripted at five panels, Matt added panel two which lets the action breath a little. Originally in panels 4 and 5 Dick was going to dive for the alien weapon and come up firing it and his pistol (Tagging the alien with a bullet but blasting the tunnel with the other weapon). I don't remember why we simplified it. It still works but it caused us to have to drop the lines: "One hit, one miss. And it might mean lights out for me." In retrospect, I kind of wish we had left it the other way. My favorite moment is Dick's referring to the alien weapon as a heater. I will confess, it was probably borne out of watching the "Star Trek" episode "A Piece of the Action" one too many times. Although the headless alien body and Matt's choice to do a 60s like psychedelic effect for the weapon were a close second and third.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Full Steam Ahead


            Now we were cooking. The first big action panel. So big we used it on posters and flyers to promote the series. I am still pretty proud of some of the lines on this one, particularly "nightmare with teeth" and "lead to the head will stop anything." Again Matt added another panel - the actual splatter of the alien head. Originally it was scripted that Dick would have the muzzle of the gun at the alien's head in panel two. Then in panel three, when he was in the other alien's sights, the body would be falling away (which would leave the actual violence between panels and to the readers imagination). We see the alien weapon for the first time. Originally scripted to be "organic" looking, my idea was that these aliens would use living technology, but Matt went with a nice chrome-retro look. It makes a nice contrast with the aliens themselves and is a great tip of the hat to classic 50's sci-fi. I was pretty happy with the cliffhanger, especially since I was able to tie it into Dick's past.

            A little story here: Let me preface by saying Matt is one of the most even keel, level headed guys I know. I joke that being an artistic type, he might fly off on a tangent, but he's not one to fly off the handle or get worked up (unlike yours truly who is a volcanic hot head who erupts lava from his ears, fire from his nostrils and ash from his eyeballs). Matt is so calm, cool and collected that you can place an ice cube on his head and not only will it not melt, if you look closely it will shiver (if you ever meet him at a convention, get some ice and ask him to demonstrate, I'm sure he won't mind). Now, note Dick uses his right hand with the gun. I asked Matt why the switch from page one and he had not even realized he did it. He then started spit balling why Dick shoots right handed. I don't remember the details on that specifically but I do recall it seemed overly complicated (he was rattling it off the top of his head, so give him a break). It came out in a frenzied sentence that if typeset would look like onesinglewordwithnospacesor-roomtobreathatall. When he finished (or got dizzy from lack or oxygen) I just said, "or he could be a switch hitter or ambidextrous." Long pause. I thought his cell phone had dropped the call. Then finally: "That works."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Changes and the Art of Collaboration


            This is where we started building steam and picking up the pace. This page is also probably the best example of collaboration. While all of the text and all of the plot beats on this page were scripted, Matt really treated the individual panel descriptions as suggestions and frequently a went different way. This is very tricky. Writers have to give artists freedom to make changes. The vast majority of the time it will be an improvement, especially once you realize it will never look like what you imagine in your head. It is collaborative, you have to trust them and give them leeway. The only reason to get your back up is if the intent of the scene is changed or if it changes the overall story in some way. On the flip side, artists can't get carried away with that freedom. Writers put things there for a reason. It advances the plot, develops the characters, or sometimes it even sets up something else to be used much later on. Most of the time the artistic eye will improve things but realize the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. It's very easy to loose sight of the big picture when you are focused on a single panel. Be judicious and make sure the point of the scene in the overall context is not being lost. Both writer and artist will be walking a thin line.

            So as I said, this page is a great example doing it right. Matt made a lot of changes but every line and every plot beat is there. Panel 1 was originally scripted as being a high angle looking down - I was thinking that we would descend with Dick into the sewers. I thought it would create a feeling of foreboding. Matt, however, chose to alter the angle which I think adds a nice bit of mystery. I think mine would have worked, but his definitely did work. I also had Dick "undercover" pretending to be a city worker dressed in work-coveralls but Matt decided to put Dick the classic trench coat, which is good since it puts forth an immediate iconic detective image. Sometimes (but only sometimes) imagery will trump logic. Logically, Dick should have been "undercover" or at least not dressed in is everyday clothes as I had scripted, but Matt made the right call by giving him an iconic trench coat look, especially this early in the tale.

