Poplife: Issue #6

Thu, March 14th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

BIG HAT -or- HOW THE WEST WAS WON, AND WHAT IT GOT US

Okay. So here's the first ten pages of BIG HAT, them what bothered me so bad for a while there.

Some of it's rough, but this is supposed to be a work journal, yeah?

I tend to write scripts in a vaguely informal manner. I'm writing it not so much for myself but for the artist, so please forgive some of the more conversational moments or absurd asides. And I probably write more visually than I should, but it's how I tend to think. I dunno.

Anyway.

PAGE ONE

This page is arranged in three tiers running horizontally. Each tier is larger successively towards the bottom of the page: 1/4, 1/3, 5/12, or thereabouts. Wow, I just did math.

We're at a makeshift hanging in the middle of nowhere. The three panels make up the essence of the whole image while editing out visual bits we don't need.

1.1
A barren, skeletal treetop fills the frame. Inky black branches like fingers stretching out in all directions. A lone, hungry vulture is perched, staring down at the scene beneath him.

The DIALOGUE BALLOONS rise up from PANEL THREE.

COACHMAN (OFF-PANEL):YOU GONNA DIE.

1.2
A center section of the tree. The limbs are thicker but just as barren. Beneath where the vulture was perched is a rope, crossed over in front and behind. Not the newest or strongest rope in the world... it's so gnarled and frayed it looks like it would creak.

COACHMAN (OFF-PANEL):BY THE POWERS 'VESTED IN ME, I-- uh--
SHOTGUN (OFF-PANEL):--YOU DECREE IT.
COACHMAN (OFF-PANEL):THAT'S RIGHT. I DONE DECREED IT. FOR TRYIN'A ROB MY STAGE, AND, uh, FOR THE NEEDLESS AND VIOLENT MURDERIN' OF TWO TEXAS RANGERS, I DECREE YOU, uh-

1.3
At the base of the tree now. On PANEL LEFT are the COACHMAN and his SHOTGUN, two bumpkin-lookin' yahoos way out of their league. SHOTGUN is holding, well, a shotgun; The COACHMAN is idly fumbling with a battered black hat... And upon his withered and hellish horse sits the titular BIG HAT, his head hung low (hiding any details other than his hair and brow), the noose straining taught behind his neck. He's huge. Absolutely huge. His hands are bound at the wrists in front of him.

In the background, a Stagecoach is hitched to a rock. A nebbish little PRIEST is peeking his head out of the window. The Stage is pockmarked with bullet-holes; across the two lead horses are slung the bodies of two dead men.

COACHMAN:--WHAT'D YOU SAY YOUR NAME WAS?
SHOTGUN:DIDN'T SAY HIS NAME.
COACHMAN:WELL, THAT TAIN'T RIGHT, KILLIN' A MAN WHOSE NAME I DON'T KNOW.
BIG HAT:Hey, Fatboy.

PAGE TWO

2.1
Wide MEDIUM /TWO-SHOT REACTION on the COACHMAN and SHOTGUN. Speechless at BIG HAT's arrogance; their mouths hang open.

NO DIALOGUE

2.2
Cropped TIGHT on BIG HAT, lifting his head up just enough for us to see light reflecting and glinting off of the backs of his glaring black eyes. He bears years and years of wear and tear around those eyes; the deep and swirling creases around them amplify Hat's rage. A MASSIVE SCAR in the shape of an X mars his forehead.

BIG HAT:I'm gonna kill you.

2.3
The COACHMAN stands beside BIG HAT'S HORSE, one hand on the rump; he fans himself with BIG HAT'S hat with the other. HAT has resumed his position from 1.3, head hung low. The COACHMAN is gloating, confident. HAT remains motionless.

COACHMAN (1):NO SIR.
COACHMAN (2):I DON'T THINK YOU WILL.

2.4
On the PRIEST in the coach, peeking out at the hanging scene. He's dressed in typical, high-collared Catholic fashion... far too much clothing for this hot summer sun. Bullet-holes and a swathe of blood mar the side of the coach.

