hero-mask.jpg

Over at Precocious Curmudgeon, David Welsh reminds me that I’d been meaning to post a little something about Perry Moore’s new superhero-populated Young Adult novel Hero, released by Hyperion Books this fall. Hero is about a young man named Thom Creed who, nearing the end of his high-school career must deal with coming out as both a gay teenager and as a superhero.

hero-300px.jpgThe thing that strikes me most strongly about the work is the tone. Hero is… dark. Really dark. As a character, Thom doesn’t have a friend in the world–no refuge from a strongly (and often violently) homophobic society and family. I think all gay teenagers can feel that they’re alone, and that the whole world is against them, but there was definitely a heightened sense of those feelings at work in Hero that matched the heightened senses and abilities of the superheroes that populated the book. The novel felt to me like the notion of The X-Men’s “Protecting a world that hates and fears them!” but to the Nth degree–at least the X-Men are a team, the gay kid here is a hated outcast even among outcasts. I was a gay teenager once upon a time, and as hopeless and shitty as the world can seem at that age (and it can and does), there’s always something or somewhere to turn. Whether it’s that one friend who ‘knows’, or the internet, or hell, ‘Kids Help Phone’ there’s something out there for gay teenagers… and something that Hero‘s gay teenager is never afforded. And then aside from having no friends, no family, and nowhere to turn, even Thom’s first sexual experience ends up being profoundly damaging, ending with his being outed and scandalized in the international media. For a novel that wants to put forward a positive message about being a gay kid, it’s deeply sex-negative in punishing the lead character, his father, his friends, and superheroism in general for acting on his gay desires. Like I said… DARK.
On the one hand, I think that makes the tone really successful in a lot of ways: the story is written from the perspective of a kid in distress and the novel is genuinely menacing throughout. I can’t tell you the dread I felt at Thom coming home to his father’s house a couple of times towards the end of the book. On the other hand, even though the kid completes the hero’s journey in the end and the novel aims to be a positive statement about coming of age as a homosexual in American society, I’d kind of be afraid to give this to an at-risk gay teenager because it’s so incredibly bleak, right through the ending of the book during which the superhero establishment still can’t… or won’t… cut the kid a break specifically because he’s gay. Sure, I’m a fan of happy endings, but I’m also a fan of balance, and I found the tone really unbalanced in an off-putting way.

That realization was a tough one for me, because the book is genuinely well-written otherwise. Author Moore has a fantastic grasp of writing action scenes that are detailed and especially illustrative, a high compliment for a book that owes so much of its soul to comic books (and superhero comics in particular). My memories of the book are entirely visual, scenes and dialogue playing out in a near-comic format and stopping short of word-balloons popping up in my mind’s-eye. There are no confusing or poorly-written passages in the story, all of the author’s intent comes across perfectly clearly. Granted, there are several large plot problems and the afformentioned pervading darkness, but the book moves along so crisply that you probably won’t notice the former until you’ve set it down with a happy sigh. The latter…?

Another strength of the narrative is the characterization, primarily of Thom but also in his relationships with several key characters including a fiery red-headed teammate, a straight-talking old southern woman, and an emotionally distant and troubled father. Read that again and you’ll see how all three of those character types are archetypes that border on cliché, and it’s to Moore’s credit that they avoid that fate. He manages to imbue each character with a good measure of humanity, mostly due to cribbing directly from conversations and relationships in his own life, according to this interview at AfterElton.com. It’s a good example of how to turn personal experience into a narrative with broad appeal. Thom as a character both coming to terms with his homosexuality and his place in the world (a shitty, oppressively dark world…) was easy to relate to as someone who’s done the same; Thom as a character coming to terms with his superpowers was easy to relate to as someone who’s read as many superhero comics as the author obviously has. Superhero fans–gay or straight–will find a lot that is both familiar and enjoyable in this novel.

