Poplife: Issue #20

Thu, June 20th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

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 curtain of my specific process.

GUSHER

Brutal week at MK12. Client work going 'round-the-clock. MTV show package and ESPN show package are running concurrently, with deadlines a day apart from one another. Too many people making too many decisions, so it feels like we take a step forward and then six steps back. Then we get beaten up and our wallets get stolen. Then we get pantsed, and then they point and laugh at our wieners. Okay, maybe not that bad. But it's pretty bad.

[Don't call me.]
Don't call me.
We need to clear both projects off of our decks, because we've landed the Adult Swim package for CARTOON NETWORK. Doing all the in-between bits, but none of the actual show packaging. You know how there are shots of old people swimming and stuff now? Next season, it's going to be work that we produce. Fun gig, but massive. I was up until three last night assembling a bible and deliverables package. And that was only half of it, the comedy half. The good news is that they really, really want our input, so I might get the opportunity to write little bits for Brak, for the SEALAB guys, for Harvey Birdman to do.

Cartoon are turning out to be a lot of fun to work for so far. We worked with a different producer last year on a project for Dexter's Lab that got shitcanned after 9/11-- it was for a marathon called DEXTER GOES GLOBAL, and my pitch to them started with the line "It's TRIUMPH OF THE WILL for kids!", and the piece we made was based on Dexter conquering the world… after 9/11 it wasn't funny anymore. Thank YOU, Al Qaeda. The Adult Swim guys really want to play with us, which is flattering. The first creative call we had, I asked if Hank (from SEALAB) could build a bong in one spot… They at least laughed when I suggested it. Apparently, the SEALAB writer slipped "hand job" through on a script he'd just done, so one never knows…

The producer we work with there works a few cubes down from Andy Merrill, who does the voice of Brak ,and produces a bunch of CN shows. I'm trying to get him to do my voicemail. How dumbly unprofessional is that?

[He can write better, and shorter, than YOU.]
He can write better, and shorter, than YOU.
I've tried to institute a daily writing regimen, but it's hit or miss at best. I (try to) do 3 pages of script, on any project from any scene, a day; I try to write a 300-500 word supershort story too, based on Richard Kadrey's superlative stuff at Infinite Matrix . Sometimes they're alright; sometimes they're really shitty. Most of all they're accumulating. That helps.

The best one I wrote this past week was about my car crash. I wrote it after having a spectacularly vivid dream recreating the whole thing.

Working on getting the MANTOOTH! trade ready for Lar. Taking way longer than it should. Gak.

Tomorrow I'm waking up, putting on a pot of coffee, and finishing ANODYNE, goddammit. Once and for all, period end of discussion. I'm completely unhappy with the ending of the third part, and nervous personally for writing the fourth part. We'll see how it goes, I guess.

I want to see if it will work if I remove the captions, too.

And Ben and I are going to the BDA conference at the end of the month. Los Angeles for five whole days. We've got a short that will be showing there, and we've been invited to speak on a panel, etc. etc. etc.

The funny thing is that all of our deadline-conscious clients are going to be there, too. There's irony there to be observed and laughed at, but I'm too tired.

FIVE DAYS in Los Angeles. Did I mention that?

Saturday morning I wake up to NPR on the alarm clock radio thing, and start to get out of bed. I'm confused because the WHAT DO YOU KNOW? guy is talking on the radio (giving me game show dreams, instead of those weird Al Qaeda burial cave dreams or the suicide bomber restaurant drive through dreams). Hey, I ask Kel, Is it Saturday?

Yeah, says Kel, so I roll over and sleep until two.

I sat down to write the fourth and final part of ANODYNE and get the idea that I should do all of it in an eight-panel grid. In fact, I should tear apart the previous three parts and re-write THEM into an eight-panel grid.

I've been thinking about grids a lot.

Part of my reasoning in now wanting to rewrite the entirety of a piece I'm behind on delivering, at least to my own Protestant Work Ethic Deadline Sense, is that it's a stall tactic. I am fully willing to accept that.

If I'm behind on something, it's always easier to ignore it than to dive in and fix it. Diving in reminds me only of how far behind I am, and thus what a bad person I am, and thus how disappointed in me the entire world is, and thus why I should end my own life. So I stay behind because it's easier sometimes.

When I'm still working on something, it doesn't matter how screwed up it is; in my head, I can always fix it. But when it's done, it's done and fucked up forever and ever. So the more time I take monkeying around, the more time I buy myself feeling like a worthwhile writer.

There're real, legitimate reasons I made the change, though.

