RKL Annotations – CHUM #3
So quickly begun, is so quickly done.
And so here lies the end of CHUM
We hope you dug it. Making this comic was a long time – planning it out, working up pitch pages with Sami, getting the greenlight, having Sami score another paying gig so we waited, and then finally making the beast, working with Mark Dale for colours, Nic J. Shaw for letters, wrapping it all up, and then announcing, and soliciting, and now releasing. It’s been a section of my life, but only 3 months on the shelves – no doubt less with the delay of #1.
It’s strange because for the years of hard work and patience, sometimes all that matters is that final scattershot of release because a narrative massaged and held and planned is not complete until it connects with an audience. A story is a social contract that requires someone on the other end from the creators to catch it.
And CHUM has been well caught so far. Reviews and readers have been loud, and we behind the curtain have been proud. So, thank you, and we hope you accept this loquacious gift of process thoughts and oversharing wherein I deconstruct the last issue as something for you to enjoy after you thought you were done. This post is written to enjoy as well as somewhat instruct. We hope you get one good thing out of it, but ymmv.
Let’s go, roll the #surfnoir tunes one last time, pally!
I know that Sami’s cover for #1 was instantly recognisable, and it sold the book perfectly in one hot take, but this cover is my favourite from him. There’s something ballsy about going greyscale with a single colour shape over it. It shouldn’t work, it shouldn’t grab the eye, and yet I cannot ever take my eyes off this piece whenever I scope it.
There’s a lot to dig into on this one, oh, the portents. The world is grey, it’s fading, and Summer sits on a board and watches. Is she accepting a noir ending? And she’s kind of in the stomach of the shark, so is that about her death? Or is it a rebirth through blood, using the sharks to enact a transition to the new world [this grey expanse, as opposed to the brighter colours inside the book]?
Sami brought his cover game to town on this one, and all of his 3 CHUM covers, and I’d gladly put them on my wall and forever point at them whenever someone enquires about my #surfnoir neck tattoo.
Justin Greenwood, ladies and gentlemen. Making it look simple, and crushing the game as always. This cover also uses that single red, and it puts us right into it, into the mouth of the beast. That sense of being eaten, being in your final moments, is palpable in this cover. Moving the logo/credits into the mouth is just a stroke of genius.
Another splash for Standard tiled with captions. The guy has his own motif now.
But I really put this page up front because I wanted to instantly show Standard is alive, and I wanted to hide his body so you didn’t see his hand just yet.
But then we cut away to Hannah, because I have not forgotten about her, I promise.
And this whole page shows the ineptitude of the Island. Hannah calls the cop to help her with the criminal and he’s at her house, because of course he is. He’s also still being a pain in the ass to her, despite his current situation. That’s commitment to getting your hate on.
A page balancing that line between exposition of where Summer is and the general issue start sitrep as well as giving you something to chew on and enjoy. The ‘stabbed you in the back’ offer and flip was always the mark to build up to before the reveal of how Summer could be gone if she was just handcuffed to Standard.
And if you’re wondering why Summer didn’t just unlock the cuffs, well, there are multiple explanations that fit. She didn’t care and wanted to done as quickly as possible. She looked for the keys and couldn’t find them either because Standard didn’t have them because he’s that much of a shit cop, or they weren’t readily apparent and so after a cursory glance she elects to speed things up a little because, remember, she is fleeing the island after having just snapped and attacked hannah.
Hannah chases the story and Standard just wants to chase the person. These two characters always want different things.
This page got rewritten a tonne, just to get the beats and character out while still moving the story towards what happens next.
It also makes me laugh that Standard can’t find his hand – in my mind, Summer cut it off, felt terrible, and absently took it outside with her. It;s in someone’s yard now.
“This island, man, fuck it.” – this is the explanation of Standard and what he does next. It’s personal, and convoluted, and weird, and stupid, but it’s also completely who he is.
I worked on this script for too long trying to ensure I had Standard’s motivations down right for going to track Summer instantly at that moment. But then I realised, this is the tipping point for him, the explosion of activity. He refuses to stand still, to call it in, to do anything rational. He knows he’s probably actually going to die, and so he’s just got to keep moving. People do dumb shit, especially guys with hurt pride.
Then we set up the singing like a bird segue into there being a whistle from somewhere/someone else. This transition was in an early draft and just remained because I couldn’t let it go. It strikes me as one of those early BKV things that’s a kaiju suit baring all of its seams and seals for you to see.
We cut back maybe an hour, maybe less, but I don’t tell you that. I let you figure that out by how this scene plays out at the end. I figure, if the timestamp will become obvious eventually then you can wait and earn it, and maybe even go back and reread just to soak it up all the more deliciously.
