Poplife: Issue #39

Thu, November 7th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

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KARMAFUNYON

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.

Heard about a guy one time that could only write while standing on his head and dictating to a pretty secretary. When asked, he told the secretaries (and these secretaries were many and various over the years) that it was because he needed to feel the blood flowing in his head. He told everyone else (at least everyone else that wasn't a woman) that he did it because he could only write if he was showing off for pretty girls at the same time.

Kel told me once about a woman that could only write on the train from New York to Washington DC. She'd take it, round trip, daily or near-daily, the whole nine hour circuit or however long it was, and would write the whole time. She could only write when she felt like she was moving, something like that.

I've been getting a lot done while driving lately. Usually at night, always alone. I like the city that I live in, because it's enough of a city to feel city in some places, but at the same time I can light out for the territories and in twenty minutes be in the middle of nowhere. Just me and the crickets and a strange and mythic part of America, the lip of the frontier. Lewis and Clark, Quantrill's Raid, all of that. Someone told me that the pioneers would go snow-blind and snow-mad during the winters because all they could see was white in every direction. I like that story.

[Building]During the robot shoot we notice all these old photographs of the city on Whispering Danny's--he of the tattoo parlor we shot in-- wall. A mini Arc De Triumph being paraded down Main, the building of the Broadway bridge. Turns out he's a kind of amateur historian and blows cash on antique photos and other historical records. Full of stories, too. We find our office in a photograph of the old city hall, which was a gigantic castle on the banks of the Missouri river.

A big and fat American story has started coming together in my head. It's a large, weird country that I live in and sometimes you can't block all of the signals out. Drive through it at night and talk to yourself for company-- after a while you'll be soaking in ghosts, a radio dial spinning around in your head. I wish I paid attention in high school.

The edit bay is pretty simple, and sits up in a weird little perch inside of our office. It's nice and dark and you can get a lot of work done up there.

I cut together rough edits of the robot spots for Shonext as soon as we get the footage dumped down to a DV-CAM tape. We lose a day trying to figure out a way to correlate the EDL (which is basically a file that records the timecode of the footage you're using in your cut) with both the dirty crap footage I'm using to edit and the pristine footage we shot. Turns out that we just didn't have enough gun, hardware wise, to make it work. Took ten fucking hours to put that together, but oh well.

Digital editing. Theoretically it saves time, but I always feel like it takes forever to get all set up, it takes forever to actually start editing. But no, no, I'm assured, you're really saving quite a lot of time. I get antsy.

I learned to cut film with a razorblade and a little wheel of tape with sprockets in the side that conformed to 16mm film stock. There was a little chopping block, too, that you'd set the film down into and make your cut between frames. It was nice, neat, and extraordinarily physical. It always took me a while to get set up, and inevitably I'd gouge myself around edit two or three and have to stop, get bandaged up so as to not bleed on the film, and start over. Got to a point where I'd just preemptively stab myself before I started in the thumb to get it out of the way. Always seemed to work. First blood to the spooks.

I cobbled together a makeshift editing station in the flophouse when I lived in Chicago. Two 16mm projectors, a TV tray, a knife, loose bits of tape, and a pilfered edit block. I hacked together a ten minute short like that; thumb tacking good takes to the wall and letting the cat mess around with the scraps. Sculpting a dumb little movie together one frame at a time. I like digital tech and I like that it makes editing much more flexible that it was before, but I kind of miss the physicality of it all. Somehow it doesn't feel real anymore.

The attendant contradiction between enjoying the laboriously slow nature of physical cut and paste editing vs. disliking the relative speed of digital editing does not escape me.

I send off twenty-one spots to Shonext instead of the fifteen I was hired for. We just made shit up as we went, and fuck it if they didn't pay for it. It was fun and it's funny and they're good people. And now we've got live action on our reel.

I wrap up rough edits and dump them out to a VHS tape, and open my laptop to wrap up work on THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH!, due this December 18th from AiT/PlanetLar. I've not worked in Quark for years. I don't like Quark very much; it seems counterintuitive to my way of thinking and ultimately frustrating. So on top of the deadline there was a learning curve to deal with-- the price I must pay for being a micromanaging control freak.

The book'll be the last 'TOOTH! hurrah from me, whether or not Andy does anything with him down the road is up to him. If I had to guess, I'd guess that any 'Tooth that happens from here on out won't be very much like the one that came before. It probably wouldn't even be called MANTOOTH! but rather KUNG-FU GORILLA, the title's suffix which was there at Andy's insistence.

Andy and I were fairly mismatched from the get go-- he had very different ideas about the thing than I did, and ultimately I'm not entirely certain we found one another very funny.

Bad idea if you're working on a funny-ha-ha book.

