Scryptic Column #5 — “321Go!”


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I found a few of my “Swift as Mercury” columns that used to run over at Scryptic Studios, this nifty website for comic book writers. Drew Melbourne invited me to do a column, and then the site folded. Go ahead and blame me for it if you want.

There are many paths to the truth, but there’s no truth in this column about the importance of location to your story, and probably no path, either. Just a lot of meandering that will hopefully lead to self-discovery, but probably find only more cheap jokes. At least those will distract you from the chasm of meaningless existence and threat of inevitable death!

03.14.07
#5 –321Go!
File under: Location, location, location
Launched into the glorious dawn to the stirring tones of:
Ursula 1000 – Here Comes Tomorrow
Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Everywhere
Conor & Jay – “Change”
Chris Murray – “California Time”
The Hand Grenade Serenade – “Jackson Avenue”

So this is how I ended up kissing a 21-year-old model last night.

Let’s skip the normal drone about writing and magic (what would magic be without a hypnotic murmur of 10-dollar words? Probably interesting writing, if illustrated by negative example in this column). I’m ensconced in self-publishing and submission business this month, so let me draw in words an illustrative portrait of why self-publishing is not a fool’s business, but is a lunatic’s. It’s alright; if you’re not crazy in some way, you weren’t going to be a good writer or mage anyway, and you’re probably no fun at parties.

Of late, I’ve found myself stretched in a lot of directions, both figuratively and physically. I’ve been bouncing around from New York City to Long Island to Connecticut to Washington D.C. to Rockland County to Boston, and you know what?

That is just fine by me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how location affects vocation lately. Maybe it’s this script for Heist. More on that later.

We’re celebrating Guy Roommate’s 27th birthday this week. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. Blessed for the first time in years with good roomies, I’m making good use of their company at bars or barbecues. So when a friend of mine said she was at a nearby pub with her younger sister and sis’s friends, we heeded the call. We are vampires, and we stay young not by tapping veins of the healthy, but kegs with them.

For want of a Metrocard, we hoofed our way north towards the company of college seniors brimming with youth and bursting with life. We got to talking about travel, which most people look forward to, but here’s an extra wrinkle for me; I am a sucker for real places in fiction.

Doubtless this has to do with my affection for metafiction. I believe it’s more fundamental however. I love the idea that not only does reality lend the fiction weight, but even more than that, the idea the fiction imbues the reality with some of its supernatural meaning, its larger themes swirling over a place like an invisible wind eddy.

Alan Moore has said in interviews that once you examine a place – any place – you discover just how much hidden history it has that makes it seem like one of the most important places on Earth. And then…you notice history’s patterns.

He is not wrong.

What I said during the pub walk (which, remember, ends with me kissing a model and will not be what you think) was that I enjoy the act of traveling itself. Trains offer a fleeting look at the private face of a city, flights have a giddy thrill of liftoff and helplessness, car trips provide a private atmosphere with friends. Walking affords time to stop and look around. Transit offers good banter, shared music, and always the sense of something new waiting to be found (probably malaria).

Additionally, my notebook and I have found long trips to be excellent sequester jaunts for writing, away from the internet and cell phone reception. In fact, with all my travel lately, I have a backlog of script notes begging to be saved on the computer so that I can keep the wheels turning to the next inspiration or editorial swath of destruction.

Excluding my day job duties, here’s what’s on my plate today (and many days ahead):

–Two freelance articles (done!)

–This column (in progress)

–Fix glitches and gaffes on DOSE, which is effectively done, but is bugging me in the details. “Li’l Sammy Swift” could be funnier, and I’m not sure the hand-lettering of “Deficient in Love” is legible, even if it preserved the ‘60s romance comic look I was going for. Also, does anybody know where to find a comparable font to the Leroy Mechanical System used on Tales from The Crypt and other EC comics? Much obliged.

–Having downloaded seven massive, awesome, full-color Invisible, Inc. pages from artist Tomás Aira, I must now pay the talented lad, and begin lettering. I’m still not happy with the monologue on the first couple pages, which needs to strike a good mix of atmosphere, information and ambiguity as to who the speaker is. So that’s a slow evening. Then I should calculate page rate costs against sales forecasts to see what kind of realistic loss and profit forecasts I can make.

