RKL Annotations – CHUM #1
It’s been a long time churning in the waves, but now CHUM #1 hits shelves on May the 4th and I guarantee it’ll be the best surf noir book you pick up this week [maybe even this year].
Sami Kivela on art is always one of my favourite things, and Mark Dale brings his beach colours to life. All that’s left is for Nic J. Shaw to wrassle my script into submission for letters and we’ve got ourselves a comic. So, let’s have a look at it.
For those new to the game, these annotations are a little look into what I was trying to do when I wrote this comic, and it’s also a place for me to praise my collaborators. In the end, I hope you get a little something out of it to make you smile, or give you thought for your own writing.
Also, if you haven’t sampled the book yet, here’s a free Digital Ashcan with covers, preview pages, and other art process stuff for you [LINK]
Okay, let’s talk #surfnoir!
We originally pitched with a different cover, with Marissa Louise on colours, and here it is.
I thought we should go with a style like old surf music vinyl covers and this was the glory Sami cooked up. It’s great. But Tyler James [the turtle who carries ComixTribe on his back] thought differently. He knew the elements needed on the cover and Sami took it in and this came out.
The composition, the style, and that red. This came in and I suddenly knew what a sellable cover really was. I love this cover and it’s launched us well.
Having Sami rep us on the shelves, and in Previews, and in every piece of press we’ve done in such a manner has been huge for us.
Oh, and the logo – all Sami. And I love it. Took a few goes to get there but man does it match the art perfectly.
ComixTribe kick in a variant cover for most issues and so I got to sit back and consider who I would want and could ask. That Vic Malhotra stepped up and dropped more red beauty on us was superfantastic. I love this dark shot, surf in action, and a focus on Gus who isn’t the centrepiece of the book so I’m glad he gets love here.
I remember inks coming through on this first page, and just looking at the first panel.
You very quickly realise how much more artists work on these funny books than us writers. And Sami is a beast for it, dropping little things everywhere just because he can. So much of this panel sets up the entire tone of the book for me. Beach/sand, lazy cars and surfers, and a brooding storm just slowly rolling in.
For a page with no narrative movement, I’m happy with how we introduce the three main characters of this story. I tried the linked captions [s/he was…] and went a little purple with it. I want to clearly indicate right off the bat that this book is pulp noir. And it’s an omniscient third person narrator, something I hadn’t done before, and it was as much fun as it was a challenge to nail it here.
We then slice a small panel to build for the page turn…
And then we drop Gus, as well as a small inciting incident.
Look at the way Sami tiles and builds these three panels. All Sami, and it’s genius.
That surfer joke was something I think I stumbled across online and the page wrote itself from there. Because it’s a dumb joke, but, for me, it feels totally right on the page, and it becomes way more intense when you get what he’s saying. Double entendre for the win, I guess.
Two interactions for Summer in the one page and I was sweating on the blocking and angles on this one forever. Then I remembered that time in the gutters can mean anything so I assume we can all believe she went from the outdoor balcony to the doorway and inside in a short amount of time.
Plus, that shadow of Standard in the bg of Panel 2, glorious. Gives the setting density.
With this page, I tried to set all three characters up more. Penny is an asshole. Standard is an asshole, and probs a drunk. And Summer manages to put up with these dickweeds being around her.
This is about doubling down on the Summer/Standard connection, tying it to the island, making Penny the outsider – but then tying him in thick between these two.
It amuses me that Standard is calling her blind and stupid while she looks at him, like, “Damn, fool, dramatic irony much.”
This was the last page of our pitch, you can feel how neatly it all wraps up into this sequence. All characters laid out, all lines drawn, all connections formed, all violence and feuds and lust hinted at.
Sami took this page and staggered the panels down, drawing us to a close. That panel of the flunky with his head underwater is amazing [those rain drops, his ‘lead singer of Crazy Town singing in despair’ face], and Mark Dale coloured the heck out of it.
There’s method to the madness on the page, I swear.
Gus starts isolated, a man in his own thoughts, so a man in his own white panel.
Then we draw the world in around him, he’s anchored to space and time once more. Sami and I are drawn into the right of this second panel. Awesome.
Then we put Gus into this hollow bar, again, he’s in the middle of a party, which is for him, and yet he’s alone.
Then Summer advances into his white world. She can break through to him, this is important, it holds much of the key for why Gus acts the way he does moving forward.
She is his sole focus, this is why he commits to so much of his stupidity moving forward.
Summer goes from setting Gus up, to playing him, to handling him all in one page. I don’t know if I’ve ‘nailed’ it, but this feels good. It’s a clear showing of how fast we want the narrative to move.
And that last black scratched panel is so indicative of a hangover that I can pretty much feel it already.
I feel like I dropped the ball on this page, he wakes, comes downstairs, and gets the note all in one fell swoop.
Either I need more room, or I needed to use this room more wisely. I don’t know, but I know this isn’t my Favourite Page of CHUM #1.
Just to be clear, Summer doesn’t write this note quickly that morning. NO, she scribed this probably the night before. This is where her plan kicks in. The plan started the night before where she saw how useful Gus could be to her.
The way Sami draws Swampy looking and then not looking is so damn good. And we should have made his newspaper THE TRUTH.
That red bar across the page gets across so much info/feeling for me. How Gus is feeling, what he’s seeing, and what’s about to happen. I love a good page of tension mounting before we unleash…
…and, oh man, do we unleash.
I scripted this with a few action beats but then laid it out for Sami that if he wanted to go crazy on this page then he could. Sami’s level of design skill and ability to innovate is just intensely delightful and wonderful.
This page delivers on all fronts, it’s a bruiser. I love when comics does something fun/different, AND it pushes the narrative forward.