It would've been a lot easier to handle somehow if he couldn't draw so goddamn well. The process was weird and laborious and all kinds of stressful, far more work and worry than a one-note gag should be. I mean, I'm gratified that people have found it funny and seemed to like the stories but there's no way in hell you could pay me to go through it again.

The secret origin of Rex Mantooth!: back when Image was publishing DOUBLE IMAGE, which was a flipbook anthology shared by Larry and CODEFLESH by Joe Casey & Charlie Adlard, Lar came to me and asked if I would do his half of the sixth issue. I don't know why he needed it (other than I suspect he was simply being kind. By, you know, GIVING ME HIS GODDAMN HALF OF A COMIC FOR THE MONTH.), but I said sure. He and Andy had been talking about what would ultimately become MANTOOTH!, but it was all in keywords, nothing concrete. Believe it or not, the ape-spy-milieu is not one in which I am immediately comfortable.

So, yeah, I thought I could pay Larry's favor back by making him laugh and I went to it. And then everything went shithouse before it ultimately ended up being published by Robert Kirkman's Funk-O-Tron press.

So, if nothing else, TAM! is that one last chance to get it right, for whatever that may be worth. Personal satisfaction, whatever. Payback for the knots my stomach would go into when the original issues came out and I'd spot the typos, production glitches, whatever. The toning has been touched-up by Timmy (as well as being added entirely to the third part, which was absent during it's original publication because of deadlines) and it looks fantastic; the spelling errors that I didn't catch the first time around-- and there were many on either side of that particular equation-- have been nailed as pathetically much as I can nail; and there's all kinds of extra stuff that extend the page count of the book. If you get the whole MANTOOTH! joke, the collection will make perfect sense to your warped little brain and will set your flippers a'tappin.

The whole conceit was Lar's idea, and it was so fittingly stupid that I agreed to it-- annotations, footnotes, the whole nine. On any given page set, you've got the script and notes on the left and the comic page itself on the right. Absolutely the dumbest idea of all time and so I of course jumped on it. He must have come up with the idea after seeing the seven-disc DVD special edition for SPACE SHARK: 1969 or some shit, I dunno.

I figured that since it was such a special collection, it would require all kinds of introduction material, so there's an introduction; a preface; a foreword and a publisher's note. And now it can be told that on top of some very funny pieces by Warren Ellis, Joe Casey, and Lar himself (all of whom previously announced), I was able to talk Greg Rucka into doing one. And then there are pinups by Steven Sanders, Jeremy Love, Carla Speed McNeil, and a brand-ass-new cover by Hector Cassanova.

The whole thing is laboriously over-thought and rigorously stupid… but if you're a fan of foul-mouthed ape spy satire, the 'TOOTH! is for you. As I was going over the final proofs before Fed-Exxing the whole thing off to Lar, it felt like a gift horse well beat.

When that was all done I pulled out LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS one last time and nitpicked for a while. The other day, driving, a better setting for the last scene came to me so I'm dropping that in, and other than that just doing general cleanups that the experience of a year of writing comics can help with.

Kieron Dwyer, artist extraordinawesome, has (I think) completed his commitment to THE AVENGERS and is gearing up for LOTI; when he was here the other week I asked him if he'd mind me doing a polish. He didn't, so I am. Twenty-five pages are down, seventy to go.

We came up with a cover/book presentation format that, well, Larry shot down due to its cost and complication. However, another option presented itself (or was presented, I'm not entirely sure how it came about other than Lar and KD were having lunch and talking) and I gotta say it's a pretty cool way to make and present a book.

I don't think I've seen it before in Comics form--in fact, I know I haven't-- so I'm excited to see how it turns out. LOTI being my first OGN and all that, the idea of a one-of-a-kind design package flips my shit.

I'm pretty sure MK12 didn't get the big huge 900-lb. Client job. There might be a consultancy gig in it still, but the bigass part of the job isn't on the table anymore. I say that but we've not heard from them one way or the other; so we're not taking it even if we do get it on principle alone. The guys seem a little weary to get into the consultancy thing with them at all, but I'm pushing for it because it'd mostly be me trying to tell the 900-lb. Client how to run their network. Which I find fascinatingly strange and worth a few headaches to say that I did it.

I think there's a ribbon hanging out of my cat's ass.

Poplife, baby-- poplife.

And like a ribbon out of a cat's ass, THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH! was solicited in last month's PREVIEWS. It's 96 pages of Rex Mantooth Awesomenicity, available for advanced reorder now with the following magic number: OCT022287. It's $12.95, and smells terrific.

SPECIAL BONUS FOR PEOPLE MOVING IN THE NEXT 30-45 DAYS: Order fifty and stiff your retailer as you leave town.

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