–Script the opening scene and action sequence for Heist. This is a collaborative story that’s been swirling between myself and Mail Order Ninja’s Josh Elder since he didn’t have the MON prefix. Josh is even busier than I am, so when I tripped over a plot outline that worked for us one day, he assented and I’m going to drag this beast towards completion, then summon him, Capcom tag-team style, when I get stuck. We crafted this tale in our starry-eyed youth, when doing a villain book would have been a novel thing to do, but both of us knew we didn’t really pick that final tumbler in the lock to a great story till now. Andres Ponce, who’s been working on Star-Xed with me, but took a break when we both got too busy to keep that one in fourth gear, has finished his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles prequels. I’m going to try to lure him over to Heist before resuming Star-Xed, since one is meant to be a forward-driven, seat-of-your-pants tale of adaptive genius, and the other uses iambic pentameter.

–Break the panels out of Strychnine Kiss as drawn by Jorge Heufemann, combine with those by German Erramouspe, resize, reconfigure, and reletter, then paste into DOSE. Figure out how I’m going to transition a story like this into a book that’s otherwise 56 pages of humor. It’s got an ironic ending, which is a border-state of humor. Think, brain!

–Overhaul the entire Citizen X script for Leonardo Pietro (God bless Argentina, which ought to be renamed Aureliana for the wealth of talented, enthusiastic professionals turning in their work at a faster rate than I can match). Decide if I’m breaking it out into short episodes Strychnine Kiss style, or issue-sized acts, or keeping it as one solid graphic novel. That’s going to take a couple of weeks at best.

–Create a presentable webpage for this stupid domain I’ve had the last two years.

–Register a business before I make up a package in order to…

–Submit DOSE to Diamond for distribution and begin canvassing the world outside of the direct market with mad marketing schemes. Ship this beast off to the printer. Figure out exactly how I’m going to receive a couple thousand comics at a shipping pier from abroad.

–Advance Black Ambulances, which has treaded water for years since I first proposed a collaboration to the infinitely patient Steven Grant. Oh, lord, I am not reliable in this regard. I’ve become my own artists (excluding the fine company above).

–Draw large chunks of DOSE #2, so I have it as complete as possible before the first one goes to print. This I do while watching my way through my queue of Blockbuster flicks so neither one lags behind. If a flick’s on, I’m drawing. If the mailbox is empty, I resume the tasks above. This might seem like a great way to screw up a page, but I grew up drawing in class, and found if I didn’t distract my right brain, I’d get twitchy, to the detriment of both lessons and drawings. Multi-tasking just works better, ripping through all the inertia. You can be quite productive, provided you carefully plot your layout thumbnails before you begin. And, chums, I’m skipping the brain-baking stupidity of commercials. This one is sort of ongoing.

–Return to the final three issues of Invisible Inc.’s first storyline, “Yellow Journalism.” I have extensive notes just waiting to go into each of these story files, had I time to sit and type. Tomás is one of my fastest artists, so the three-issue lead I have over him is nothing more than a half-step. My one salvation is he’s as crazily obsessed with details as I am, so the either of us is glad when the other starts niggling over getting the exact details of a New York City trashcan for veracity’s sake. I’m grateful every day for that, as it’s a tale that draws its strength from the lore and legends of both comic history and conspiracy culture. As fantastic as its theories are going to branch out, it needs roots planted deep in the surreality of those groups. If we’re going to achieve our eerie paranoia, then it’s no good to make connections between scenarios we devised ourselves. It has to feel real and terrifying.

Speaking of real and terrifying, I larked to Boston with friends this week. No, that’s not the terrifying part; great times were had. I’ve been before, and wanted to attend school there. It’s home to some of my favorite bands (and hosting The Pogues on Sunday, to our deep loss in missing that festive show, but hey…they’re playing with Langhorne Slim here in NYC this week, and that’s an even greater billing). It has a neat accent, a young population, and an educated one besides. It also has enough Ben Franklin tribute to satisfy even an adulant like myself. Yes, Boston has long held a place in my heart.