This page is your first signpost to see that the character of Summer is not what you were thinking. And it’s a guide for how to handle her moving forward.
In the words of a better writer; this is her design.
And in true femme fashion, Gus had done all the work, his hands are literally dirty, and all she did was stand there, and yet she’s totally in control. She always will be.
Also, look at Mark Dale’s work on that first panel, man, I love the way he brings gritty emotion to the page.
Poor Gus, he’s the only character I feel sorry for in this whole book. He’s so earnest, and he just ‘wants’ so much. He finds this cash and feels like fortune is finally smiling down on him. Like Summer didn’t know about it all along.
He even tells her he’ll take care of her. Poor Gus, the fool.
And this is the moment the story escalates. A body, chopped up, two people wrapped into the betrayal. Sadly, only really one plan will be affected.
How Gus doesn’t see/feel it is testament to how blind a guy can get sometimes.
The jump in time is basically me skipping the boring parts. I don’t care how Summer cleaned her booth, I don’t care where people think Swampy has been. She’s got a few cans of Mr Clean, he’s a lowlife who no one cares about. I also wanted to skip over a few pieces of the Gus/Summer plan so they can be revealed later. Trickery or storytelling? You decide.
I like the interplay between Hannah and Standard. It was always fun to write. Maybe because there’s no sexual tension, and they both equally hate each other and kinda have reason to. Fun.
Penny finally looks and acts like a druglord. Albeit, a dumb reactive one. Emotional, probably paranoid, he’s to be feared because he’s bad at his job, not because he’s so effective.
I was constantly thinking about CARLITO’S WAY when I wrote this page.
This page is also one I’ve often shared because it’s such a visual shorthand for the #surfnoir sound we are trying to capture.
The transition of the flunky getting capped into the surf as chum and the boiling tomato sauce here on this page is a very tv sort of transition, in my mind. I actually wonder if most people will notice it. If you are reading on ComiXology with Guided View then I’m sure it pops, otherwise the panels aren’t near each other so I bet it doesn’t quite work like I want it to.
And Penny is back to being a tool and it’s almost, almost sad. It’s also interesting that he doesn’t realise what Summer is, either. Yet another blind guy around her.
That final caption still makes me laugh.
The negative space in the knife panel is a great focus point, thanks, Sami.
Man, that Penny is going to go make her a sandwich shows exactly how much she’s got him on lock down. I can only imagine what all the other nights they’ve spent together have been like.
I wonder how many people will connect the clothes and mobile phone here to later. I didn’t want to have Swampy all chopped up and displayed here like some EC comic because that would be crazy obvious.
Ah, subtlety, it always scares me.
This scene is all about showing how kinda messed up Standard is. The guy is unhinged, he’s no hero cop. Not at all.
I specifically had Penny put down the knife here to show that he had it in his hands the whole time, and he didn’t use it, he never would have dared. Which interests me greatly, especially in this kind of story.
That look on Summer’s face as Standard drops the divorce papers off is heartbreaking. It’s not a huge moment, and we see this all play out in the coming narrative how she wants it to play out, but in this moment you can see it’s hitting her. This one little moment is getting through her barrier.
Enter, a new character for the page turn.
Standard, a dick AND manspreading all over this conversation. Again, he’s not our hero lead.
And right here I want people building to the finale. I hope it’s building.
PAGE TWENTY ONE
This opening panel and everyone’s taking a silent moment, everyone is recalibrating course whether they realise it or not.
I kept trying to get rid of that “Yep, go fuck yourself.” but Standard just kept saying it. It was his only response to her, no matter how many times I edited this page.
I like that Summer makes a quick-thinking power play to piss Hannah off and ditch her.
And everyone leaves the page in a very different way to the manner in which they started it.
PAGE TWENTY TWO
I’m still quietly fond of the ‘broken shards’ captions across the two pages. So sue me for being a fan of my own work :]
Man, this ending fucked with me for ages. It’s such a quiet beat, it bodes such ill, it’s heavy, lead lined, but it’s this very quiet moment and it was bugging me. Until I realised what I was doing.
Look at the page again, now, right as the phone starts ringing, just image that soft music they used at the end of every episode of THE WIRE playing us out to black. That’s what I want. I’m not certain I’ve nailed it, or if it works as well in comics [obvs, we don’t actually have the music], but this is the tone of the page. It’s playing us out with a gut punch. I hope someone out there is now pausing with no breath.
Man, once I came up with our back matter title, there was no turning back.
The Six Word Surf Noir Stories was an idea that came to me late in the game. I initially thought of getting some pin ups from art mates that were just of the beach. No characters, just the beach, but I was already chatting to mates about DEER EDITOR pin ups, so I didn’t want to wear any friendships dry. So I tried to think outside the box and then this appeared. And I couldn’t be happier.
Reaching out and getting six word surf noir stories from the likes of Christopher Sebela, Ed Brisson, and Duane [!!!] Swierczynski was a dream come true. They nailed it, and I loved doing it, and it was crazy fun. That we pushed it out to include many of the readers was pure icing.
And this brings to a close a story I started writing about 3 years ago and am just finally seeing in print. We’ve come a long, long way together, and it’s totally worth it to get this beast out into the world.
If you got it, thanks, if you dug it, aw shucks, and if you wanna stick around, well, #2 is right around the corner.
Sami pulled out all the stops for the #2 cover:
And the Joe Mulvey variant with Jules Rivera colours is one of my favourite things ever.
We hope to see you back in the surf in a month’s time. Until then, feel free to spread the word. Indie titles rely on word of mouth, and one red hot tweet don’t cost nothing but a smile.
Thanks for taking a dip, see you in 30.