Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.
Issue the number #2 is live in the world, and we are all exceptionally proud of our work. I actually think it’s one of my better second issues, and I know if you’ve already scoped that final page that you know we’re leaving things with a big ol’ boom, so we hope you’re hooked by now.
Below are my annotations. An inside look into my brain as I reflect on our making of this issue, and a chance for me to unpack what I’m seeing in the work now, and how I feel it connects on a broader spectrum. I hope you dig, and find something that’ll help your mind think/make comics in the future.
THE COVER – SAMI KIVELA
I think this is my favourite cover for the series.
Man, I never can tell with Sami. His cover game is so airtight, I had this problem with CHUM, too. I could never pick a favourite cover.
I loved #1, but this one is just truly beautiful. The layout/design is spectacular. And yet it’s so seemingly simple. I think it’s this striking balance that draws me in every single time. Lon is front and centre, and Sami has her covered in pencil shadings. Like she doesn’t belong to the pop funk world around her. She’s looking down, she’s thinking, she’s all brain.
But the ground is electric with colour, and with hidden danger. That puddle of a dragon is subtle enough, but still enough to be emblematic. And I love pink as the colour to tie it together. Between the Evorah in NEGATIVE SPACE and this book now, pink has become a colour I am loving for my projects.
That pink logo also pops like crazy, it’s my favourite colour variation of it so far.
Maybe just put the comic down right now and raise both hands in a little round of applause for Sami and Tree here, right? This dream sequence is just all kinds of brutal, and the ink wash approach was completely right, and Tree just makes it feel haunted.
From memory, I initially scripted this brain dalliance as just a smash cut from the end of last issue, but somewhere along the way [and let’s be honest, it was probably at the suggestion of Dan Hill] we put Lon into the first panel, dead in the water, because I think it would connect things better, as well as raise the stakes if the audience thought she was dead.
Alex sinks into the water and Sami drew those tears in as he drops and it’s just…brilliant. He’s dropping away, but then looks up one last time. And the way Sami layers all of these panels, everything overlaps, juts into, maybe hides behind. It’s got this fractured quality to it, like still images that appear around and after one another and not quite a linear flow of storytelling. It’s a dreamlike quality.
I love that Sami drew Alex’s mum with a ‘#1 MOM’ logo on it, makes this callback to her work way more effectively.
We get the two hands about to touch through the surface of the water, a little touch of creation to foreshadow a touch of destruction.
Sami draws a nasty looking evil mother turning into a dragon, doesn’t he? That final panel makes one hell of a page turn, and I’m actually proud of the phrase that splits the page. It’s this weird dichotomy so many characters feel in this book, and here it’s finally given words.
I sent Sami the script and the next day woke to an email of him cursing me out. Because of this page :]
But I told him I knew he’d slaughter it [and he knows if not, then he’s got complete carte blanche to change the page up, because I trust him], and he told me he also knew he’d kill it – but it was gonna be crazy work. And I’m sure it was, but tell me this page wasn’t worth it.
That dragon is so intense, Sami really brings each line into play, and the hand/claw pushing Alex down deep into the darkness across those panels is just gorgeous. The faces surrounding that central strip are haunting. Everything on this page builds tone, including Ferrier’s letters for the disembodied voice. This page is a design beast in regards to placing the reader into the world.
And then we end with Alex on the shores of a distant land – so far, they are the antipodes of where he was. The page being upside down was a way to really reorient the reader, show they how drastic this move for Alex is. He’s getting away from that old life.
I’d assume by this page, away from the dragon, away from the funk, when the reader sees we are still in this muted landscape they will assume something is amiss. This isn’t real.
I love that dragon silhouette in the sky beyond the building, like Alex’s subconscious up there, never far away, never forgetting, always dangerous, but something you can hide from.
I considered making it Room 237, or something, but went against the urge.
This here is our real introduction to Asia Benchley. As she walks through Alex’s mind. The apartment full of water should be the dead giveaway. It’s an idea I’ve used more than once in my head and on certain pieces of paper. It intrigues me, and I don’t even truly know why.
The final line from Asia brings so many truths home. Truths about Lon, as well as Alex. No one wants to kill anyone here, but if they felt they needed to, well…what would happen?
The transition to Lon’s line here is meant to show that Alex is somewhat hearing what’s being said. He might be passed out on the couch, but it’s all sinking in. As happens with all little kids.
It’s also me trying to play Lon’s transition into this new scenario with as much honesty as possible. I didn’t want her certain she’s made the right choice. This kid just took out a kill squad, he’s clearly pretty messed up. This shouldn’t be an easy decision, this was something she rashly did, and now she’s honestly dealing with the feedback it’s giving.
