RKL Annotations – CHUM #2
CHUM #2 lands with a sickening thud as we scrape our characters through the middle of the story, taking all their promise, their possible glory, and ruining it by issue’s end so there’s nowhere left to go but down, further.
This little #surfnoir that could has gained some great attention, and I’m floored by the amazing readers and retailers and reviewers all getting some sand between their toes and enjoying the ride. I’ve also enjoyed watching the sunset love that is Mark Dale colours over Sami Kivela inks, with a soupcon of Nic J. Shaw letters, bringing this all to life. This issue is a haunting poem to the shit we do for desire.
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 CHUM yet, here’s a free Digital Ashcan with covers, preview pages, and other art process stuff for you [LINK]
Okay, let’s talk #surfnoir!
Sami’s cover game is crazy. This white cover, putting Summer under the waves, the ever churning waves, is gorgeous, and heartbreaking, and everything I know I want to see on the stands. That blood trail, aw, yeah. Just a designed delight.
Sami has a long career ahead of him doing covers, and I hope they continue to be on my comics.
I mean, everyone already loves Joe Mulvey, surely, but this cover will make you L O V E him. Hardcore. His inks on this are so crisp, the idea and composition are so eye-catching, and then he brought in Jules Rivera on colours and she took this to a whole new level. That red/orange [I don’t know other colour names, sorry] sky is so inviting, and the water pops, and it all plays with the logo, and this is just one of my favourite pieces of art to look at. The colours make me think this’ll be a fun one, but then you see what’s going on – with that subtle splash of Summer’s hair down the bottom dragging it all together, and it’s beautiful. Truly beautiful.
Bobby Level got his name because of Brian Level – RKL: stealin’ names from Twitter since about 2014.
Though look at that first panel. Soak it up. Now imagine you are tasked with hiding that behind your stupid words. Getting the lettering draft ready for this script was arduous because I was staring down Kivela/Dale glory and just trying to hide.
And this story Summer tells is something an old girlfriend once told to me that a friend of hers did. She told me that in 2001 and here it is on the page. Because time is a flat circle, and all conversations are narrative fuel for writers.
I really went back and forth about whether to have Summer’s sister’s dialogue come out of the phone, but in the end I didn’t want to clutter, and I assume the reader can keep up, so this is how it plays out.
But the point of this page is, who is Summer? Issue #1 was a whirlwind, so I wanted to slow down and just unpack Summer for a second. It’s not much, but it’s also a whole hell of a lot. She explicitly states it: “I am what I am, never what they think I am.”
I’m glad to have started the story putting Summer front and centre, and we don’t know what she’s doing, right before …
I love the way Sami takes my script and interprets it structurally. Those tiled panels are not called for by my but he throws it in there, leading the eye across, down, and right, so we then bounce back down-left to pass through Summer and into the sharks. That’s the kind of thing I’d never script visually myself, but it works so well.
Though that sunset against Summer’s line of “Where am I going?” is so very specific for me. The sunset the horizon, is the endless possibility of the world. It’s this little panel that says the world is about to completely open up for Summer, but first she’s gotta take care of some shit – like taking the chopped up body of Swampy and disposing of it.
I also have to take a second to point out just how amazing Mark Dale’s colours are – that rusty water is just an insane choice and is so glorious. It emotes oppression, it represents the place Summer needs to leave. I love it.
Look at that bird right up front in that top panel, look at it. What a choice – and I feel like your eye runs across the bird’s wingspan in a straight line to the right, and then you duck down to the bottom left by following the diagonal line of its undercarriage. Sami, killing it as always.
I also really dig the way Sami tiled the panels to show the pieces of Swampy washing up on the beach.
Did anyone pick up on the fact John Marsh is called Swampy when he’s undercover? Marsh —> Swampy. Anyone? Bueller?
The bottom half of the page is a great moment between Standard and Hannah. She’s stuck straight into him, and he just walks off silently. I had something scripted for him to say, but when the art rolled in I just cut his line, the walk off is perfect to continue to show how these two operate.
This page exists because I wanted Gus to come back and instantly know he’d fucked up, he’d hitched his wagon to the wrong horse. So Summer and Gus get down to it, and I rewrote the shit out of this page. I wanted it clear Summer has the power in this scene, she has complete agency and control, and I wanted it to give us a look into Summer a little bit. Every page needs to earn its keep, and every page needs to do something, so I rewrote this page until it was more than just set up for the next page. Summer lays herself a little more bare for us, and we also see Penny for the broken man he is. I didn’t want him to be a guy in control of himself, he has to know that’s he’s mentally problematic due to the drugs, and so we seed this here in a real moment that Summer just completely shrugs off.
