Today I want to give a little history lesson, and examine how creating relationships in comics is almost more important than the work itself.
When I first started writing comics seriously, about 7-8 years ago, I had no idea what I was doing; I just knew that I wanted to do it. Very badly indeed. I was lucky in that I had the internet to fall back on. I could Google search (or whatever search engine was used back then) “comic book scripts” and find a few decent examples of scripts. But the actual process of writing one, of trying to make it make sense from my head to the page, was a battle.
I initially did what I think a lot of writers do: I took 22 pieces of Xerox paper, numbered them 1 through 22, and started to draw out the pages. Not detailed drawings, very sketchy, pretty much stick figures. Just to figure out where the characters would be in the panels, the angles I wanted, things like that.
Then I’d take those 22 pages and start writing the panel descriptions.
Then I’d take those 22 pages and start writing the dialogue. Then I’d go back over my stick figure drawings and black in the speech balloons to make sure they’d fit. It was a process, let me tell you. But, as with anything, practice makes perfect (not that I think my scripting style is perfect, but it’s what works for me.) I got more comfortable over the years with writing scripts, it’s now second nature. No more drawing the whole thing out, I can hold all of it in my head now, I can move panels around on the page in my head before I even type a single word. But it took a long time, and a lot of struggling, and a lot of badly formatted, ugly scripts before I got here.
But I digress. The point was, when I first started, after I struggled and struggled and finally had a tiny breakthrough, the first proper comic script I wrote was a 7-page opening sequence for a comic called Antihero. Antihero was one of the first legitimate comic ideas I had, something not incredibly derivative (at least in my mind), something that I thought could actually work. So I did what any brave young writer with 7 pages of script would do: started the artist search.
And I found a guy who was perfect named Michael Tyler. Michael and I started to develop Antihero together, creating the character, his powers, his world, his back story. Michael developed the look of the character, and then…it sort of fell off. Not through any fault of either of us. I think we were both at the very beginning stages of creating comics, I don’t think either of us were prepared for the amount of work involved in this kind of endeavor. Around the same time, I started work on Ghost Lines, and that took off, and then Long Gone followed, and Antihero sort of fell on the backburner.
But Michael and I stayed in touch. He was always very supportive of my work, championed it, would offer pinups and sketches and things over the years. Over the years we developed an actual friendship, discussing our families and kids and work and our lives.
A few years down the line, I had decided to create a Breakneck anthology for 215 Ink. We had some lofty ideas to release it as a convention exclusive at the 2010 NYCC. So I wrote three Breakneck shorts and started approaching my favorite collaborators. Carl Yonder (Ghost Lines) did one. Allen Byrns (Broken) did one. And I had one left. So I sent an email to Michael Tyler, asking if he’d be interested in working on a short featuring the Ghostwalker (the vigilante who gets killed accidentally by Ethan Shade in the first issue of Breakneck). Michael agreed, as excited as I was that we were finally going to work on something together.
And he killed it. I didn’t give him an easy task, as he had to adapt some of what had already been created in Breakneck number 1, as the story took place during a part of that first issue…but he killed it. Here’s a sample:
The Breakneck anthology eventually fell apart, but I was left with three very excellent short stories that I knew I’d get to use sooner or later. Eventually, 215 Ink announced their upcoming anthology, and they wanted to have short stories included from some of the already-published books, so I needed a Breakneck short. I picked the Ghostwalker story with Michael, and it will run in the anthology. That will be our first official published work together.
It was a great experience, and we continued to stay in touch. One day, about a month ago, Michael mentioned something about wanting to work on a superhero story. It was a random comment, but something blew up inside my head. A year or more ago, I wrote a 22-page one-shot comic that was (and still is) tentatively titled The Cardinal. I was really happy with it, really enjoyed writing it and how it came out, but never had the right artist to work on it. So it sat as a file on my computer, not forgotten, but put on the backburner. I imagine every writer in comics has a dozen of these kinds of stories. I know I do.
But when Michael mentioned a superhero story, I knew immediately that this was the right one. It was a one-shot, so no huge commitment for a guy with a family and a job and probably very little free time. It was also a story that I think played to Michael’s strengths: lots of brand new characters to be designed, some good action scenes, a lot of set design. I sent him the idea, sent him the script, sent him the characters…and he said yes. We’d be working on something again.
The Cardinal story really hits all the hallmarks I find in my writing. It’s superheroes with a bit of a twist. It’s an aging main character. It’s a main character dressed all in white. It’s kind of like the perfect distillation of all my comic book specialties. And it also deals with some actual themes, it’s not just mindless violence, or dick-and-fart jokes. There’s an underlying theme of trust and friendship in it (which is pretty interesting considering the message of this update), although there is a pretty good twist in the story. There’s no hand-holding and cheery smiles for too long.
Anyway. Michael started working on character designs, which, in my opinion, is one of his main strengths. Let’s take a look at the characters, shall we?
First up is the Head of State. He’s the quintessential patriotic super-soldier, who was cryogenically frozen for 70 years at the end of WWII. He’s our Captain America.
Then we have the Bricklayer, our version of Iron Man. Maybe Iron Man on a budget. But I love the design, and the mask – it’s meant to look like a brick. That was brilliant.
Here’s our Norse god, Mr. Knock. Typical big buff guy with the blue paint recalling the Picts. Leather pants and the whole bit.
This is Coma White, who ultimately plays the part of the Scarlet Witch, or the Wasp. It was Michael’s idea to make her of Indian nationality, which contrasts nicely with the white costume.
Here’s Speedemon, our resident super-speedster. Michael had the (yet again) brilliant idea to give him the prosthetic legs, like the sprinter from the Olympics. I never would have thought of that. That’s the beauty of collaboration, right there. I have an idea, and Michael expands on it, and something like this happens.
This is Fallout, who plays the part of the Vision on our little superteam. I love the idea of the limbs being coils, and the faint greenish, almost radioactive glow. His name is Fallout, after all.
Then we have Damian Hunter, who isn’t directly based on any existing character, except for maybe a guy like Hawkeye – no superpowers himself, but he has the big hi-tech gauntlets. Damian’s our everyman, and a lot of the story is seen through his eyes.
And last but not least, our WWII villain, Baron Dragaan. He was to be our Baron Zemo/Red Skull type of bad guy, but Michael came up with this brilliant mask, something I’d never have thought of. It gives him a regal and pretty disturbing S&M kind of look.
Then there’s the Cardinal himself…but some things have to stay secret, right? Don’t worry though; this is a book that Michael and I will be completing and publishing, somewhere, through someone. I even have another one-shot in mind with the same character(s). I can see a series of interconnected one-shots over the years.
But the long and short of it is: when you create comics, also create relationships, friendships. Because that’s the thing that will win out in the end.
Do yourself a favor and go listen to “Brutal Youth” by Elvis Costello.