COACHMAN (off-panel):YOU GONNA HANG 'TIL YOU DIE, DIE, DIE.

2.5
WIDE AND LONG, pulled back from almost behind the coach-- The entire scene in silhouette. The back-end of the passenger carriage is on PANEL RIGHT; BIG HAT is on his horse beneath the tree in the center. SHOTGUN and COACHMAN on PANEL LEFT, ready. COACHMAN has his arms on his hips; SHOTGUN has the gun trained on HAT.

COACHMAN:MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL.

PAGE THREE

Four horizontal tiers.

3.1
SIMILAR to 1.1: the lone vulture, sitting tight and biding its time. Barren, snarling branches and sloppy-black birds. The ROPE still hangs loose in place.

NO DIALOGUE.

3.2
SAME as 3.1, only there are four or five vultures now, all staring downwards. The ROPE is drawn taught, straining.

NO DIALOGUE.

3.3
SIMILAR, only there's fifteen, sixteen vultures. The first vulture we've seen is hopping off of its perch, swooping down, caught mid-flight. The ROPE is gone from the branch.

NO DIALOGUE

3.4
BENEATH the tree now. Where we expect to see BIG HAT'S body hanging, instead there is the corpse of the COACHMAN at the trunk of the tree. The Vulture stands perched on his big belly, about to peck at his neck. The PRIEST is sticking his head out of the window still, screaming as BIG HAT drags the corpse of SHOTGUN by the hair back towards the coach while putting his hat back on with the other.

PRIEST:GOOD LORD!

PAGE FOUR

Two BIG PANELS.

4.1
Inside the coach now. BIG HAT's shadow falls across the back wall of the coach and over part of the nebbish little PRIEST. The PRIEST'S hand is held up, covering his face. He's on the floorboards, terrified.

PRIEST (1):PLEASE.
PRIEST (2):HAVE MERCY, MY SON.

4.2
REVERSE on BIG HAT from the PRIEST'S POV-LOW ANGLE, the sun behind him, backlighting him a bit, but this is the first really clear shot of him we've had of him. He's framed by the coach door, he's crawling inside furious, the knife leading his way. A shadow falls across his face, the X scar beams through.

BIG HAT:NO.

PAGE FIVE

5.1
We're on the main drag of NEW JERICHO-- the main setting of our story. It's the dead of night; a full moon hangs fat in the sky casting odd, bright light across the rickety town. The sky is clear and full of stars.

Jericho is a good-sized place, not quite a fully developed city but more than just an outpost with a train station and a saloon. There's a small urban core going, roads running in and out of town; railroad tracks and a station, a schoolhouse and residential homes. In the distance, fires can be seen burning in the night.

We're staring down the strip as a stagecoach with no driver comes galloping into town at full speed, curling clouds of dust kicking up beneath its wheels and the hooves of the horses. HORSES are tied to hitching posts outside of a saloon on PANEL RIGHT.

CAPTION:NEW JERICHO.
CAPTION:POPULATION 226.

5.2
SAME, only the COACH is our primary focus. The horses have been galloping out of control, kicking up a snarl of dust in their wake. Their eyes are full of animal fear; they're crazed, out of control. On PANEL RIGHT from a saloon exits RICKY TREJO, the Sheriff's deputy. The Stage has passed him already, and he's had a few already this evening. He whips his head to follow the out of control stage, practically knocking himself over.

This might sound insane, but this panel is really about the horses. They have to look terrified, like they've been hauling the Devil's own coach.

TREJO:JESUS CHRIST!

5.3
TREJO has mounted his horse and is doing that phenomenally fantastic cowboy move where the horse bucks back and you twist it to turn around... the equestrian equivalent of a three-point turn, I guess. RICKY is maybe thirty-three, give or take, and is a wiry, balding man who has the magical ability to always be just thismuch out of his league. Not incompetent, per se, just... well, some men are Sheriffs, others are Deputies. RICKY will always be a deputy.