But as I said, this is all at odds with a general bleakness that makes the book very hard for me to recommend to its target audience. I think I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Moore, being a gay man of a previous generation or two didn’t have a confidant, the internet, or telephone help lines for queer and questioning youth. In that way the author’s experiences directly reflect his character’s and I feel that it’s to the characters’ detriment–as well as that of a teenaged reader. As someone who is a great fan of seemingly timeless gay-themed young adult novels like James Howes’ The Misfits and David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, I personally prefered the way that the characters could be challenged without a situation being necessarily undertaken alone, and without an air of hopelessness. Even Frodo got to have Sam on the trip up Mount Doom, y’know? But reading the numerous positive reviews around the internet (and helpfully catalogued at the author’s website) it seems that mine and David Welsh’s interpretations are in the minority–that the world really is that dark for queer and questioning youth and that this is the book for them.

Hero is most likely going to be enjoyed by comics fans who enjoy work like Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, comics that draw on the iconic power and history of superheroes to tell smaller, more personal and human stories (with the requisite occasional huge battle). I haven’t read the recent superhero/novel hit Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, but Hero seems, in focusing on a voice not often heard in the straight-white-boys-club of contemporary comics, likely to appeal to the wide swath of readers who enjoyed that tale (it even has a smart, layered, and ballsy female character to get behind as well!). But for readers either in the target audience or a few years outside of it, I’d much rather slap Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy into their hands than Hero.

But then Boy Meets Boy doesn’t feature a bitch’n fight scene between Batman and Wolverine, so it really is a tough call.

- Christopher

This review is based upon an uncorrected advance proof provided by the publisher.


I haven’t written a lot about comics journalism as of late, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been reading much of it. That’s not a veiled slam or anything (although I do love my veiled slams), between San Diego and… say… late this week, I just didn’t have the time to devote to keeping up with the myriad of interviews, profiles, and other articles that make up the majority of online comics coverage. But last night I was able to get caught up on my feed-reader and I actually feel pretty good the level of discourse right now. When I was last following along in a meaningful way, it was all about the AFRAID OF COCK thing and the discussion surrounding that was a little disappointing. While it seems like any comment about a mainstream comics company (or Fantagraphics, now that I think about it) is met with this wierd binary love/hate thing, in general there are a lot of smart people in the middle ground talking up the good work and being appropriately critical of the bad. Yay, for comics.

My previous bugaboo about ‘online comics journalism’ was… well, I can be more general about it, but quite honestly, it was Matt Brady and Mike Doran at Newsarama defending a lack of teeth in their reporting as not wanting to lose access and get “blacklisted” at Marvel and DC–especially as they defended their actions by stating that it was all ‘entertainment reporting’ anyway and it didn’t have to be serious. Doran went on to work for Marvel, so, yeah… but I will give props to Brady’s recent Newsarama output, particularly his ongoing investigations into the Shuster/Siegel Superboy copyright case. It’s been good reading. I also like the seeming hands-off distance between what’s going on at Blog@Newsarama and the main site… I feel that, quite honestly, the Blog@ staff provide a nice counterpoint in their occasional commentary to the uncritical creator- and project-profiles that the main site is famous for. So despite my history of picking on (and at) the Newsarama guys, I just wanted to point out that the following isn’t about them (I’m actually reading two articles by them over in another window).

Over at The Comics Reporter, Spurgeon had a quote in his weekly round-up the piqued my interest:

Quote Of The Week
“…The threat of a caricature by Drew Friedman, the Thomas Nast of our time, should be enough to bring these vain creatures to heel.” — Ron Rosenbaum, on how to wean magazines away from the celebrity profile and their attendant demands.

That links to an article at Slate magazine about celebrity journalism that’s… really good. Because I eat, sleep, and breathe comics, I couldn’t help but think about comics journalism when reading this excellent article about magazine’s obsessions with “access” to famous people. Like I said above, it’s not just about one website, but there’s this utter and total fear of pissing off the PR guys by calling a Judd Winnick on their brutal treatment of women in an actual interview because you might not get in on the conference call for Richard Donner and Geoff Johns (as a completely made-up example). The idea of ‘approved’ outlets, ‘approved’ journalists, ‘approved’ questions, an ‘approved’ tone. It’s all in comics, it’s everywhere, and it’s really disheartening.