            Matt added an extra panel (the bit with the rat was unscripted and a great touch) and he reversed the angle on the final panel. Initially I had the alien eyes glowing in the dark to the side of where Dick was not shining the flashlight. The aliens were scripted as looking "traditionally like the big head, green body EXCEPT it's eyes are yellow cat like eyes and it has sharp teeth." This change had more to do with Matt deciding to go a slightly different way with the alien design which you will see better next page. He decided to keep the big black eyes that are associated with the Roswell style aliens so they would not have shown up in the dark. Either way the beat still works: The reader knows they are there but Dick does not... yet.

            Note Matt's colors get even more vibrant - almost "Dick Tracy" like and I hide the first seed that would point to the climax later on.

            Overall this is where things start to move, I felt I was able to hit more set up while at the same time building tension. Again hitting a good cliffhanger at the end.  Speaking of cliffhangers, it's one thing to hit one or two plot turns and end with a cliffhanger in 22 pages, but when you have to pace a cliffhanger every page, it really accelerates the overall pace because you have to push the character to the "what next" point very quickly. The down side is that you don't have much room for comedy or nice quiet character bits.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Well at least it was functional..."



            As happy as I was with the exposition on page one, I was frustrated by page two. You can get by with a talky exposition page in a full book, but would people come back a week later after a page of yak-yak-yak?  The page starts abruptly. Looks good in script form but once given life, it seems extraneous. It's completely my fault. I should have cut the bit about the drink and just asked Matt to draw Betty and Dick shaking hands. I included the drink because it seemed like every character is pouring and downing a drink in just about every available type of popular entertainment depictions of the post probation era.

            I asked Matt to go blonde with Mrs. Lucas because most women of this genre are sultry raven haired femme fatales. I wanted to go the other way for the worried wife. I love the ping pong dialogue in the next to last panel. It's not witty but it does have a nice rapid pace.  Credit has to go to Matt on that one. While the dialogue was unchanged, he restructured the panels. The reworking pressed a lot of dialogue into that single panel. I originally had it spread out more evenly across the page. I went big and over the top again in the last panel but, unfortunately, it was pretty much the same beat as the previous page. The only difference was that this time, I managed to tie into something that is embedded into our common cultural frame of reference. While necessary set up, it gets my vote for weakest written page. Notice that Matt works in more color this page leaving behind the sepia tones of the first page but he is really just smearing lipstick on my pig.

            The main purpose of the page was to set up a case (missing person), which I decided would be trying to find someone who was, in turn, investigating something of their own. The reason for this was twofold: By using what the missing person had already uncovered helped me get Dick into the action quicker. It heightened the danger. If Eugene Lucas went missing following his leads, then things would certainly look bad for Dick down the road.

            I used the Roswell date as my starting point for Dick Ruby's timeline. Although unused on the page, Mrs. Lucas does have a first name in the script - Betty. It's is a tip of the hat to another beautiful comic book blonde: Betty from Archie comics. Eugene Lucas is an homage to both Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas. One got me get me into sci-fi as a kid with "Star Wars" and the other kept me into sci-fi with "Star Trek" re-runs (three years was a long time to wait between films). Of course sci-fi love eventually led to comics, and you know, here we are. So really it's all their fault.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Go Big or Go Home: Away We Go...:



            I can't remember what all I suggested to Matt. All I remember was his reaction. "Dick Ruby, we have to start with that." I asked why (admittedly, it was the one that grabbed me the most, but I was interested to see why he liked the idea). He paused, looked up and said the full title out loud slowly. "It's. Just. Sounds. Sooooooo. (long pause) Pulpy." I realized, I had him with the title. It was a good start, and my partner was clearly excited. Maybe this would work if I didn't screw it up.
            I knew two things when I started. First, I wanted to begin at the end and have Dick tell the story so I could have a first person narrative. It would echo a style of storytelling that is frequently associated with the noir genre. Second, I wanted a "saga cell" for the series. It seems that lots of pulp novels either left the main figure rather mysterious or they hit you with everything at once instead of portioning out the backstory. (Fans of James Bond will notice the rather fun send up of the villain backstory with Dr. Evil in one of Mike Myers "Austin Powers" films). I figured I would do it in a compact-all-at-once-way.  I went broad and over the top with the dramatics (to stay true to the form) and I think it worked well. I got in all the bits I wanted to establish in a pretty clean way. I wanted to establish that Dick is smart - college educated - not a generic working class "deez, dem and doz" New York stereotype. He needed to be physical (an athlete), and hardened by life (combat veteran who has had to adapt to a different life path). Since it was a weekly comic, I needed a hook that would bring back readers a week later, each page had to have some kind of cliffhanger element. I went real big on that. I figure once you see the title you are either in or out at that point, so I figured I should stay true to the genre and go over the top. (How do you know it's over the top? If you can't help but do the musical effect of "bum-bum-bum" in your head.) 
            Little touches: In the original script I had the education sequence scripted as a photo from Dick's graduation, Matt decided to go with an image of the diploma. It was an interesting choice and broke up the page some. I chose the date January 4th because it's my wife's birthday. The name Dick Ruby was a play on the popular "Richard Diamond, Private Eye" radio and tv character (I even slid a little joke in there). I stressed over the vernacular, frequently wondering how much was too much. Again I figured go big or go home. I work in "Flat Foot" and "Dame." I really stressed over the use of  the word "Japs." Common for the era, but today it's hardly a term that would be used today. Ultimately, I went with it since I figured he would have a bitter streak on that front and might even be something I could use in a future story to develop the character further. When I wrote this I was thinking vertical layout, it wasn't until Matt started drawing that he decided to go horizontal, interestingly enough it still worked. Note that Dick is a left handed batter, I thought it was interesting that Matt made him a lefty (more on that later).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New "Hawk and a Handsaw" up at Adventures in Pulp!

The penultimate page to our story "Hawk and a Handsaw" is up today at www.adventuresinpulp.com so please come on by, give us a look and leave a comment or two. This page, the 12th for H&H, is also our 26th page overall which marks the halfway point to "season one." Next week the grand finale for this particular tale will go live, God willin' an if'n the creek don't rise, as they say.

You can now follow Adventures in Pulp on twitter @AdventureinPulp  (note no "s" in adventure) where both Matt and I will be tweeting pulpy goodness. Tomorrow evening as promised with our twitter account going live, I will start posting a writer's commentary for "Adventures in Pulp" starting with "Dick Ruby and the Case of the Little Green Men." I will also post it here with a link to each page as we go.

You can also follow me personally on twitter @BrettTHarris where I will attempt to tweet any type of goodness, pulpy or otherwise.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hero Bear and the Kid and the Family

Today, I saw that Boom! Studios released their solicitations for May and "The Inheritance," the first collected edition of Mike Kunkel's "Hero Bear and the Kid," series is scheduled to finally be released (it seems late since the first issue of the second series, "Saving Time," was solicited for April release), so instead of plugging my stuff, I'm going to plug someone else's because I simply cannot recommend this enough. It is hands down the best comic for kids on the market today. Heck, it is probably one of the best comics on shelves PERIOD.

I will go so far as to say don't wait for the trade, go find the back issues.  With the trade you run the risk of accidentally opening the book to the wrong place and spoiling yourself of the fantastic fifth and final issue reveal. It is one of the best examples of hiding in plain site ever. I certainly never saw it coming and, after it hit, I could not help but wonder how it got past me. Perfectly set up and paid off, it's a masterpiece of family fare.