Because when I write impossible worlds, that feature pyrokinesis, I want to be as honest as possible :]
Then we just drop a tonne of exposition through Asia. Though I still try to make it sound like honest conversation. So Asia talks about knowing what’s in Alex’s mind, but she doesn’t outright say she was walking around in there. I think it’s clear enough on the page, but I couldn’t stand to have her explaining something to her girlfriend that Lon would so clearly know.
With enough of that out of the way, we then cut to the character meat of the page. Lon is not only prepared to kill Alex if she needs to, but she’s open enough with Asia to admit such a thing. That should be two bombs dropped in the one line.
And after such a line, Asia gives her a kiss on the head. If you can’t figure out their relationship from this page then you really aren’t reading.
The line here where Lon tells Asia to step into her head, yeah, *this* is the expositional line explaining what Asia can do. This is where I work it in, and how. I don’t think it’s clunky, it’s pretty clear, and it informs an actual new element of the scene, not just sitting there to explain itself.
And Asia’s reply [“I told you I’d never do that, because you told me I’d never have to.”] is a line also serving dual purpose. It really doubles down on how much these two love/trust each other, but it also allows me to build a gap between them. A divide where Asia won’t just have her all figured out. Or won’t go in there and tweak until she’s fixed things.
I love the way Sami weighted the page. The top half giving us the build up, and the bottom half giving us the payoff. And what a bottom panel – I think this harkens back to the structures Sami and I played with in DEER EDITOR. The top half being one page, the bottom half another. So the top here works on its own, and kind of page turns into that half-page splash. I mean, a better writer would have had that kiss on a full splash, but honestly, who has that real estate lying around?
So we cut the page and give the emotional beat space in the bottom half and Sami just lays it out perfectly. Lon and Asia kiss and it isn’t salacious, or full of lust, this is just two people in love looking after each other. The space around them is so well weighted, and then the image of the girl in the window brings it all together for us. Lon’s head still isn’t on straight, there are still problems floating along. This just isn’t going to be a fun ride for her.
Establishing shot of a new location, a tailless balloon with no character in sight, and that person using a sarcastic nickname. Yeahhh…it’s like I’m daring the reader to keep up as I try to confuse them.
A caption here would make things so so clear, but I just couldn’t do it.
I was never sure about this set up, I feel like it’s a big swerve to get Moore to figure out where Lon took Alex, but I fell in love with the idea of the toothpaste delivery of this weird city-ambience connectivity drug. THAT part I just had to do.
I must have scripted that interaction he has with the guy on the toilet a dozen times. I never felt like I was making anything clear through their chat, I really stressed it, but I think we kinda got there in the end.
Hopefully the bottom half of the page gets us there anyway because Tree’s funky red background for the toothpaste is so wild, and then she and Sami just jam so well on that mirror turning into this weird circuit board in his mind as he freaks the fuck out.
FLAKK is one hell of a SFX for toothpaste spitting. Enjoying hearing it for the rest of your life now.
That second panel with Moore post-freaking out, that background, those eyes, hell, that skin tone. C’mon, like Tree isn’t your colouring idol now. She brings so so much to this book, she’s a phenomenal storyteller.
Moore comes out of his buzz the exact same way I come out of unlocking a major piece of any story – swearing and tapping furiously into my phone.
And so now we have a great way for Milla to know where Lon and Alex are, but they also get connective tissue on another plot element…
So now we know Eric Robinson is connected to this in deeper ways. And he’s back into the narrative stream, loitering around the building where Lon and Asia are.
Man, I’m still digging so hard on this rad jacket Sami gave to Milla. It’s just one of those beautiful things that happens on the page and you gotta smile. Then there’s her crude response to her snivelling assistant. Again, she is so much fun to write.
I had to choose my lines from her here carefully – because I had a lot of options to choose from. How she spoke about Eric mattered, what analogies she used would show how precise I would or wouldn’t be. Dan flagged the double negative of “When you unlock a secret level, you don’t not enter.” And I looked at that line a lot, and I totally know what he means, but I hope it glides into your brain smoothly anyway.
I hope – because hope is all you have when you ignore your editors note :]
That bottom panel is so cinematic. It also gives the page this weird sweeping camera motion, like we start above the building, and each panel brings us lower, until we are looking up at the chopper as it takes off. It’s a really well laid out page.
As for the movie title – KILL YOUR DARLINGS, AND WRITE IN THEIR CHALK OUTLINES was a tweet I wrote like 3-4 years ago. I loved it then, I love it now, and I completely love how it works with this moment. It completely matches that idea that Milla is building a story here, she’s participating in art, and she’s totally down to ‘kill her darlings.’
I want to use this line again for my memoirs. #copyright [<—that’s legally binding, right?]