“For one thing, it won’t be just an isolated incident. It will send a signal to politicians that magazine editors are whores for access who can be rolled at will. And then there’s the intangible cost: the cost of such behavior to whatever respect is left for the magazine industry from a public that increasingly thinks the mainstream media are in the pocket of the powerful.

“It’s time for magazine editors to fight this censorship-by-access. Because it’s really self-censorship: the false belief that one can’t run a probing story just because one is denied the anodyne “exclusive” quotes and the super-special “exclusive” photo of the powerful subject reclining on his or her patio. “

- Ron Rosenbaum, Slate Magazine.

I feel complicit a lot of the time too. I’d been meaning to point out that The Darwyn Cooke interview in The Comics Journal this month is one of the worst I’ve ever read in the magazine. I’m friends with Darwyn though and I didn’t (and don’t…) want to start a thing, but the length of time spent talking about animated adaptations of Darwyn’s work (and Bruce Timm…) is totally out of whack, given the career Cooke has had, for starters. I mean when the subject of the interview calls the interviewer a fanboy because he won’t stop asking about Batman? In The Comics Journal!? Yikes. But I like Darwyn Cooke and I know several people at The Journal, and despite the failure of the interview and how much it annoyed me, it’s easier not to rock the boat. Particularly if I don’t wanna have a conversation about it next time I see Darwyn, or maybe want to write for The Comics Journal at some point in the future (note: I don’t, really). And it’s easier to keep your mouth shut about things like this if you just don’t have time to post (eight posts in three weeks! only 3 of substance!).

(I’m not talking about ‘bias’ either, although that skirts around the edges. You’re not going to catch me talking shit about Scott Pilgrim, primarily because I love it, but also because Mal’s a friend of mine. But I’m also buddies with I’d say 2-300 people in the comics industry, and I can assure you not all of their relative projects are off limits.)

Moreover, it’s about this understanding that when you engage a work or a body of work, whether the ‘work’ is the contracts of DC Comics’s big new initiative or the utter despair of just being Angelina Jolie, that the way in which you engage it can have serious consequences on your relationships and your paycheck. Is it worth being persistant, accurate, and uncompromising about reversion rights to Captain America if you don’t get invited to the Marvel ‘party’ at Wizard World? Is it worth being persistant, accurate, and uncompromising about the fate of a fictional character’s marital status when it means you won’t be able to ask questions about those reversion rights down the road?

Darwyn Cooke’s got a thick enough skin that I didn’t ever really need to worry about pissing him off, but the same can’t be said for many creators, editors, and espescially PR folk who treat legitimate criticism or scrutiny as though the critic or journalist is coming at them with a crowbar. While I don’t feel things are as bad as they have been, I do feel like the article at Slate is a good reminder of a Journalistic Ideal, as well as being a call-to-arms for how to approach the ‘celebrity profiles’ the litter comics journalism, particularly when the ‘celebrities’ in question have real power over the industry in which I have chosen to make my fortune. Such as it is.

If you’ve got another 15 minutes to spare after reading all of this, I strongly reccommend heading over to Slate and checking the article out: http://www.slate.com/id/2175248.

- Chris
P.s.: The accompanying article about The Celebrity Profile, linked at the end, is quite good too.


recesspieces.jpgI’m working on two Japan posts and a review/thingy about The Best American Comics 2007, and I came seriously close to declaring Bob Fingerman’s Recess Pieces as the best graphic novel released in 2006. It’s about a group of kids locked in a school where everyone who has gone through puberty becomes an old-school Romero Zombie. A bloodbath ensues, at the hands of precious-moments-figurine-lookin’ 8-year-olds.

I’ve read this thing like 6 times, it never stops being funny. Funnier than The Walking Dead anyway. Those fuckers have no sense of humour at all. And Recess Pieces is a done-in-one graphic novel, it doesn’t have the fifth volume ending in the middle of a goddamned plot-point.

Anyway, I came to my senses in the nick ‘o’ time (seriously though, that little girl has a FENCING FOIL) but I still say that Chris Ware should’ve shoved an excerpt of this right between the PAPER RAD stuff and Love & Rockets. You can check out a preview of the book at the Dark Horse Website.

Now I’m going to pour a drink and watch cartoons.