If your child is too young to read, read it to them (you will love it too).  If they are old enough to read, read it to them/with them anyway, it makes for great parent/child time and unlike most of the comics aimed at kids these days, it's actually worth the valuable time of adults as well.

The series focuses on a little boy who has just moved to a new town after the death of his grandfather. His inheritance amounts to a broken pocket watch and an old stuffed bear. Naturally, it's not just any toy bear but a super-hero bear in disguise. At first is seems like "Calvin and Hobbs," but unlike that strip, Hero Bear is real and the story, which methodically takes its time, ends up having much more heart. In addition to the wonderful "The Inheritance" mini-series, Mike has not one, but out two oneshots in this series - one came out before the mini-series and the other between issues 3 and 4 of the mini, but both take place after "The Inheritance," since it is the "origin" story. Both are good reads but the set up and pay off with the mini-series makes it an immediate timeless family classic. I'm not using that phrase lightly. It is a family classic. Something you will want to pull out once every year or two and make a family tradition. I mean it really is to comics what the "Peanuts" holiday specials are to television, "The Wizard of Oz," is to film, or "Where the Wild Things Are" is to story books. It's THAT kind of good.

I have no doubt that several decades down the line my son will be sharing Mike's work with his kids. Until then, the two of us are waiting patiently for the next mini-series - "Saving Time."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

In the Beginning...

It's been a long time coming but I'm finally up and running.

My first endeavor will be to do a writer's commentary on my website, "Adventures in Pulp."
If you have not gone to check it out, it is www.adventuresinpulp.com. It's a free weekly (usually) web series anthology featuring short stories that are 12-14 pages in length. Please stop by and, if you like what you see, tell your friends and leave a comment or two.  If you don't like what you see, then keep your mouth shut.

The commentary will appear here and on that site at the rate of a page a day (fingers crossed) and will start concurrently with the site's new twitter account.

We are just a few weeks away from wrapping up our second short tale and the goal has been to do four short stories with very different writing styles. Our first finished tale, "Dick Ruby and the Case of the Little Green Men," is a mash up of the old noir films/novels of the 30s and 40s and the red scare sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s. It's fun stuff and still up for viewing. My commentary will start with page one of that story.

Our second tale, the one about to wrap up, is called "Hawk and a Handsaw" and explores the goings on at Sterling City Mental Health Facility with an emphasis on "Hero Hall" - the area where the super hero patients are kept. It's a fun homage to the bronze age comics of the 70s with overtones of the exploitation films of that era.

I created and wrote both of those and I am pretty proud of how they have turned out.

Up coming on the site: "Four Horsemen" is a sword and sorcery tale that bounces all around time and space. This story is an homage to the old Prince Valiant style adventure strips that used to appear in the newspapers. This one I co-created with my illustrator, Matthew Childers (you can visit his site at www.matthewchilders.com).  I turned in the second draft to him just yesterday and I am looking forward to those pages rolling out soon. We will announce here, on twitter and at the site when the pages will be going up.

We will wrap our "first season" with a fourth adventure that currently is an untitled sci-fi piece that follows a murder on a planet of immortals. Matt created that one and I have already plotted it out and will be scripting. (BTW our original title was "Starlight" but it appears Mark Millar's new image book will be using that so... TBA on the title).

You can also see a color sneak peak of "Jigsaw World," our full length print comic that we have been shopping around with the publishers. It is more adult than the family friendly "Adventures in Pulp" site but shares that same modern take on classic sci-fi tropes. "Jigsaw World" is about an average guy who finds himself on a patchwork version of Earth created from hundreds of alternate reality Earths. Like Flash Gordon exploring the worlds of Mongo, our hero will be exploring a multitude of alternate Earths while trying to find... oh, I better not go that far. We still have some black and white convention exclusives available at our "Adventures in Pulp" store so feel free to check it out.