Poplife: Issue #14

Thu, May 9th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

COOKIENEBBISH

POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don't get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE's purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the process of my specific curtain.

[Always rip off those who are better than you.]
Always rip off those who are better than you.
Wrapped up the main draft of ANODYNE 2 (my serial in the upcoming Avatar Press anthology NIGHT RADIO this week. Finally. I've got part 3 well underway. Rewrote bits of 1, as well-- got rid of some stuff that didn't work, fell flat, or just felt completely out of place. Scenes occurring in and around an excavation site were the biggest excision. One, it just didn't have enough room to be anything other than a big non-sequitor-- 40 pages isn't enough to play with the idea without making the story ABOUT the idea. Two, I think I ripped it off from Gilbert Hernandez's BLOOD OF PALOMAR, which I'd finished rereading for ARTBOMB shortly before I started anyway. So out goes the excavation site, which Darin had called problematic all those weeks ago, and I said in this column wasn't going to be problematic, and in comes a good old railroad trestle instead.

Showed the first two pieces to some friends over the weekend and talked about it. Which is a bit of a new experience for me, playing show and tell with the express purpose of incorporating their input and making changes to the work if I wanted to. One thing that has me concerned (more out of inexperience than anything else, I think) is that perceptions of the characters will change from segment to segment, so it's not really until the end that everyone's relationships make 100% sense. Motivations and actions take on different meanings over the course of the four chapters. And while deliberate, I'm not sure how it will play on the page.

[No, for real-- PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME.]
No, for real-- PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME.
Here's an example. There's a scene at the end of two that's the meet-cute between the main guy and the main girl. Out of context as just an isolated scene, it reads one way-- flirty, playful, a little dirty. Reading it at the end of twenty pages, though, after following their mutual bad behavior at the end of their relationship for a while, the scene reads another way entirely-- predatory, a bit menacing, and a bit creepy. Which was how it was intended, more or less. The idea being that that particular scene's retort comes in part three, where the tables get turned and we see the relationship a lot more clearly than the very end and the very beginning imply. The third part deals with these two characters, basically, and how their relationship is really the crux of the whole story.

So, anyway-- it reads as one way alone, another way in context, but then (I hope) the context will be changed around after the subsequent chapter and makes an entirely new sense. Clever and good, ha ha ha. What concerns me, though, is the somewhat fragile nature of gender relationships anyway-- especially in light of comics as a whole, where female characters are usually boner fuel, eye candy, or damsels in distress needing rescuing-- and that, holy fuck, are people going to misread that, or miss-guess my intentions, and tune out after the second part?

[Scrunchy Man is to Writer as Water is to Not Writing.]
Scrunchy Man is to Writer as Water is to Not Writing.
ANODYNE hops around in chronology. I'm usually in the school that thinks if a novice writer is doing that, it's because they don't know what the hell they're talking about. That's always the biggest indicator that water's being tread (at least by me, in my way of working) because you can tell yourself that you're actually writing. Which, by the explicit definition you ARE, as you're moving your hand over the clickymachine and making the words happen onscreen. Though in my personal experience it's a bullshit stall tactic where I turn out pages that have no benefit to the story, really, other than to make things clearer in my own head.

Now watch me try to justify what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.

[No, seriously-- what the hell is going on?]
No, seriously-- what the hell is going on?
Since I've never really tried to write serially before-- a few times, sure, but it was never anything more than just breaking up a big story into 22 page chunks or whatever-- I wanted to really take advantage of the form. Instead of using chapter-breaks as mandatory cliffhangers for the following installment, I wanted to see what happens when the narrative takes a RASHOMON-sort of approach to the storytelling (and that's a bit of a misnomer, but I can't think of the proper… nomer), where each chapter makes those around it make a little more sense, or redefine what exactly you've read before. The sort of stuff I noticed reading INVISIBLES, or some of the later TRANSMET arcs that were very clearly being written for consumption in a collected form. The pop artifact serial takes on a different sort of importance that way; it becomes a little bit more necessary and a little bit less disposable, I guess. It's intriguing to me, as a reader; as a movie watcher, also, to want to go back and re-watch something like USUAL SUSPECTS or MEMENTO because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So ANODYNE is me learning, and attempting to play with the potential of serial a little more than using it as an act break (of course, as I'm such a fucking neophyte, perhaps I'd be well-served to just write what was in my grasp, rather than to worry about what I can potentially reach, but I'll leave that comment to be made elsewhere).