- Christopher


ringo-potter-a-cut.jpgSteven Gettis, the webmaster of http://mikewieringo.com and the fella behind “Hey Oscar Wilde! It’s clobberin’ time!!!” (a literary tribute website featuring comics artists drawing their favourite literary figures) dropped me a note to let me know about a special site update.

Steven had commissioned a few Harry Potter drawings from Mike Wieringo before he passed away earlier this year, and Steven has decided to share them with the world. I’m glad he did–they’re really fun illustrations. I’ve never been a big fan of the official art for the Harry Potter series, and seeing Wieringo’s illustrations you can’t help but wonder what might’ve been.

I’ve reproduced a small sample here, but if you head over to http://digitalmedusa.com/sgettis/word/ you can see the two illustrations for yourself.

- Christopher


“But as written, the Zudadeal stands in opposition to the creator ownership that has been one of the core strengths of webcomics since Day One. Webcomics can do better, and so can you.”Gary Tyrell, Fleen.com

250px-fightinga.jpgIn the comments section to my last post on this matter, someone whom I can only describe as a starry-eyed hopeful asked me flat out why I wasn’t hanging out at the Zuda forums, if I wanted my questions answered. So I did, and… yikes. The staff there have what I like to call “well-meaning corporate employee” disease, where it’s there job to put the best face on the company and tell you it’s going to be okay, even if they don’t know exactly how it might be okay. This isn’t a jab at them, this is their job, but… yeah, I’m not prepared to accept a Zuda employee’s pat on the back that it’ll be okay. Granted, they do keep advising you TO CHECK WITH A LAWYER BEFORE SIGNING ANYTHING, which is very legally responsible on their part.

I’ve also got some trackbacks from other sites talking about the deal and what’s going down. As expected, there’s a bunch of the “Why would you care about signing away one idea? We all have thousands of ideas!” stuff the roughly equates the popularity and success of Simon and Kirby on Captain America with Simon and Kirby on The Fighting American, two ideas clearly of equal value to all parties concerned…

But yeah, I think Gary Tyrell at Fleen.com does a really good job of exploring what the contract means in plain English, and letting people decide if the deal is right for them. It doesn’t paint a rosy picture of course, but then how could it? If you aren’t sick of this yet (or if you’re considering participating in the publishing contest) head over and check Gary’s write-up, I think you’ll be glad you did.

- Christopher, wants to write a webcomic about webcomics.


Tekkon Kinkreet All In One EditionOne of the things I was really looking forward to, when I got back from Japan, was the freeing-up of my schedule. I’ve been ‘in the shit’ as they say since June or July at this point. The lead-up to San Diego, the lead-up to TCAF, the lead-up to my Japan trip, and finally, the lead-up to Toronto’s The Word On The Street where I organised and co-hosted a full day of programming (with special thanks to the always-wonderful Mark Askwith, of course). With WOTS finally over (it went fabulously, thanks for asking) there’s now nothing on my plate, extra-curricular-wise, until Christmas. Business as usual at the store, no major changes coming up at home, things will hopefully be if not calm, then more managable than the past 4 months.

Meanwhile, comics has continued at an astounding pace without me. TEKKON KINKREET, my most-recently championed project, has done phenomenally well for us. I haven’t checked in with Viz yet, but here in Toronto it’s selling particularly well (although mentioning it in the blog 10-15 times probably didn’t hurt none). I’d say we’ve moved better than 20 copies at this point, and about 8 of the DVDs (which is by all accounts phenomenal, I’m waiting for a quiet night to enjoy it), and I’m pretty happy with those numbers, particularly as the velocity actually picked up, last week. I hope this isn’t a situation where what we do at The Beguiling isn’t reflected anywhere else in the industry, because at the very least this is a great book by a great creator, and it deserves an audience.

shortcomings-212.jpgI actually read a LOT of comics last week, both getting ready for my “History of Comics” presentation as well as just wanting to catch up on everything I’d missed while I was away. The new issue of Giant Robot (an Asian culture magazine, not just about robots but also books/film/lifestyle/etc.) features a cover-story on Adrian Tomine in advance of his new graphic novel Shortcomings, and the interview and lovely cover art are worth the price of admission. Shortcomings is very good as well, I’ve even got a half of a review written on it that talks about liking a book even though you don’t like any of the characters in it. I might get it finished or I might not, we’ll see.