I mean, this is Summer, after cutting of her [ex]husband’s hand, calling her casual ‘friend’ to do whatever needs to be done with Standard’s body. It’s pretty cold on her end, especially as I like to believe she knew Standard wasn’t done and this would be the end of Penny.
See the comic he’s reading – CURRICULUM. Yeah, coming soon :]
Oh, also, he drives past a kangaraoo. That’s pretty awesome.
Penny sets up his own page turn, but…
…it doesn’t land like he wants it to.
Standard walks out, you can feel Penny’s head dropping the needle, starting to back peddle. That face he makes is amazing, and even his “She said she needed something planted.” line sounds dirty in my head as he says it, and makes no sense for that time of night.
Standard replies and I think I overwrote it. Nuts.
I always knew Standard hated Penny, and I knew it was just inherent. So while part of me always wondered if I should seed it in through a scene, the other part of me likes that we never showed the reason, but always showed the hate, and in the end Penny dies seeing the hate and never himself knowing the reason. It wouldn’t be fair if we knew and he didn’t. So Standard just confirms he won’t be telling Penny, and then…
…we get the outcome of the tense situation…within the same page spread. Because somewhere along the line I assume rewrites forced this moment off a page turn and I never found a way to get it back, I guess.
It’s a chump move from me, and a reminder that proofreading your script is about theme, and dialogue, and clarity for the artist, and all that, but it’s also page turns and a little counting.
I do love that SFX killshot, though.
Standard goes full pulp on this page, the pain meds are kicking in.
Hannah’s getting pretty mouthy at a guy who just killed someone. Yup, that’s who she is, she tenacious – and she knows Standard isn’t going to shoot her.
And we get confirmation Standard knows he’s dying, as well as that small beat where Hannah still offers to save him. Which is sweet, and I dig it, but Standard is unsalvageable at this stage.
Hannah gets a moment of clarity and I hope I wrote that first panel with truth in it.
I also dig the caption response, like even the narrator is backing Standard.
When Hannah yells out her big reveal, that she found out Summer was pregnant, I consciously didn’t want to have this seeded throughout the comic. I wanted Summer to just be a femme, to be cold, but then the seed behind the plan moving forward NOW would finally trickle out. But it’s just the spark, the flame was something building from years of kindling.
You can read Standard’s responses a few ways. I take it in that stoic male way. Her words change nothing, and he wants her to know this. As it says, actions speak louder than words.
I take for granted how gorgeous Sami and Mark make everything – look at that night sky. This is why collaboration is amazing, because it’s take me half a page of words to get something that fantastic.
I love a silent panel, a moment of character contemplation, but I struggle to place them into pages where I feel they ‘fit.’ I always consider the weighting of the page, the balance, the symmetry. I can’t just have random panel 6 of an 8 panel grid be silent, I don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right. But here, Summer silent on the pier, Sami nails that idea of a sharp line down that’s silent, and then stacked to the side is words – that balances for me.
That idea that fed sharks won’t worry about someone in the water, or that they sleep at all, was something I wasn’t certain about. So I was going to research it, to keep authenticity, but then I realised this was Summer’s assumptions I was writing. If I could be unsure, so could she. It felt right that she wouldn’t quite know it all, or be wrong. So I googled nothing. It felt good. Your characters are allowed to be wrong.
The page ends with little flashback panels, and Mark nails the idea with the colour wash of those moments. I also wanted to have the present and those past shots loosely intertwine through a word or idea. Considering it would take her all night to paddle away on her board, and old Summer didn’t want to sleep was subtle, but it met my requirements for a linked scene change.
I’m just spoiling any fun to be had at all by this point, aren’t I?
And then the flashback dovetails neatly back into the present. Old Standard telling her she’s not alone, right as Present Standard arrives behind her is somewhere between unnerving and creepy. I hope.
By this stage of the comic, I’ll admit, I’m dragging things out. I knew plotting it, that Issue #3 had room to breathe, so I’m letting this whole water interplay take however long it takes. And considering how much ground we covered in the first two issues, it was nice to let something breathe.
Standard is shooting at her, and in flashback telling her it’s okay and they’ll work it out.
I like that Standard can swim so well with his stump hand, and the other holding a gun. I like that his gun fires in the water. But most of all, I like that he went swimming with that damn hat on.
It’s almost like a civil argument, but with bullets. In other words, it’s completely messed up, and it’s a look at how relationships go wrong, and toxic, and I know this part feels leaden but I like where it goes.
The flashback reveals Summer finally pregnant and it’s to Penny and that’s a kick to everyone involved.
Standard jumping out of the water here was a complete reference to the end of FRIDAY THE 13th.
And just the fact Standard isn’t shooting here, he isn’t even really trying to kill her, shows how much his actions were impotent rage [no pun intended]. It’s him totally unable to access, nor deal with, his emotions. It’s sad, as much as it is lame. But it’s all real, just through the hyper lens of a pulp crime tale.