This is a slow page, three panels don’t happen a lot for me, but I wanted this whole lead up to Gus to really mean something. I wanted to give the emotion the space on the page I felt it deserved. If I respected Gus’ feelings then perhaps you’d feel and understand them, too.
I like the lines here, because you might think that it’s her and Penny ending so her and Gus can begin, and that’s certainly how he sees it, but this is really her not caring that Gus was obviously planning to come back and she didn’t respect that, or him, and so she needed that relationship to end now. Gus had served his purpose, he was barely a piece on her board anymore. There’s dual purpose to the page, and anytime you can do that with meaning, I say run to daylight, Barry.
I also ran this page past three females I know – some writers, some readers – and asked their thoughts because I didn’t want to write her sexuality as hollow, or salacious, or anything else that I possibly wouldn’t see but a female reader would.
Here, Summer flat out lies to Penny, tells him what he wants to hear and it’s the polar opposite of what she thinks/feels. And it shows a little in her face.
Then we get to the bottom and Gus echoes the line – because I can’t help myself. It’s a trick I attribute to BKV in my head, not because he invented it, but because he’s done it so much in front of me that he’s the first connection I make to it, and it’s a call back where the same thing is used again but with a different meaning. I know, I’m being obvious in explaining this, and derivative in using it, but…yeah :]
Also, I’d totally cut her “GAH!” line if I had my time over again.
First of all, I love how Nic’s caption tips just behind Gus’ back, that’s awesome. I love the way Nic layers the page sometimes.
Okay, so this page – it’s a woman being attacked, and it’s tense for a few panels, and that’s the point, because we don’t hold the tension, we release on that final panel as we take in Summer’s reaction. This isn’t an exact part of the plan, but she’s powerful enough to roll with it and work it. She’s certainly not worried. I could only write this scene knowing she was like that and could and would handle herself.
That moment where Summer hears the footsteps and instantly steers the scene into a different place where she can own it is a pure summation of Summer in my mind. She is born from Linda Fiorentino in John Dahl’s THE LAST SEDUCTION. She is malleable, but she is never what you think she is.
The black balloons as she just slices into Gus, and then the four panels for the one line and how Sami changes Gus’ face across them. That’s all comic synergy from the entire team.
I gave Standard this full page, a build up page, because he’s the hero of the story and we need to see inside his head, and marvel at his reaction time, and also ensure he sees the slap, so when we turn the page…
Summer has already taken care of things. In fact, she timed it perfectly so Standard would see the slap but she could take care of business before he got in the room.
And yet Standard has the temerity to say he’ll be the one taking care of it. Yeah, that look on Summer’s face is her way of saying “Bitch, please!” right behind his back.
Here, we give Hannah a page because she’s not been unpacked a great deal yet. We’ve only gotten to know her through how she relates and reacts to others on the island, so I did want to delve into her – especially because of how she plays out in #3 :]
This isn’t the most EXCITING page, but it’s a brief moment and it builds to the page turn. It was a pain in the ass to write, and it’s not perfect, but I like that everyone on the island is getting something for their time.
That look on Summer’s face, even in such a small panel, is perfect/
The way the bottom panels thread together, each being part of a larger image of the woman on her side, was something I scripted and Sami just smashed out of the park. I wasn’t even sure I was making sense, but he thumbed it out perfectly, and it plays well here because it’s subtle but it’s definitely there. Especially with Summer’s head breaking through and over Hannah’s panel, giving that sense of layering.
I also put in a line where Hannah acknowledges all of the Gus stuff so we can then timestamp this scene because I didn’t use any non-diegetic captions to explain how much time skipped after the whole scene before this.
And everything in between was just housekeeping, the hospital for Gus, the paperwork for Summer and Standard, all that, who cares? I zoomed on, because the genre demands it.
This scene was about pushing Summer into that corner again, but this time she knows she’s leaving the island, so she’s reacting more openly. I mean, this is a stupid move. It’s a move that has to be part of an endgame.
The panel in the reflection of the sunglasses, yeah, you know I’m not smart enough to concoct that level of game myself. Nor, seriously, would I probably ask an artist to do that. It’s so specific and something I wouldn’t want to force on someone else.