It’s a city with an omnipresent sense of history. In New York, the history curve drops off behind the roaring ‘20s, and disappears before the Civil War, where it’s just a blur of Peter Stuyvesant and British embargoes. It’s not present at the front lines. If anything, there’s a cultural history. But in Boston…man, it’s tattooed on the infrastructure. We followed the Freedom Trail through half the city, nothing the historic plaques on every third restaurant, office building and church. We saw famous graves, monuments, and markers where big names lived and died and became part of an American heritage.

There was also Boston cream pie, which recommends the trip in its entirety.

We hit the library our first morning there to see the Sargent murals, and then browsed the rest of that wonderful building. Now here’s the terrifying part. My friends lingered at one point near the end, so I found a copy of Stephen King’s Cell on the shelf. I’ve been meaning to read this for awhile. Zombies have always been the most interesting of horror films for me (slashers just don’t do it, and most vampires are posturing choads too busy preening themselves), and King’s frequently at his best with them, as they provide him opportunity to play in complete social breakdown. I opened it up…

Oh…no. The book takes place right here. It’s right outside the Boston Public Library and like my party, presently bound for the Common. By the second page, something is Not Right in Boston, and by the seventh, it’s exploded into complete insanity.

That’s when they came for me.

I put the book on the shelf and joined my patiently waiting friends to step outside into the scene laid out in prose before me. No terrors awaited, but I’m a patient man. I noticed it again on a bus yesterday, where cell phone users had me boxed in. Then I realized it was blocks from where Drew Edwards raised a zombie outbreak in the pages of Arch-Enemies.

Just by collecting trivia from my neighborhood, I’ve discovered links between Area-51, Donald Trump’s dad, Coney Island, spy planes and Evergreen Cemetary, and how perfectly they all tie into the details of a murder I had already plotted and placed in Invisible, Inc.

So, yeah: I love locations. They’re important to any story. They’re as much a shaping element to a story as characters and camera angles.

Anyway, all of this was swirling in my head last night as we entered the pub, a storm of threads and thoughts that shows why self-publishing is a noble tilt at windmills. You’re probably best off focusing on that bucking bronco called story. I’m only self-publishing some of these titles because I’m a lunatic. Now, granted, I’m working on more projects than a rational human being would want to undertake at any one time, especially top to bottom, but I’m also blessed with a job that lets me out at 3:30, affords me time to write during the day, and takes an hour’s commute in either direction. I’ve got a little more time than your customary struggling comic creator (and grateful for the luck, thanks), but even something as simple as lettering a few pages on the computer can consume an entire Saturday.

Ah, and now Heist is coming to me. I have to write a super-powered thief into some well-attended civic ball, then break him out with the loot. It’s the opening sequence, so we have to witness his powers and weaknesses, his personality, his motivations (via the risks he takes)…it’s all a primer in what’s to come, no different from the practice missions prevalent at the start of a video game. We have to set out the ground rules.

Ok, that’s not the hard part. It’s making sure it’s not too easy for his formidable prowess. We have to show our man is the best there is at what he does without making it a cake walk. We need a challenge up to his skills, and while we have a happy scenario intact, I’m just wondering why he doesn’t fly far, far away from it.

Fortunately, the security measures in place to protect the loot, as well as the elite celebration surrounding its unveiling, promise us an inaccessible location. No need to change the parts that work (the heist and the getaway), when I can simply place the whole scene somewhere remote and exotic. A train or a blimp would work if this were a normal crime tale, but not for a man who becomes a ghost. We’re going to have to put this party in a pocket dimension, an inescapable locale for even the world’s greatest thief you never heard of. Location matters.

Oh, but you wanted to know about the kiss.

Like I said, location matters. A peck on the cheek goodbye and happy birthday at the evening’s end. Not at all the fulfillment of the promising lead to this column. The very definition of platonic, saying goodnight to my friend’s sister, a lovely girl: friendly, fun personality, much beholden in her heart to her Russian boyfriend.

It may have been a non-event, but for purposes of this column, it lay at the end of a road with its own value. I mean, hey, I just devised a pocket dimensional cocktail party.

Sometimes, the joy is in the journey.