Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Category: process

RKL Annotations – BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #4

Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.

Issue #4 is on shelves right now and it’s our final issue. We started a tale, and now it’s done. Read the Murder Book rap sheet below.

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

You’d almost be fooled into thinking this cover was simple. There’s so much black, and white, and only 3 real elements, but it’s all about the composition of this one for me. Lon’s body language is, as always, perfect. The flame trail just represents so much, and we went through a few colour scheme to get this just right, and this is definitely just right. Then the skyline caps it off, the city she’s saving now something behind her. It’s saved, but she’s walking away.

And that skyline is gorgeous, got shades of Frank Miller in my heart, and I love it so.

This cover might just be my favourite; it’s up there with #2.

PAGE ONE

This opening panel was so easy for me to write, and I’m a bastard, but hot damn it’s worth it to see Sami draw his own version of a helicarrier. That design, Tree’s amazing colours on the vehicle as well as the sky, and then that one caption, and this panel stands alone as something I think we nailed 100%. It sets a tone I’m really happy with for the events of this issue.

We then cut to Milla in a moment where she seems like she’s breaking the fourth wall. She’s not, but I love that it seems that way. Because she’s right, we are indeed entering the final act of the main narrative.

The reveal of Milla in her ship with Asia and Alex was a time jump I know is a gamble. We left things with Lon shooting Alex and now we’re moving forward in time. We explain what happened, in rough terms, but this is my big fear that it’ll throw people off. But I like playing with time. Issues #2-3 actually went back a few seconds between the end of one, and the start of the next, the flashback notwithstanding. But this jumps hours ahead. I hope people don’t mind missing the “action” in between, because it was actually just boring stuff and as such i didn’t want to write it. Showing your pieces move across the board isn’t always as exciting as revealing the pieces in a dangerous situation.

These fluid filled tanks from Sami/Tree are gorgeous. Milla would absolutely have this weird stuff on standby.

PAGE TWO

I had to get across the idea that Asia is there keeping Alex alive by subduing his mind while the fire has just about consumed his body. I do this by having her monologue at a comatose Asia. I should have had someone else in the room with Milla. Another wolf soldier. Someone to ask pointed questions as to what they could do, so I didn’t need to have Milla stating things outright, which I really tried to not do here so I know it’ll be oblique to those not reading deeply.

I love Ferrier’s balloon tail in that second panel. Subtle, but amazing.

Panel three has Milla continue her monologue ,which I do enjoy, and she lays out her plan. This is everything she’s going to do. Simply because she’s nuts. Like some kind of Willy Wonka Bond Villain. Hence the “We will be the makers of music.” line.

PAGE THREE

I scripted new dialogue over this page a million times. Literally. I hit 999,999 times, and then did one more pass.

This was more fear that readers wouldn’t get what had happened with the time jump. This was in response to reviews saying the book was great, but wasn’t laying out answers with clarity. So I squeaked some info in here as to what’s happened since the last issue, and I wonder how it’ll land.

This page is Lon and Eric in the midst of it. Everything is jumping off and they need to launch into the final fray. Eric knows how to do this, which becomes really clear in the coming pages.

PAGE FOUR

Eric triggering some new marks is the big play on this page, but the underscore is Lon’s look at him, and the look on his own face. She doesn’t trust him right here, and he’s beyond caring. He’s enjoying the road as he feels like it’s maybe leading towards an end.

PAGE FIVE

I know there’s a lot of violence in this book, and maybe we’re desensitised to it, but Eric killing these two is a complete dick move. Lon’s reaction is my reaction, she’s the only person left in this story who’s still a normal functioning human, which is funny because she was a hitwoman not long before this.

Time changes you and your outlook on life. Sometimes you don’t even see the change sneaking up on you.

And Eric drops an open sentence for the page change two in a row…

PAGE SIX

The dropship coming down is an opportunity for narrative movement. Eric’s way of handling entrance to it is a character moment. The wolf soldiers coming out of the dropship is a gonzo moment.

I like that they loom at the bottom of the page, bringing such weird threat with them, and then we deal with them in one big moment next page.

PAGE SEVEN

Eric using his power here to throw the car isn’t an insight to us, but it is to Lon. We have to remember that. This is a moment where not having captions left me out in the cold a bit, haha.

This whole moment is Eric’s Raiders of the Lost Ark moment where Indy shoots the guy with the sword. Why drag shit out when you can be efficient and effective. The look on Eric’s face at the end sells it all. Good ol’ Sami and his facial expressions, always the best in show.

PAGE EIGHT

Okay, this page is a masterpiece. This is the sort of thing that comes from knowing your collaborator, and collaborating with Sami Kivela. This page gets me excited to read comics, no less make them.

Realistically, there was a lot to unpack here, and showing lots of intricacies was going to clag up the whole works. So I asked Sami if we could do something fun here and he’s always down to be the best creator on the page, so he ran with it.

