COMMENTARY TRACK: "Pray For Death"

Fri, June 13th, 2008 at 5:41pm PDT | Updated: June 16th, 2008 at 12:06pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

"Pray for Death" can be read for free at Zuda Comics

In May, THE COMMENTARY TRACK featured "High Moon," the winner of the first phase of stories from Zuda, the DC Comics' webcomics imprint that gives readers the power to vote for comics they want to see more of. Now, we bring you commentary from Nicholas Doan and Daniele Serra, the creative team behind "Pray for Death," the first winner of user-submitted Zuda entries.

"Pray for Death" is a police procedural with horror elements, but not of the big monster variety. The lead, Detective Abigail Jenkins, shot to fame for catching a major serial killer and now regularly walks the serial killer beat, much to the annoyance of her peers, but with the accolades of the public. Problem is, Detective Jenkins may not have actually “solved” that original crime, at least not by the book, but her popularity means the inconsistencies in her investigation won’t be looked into. Meanwhile, she’s faced with one of the most brutal and challenging cases the city’s ever seen, with a boss who wants nothing more than to see her fail.

Writer Nicholas Doan has a theatre background, with several produced plays to his credit. Artist Daniele Serra comes from Italy, with a style evoking at first the likes of Ben Templesmith and Ashley Wood, combining painterly textures with a relentlessly monochromatic approach to the figures that's always evolving and deceptively animated. The pair chatted with CBR over a selection of "screens" (think "pages" in the dead tree world) from “Pray for Death.” They discuss Frank Miller's influence on one screen, the problems associated with song lyrics and copyright infringement, and some of the hidden references in the artwork.

As always, spoilers follow.

Screen 1

Nicholas Doan:  I wanted to start the comic off with some excitement since I knew we'd be looking over a crime scene and expositing some back-story. I thought the perfect way to do that was to literally kick the door in.  It also lets readers know that you are not safe in your home.

Daniele Serra: I worked for a particular style.  Not details, not a lot of colors -- just creating a sensation of dirt. I won't see the pencils and corrections, just creating some thing a bit fastidious. I thought, "Okay, Nick will see these pages and will be looking for another artist. . ."

ND: I loved the mood and the energy that Dani created with these pages. So I didn't go looking for another artist.

DS: Heeheehee!

Screen 9

ND: This was the first new page after we won the competition and I wanted to treat it almost like a new beginning. It had been a few months and I wanted readers to jump back in with something really exciting and unnerving. I also wanted to brag a little, so I had the woman singing along to Elton John's "I'm Still Standing," a metaphor for our victory.

Unfortunately, our editor, Kwanza Johnson, pointed out the blatant copyright infringement and I had to write my own lyrics for her to sing. But it still kind of works with the tune.

DS: Yes, it was a new beginning for the art, as well.  Just another way of looking for the same result: create an emotion and tell a story. I was a bit nervous for the new script.  Will Nick put a lot of cars in? I hate drawing cars.

I worked a lot for panel 2. The face of the woman was always bad.

DS: One of the things I really love about this page is how Dani had the music notes dancing through the background of the scene.

 

Page 15

ND: The crucifixion! One thing we learned is that DC's standards and practices will not allow you to show a person nailed to a cross. The original script called for an image of two children on the crosses and nails physically piercing the woman's wrists. I know, I'm sick. But I think the page that we came up with in the end is much more chilling.

By putting the children mostly out of frame, we put the emphasis on the woman's grief and unbearable pain.

DS: I think hiding the crosses is a winner. Focus on the woman, on the person still living -- that's cool.  It's not important to see the children. We know they are on the crosses. I tried to capture the sensation of the woman. We have a horizontal panel with the woman and, on the right side of the page, a vertical sequence. I really changed the timing, like the situation was going down very soon.

 

Screen 16

 DS: It was important in the art to create a solid character design for the serial killer -- a normal guy with something insane.  This page's script is really interesting because we can focus on the movement and look of serial killer.

ND: When I wrote it, I was thinking up images to go along with the large amount of dialogue that I wanted to put in when. I didn't realize that Dani was going to do such a gorgeous job rendering it. I think it is the most chilling page of all, because the killer seems so casual while describing to this woman the painful death that awaits her.

The silhouette of the killer raising the cross in the first panel is also an incredibly powerful image.

Page 20

ND: I like to show things through the warped perspective of the media. In this case, I chose to base a character on Geraldo Rivera. Geraldo has a very sensational approach to journalism and if you raise the volume on his personality, it becomes pure smarm.

Also note that Ricardo Juarez is reporting on channel 52. A key number in the DC Universe.

DS: Okay, Nick created this fantastic character who is really functional in the story.  He can be used for a lot of things: changing sequences, a bit of humor, telling something about the story to the reader. I think Rivera is really important in the **economy** of the story.

For me, it's funny to draw a panel like a TV, 'cause I remember when I read "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller, it was awesome with those TV panels.

ND: "Dark Knight Returns" was actually a huge influence on me as well! It showed me the function that the media can play in your story.

Page 25

DS: On this page, we have a detail that for me is very important.  We have the child in the same position of the woman of screen #15.

I tried to link these panels.  The child can feel the same sensation as the woman.

ND: The thing that I really enjoyed writing on this page was setting up Detective Smith to look good, then knocking him down. For the first time in his life, he is about to receive praise from the usually gruff Detective Jenkins. Then, suddenly, a great blunder comes to light.

Page 27

DS: Screen #27 is really funny! We put some in some interesting cameos. The script is awesome because, in this sequence, we can see a different side of Detective Jenkins.

ND: Yeah! Jenkins tries really hard to get the boy to have some fun, but she keeps failing.

DS: And I have put three of my favorite artists on the permanent exhibit ticket in panel four: Ash, George, Dave.

That's Ashley Wood, George Pratt, and Dave McKean

ND: The first panel also has movie posters for two other Zuda comics and the painting that terrifies the boy is a Daniele Serra original!

This screen was actually very difficult for me to write. I wanted to do a sequence where we got into Jenkins’ mind through the narration the same way we did with the killer in screens #9-17. I couldn’t quite find the voice I wanted and the page went through multiple revisions. The first revision came before Dani even saw the script. Revisions two, three and four all came after he had already lettered it. Which meant more work for him. What I found in the end was that I overwrote the scene. Most of it could be fixed by simply removing large chunks of narration and dialogue. I had this whole back-story about Jenkins’ childhood that was completely irrelevant to the scene. It was fun to watch some of the dialogue come out and un-clutter Dani’s art.

If this edition of COMMENTARY TRACK intrigues you, there's good news: The 32 screens of "Pray for Death" produced thus far are available online for you to read for free. Just click on over to Zuda Comics, and you can follow along with the news on the series at its work blog.

Thanks again to both Nicholas Doan and Daniele Serra for taking the time to talk a little about their creation this week.

As always, if you have any titles or creators you'd like to see in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, or you're a creator with a book coming out that you'd like to talk about in detail, drop us a line. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!

Now discuss this story in CBR's Zuda Comics forum.

THE COMMENTARY TRACKS

TAGS:  pray for death, nicholas doan, daniele serra, zuda comics, commentary track

 
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