Actually it’s just after 2, I should probably get to bed early for a change. Tomorrow our orders are due to Diamond, and I’m only about 50% done at this point. I know it’s pretty late in the game to be complaining about the September Previews (the new one’s been out for a week already), but my god, there are a lot of crappy, crappy COUNTDOWN spin-offs coming down the pipe, aren’t there? Our COUNTDOWN sell-through has slid to about half of what it was at the beginning of the series (and about a third of our 52 numbers), so I don’t know who DC expects will be buying all of these terrible-looking mini-series, but I’m certainly not going to risk any money on it. Yikes.

Anyway, I’d rather go out on a high-note, so I’ll show you the lovely cover to the recent Giant Robot magazine that I was talking about. It’s by Adrian Tomine, and it’s available in better comic book stores (like The Beguiling) and on better newstands everywhere, right now.

Giant Robot Magazine #49 Cover by Adrian Tomine. www.giantrobot.com

- Christopher


chester-zombies-b.jpgSo what are you doing on Sunday? If you’re in Toronto and you just said anything other than “I’m going to Word on the Street to see Chester Brown read from his new comic!” shame on you.

Yes, that’s right, Chester Brown, author of Ed The Happy Clown, The Playboy, and Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography will be previewing brand new comics work, and the subject is? ZOMBIES! Commissioned as part of the City of Toronto’s LIVE WITH CULTURE campaign, Chester has completed 6 of a proposed 12 short comics about a zombie invasion in the city of Toronto… and how it affects our arts scene! Of course, being Chester Brown, expect a pretty substantial tweak on the typical zombie book (Romance! Interpretive dance! Final Fantasy!) and Chester’s reading will make it more interesting still.

In a panel entitled Chester Brown in Conversation, Chester will be reading from his new comic strips on Sunday, September 30th at 2pm in the Comics and Graphic Novels tent.

This is just one of the 10+ pieces of comics programming going on this weekend at Word On The Street, a completely free literary festival in Toronto (as well as Calgary, Kitchener, and Vancouver). For more information, visit http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/toronto/home.asp for more information on everything going down this weekend.

EDIT: I just remembered that I gave a great big interview on this weekend’s comics and graphic novels programming to Chris Randle at Eye Weekly, and lo and behold it’s online. If you head over to http://www.eyeweekly.com/ you can see me putting on my “I Love Comics” hat and talking about all of the good stuff going down this weekend. Hurray for good press.
- Christopher
(Art by Chester Brown, Copyright Chester Brown 2007, probably.)


belleandsebastian-cover.jpgA year ago this week, I did a little on-stage presentation for my first-ever published comics writing. Myself and my artistic collaborators Kalman Andrasofszky and Ramon Perez put together a ten-page story for an anthology that Image Comics was putting together, as a ‘tribute’ to the band Belle & Sebastian. The book was called Put The Book Back On The Shelf, and I was very proud of the work that my collaborators and I had done, and of the rest of the work in the book. The on-stage presentation was for Toronto’s “Nuit Blanche”, an arts festival where the whole city stays up all night and does… art things. We put the presentation together because it was a way to promote the work we did, and because I thought it all came together in an interesting way. I’ve been meaning for the better part of a year to actually share all of that with the blog, so seeing as our anniversary is only a few short days away, I feel like now’s the perfect time!

What follows is a short trip inside the creative process of someone writing their first comics story, and a short at that. It’s not the only way to do things, and probably not the best, but it worked for me (and the guys too). Oh, and I’m including the whole story here as jpegs, for you to read before I completely deconstruct it below. I hope you enjoy it.

(Oh, and though I get to it later, I want to thank Kalman and Ramon for doing a goddamned amazing job on my script, they knocked it out of the park and it was even better than I imagined.)

