Poplife: Issue #24

Thu, July 18th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

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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

Finally got around to getting back into REVISITOR. I'm still not 100% sure what the hell I'm doing with it format/publisher-wise. Cart before the horse at this point, I guess; I went back and dropped in the scene that I thought was missing from the first act and called it a first draft. It's not very good. The ideas are there, at least, so I feel like maybe I can fix it. That's the toughest part, getting to a point where I can fix it.

I feel like most times I can just hammer the shit out of something in one go and have it be as good as it's gonna get. Ruminating too much about the goddamn thing makes it infinitely more difficult.

Since I started writing it with an eye on single issues, I noticed that all my worst Three-Act Structure tendencies have bubbled right to the surface of the work. Normally, when I'm just writing and not worrying about the page count the act structure manifests itself sort of innately and I don't have to worry about it. On REVISITOR, as I crept up to the end of the first part, I tacked on this horribly clich and trite ending thoroughly out of place with the rest of the piece. Because, I told myself, You Gotta Have A Cliffhanger, because at the end of the first act, Our Hero Goes Leaping Boldly Into Adventure and blah blah blah.

I wonder if I can sue film school for brainwashing me.

The Cartoon Network gig looms large and imminent on the horizon. A friend of ours that we tapped to do some illustration work on the thing didn't meet Cartoon's standards, and so they recommended an animator and illustrator named C. Martin Croker. He just so happens to be the voice of Zorak from the Space Ghost suite of shows, amongst his other jobs.

So, we're on a conference call with Cartoon and the aforementioned Mr. Croker the other day and as we're wrapping it up, Ben says something to the effect of "Okay, we're gonna go get some coffee."

And then Zorak barks back "YEAH, COFFEE!"

It was kinda weird.

Steven Sanders is an illustrator friend of mine, working on an OGN with me that had a title before Warren Ellis pissed all over my cornflakes and stole it. It's about Mars. It's about 30 pages of done right now. I've mentioned it before in these pages vaguely.

Steven Sanders is a fucking GOD. It is an honor and privilege to be working with him, and I can't wait to be able to tell folks more about it.

Take a look.

[Red] Scan of Steve Sanders' pencils for an OGN that's me and him.
[Red] Steve Sanders draws sand. me and Sanders.
[Red] Fear Steve's ungodly gifts. me and Sanders.

It looks like I'm going to be shooting a series of spots for SHONEXT, the indy film movie channel spun off of SHOWTIME. I wrote a batch of fifteen little spots, and the people over there really dug the idea. I pushed to do them as straightforwardly as possible, rather than as a bigtime MK12 computer hootnanny type of deal. First off, because it wouldn't make economic sense for us to do it, and secondly because I can't handle AfterEffects or Maya work, and these spots were something I could actively DO for the company rather than the writing and planning crap I do at the start of a project and the editing at the end. I figured that some straightforward live-action stuff would help flesh our reel out somewhat (I heard time and time again in LA that we needed some live action chops…) and, to be honest, I miss shooting Real Stuff on Real Locations with Real Crews. I haven't done it since film school and dammit, I miss it.

So I wrote these spots and SHONEXT digs 'em and this week I got the tap to proceed.

Originally, when the budget was one number, I'd bid the spots out as though we were going to shot on 35mm. I'd never shot 35mm before, and figured that if it was on someone else's dime… then what the hell. Then as part of a post-9-11 budget hemorrhage, the budget was halved and there we were with just enough to do the pieces nicely on Digi.

The spots were to be about an Astronaut-- just sorta toolin' around and being an astronaut. We'd been working with this Astronaut-Ninja idea lately, and it seemed a natural, if redundant, extension. Then Moby came out with his stupid-ass video and we had to scrap the Astronaut.

Which is okay, because I just took it to Robot and I like Robot infinitely more. So, yeah. I get to direct 15 spots with a robot. They're weird, goofy little one-off gags.

So, anyway. I find an experienced production house here in town and am having meetings with a producer over there, ramping pre-production up and all that. And while I suppose I always knew this was coming, he asks me what I want it to look like.

As I try to explain to the guy how I'm seeing it, I realize that working with my friends over the last few years has spoiled me, or at least spoiled the part of my brain that is meant to speak critically of work. Out comes all this MK12 shorthand that I know the guys would've gotten immediately, and the Producer guy is staring at me as though I'd communicated in an elaborate system of chirps and grunts.

He tells me to find stuff that I like visually to help him understand what I'm talking about.