This page is all about setting up Milla’s mindset and methodology – I think maybe I give more time to that than just watching Milla chew up the scenery. It’s because Milla’s whole schtick is so large. She’s set all of this up just to watch it unfold, and when it goes awry, that’s okay, because the narrative swerve is merely to be absorbed and appreciated.
The whole narrative of the book hinges on the fact Milla sets this up, and then rolls with the punches. This story is her beautiful canvas. So I hit the point, and her point, more than once because it’s important to everything. This is who she is, and we have to believe it.
She would literally shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
But then, at page’s end, she kinda reverses it by telling her assistant to just shut up and enjoy the ride and not overthink it. Which is also my head, too.
This concept – the room tabula rasa, with the very first thing for their baby – there’s something poignant about this room. I’m sure it’ll be skipped over by half the readers, but hopefully a white room amidst this funk pop story stands out, and people look into it for a moment.
Lon is in here, with only the future around her, and yet she’s brought one thing in – the girl, the past, her problems. This is exactly what’s wrong with Lon at this point in time.
I think Asia mentioning the timeframe here is the first indication we get of when that very first scene took place, where Lon killed the girl and got the phone call from Asia, and where it related to the now. There was a week between, enough time to think, enough time not talking to be a problem.
Lon still doesn’t talk. Think how much time passes between Asia holding the ice creams, and then them being open and eaten. Lon is at such a loss.
I called for the centred panel with the floating text because I wanted it uncertain whether these things are spoken or just body language assumed. That relationship shorthand of silence is so powerful, and capturing it in a different way on the page intrigued me.
Oh, and I totally chose Cornetto’s because of Edgar Wright, don’t @ me.
Oh, shit, and notice how Tree uses those orange backgrounds to show love and connection, and the red/pink for danger. I just noticed that orange now. Damn, she’s so good.
There’s a lot of info truncated here, basically for real estate. The idea is that Asia’s landlord is some kind of building overlord [I kept thinking like in THE RAID in my head] and he’s got his goons conducting a sweep of the building…ostensibly looking for something, most likely looking for Alex.
I rewrote these panels a bunch of times to jenga in what I NEEDED the reader to know, amidst what got it across smoothly.
Lon mentions a Betamax because it’s as ubiquitous in this world as Ello is. Just another perk of playing in your own reality.
The differing opinions/options given by these two parents-to-be is fascinating. Lon is over-protective, trying to prove herself, and Asia is pragmatic. Resourceful.
I love that red hand of violence.
The image of Lon suiting up, that this normal apartment had this funky sci fi suit in the cupboard, is just another attempt at subtle gonzo pulp integration.
Lon and Asia arguing across those tall panels just feels like great Sami storytelling. The relationship argument while getting changed taken to the next level. With a little dose of extra exposition about Alex and his powers.
The goons interacting through the door and its voice accessibility is yet more set-dressing for this future. But it also allows this moment where the script flips and the goons hear the door announce it’ll open. A great way to transition the page with that inset panel, it has this cinematic feel – you can see that moment occurring in a silent beat on the screen right before the noise starts, right?
However, the greatest moment here is that Dutch angle on Lon standing ready to fuck shit up. I love this panel, it’s an example [again] of Sami taking something simple written and just elevating it visually. Pure genius.
This right here is where you get out of Sami’s way.
You can draw the zigzag down the page repeatedly to follow the links between panels, the flow of weapons and blows and arms. It’s a masterclass. Then match it with those yellows from Tree, and you’ve got a wordless page that I find endlessly readable.
Lon is representing outside and Asia holds the party line with her, now protecting Alex.
These trancer goons just came out so damn well from Sami. Love those yellow visors. I wish I got to play with their joint speech a little more.
Asia reflected in his visor looks killer. But I hope I didn’t script for that. I doubt I did, I’m rarely that clever.
That inset panel of him grabbing Asia’s shirt is just a great segue to the quick mindscape panel of her going “full bane” on him and snapping his neck. But only doing it in his mind ,not actually in person. Which is something I hope people get.
This page came out so damn well. I did script this idea, but it was so damn easy to script, but then seeing how Sami and Tree pull it off, well, that’s just alchemy.
Lon is carving up that room, and is most likely punching that last trancer square in the dick [which I didn’t script, but really wish I had].
Asia is looking, but also very obviously missing Alex – great staging by Sami, and the helmet flying in is pure genius [def didn’t script that one].
Then Alex hiding and sneaking away is so well handled, and having the feet at the door wasn’t in the script, but it adds so much more to this page turn, as does the inset panel of Alex looking up with that face.
I also remember getting the page back and thinking Tree was a genius for the colour changes across tiers, and then checking the script and seeing that I called for it. One of the very very rare times I’ve been ahead of the curve with a colouring note.