Expectations

PREFACE:

So I absolutely love the band Belle & Sebastian, love them. Their music is very inspiring to me, and especially when I had first discovered them, the alternatively mundane and fantastic qualities of their lyrics would inspire me to film little music videos for them in my mind… videos or comics, anyway. The song ‘Expectations’ from the album ‘Tigermilk’ was a particular favourite, and particularly evocative.

I also noticed that many of the songs seems to be about sad girls.

Granted, there are many haters who’d say the band themselves are nothing but a bunch of sad girls (touche!) but really, the band’s lead singer and lyricist would spend a few songs an album writing songs about girls that were sad and shit-on by society, but would one day overcome and be fabulous. If that isn’t the ultimate compliment to a sad, put-upon teenager (of any gender) I don’t know what is.

My friend [Oni Press EiC] James Lucas Jones and I were chatting one night about something or other when he mentioned that Image was putting together a Belle & Sebastian anthology, comics adapting and inspired by B&S’s music… and I became immediately and deeply depressed. James couldn’t figure it out as I’d never previously expressed much interest in creating comics, but I’d thought of doing B&S comics for years, only to be left out of the one project where that might be an actual possibility. “You makes your choices” and all that, being a comics retailer/support staff/critic/whatever instead of a creator, but every once in a while… I explain this to James. He text messages the project’s editor B. Clay Moore in another window. I’m in the book.

How do you break into comics? Just ask, apparently it’s quite easy. (hahahahahaha… sorry.)

So now I have to actually write a comic story.

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The discography of Belle & Sebastian, circa June 2005.
OUTLINE: 
I decided that the easiest way not to fuck this up was to work from an outline, and then sort of fill in the details as I went. There are a lot of ways to approach a story, but I figured creating a rigid structure for the work ahead of the time would let me off the hook when it came to the heavy lifting later… I was mostly right, once I had that structure it was really just a matter of getting inside the mind of the character and filling in the details, but it also required some creativity on my part to get out of a few tight spots.
To start, I went to a Belle & Sebastian fan-site, and just started reading everything about the band’s CDs that I could. Release schedules, methods, lyrics, all of it. It helped that I could probably karaoke 3/4 of their entire output, if necessary (not that it would ever be necessary?!), but I realised that it wasn’t just my imagination–the sad girl archetype character made an appearance on more-or-less every album or single, and then some! I had my lead character.
belleandsebastian-releasedates.jpgI thought: “Why not make her the ultimate sad Belle & Sebastian girl? Push her right down as far as she can go, only to let her claw her way back up and come through okay. The whole story can be told in narration–it can be the terrible, selfish, whiny livejournal posts of a disaffected girl in her teens and then maturing into her 20s, incorporating song lyrics along the way. I’ll even draw it (have it drawn) in a hazy sort of shoujo style. It’ll be based on the song EXPECTATIONS, the first and clearest of the sad-girl manifesto songs. It’ll be awesome!”

I was trying to figure out a way that we could tell the story, and it just clicked that if every album had a sad-girl song on it, why not make the points at which we visit our protagonist the release dates of the various albums and singles?

The problem became immediately obvious, with Tigermilk released in 1994, we’ve sort-of predated much of contemporary internet culture, LiveJournal included. I dropped the LJ thing in favour of a diary (because who wants to read whiny emo LJ posts anyway?) but the structure of visiting her on those dates seemed perfect… We’d get a span of her life from early highschool through to being a professional woman, a ‘success’.
Then, a flash! The dates that were full albums, those could be full-page installments of her story, to better pace the huge duration of years that the story would need to encompass. And each page would also in some way relate to the sad-girl song on the album it represents. The EPs could be one panel on a page, one song as well, staccato bursts of time showing window into her world, a snapshot of her depression and loneliness.