So, okay, alright, I start digging around online. Part of the thing about LA is that the whole trip made me feel saturated with Visual Zeitgeist. When I prepped my notes for the rest of MK12, I made a list of opposites that compared What Everyone Is Doing to What Nobody Is Doing. It was sort of a joke, a 'here's what we can do to stand out from everything and everybody' kind of thing, but it's kind of true.

[Wong Kar Wai]
Still from Wong Kar Wai's CHUNKING EXPRESS.

I went trolling around for Wong Kar Wai shots, Chris Doyle stuff if (above and beyond matters of personal taste) for no other reason than it would look singular and unique on the airwaves. I wanted really blown out and hyper-saturated colors, thick surface detail and garish explosion of light. And, boy oh boy, is Wong Kar Wai the guy to go to for that.

As I start stealing pictures off the 'net, I realize that my pre-production process-- hell, the entirety of my work process-has been irrevocably informed by writing comics.

Let me try to explain.

I feel like the mechanics of comics writing really comes down to paring down the story into little containers. Story, Sequence, Page, and Panel. Which feeds into my OCD problem solving skills. I don't think I'm particularly smart or particularly better at my job than anyone else could or would be, but I DO think I'm really good at taking a huge problem and breaking it down into lots and lots of little problems, stitching together their completion into a linear, logical progression.

The downside is I run into Big Picture problems, long-range far-casting gets a little sketchy. Same reason that I'm a lousy chess player: I can only see one move ahead, but I see it in infinite detail.

Anyway. Apparently, I was born for Middle Management, as the SHONEXT stuff, the ADULT SWIM stuff, and the way I've been attacking my comics writing lately proves to me that I am a master at micromanaging the shit out of things.

Speaking of Steve Sanders, and of Artists Making Me Look Better Than I Actually Am, Kieron Titties Dwyer has been teasing me like the filthy slut he is with panels from the upcoming LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS.

Check 'em out, and thank your Uncle Lar and AiT/PlanetLar for publishing such a gorgeous looking thing.

[Last of the Independents] A rough panel from LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS, which is me and Kieron Dwyer.
[Last of the Independents] Goddamn, will you look at that? A finished panel from LOTI, again me and KD.
[Last of the Independents] More of The Shit You Can't Fuck With from me and KD, our own bad motherfuckin' selves.

AUTOMATIC KAFKA#1 is out, and it's fucked in all the right places. It's retroquasinostalgia done drugsexy and decadent, it's Russ Meyer's WEST COAST AVENGERS, it's JLA: BEHIND THE MUSIC, it's the seedy and seamy LA glam underbelly of DOOM PATROL without feeling like either a superhero comic or a rehash of anything that's come before it. It's the kind of book I imagine making blood vessels in Chuck Dixon's skull constrict into little Mandelbrot tangles.

Casey's wearing his weird influences on his sleeve and shitting on all of them at the same time; Ash Wood is Ash Wood doing linear faux-hero comics the way no one demanded with wit and flourish to match the story (as well as his trademarked bigass robots and nekkid ladies and whatnot). It's fairly singular, twisted as all hell, dirty, clever, funny, and hugely enjoyable. And while there's still some stuff i'd like to see both Casey and Wood filter out of their system, AUTOMATIC KAFKA is yet another maniacally promising first issue to come out from DC in the last few months. It's nice to be excited by a comic, and between 100%, THE FILTH, and now AK, DC has really taken a leap forward in putting out some strange and engaging work.

Which of course is the mark of death in this day and age. Fuck you, comics.

Also out is Eddie Campbell's AFTER THE SNOOTER, which wraps up the ALEC stories once and for all. Campbell's ALEC suite to date (The King Canute Crowd; Three Piece Suit, and the excellent How To Be An Artist). These books have proven themselves to be some of the most human and engaging works comics, and are some of my favorite works of all time. Campbell works within his own idiom with a grammar and syntax he seems to have pulled out of thin air, and he takes us through his life with an aplomb and honesty all too rare in comics these days. The effect, oddly enough, makes one feel as though Campbell was a long-lost pal whose comics serve to update the reader on all of his comings and goings. AFTER THE SNOOTER is certain to be more of Campbell's quiet genius leading into his new magazine EGOMANIA. This is work that's by equal measure important and unpretentious.

While you're at it: look at the lineup of amazing work coming from Top Shelf here in the next year or so. Thank god they're still around.

I'm trying as hard as I can to clear all of these outstanding projects off of my desk by September.

Stop laughing.

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