Because Standard’s line to her shows this is all personal. This isn’t about the law anymore, this is a tantrum, the dying throes of a relationship gone supernova, and Standard has no idea what to do.
Summer screams “FUCK YOU!” and it’s the personification of her whole story. All this shit from Standard because of her actions and his perceptions of them. Damn, she’s no response to a man, she’s no other side of the coin. She has her own path to run, and she’s got her own desires. That he thinks he can control the situation and discussion is nothing but frustrating to her. As it should be.
Standard hits the board and it breaks open full of money and drugs. ‘This’ was the plan, load it all into a hollow board. ‘This’ was one of the first things I knew would feature in the story. The bag of drugs and cash gets taken, through force, and then gets hidden inside a board. To hell with what the physics of the situation might say, this was their plan. Now it’s ruined.
I probably didn’t make that completely clear. Maybe. I don’t know, show don’t tell, y’know?
A moment for Summer to compose herself, a moment for Standard to go through whatever is happening below the water, and a moment for the reader to consider all of this cash in the water.
Standard reemerges, the shark dealt with, and he gets a final moment with Summer. All this bullshit and they get this moment, it’s perhaps overly lucid, but it builds to my favourite exchange in the book. Summer tells him she lost the baby – which says even more about her motivation to get moving now, doesn’t it? – and Standard’s dulled reaction is priceless. It’s dawning on him that there’s so much going on that he doesn’t get, he can’t continue to be that selfish, that myopic, he should have looked broader, been empathic, felt others. A great lesson, if perhaps too late for him.
Standard hates on the Island, a personification of what they dislike about their own actions there, a Wicker Man into which they pour their mental bees.
The sharks fly in, Standard’s back is to them but he knows it, and both remain calm because this business right here is about them. Come what may, will come, but this is them connecting for the first time in a long time, and definitely for the last time.
It’s hard not to see Standard as sacrificing himself for her safety, which says a lot if that’s what he’s doing. Or maybe he’s just giving up, the Island wins, the Island and its shark enforcers.
But down Standard goes, down into the dark, true noir.
Standard maybe deserved this, or it was the best he could ever hope for. It’s certainly all he had energy left for. Poor bastard, poor witless bastard. And thus ends our tale. A tale of a man stitching himself up into his emotions so tightly that he’s basically embalming himself before death. A tale of a woman who needs to get away, and does it all to make it happen, and how is now so very close. A tale of darkness and terrible choices and the folly of man.
PAGE TWENTY ONE
Coda. Hannah at her desk, and she’s got all the stories – because from her perspective, how do you sort the wheat from the chaff?
I’ll be honest [refreshing after all the lies above?], I rewrote these final two pages many, many times. I had othertakes, followed other characters, watched other deaths. I had one with Summer in another place, another time. I watched Summer also die. I watched Hannah sit there, never writing anything, because she’ll never know. I took so many looks but I couldn’t figure it, which shit me to tears. I nearly always set out on a narrative with the coastline of the destination in the map. And I had the end of the final act, but not the coda, and this was where the meaning finds its resting place.
Every time I rewrote these pages, I hated myself a little more, and I kept leaving these pages on my ‘to do’ list.
Then, in deconstructing the story, and realising it’s very much Summer’s story, I came to some realisations. She shouldn’t die. She’s the femme, she has to win somehow, on some level. So I wanted her to live, but I didn’t want to tell you that, so I had to show you. Then the line about the sharks washing up dawned on me and it all made sense.
If sharks are washing up, they’re dead, so who killed them?
And who is inside them?
Hannah should get most of what she needs for her story, and we get to end on a splash of Summer in the water, unbeatable odds, and we get to nod and smile and know she manages it somehow. Because Summer Stanwyck can do anything, and more importantly, she will do anything.
Once I finally wrote ‘this’ sequence, I finally knew I had it stitched up. This made me happy.
PAGE TWENTY TWO
Which leaves us with the final page. I love an open ending. I love the ambiguity, especially when it dials up what the reader ‘hopes’ happened. If they project one way because of feelings, then that’s the complete victory for the tale and the team.
Again, this page took a long time to get to, through the redrafts, and the reworking of the previous page, but once we got it – we had it.
And that’s the complete tale. Whatever Summer gets up to next is her business, and we should respect her enough to leave her alone.
I’m thankful for everyone who stuck it out for 3 months on this title, or ordered the tpb landing this week [yep, this annotation is wicked late], thank you. Writing a comic is no joke, and making a comic is no joke, and having people read your comic is no joke. But having people dig the comic you make is better than any punchline in the world [not like when people hate your comic and you are the punchline].
Thank you, and good night.