belleandsebastian-pagebreakup.jpg

How the albums fit together as comics pages. 1-1-3-1-2-1-3-1.
Yeah, Tigermilk would be our introduction, a full page of cooperative but distinct narration and action. The song? Expectations of course, and that’s the song that our story ended up representing in the book, and setting the tone for the story. Then Seeing Other People from the second album, Belle & Sebastian from the next EP, etc.
Artistically, I think the most amazing thing I thought up was the thing about the album covers. I wanted the art to relate to and evoke the band’s music as much as the story would, and I figured a good way to convey the mood and tone of the albums would be to steal the palette for the colouring on the pages from the albums. Originally, when the story was going to be shoujo-y and a straight adaptation, I was going to colour it using the cover of Tigermilk as a guide. The hazy silver-grey would play nicely to the strengths of shoujo art… But now that the story was encompassing the band’s entire output to that time, with a page or panel relating to a specific album, why not use all of the cds as visual inspiration? Silver Tigermilk, Angry Red If You’re Feeling Sinister, a sepia-toned Belle & Sebastian EP, etc.

belleandsebastian-colourex1.jpg

belleandsebastian-colourex2.jpg

Some examples of the albums and the colour design. Good job, Kalman and Ramon!

So now I knew exactly what I wanted. I wrote myself an outline of everything I’d been thinking. All of the info and research on the band, all of the important songs and lyrics, all of my ideas on colour, on structure, on everything. And once I had this and it seemed like it could actually happen, I decided I better find someone to draw it.

FINDING AN ARTIST:

Me: “Hey, Kalman Adrasofszky, artist of iCandy for DC Comics, amongst other things. I’m writing this story. Do you want to draw it? There’s probably no money.”

Kalman: “Sure, let’s do it!”

Me: “Great. Let me ask Ramon Perez also. Ramon, artist of Butternut Squash, I know you’re incredibly busy, but do you maybe wanna work with Kalman on this for me? Maybe like an pencil/ink/colour sort of split thing?”

Ramon: “Why not? Have you got a script?”

Me: “No, no. But I’ve got an outline and Eric Stephenson says he’ll publish it if I don’t suck. So all of the free work you do will likely at least get published, probably.”

Ramon and Kalman: “Well alright then, let’s get to work!”

(Don’t try this at home.)

ACTUALLY WRITING A STORY:

Despite having a cohesive structure and a ton of notes and knowing in my head exactly what I wanted… I had a really hard time putting pen to paper. I had never written a comic script before, though I’d read tons as well as read (and conducted) lots of interviews on craft and creation and all that. I knew what to do, I just wasn’t sure I knew how. So I procrastinated a lot, and didn’t do the work, and just convinced myself I could do it any time, when I needed to.

Then, I really, really fucking needed to get it done in a hurry because the deadline was here and I hadn’t written a fucking word and Kalman was like Get The Lead Out, Butcher. So I sort of freaked out and just started writing the script after Kalman’s “motivational” e-mail while I was at work one day. Surprise! The outline and all the research basically let the story write itself. I think I only made two or three changes from what I sent Kalman (below) on that first draft.

PAGE 1
3 roughly equal tiers of panels, with a large establishing character shot on the right hand side. Colour is sort of a bleached blue-grey like the cover of TIGERMILK. The over-all setting is in Toronto, in 1996. Our lead character is in grade 9. Feel free to use remembrances of your past freely. The beginning of the story especially should have a dream-like quality. Song: Expectations.

Character shot: 14 year old girl in a catholic school uniform. Skirt is longer than her friends, and she’s got a few little badges/buttons on her sweater. He shoes are big clunky things. Her hair just sort of hangs off her. She’s not unattractive, but she’s got lousy posture and a horrible look on her face. Who can blame her?

PANEL 1
Our girl, dead-and-centre sitting in class, people sitting behind her (a row of faces from edge-to-edge of the panel) chuckling, but not laughing out loud or anything as they don’t want to get caught. Our girl has her eyes closed, and is trying to keep expressionless.

CAPTION: APRIL 1, 1996

NARRATION: I’m a freak. I’m weird and I’m alone and my mom sends me to Catholic School and I hate it. I hate her.

PANEL 2
120 degree camera turn. We’re just behind-and-to-the-right of the girl sitting behind our protagonist, so that we can see the sign taped to her back. “CUNT”. People are still chuckling, except for the antagonist who just looks smug.

NARRATION: My teachers are bastards and perverts, and usually both. My peers are assholes. My day means getting shit on from the alarm buzzer until I fall asleep. I cry sometimes.

PROTAGONIST: (small) Bitch.

