Over the years, I’ve used my Ambidextrous column to publish a number of writer’s commentaries for comics that I’ve written for a variety of publishers. All of them are currently preserved over at my official The Fiction House website, but in the next few months, I’ll be transplanting all of them into this space as well, and adding some additional content to them—quick thoughts and observations that I didn’t have the necessary perspective to offer at the time. This idea of revisiting older columns and slotting in a bit of current commentary is going to be a larger initiative for the rest of the year, and I think this is the perfect place to really dig in and start doing something interesting. And as always, it’s usually best to start at the very beginning…
Youngblood: Genesis #1 was my first published work as a comic book writer, and was published by Rob Liefeld’s Arcade Comics. Anyone that knows anything about comics of the early 90’s will quickly recognize that name, as Liefeld was one the industry’s true superstar artists, and later left Marvel with a group of other like-minded individuals to form Image Comics. Seems like long ago, but once upon a time the biggest comics in the entire industry featured characters and concepts completely owned by their creators…who themselves were viewed by many fans (including me) as comic gods walking the Earth. Does anyone else remember the Deathmate signing tour? These guys were absolute rock stars in their heyday, and as further proof that you never know where life is going to take you, fast forward about ten years later and Liefeld gives me my first professional break.
This was the summer of 2003, and I’d just moved back home after several years downstate attending college. I think I was still working on a Luke Cage project for Marvel’s stalled Epic imprint with Lee Ferguson, and really felt like I was right on the cusp of breaking into the biz and making a name for myself. An extremely kind recommendation from acclaimed writer Mark Millar convinced Rob to take a chance on me, and providing final script over Kurt Busiek’s original plot was a great warm-up assignment for me…even if the work was completed over a frantic four day period where I was juggling not only the intense pressures of my first published work, but also writing columns about the experience, and putting in a number of hours at the bookstore I was working at. Crazy, exciting time for me, and I’m anxious to present this to you folks that have never seen it before, and re-present it to those faithful readers that watched it all unfold in relative real-time.
You’ll probably notice that everything was kept extremely vague, because I wasn’t allowed to announce just what I was working on at the time. And, despite how difficult it was, I haven’t altered the original text much at all, though I did fix that annoying double question mark thing I was doing. Hope you all enjoy this brief look back at my first published script and the conclusion posts on Monday.
Originally published as “Write Where U Stand” on June 16, 2003-
Perhaps I spoke too soon?
Shortly after Barrier Method (Ambidextrous 100) went live I got this e-mail that was pretty interesting. Those who read the piece are aware of the anniversary present I was hoping to spring upon you all, and the inherent irony of being able to announce my first official writing gig in the index’s 100th entry was not lost on me. Apparently, there’s still work to be done, and I began having this idea that by mid-July when we prepare to sprint into year three, maybe we’ll have a big announcement to mark the occasion. It’ll probably take me until then to complete this circle right?
Yeah, that’s what I thought too.
Let’s talk about this e-mail I got.
The head of an independent publisher contacted me regarding some freelance scripting work that would not only offer significant exposure, but a healthy paycheck. No, I can’t tell you who it is at this point in the game, though I will tell you that we’ve been dancing around each other since about December. We’ll trade a bit of mail, and then for one reason or another, communication fizzles out until the next time. This e-mail says it’s time to get down and dirty. He needs a script and he needs it pretty soon. I’m currently waiting on further details concerning PROJECT X, so I tell him I’m down.
The assignment consists of providing final script to a mini-series that the original scribe was unable to finish, with the first ish due to the printers in only two weeks. All of the artwork has already been completed, it just needs some dialogue to make the whole thing bounce. Which is good and bad I suppose, because while I am essentially completing another writer’s thought, as frightening as that may be, the task is a bit low maintenance as the pace and flow have already been firmly established. This is what I’m thinking at this point…forgive me…I don’t know any better.
He asks for a fax number, which I find somewhat amusing because prior to my big move, the one that resulted in that horrible “skip week,” I had access to at bare minimum, three machines. Right now…not a one. Then I have this idea, and realize that a fax machine is closer than I thought. I give him the number and dare him to use it.