[Yes.]
Yes.
The first time I can remember seeing that grid system was in David Lapham's STRAY BULLETS. I'm sure many others before Lapham used the 8-panel grid, but it was STRAY BULLETS that stuck with me. Maybe because I sat with a stack of them in front of me and read them in one go. I remember I noticed Lapham's technique because STRAY BULLETS looked like a comic done in Academy Ratio, and then realized the brilliance of the idea.

It automatically assembled the pages into a groove. The storyline, the beats Lapham hit, fell just perfectly. It was immediately accessible emotionally and technically.

It appeals to me especially as a early-stages writer prone to fucking things up, and that I'm writing for an artist heretofore undecided.

With any sort of grid, 4, 6, 8, 9, 120… you lock yourself into a tempo. Each page has a rhythm already embedded in it that you don't have to think about. You figure out what has to happen on the end of the page, whatever your hook is, and you build to there across the remaining seven panels. I don't have to freak out over trying to figure out page compositions-- no more "if there's a big panel here, there's gotta be three skinny ones there and a long one at the end." And to be honest, I just sorta pull that stuff out of my ass and have no idea how it's going to work. I usually doodle little thumbnails as I write, and they make sense to me but that doesn't mean the final work will translate to anyone else.

I actually wrote Kieron a while back-- Kieron 'Titties' Dwyer, drawing my first OGN called LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS-- and told him I was nervous about talking to him, because he actually knew what he was doing and I, quite honestly, don't. Kieron, amongst his sage-like words of comfort, offered to give me a hand job just to loosen me up a bit. I declined politely, but enjoyed his sage-like words of comfort nonetheless.

What? Oh, right-- grids.

With a grid, though, you remove that from the equation. I don't have to pretend to be an artist, I can just write. Easier for an artist to interpret. Harder for an artist to screw up.

I like the eight-panel grid. Film school training, maybe. I storyboard stuff at work or stuff of my own in rectangles. As I keep getting a crush on serials, I think I want to do more stuff in grids. There's a part of me that wonders if that somehow makes me a bad writer, like a not-visual-enough writer, but then there's another part that tells that first part to fuck off, because it's better to have a good piece written than to have people think you're a good writer. There's a similar thinking involved with me wanting to write long scripts. Like if I don't write a really long, detailed script, I'm a lazy writer. I dunno.

I like the grid in comics. The Mars thing I'm working on with Steven Sanders is done in variations on a 9-panel grid. More grids, more grids.

So. On top of innately speeding up the writing process, and on top of grafting a rhythm to the story automatically, I like the grid because it's immediate and accessible to anyone picking a comic up. Lapham comments as much in the first big STRAY BULLETS collection: you don't have to have any training or experience reading comics. You don't have to have a developed intuitive reading-eye with a grid. It's as logical as reading words themselves.

Don't chime in to say that only an idiot couldn't read a modern comic, because I know lots of intelligent people that can't make heads or tales out of a lot of modern comics. Hell, even I have trouble sometimes. There's something to be said for elegance and simplicity in this world.

Lastly, it's a dirty trick. Now, aside from having an idea as to what Antony Johnston is doing, I'm unsure as to what the Reverend Peterson or Warren are contributing to the anthology. I would assume, based on my knowledge of them, that there will be tongue wombs and double-jawed meat vaginas and exploding spinal dildo beasts dipped in gasoline.

ANODYNE isn't like that.

So it's a dirty trick. ANODYNE is going to stand out like a sore thumb from the other pieces. What it lacks in napalm-glazed lesbian anarchist digital lizard-gods, it'll make up for by being… um… extra-specially visually boring.

Until people actually read it and I'm outed for the hack I am. At that point though you will have already bought it and I will be weeping in my stately comic book mansion.

I finished part four on Saturday afternoon. I rewrote 2/3s of the third part, and bits and pieces of the rest, retrofitting it all into the grid. I stripped out all of the captions. I was done by 7:30 the following night. I sat on the porch and wrote in the sun. I smoked.

[A porch, much like the one upon which I write comics.]
A porch, much like the one upon which I write comics.

GREG HORN, I have been informed, did that BLACK WIDOW cover last week.

So there you go.

[I believe in Rock and Roll.  I believe in getting high.]
I believe in Rock and Roll. I believe in getting high.
Idea I don't have time for: tracking a… I don't know, an ersatz private detective of some sort in Kansas City, from the Union Station Massacre of June 17, 1933, starting with the high time of Pendergast's reign, through the end of that to the race riots of '68. Story of a city's decay graphed from those two events, the crime and desperate violence therein. How that Mobster running this town made it huge, and cleaning it up killed everything worthwhile off. They used to call this place "The Paris of the Plains," without irony. Maybe take it to the floods of '77 that finally drove all the white people out…

Do you remember that show with the little girl who could touch her fingers together and stop time? I wish I was that little girl.

Discuss this column on the Poplife Forum or on the Matt Fraction Forum.

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