BAR PATRONS are rushing out to see what the commotion is.

TREJO:SOMEBODY GET THE SHERIFF.

5.4
A little later in the evening. TREJO has managed to get the stage stopped at a T-shaped intersection. A CROWD-- mostly rowdy, drunken bar patrons and dancing girls-- have surrounded the stage at this point in a circle. Several men holding torches illuminate the scene; we can see that one of the lead horses has dropped dead.

In the panel foreground, heading towards the scene on horseback, is SHERIFF JIM PLEASANTS and, on foot to the side of his horse, his son PETE. Their backs are to us.

TREJO:SHERIFF!
TREJO:JIM!

5.5
On TREJO. A little drunk, a little panicked. Whatever he's seen inside the coach has spooked him, and he's lacking the self-control to keep it together. Shouting, sweating.

TREJO (1):STAGE WAS ROLLIN' IN OUTTA DAMN CONTROL--
TREJO (2):--NO GODDAMN DRIVER OR NOTHIN'--
JIM (OP):RICKY.

5.6
ANGLE UP on JIM, on horseback, his son at his side. Illuminated by stars and torches. He's-- regardless of what we're going to learn about him-- a good man, a good peacekeeper. He's strong, confident. Largely happy, even. This radiates from his very presence, his tone and timbre. PETE, at his side, looks up to his father as he speaks.

JIM:DON'T SWEAR IN FRONT OF THE BOY.

PAGE SIX

6.1
On PETE: he's about thirteen or fourteen, and at that age where boys decide to hate their fathers, to dislike them and anything they might stand for. He's a good looking kid, though, if a little rough around the edges.

He's rolling his eyes, dramatically: My Father is a jackass.

JIM (O.P.):NOW, WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?

6.2
From INSIDE of the coach, angling OUT of the open carriage door. We see the crowd parting as JIM makes his way through. He's taking a torch out of the hand of on on-looker as TREJO is yapping away at his side.

TREJO:JUST AS FAST AS YOU PLEASE, OUTTA CONTROL--

6.3
SAME-JIM is closer now, leading the way with the torch, trying to get a better glimpse inside the carriage. The light illuminates more of the surrounding crowd; we see shock, horror, confusion, and fear on their faces. JIM is unflappable, largely; he looks confident (if curious) as he gets closer. TREJO continues yap yap yapping away.

TREJO:NO PASSENGERS, NO RIDER, NO NOTHIN'-

6.4
JIM is now dead center in the panel; light illuminating his face from underneath. The light casts upwards on TREJO as well. Tight, uncomfortable. This panel would be right at home in an old EC comic.

JIM:RICKY.

PAGE SEVEN

7.1
From BEHIND the two men as they look inside the coach. JIM rests his LEFT HAND, the hand not holding the torch, on the doorframe. We notice he doesn't have a THUMB on that particular hand. JIM'S torch illuminates the scene-the entire carriage is covered, splattered, absolutely saturated with blood. Splattered on the windows, seeping into the floorboards.

A singular bit of SOMETHING lays dead center on the floor.

JIM:...SHUT UP.

7.2
On PETE, biting his lip, straining to see inside the carriage, his curiosity and the gore are getting the better of his teenage indifference. He's standing on his tiptoes, trying to see over the heads and shoulders of the rest of the mob.

NO DIALOGUE

7.3
SIDE PROFILE of the two men, TREJO nearest us, JIM to his right side. Looking inside the carriage, both are trying to make sense of this inexplicable rolling abattoir.

TREJO:...THINK IT'S A THUMB.

7.4
On THE CROWD, startled and terrified still. Somehow, JIM'S arrival on the scene has served to crystallize their horror. They stand silent, waiting for JIM to say something, to make sense of it all.

NO DIALOGUE

7.5
JIM holding his thumb-less left hand up to his chest as he turns around to face the crowd. A subtle smile crosses his lips; he's trying to make the best of a bad and weird situation. TREJO turns around, following JIM'S lead hesitantly.