With an OGN, act breaks and page counts don't really matter-- the story will find its structure, even if the exact page count doesn't fall into a 30-90-120 sort of breakdown, and it's all there in the reader's hands in one go. And now here I am finding out that there's something kind of cool about writing serially.

Most of all, hopping around in time frees me from horrible, horrible exposition that always seems to thud on the page. So instead of a character explaining why they're doing what they're doing, you show what they've done to lead them there, and la la la, aren't you clever. I think this is important for me because ANODYNE isn't high concept, there's no clean and clear two-line pitch that explains what it's about. If there is, it hasn't presented itself to me, but this may be a sort of wishful blindness on my part.

[I can't come back, Joey-- I'm dead.]
I can't come back, Joey-- I'm dead.
Christ. I can't express how uncomfortable writing this makes me, knowing that people are going to read it.

Anyway. I'm hoping to get the whole thing wrapped up by the weekend, do an overall polish, and be done with it. Which leads us nicely to BIG HAT.

The scenes I'm working on for BIG HAT are coming out of order. Parts of it need research and accuracy; others don't. So while I'm plowing through books and doing the research to get my dates and events right, I can write the fun stuff-- the action bits and character scenes that don't rely on historical accuracy. The whole experience is a little odd, as I've not written something in this fractured of a fashion before.

[In the Seventies, everyone could be an action hero-- even sexy Walter Matthau.]
In the Seventies, everyone could be an action hero-- even sexy Walter Matthau.
I just finished the biggest reference to SHANE in the whole piece. BIG HAT came about because I was talking about SHANE with a friend, and how I choose to think Shane's dead at the end of the film. There's a slump to him in that saddle, and the reason he doesn't respond to the famous call of "Come back, Shane!" is because he's already dead, or well on his way to dying. It's one of those great half-empty, half-full moments of cinema, really, and I'm on the half-empty side of the fence. But that was the spark of BIG HAT-- what if Shane WASN'T dead (when everyone thought he was), and he came BACK?

So I just did a riff on the "Pick up the gun" bit that most folks know more from the Bill Hicks routine rather than the actual movie. Which, I don't know, I think that kind of thing is important. Especially as the western is such a pastiche genre anyway (at least for me, the young chump what writes)-- you GOTTA tip your hat to where you're coming from. I think that's my biggest problem with Tarantino's films, his sort-of unwillingness to make it clear and known that he's one of the biggest (and most loving) thieves around (as opposed to someone like Soderbergh or PT Anderson, who fess up gleefully to their references and try to one-up them). Almost all of Tarantino's best lines and best bits come straight from other places, other sources. "Pair of pliers and a blow-torch"? Why, that's from CHARLEY VARRICK. The needle-in-the-heart routine? AMERICAN BOY, the Scorcese documentary. Thieves named after colors? TAKING OF PELHAM ONE-TWO-THREE. Glowing box of mystery? KISS ME DEADLY. Hell, the opening of JACKIE BROWN is a straight lift from THE GRADUATE. Not that there's anything wrong with having seen and memorized every movie ever made ever (and referring to that fact in your own films-- if anything, I can dig Tarantino's movies because they're made by a guy who so obviously loves movies that he can't help but adapt their precise grammars), but… I dunno, there seems to be something disingenuous about NOT owning up to the fact that you're directly riffing (and Tarantino was so lionized as a writer that his tendency to appropriate as either a writer or a director went largely unmentioned, at least to my recollection).

[Actually, Rosebud was Hearst's nickname for-- oh, never mind.]
Actually, Rosebud was Hearst's nickname for-- oh, never mind.
My point is that for whatever reason, paying penance maybe, or respect or whathaveyou… it's important to me to acknowledge that I'm walking down a road that's been well-tread by masters.

And don't complain to me about blowing the end of SHANE for you up in that previous paragraph-- the goddamn movie has been on tape, on TV, and in circulation for decades now, and if you've not seen it it's your own goddamn fault.

And Rosebud was a sled.

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