I’m hoping this dick-punching action swerving into a talking heads page messes with the flow with enough of a jarring impact that we all kind of feel like Alex in this moment.
Tree made that drink pop green and I love such a bold choice.
This was yet another page where a tonne of redrafting finally got me there. That balance – what do I need to express, what’s going to feel natural, what’s just enough. Eric has to drop some knowledge, he confesses that he’s got something similar to Alex – which is a tease into his abilities. He talks about how shit it feels, and this all teases his past, also.
I also had to pick the right examples for what it felt like. Just the right levels of dirty.
And then we kick in the Junkie XL jams as we drop that final panel. Sami draws faces so damn well. It’s one of the main things I try to script for him, because he nails it every single time. Totally on point emotional, slightly overplayed so to be heightened, but never comical.
And then that red eye.
The entire sequence of Lon smashing the window, grabbing Eric, dragging him in, and punching him was one I just couldn’t see. Mapping that out wasn’t something I had in my head – in fact, I so rarely see locations in my mind first, especially when it comes to buildings/rooms. I’m lousy for it. So scripting this was kind of a Hail Mary, and you hope Sami can land it.
I mean, of course he can, so it’s maybe a Hail Mary from 30 yards out, but it’s still this blind zone for me.
For me, this page isn’t as exciting as the others, it’s a scripted moment to transition us from one place to another. These are the pages I want to refine. I think Lon punching him in the face is fine, and their banter is fine, but this is what I need to tighten up.
Though Sami’s inset panel of Alex is dynamite, and a great springboard into that final callback line that pushes us across to the next page…
I love the way Sami draws fire. I didn’t realise it so much until we got stuck into this book, but now it feels written for him because that fire is so good.
Asia running in to help Alex, too cool his mind, is something I wish we could have given more real estate.
I do dig the idea that Eric can’t speak because Lon has lifted him up, and so we use the caption, but I wonder if it’s…necessary.
I think the bigger problem is Eric’s reaction to all of this. He’s subdued because the story needs him to be. This is my weakest moment.
The pose of Lon, and that inset panel, are my two favourite things on this page. That Sami also got the helicopter into the background is the third.
I gave Asia that line to make it sound like she’s mentally helping with his pain, but I don’t think I nailed it with clarity. It’s a band aid solution to my hack writing, and it’s not sticking.
Milla reading this whole thing like she’s reading a comic cracks me up.
This moment that finally ties Lon into this connection between Eric and Milla.
Though those two eyeball reactions to Eric’s line are for very different reasons, because each person hears the truth they know.
I’m hoping by this page, with Eric being so chill about his arm, that you think something extra is going on. Then Eric unpacks his story in as few words as possible, basically because. Who wants his whole life story? Hell no.
Milla is incredulous, and Eric is in charge again. He knows he’s in on this one, hook, line, and sinker.
Then we get Alex turning, with those eyes, which is totally just a metaphor. The dragon within him is alarmed. I wonder how many will take it literally, or hate that it’s not really. I wrote it as a lead in to what happens next. These eyes are the windows to his soul.
PAGE TWENTY ONE
The layered balloons was a gamble that I’m hoping pays off. It’s Alex hearing whatever the hell he’s going to hear, because in this current state he’s going to be pretty damn emotional, and also because it helps us justify what happens next. It’s all set up.
I think I scripted maybe 5, or 6, panels for this page. Sami truncated things and improved the flow so much. That second panel of Alex just looking out sells it all. You know what he’s thinking, so then your mind can fill in all the closure it needs between panels because you know the location and the character motivation, so you can participate and place the characters around the room a little.
PAGE TWENTY TWO
This page was an idea I had scripted, and I saw it taking place in complete profile, using the time of panels to show Alex falling. But then Sami did it from above…and it’s so much better, right?
But I think it’s the inset panels of everyone’s reactions that I love the most. Great idea from Sami.
Then there’s the colouring getting darker as the page descends, and Alex falls into darkness. I love it.
And I wonder if anyone noticed that the shards of glass coming out into the air kinda resemble a set of dragon wings. Because the dragon within is the beast to control.
I wanted to end this issue strong, make people definitely feel a whole lot about coming back for more, and so we planned this out quite early on. Alex jumping to his death, us watching him go down, it’s brutal. You have to come back next month to know more, right?
Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one
Fun, as always.
Damn, look at that LOOPER piece. Utterly stunning, Sami continues to crush it on these.
I liked doing this Jam Session with Dan Hill because I genuinely unlocked a few new things through the course of it. I also firmly had this flick’s aesthetic in mind when coming up with this world, the aesthetic, the genre mash up rules, the time period. Even had the score on a lot while scripting it.
Another fun page to put together. I can only hope some people dig these.