JIM:SO THAT'S WHERE I LEFT IT.

PAGE EIGHT

8.1
WIDE SHOT on JIM surrounded by the MOB. Panic has set in and it's JIM vs. Mob Mentality. His posture and body language is laidback and easygoing, but at the same time he's speaking definitively and with controlled authority. As we'll come to learn, there's been a fair amount of delicate situations with the people of Jericho that Jim's had to navigate and diffuse... this is nothing special.

MAN IN CROWD 1:WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO, JIM?
MAN IN CROWD 2:INDIANS, THAT'S WHAT THIS WAS-
JIM:PEOPLE.
MAN IN CROWD 3:I CAN GIT MY GUN, BE READY TO RIDE-
MAN IN CROWD 4:WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?

8.2
On JIM in a medium shot, the voice of reason. The MOB hangs on his every word. They're scared, ready for blood, ready for revenge, ready to kill something or someone back.

JIM (1):WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS IS.
JIM (2):WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS.

8.3
On PETE, still detached from the crowd at his father's horse, rolling his eyes again: My Dad is such a pussy.

JIM (off-panel)1:I KNOW Y'ALL ARE SCARED AND ANGRY-
JIM (off-panel) 2:I KNOW Y'ALL WANNA GO OUT AND KILL SOMEBODY.
JIM (off-panel)3:BUT WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS.

8.4
TWO-SHOT on JIM and TREJO. There's just enough of a hint in their posture and in the look in their eyes to know that, while speaking friendly, they mean business. They are the voice of law in Jericho, and by and large the townsfolk listen to them.

JIM:GO HOME. GO TO BED. ALL OF YOU. NOW.

PAGE NINE

9.1
We're at the PLEASANTS' home now. A modest ranch on the outskirts of New Jericho, a simple fence surrounding the forty acre spread. A small stable is out back. JIM and PETE are inside.

PETE:...DAD?

9.2
Inside the stable now. JIM is in the foreground in profile, stroking the horses' head, looking into its tired eyes and matching its weary stare. PETE is in the background, putting away the saddle. He looks over to his father who seems to be oblivious to his son's inquiries.

PETE (1):WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT WAS?
PETE (2):WAS IT REALLY A THUMB?
PETE (3):WHO DO YOU--

9.3
On JIM, almost from the horses' POV. He's frightened, and it's only now that we've seen it in him. He doesn't break his stare with his animal, and barely acknowledges his son's presence behind him.

JIM:S'LATE.
JIM:GO TO BED, PETE.

9.4
FULL SHOT On PETE, resentful, hurt, and angered at his father's shutting him out. He's pausing in the doorway of the stable.

NO DIALOGUE

9.5
SAME SHOT and ANGLE, only PETE has left the stable and is visibly making his way back to the ranch. He mutters under his breath as he skulks back towards home.

PETE:...go to hell, old man.

PAGE TEN

Four long tiers.

10.1
REVERSE on JIM and the HORSE as JIM turns towards his departing son. Half of him wants to beat the tar out of the little bastard; the other half is too tired and spooked to do anything. He stares, blankly.

NO DIALOGUE

10.2
PULL BACK OUTSIDE of the stable now, as a tired JIM follows the path his son took to the house. We're far enough back to see both buildings, JIM between them. Shoulders slumped, head down.

NO DIALOGUE

10.3
Outside of the PLEASANTS' front door, a SHOTGUN hung on the wall outside by two hooks. From BEHIND as JIM stops in his tracks, staring at the gun as his hand freezes on the doorknob. To his left is an old rocking chair.

NO DIALOGUE

10.4
JIM is seated in the rocking chair, the rifle stretched across his lap. His eyes are sagging with sleep, and he's fighting to keep them open.

JIM (1):YOU'RE COMING BACK.
JIM (2):YOU SONUVABITCH, YOU'RE COMING BACK.

BIG HAT. Coming from AiT/Planet Lar next year.

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