I love the tilt on this panel, the way the horizon doesn’t match the car. Then you put Mark’s colours into that sky and it’s just the best, completely moody.
The whole “They would leave when they were expecting // But all they could expect was heartbreak,” was probably the closest I came to breaking the purple prose in half. It’s so close to being on the nose, but it’s also exactly what is true for the scene.
I love a good splash with a novel written on it. There’s something about that juxtaposition that relays feelings and thoughts well – the time on the page stands still, but the minds are whirring.
Then, and I bang on about this, you get that Kivela/Dale marriage on the page and it’s just jaw-dropping. And it plays perfectly into the duality between Summer and Standard. She got a small horizon, a quest of infinite possibilities laying out in front of her. He gets this wide horizon, an endless ocean, and it looks like everything, but it’s just all the things he won’t have. This is him looking, trapped, and knowing he’s being encased in amber.
Shout out to Ryan Ferrier’s caption placement on here, building to that small last one.
This back and forth between them is frosty. She’s trying to big out – drugs and money in tow – and not get caught with Hannah assaulted elsewhere. He’s drunk and just assuming she’s being her usual cranky self towards him.
This page is continued interaction and character interplay for them, but it’s also cranked up a bit so when she turns, trying another tactic, it stands out.
Then Standard has this big conversation with himself, all the stuff rattling in his head since he got drunk in front of the horizon he’ll never touch, and he wants to vent it on someone. So he lets it out, and Summer lets him. She gets out of the way, she’s obviously used to dealing with this bullshit from him. I find her reaction here – to be silent and absent – says so much about them both and their relationship.
We cut to a 3 panel page, something I don’t usually do, because it’s a three pronged turn.
Panel One – Standard gives up.
Panel Two – Standard sees the board, and the narrative shifts into the final reel.
Panel Three – Summer isn’t going to get off as easy as she hoped. So, what’s she going to do about it?
And look at Summer’s face, and that burnt orange background, this is the moment Standard fucks himself over. Poor bastard.
In the first panel, Summer is so unemotional, she’s detached from the story she’s remembering. But in the second panel she sells it with sexuality. She can run diversion on a drunk guy long enough, you’d assume.
Then Standard gets his own burnt orange moment to stare, and it’s with final clarity. He’s no fool and he knows this isn’t about anything she’s saying it’s about.
I love the cross panel handcuff reveal. I actually did script that – a rarity for a visual moment.
Then Standard starts babbling, like a rat scurrying after the scent of cheese. He’s knows he’s supposed to want it, and he used to be able to get it quite simply. But now he’s old, and drunk, and confused half the time. He rarely even gets a whiff and yet here he is doused in the fumes. He needs a moment to consider what it all means.
PAGE TWENTY ONE
A moment of truth from Summer. That’s the moment you should be scared.
It’s a diversion tactic that works better than sex.
And as for the words on the page – I like the “My apology isn’t for what I’ve done…” set up, but it feels a little played. Whereas the “You let a girl like Summer too close…and she’ll break your heart.” page turn is something I feel I can have more ownership over. It’s a little bit sad, even though you know people in these stories are built up to sustain damage at every turn.
PAGE TWENTY TWO
This moment feels like a good issue break. You don’t know who lives or die, and you have Summer handcuffed to her victim, and you know it’s all got one issue to resolve itself. I hope this leaves you really stewing on what happens Page 1, Issue #3, because this is exactly the point. I know every issue should propel you to the next issue, that’s Obvious 101, but this time I think I did it well.
I wrote about my Peach Pit noir fic, “90210h, God, He’s Dead!” and I’ll never write anything as good again.
Then I point you towards THE LAST SEDUCTION. Man, that movie did weird things to Teen Ryan’s dna.
Then turn up the surf noir jams as peeps sub in for 6 words at a time. Glorious. And this is a good bunch. But I think I’ll single out Shaun Manning for my hatred because his is so good: “Tendrils of seaweed and of leviathans.”
I love that. So emotive, uses two great words, and chunks it up using ‘of’ twice, but totally to effect. Totally how it should be done.
Two issues in and two thirds of the story down. We hope it’s been a rocket ride and you are ready for the crash landing.
If you got this issue, thanks, if you dug it, aw shucks, and if you wanna stick around for the end then we’d be mighty happy to have you..
Sami produced a cover for #3 that’s been my phone lock screen for a while now:
And the Justin Greenwood variant is gruesome and so fantastic.
We shall catch you all for our final spiral down in 30, 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 again some time.