Several hours later the original plot for the first issue comes through, followed shortly be photocopies for the first half of the book. Everything’s happening so fast that I’m not having time to reflexively panic and psyche myself out. Though I wasn’t the originator of the story that I’m looking at, it slowly occurs to me that I’m supposed to put words on these pages, and what that ultimately suggests. The second half of the book arrives and while reading over the plot and glancing at the art that has resulted from it, the pages begin talking.
Do you want to know what they’re saying?
This is how it breaks down…
The first day is always the worst, because at this point, the first several pages of the script are going to terrify me, trying to make me stop. I’m not going to start relaxing until somewhere around page 8, and everything written prior will likely be heavily rewritten, as the chance it’ll read back as complete gibberish is uncomfortably high. In its own strange way, this is the most important day, while simultaneously being the least productive. This is the day when I’m required to repeatedly remind myself that allegedly I’m a writer, and that there is no problem that I cannot write myself out of.
Page One is easy, a news broadcast overlapping a nine-grid, with the only problem effectively cutting the dialogue. I try to get everything up and out of me first, then gradually write down, thinking it’s better to have too much dialogue to choose from than not enough, but I’m probably doing it wrong.
Both Two-Three and Four-Five are double page splashes, and after originally writing an overlapping conversation on both spreads, I started to think that maybe Two-Three should stand with almost no text, as they depict one of those moments in which humanity is changed irrevocably, and just like me…I’m talking over it. There’s also that nervous twitch suggesting I shouldn’t be paid for a page I’ve only put two words on, which I’m quite confident I’ll get over.
The story seems to be dictating that I strip it somewhat bare, so I’ll combine the narrative from both splashes, cut it mercilessly, and then place it all on pages Four-Five. Or just rewrite the whole thing from relative scratch. We’ll see what happens when I hit the “justification” stage.
Page Six was cake and begins the main character’s narration in the last panel.
Page Seven is making me its bitch.
I’m coming at the thing from like eight angles and nothing’s working right. The dialogue’s bad, the narrative is forced, and it’s just confusing the hell out of me. It introduces three more secondary characters into the story and since I don’t want the narration to clumsily insert them, their dialogue needs to do it. And do it well. And not clutter the shots. And not suck.
Okay, slowed down, killed the music in the headphones, and broke all the characters down, stripped them to their attitudes and motivations. One’s annoyed. One’s apathetic. One’s an asshole. One’s all three. The one who’s apathetic doesn’t need a line until the next page. He doesn’t really care, so why is he talking? That quiets the page a bit and I get it down pretty well and move on.
By Eight I’m feelin’ it, catching the rhythm and knocking the bottom out with a cool narrative and some nice dialogue. Get a handful done and quit while ahead, flipping through what’s to come and seeing if anything is talking to me. I have a feeling I won’t get stuck anymore with this. I fall asleep writing the next page in my head…
…wake up in the morning and finish it, ready to pound the notebook for several hours before going to work. Seal myself in a study room at a local library and spit about ten pages nice and smooth. If the issue was of normal length, I’d be done, but it’s an oversized thirty page first issue. But what the hell do I care?
I’m hot baby, I could do this shit all day.
But the part-time gig beckons, ready to steal the whole night from me, but I manage to sneak down another two pages during breaks. You can’t hold me.
It’s my first shift (I just switched Barnes & Noble locations after my recent move) and am hoping that I don’t work the next day, but turns out they anticipate needing some extra help. I manage four hours, which is better than eight but worse than none. Don’t these people know I have deadlines?
So my work list for DAY 4 includes transcribing this entire column into the computer (yes, for some reason I’m still writing all of this by hand first), transcribing thirty pages of script into a document, cleaning it and “justifying” it along the way, possibly doing placements for the same thirty pages, making changes to the plot progression of PROJECT X, and working four hours at my new Barnes & Noble. And it’s a holiday too.
In hushed whispers I call myself a writer…tomorrow I have to prove it…
Next: I prove I’m sick with the flow…
Yes, for some strange reason, I did leave that terrible last line in there…just for posterity’s sake. Conclusion posts on Monday morning…everyone have a great weekend, and thanks for dropping by.