PANEL 3
Roughly the same scene, maybe pull back a little. Protagonist is freaking out, and has quickly turned and is moving towards the smug bitch, who looks quite a bit more surprised now. The background is mostly faded out at this point.

NARRATION: And when I lash out, suddenly it’s all my fault. Grade 9 can’t end soon enough.

PROTAGONIST: BITCH!

I was just writing and writing and sending it a page at a time to Kalman as I was going. And that’s what he worked from, and I got a bit of a deadline extension from Eric Stephenson after we sent the first finished page in, and that gave us enough breathing room to get it done, despite my fucking around. Lesson learned: Don’t fuck the deadline.

MAKING ALL OF THE ART AND STUFF

At the onset, Kalman was pencilling/inking with Ramon doing colours, but Ramon hit a wall time-wise and so Kalman ended up colouring the last of it. Oh, also, Kalman used his lovely girlfriend Cristina as the photo reference for the lead character, which was shocking when I met her later. Other than that, I have no idea how they did what they did, but it looked great, seriously. I was so incredibly pleased when I saw the pages come in, utterly unlike what I had imagined and much better… Again, I can’t say enough about how talented and professional Kalman and Ramon are. Hire these guys.

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Here we see Cristina next to her in-book counterpart.
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The first page of art, sans colouring. 
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Here we see Cristina and Kalman, posing as characters on the second page of the story.

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On the left are Kalman’s ‘pencils’, which are actually done via graphics tablet on the computer. Kalman integrates his photo ref and then “inks” the whole think tighter on another layer.
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And, the final result. A sinister, angry series of reds.
After that I lettered it myself (I am occasionally a professional letterer). You know what they say about all writers being forced to letter their own work? I completely agree. I actually did a good solid edit during the lettering stage, and made the text flow a little better in spots (and fit in the balloon). I ran it by some friends for corrections, and we were good to go. It turns out in the end, that we weren’t even the latest story in the book! :)
TWO YEARS LATER

It’s a little over two years since I first roped Kalman and Ramon in, and two years on I’ve got a number of observations on the piece. For one, it reads a hell of a lot better if you linger on each panel… if you read comics the way I do (which is very, very quickly) then the whole thing comes off as really disjointed. I tried to make a point of showing a significant time jump between panels, but it’s up to the reader to notice and pause, despite the visual clues. I just read the story for the first time in at least 7 months, and I just zoomed through it, and it didn’t work. A slower read works better, I think. Ah well.

The other thing I’m noticing is that the narration for the first few pages is sloppy. I wrote it sloppy on purpose–it’s supposed to be a sort of a dramatic diary entry from a young person–but… yeah. I was trying to show a clear progression from angry adolescent to a smart woman with her shit together, and I think that’s there, but some of that is painful to read. Probably not as painful as livejournal entries though…

I think the art is still excellent though, all the way through. I really rushed these guys and it doesn’t show anywhere. Both Kalman and Ramon have gone on to better things, but I’m still happy every time I see these pages. If you want to see more of their work, you can find Kalman online at http://www.horhaus.com/weblogs/kalmangallery/, and more on Ramon at http://www.ramon-perez.com/.
As for reaction to the story? Critically it has been mixed, some good, some bad. Eric Stephenson mentioned to me that it was one of the favourites of the folks in the Image offices, which was heartening to hear. Doug Wolk tore the book (and my story in particular) apart on Salon.com. The first reviewer at Amazon.com ‘got it’ and liked it… But the best story? Two or three weeks after the book’s release I’m at a party, and someone asks me about the book and we’re talking about my story, and another woman turns around and says “wait, ‘Expectations’ in that new Belle and Sebastian comic? You wrote that? I LOVED that.” and she just sort of stares at me. That was weird, and great. I think I said thank you, and blushed. It was really great that a woman, about my age, who probably went through school at about the same time I did and listened to all this music as well… that she liked it, and that it spoke to her.

Because there are a lot of sad girls out there, and in the end they can overcome and be fabulous. :)

(Thanks for reading.)

(Also, I put the whole script below behind the “cut”. Just click on “continue reading this entry” to read the script.)

- Christopher

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