The overall layout is a thing of beauty, but it’s the little things, the details that prove Sami is the GOAT on this one. The panel with Eric using his hand wave to twist a wolf’s head around is genius, and the panel of the wolf being shot back and we see the cockpit behind it is insanely good. Sami is always thinking. His geography is flawless.

Our two leads then step into the cockpit and Tree changes the lighting, and thus the mood. Spectacular. And here, finally, Lon decided there’s a moment for them to talk and work out where they are standing. She’s been put onto uneven ground and she needs to get stability back to her world.

PAGE NINE

It’s interesting to note that Eric starts off by telling the truth. That stuff is all real. Then he starts to swerve, obfuscate, and straight up lie. But we do learn that the hit troupe from #1 was orchestrated by Eric, so that’s one Q A’ed. Then Eric gets back into the truth, that Alex represents a beginning, he’s the fuse, and it’s all about to get big.

The final line is really the summation of Milla’s plan. People looking deeper won’t find anything, this is just her expressing herself. As humans want to do, and are usually allowed to.

PAGE TEN

I love the geometrical design of this page. It’s kind of an inverted triangle, but the point at the bottom is an explosion of Milla’s full form. And the top is actually not a straight line, it’s wiggly, it’s erratic. It all reflects Milla getting things sorted, getting her place in line, and then it all points to her. It’s all for her.

This page IS Milla Albuquerque.

By this stage of the story, I’ve truly doubled down on Milla’s propensity to monologue to herself. She thinks theatrically, she lives that way, despite the lack of an audience, because she is her own audience. This is all for her, no one else. So you can’t silence a voice that doesn’t need to be heard, and you can’t hide her away or muffle what’s coming out because that’s not the point. Milla is all about doing it and enjoying it, the expression means much more than the reception.

Which is actually a good way to create art. Being dependent on the reactions of others is a dire way to put things into the world, but being able to be satisfied yourself in what you’ve done is wildly liberating. It’s insane, and also misses the point of art on so many levels, but it would also be so so much easier.

As Lon and Eric fight closer to her, she waits and honestly looks forward to it all. She has no idea what’s going to happen, but she’s down for whatever.

PAGE ELEVEN

I packed so much into this page and Sami handled it all like a boss.

Milla is honest, she really does love what she’s created with these two.

Then she lets slip the big news moving forward – she can’t be allowed to die because it’ll awaken every pyrokinetic sleeper agent on her books. Which we know is a lot.

The escalation from entrance to the shot nearly hitting Lon’s head is too quick, I think, but it’s what we’ve got, and the rest of the pages all flow a lot better, so it gets us where we need to go and be.

PAGE TWELVE

And Eric finally reveals himself a little more. He’s not just here for the good times, he’s here to turn on Lon and kill Alex. Initially when he pinched off her suit he was going to crush her arm off and she’d be left with a bionic arm at the end of the story, but it didn’t work well for this scene to have her bleeding out insanely from the loss of a limb, so I scrapped it.

Then we end the page with the truth all tumbling out. Because Milla knows all about it…

PAGE THIRTEEN

Eric’s daughter is already dead. He’s lied about her. And if you paid attention to when Eric searched for his daughter, Eve Robinson, in the camera, you now know why he wanted to drop everything and watch that footage so much.

Was it worth discovering this now and then a reread will play that scene differently? Well, I hope so, ha.

Milla gets words and Panel Five is clearly too wordy, but I liked all the words, so bugger it – in they remained. So Milla explains it all to Lon in a page, and she also drops the fact that Eric’s daughter is also her daughter, and the way we do that means, yes, I want you paying attention. Read. Every. Word.

The final panel is all about Milla finally making a connection with Lon – she’s hinting that Lon’s daughter is a sleeper agent also. Again: I’m not gonna have her state it all in so many words. I just can’t bring myself to do that, but I hope people jump into this with me [my rally cry since issue #1 – I want people interrogating these pages].

Also, that negative space in the bottom is the best. Love how empty it is, and where Ferrier drops the caption.

PAGE FOURTEEN

Eric slings the bullet away and reveals his inner truth – he feels like they’re all damned. He feels this because Milla made him something else, and that caused the death of his daughter, and I was never ever gonna show you what happened, because the idea of it should be enough to give you chills. What a horrible turn of events, and I hope it sticks in your guts.

At this stage, Asia has awakened – presumably the shooting at Alex jolted him which caused reverb back into Asia, so she’s here, and she leaps at Eric’s back like Voorhees coming outta the lake in Part I and she floods Eric’s mind with Eve. This is what pauses the whole situation, which also allowed the pause off Alex. Unfortunately.

Lon screams for Asia to return to Alex, because she knows this will kill him, and she’s torn on that front, but Asia is resolute, and she’s making the bigger decision that Lon hasn’t been able to.

PAGE FIFTEEN

All points converge through Lon’s POV as she sees the three things before her, and must choose what will live and what will not.

Excuse me, the FOUR things before her.

Then Lon makes her decision, in as few words as possible. Again, trying to keep things clean and not overexplain. Let her actions speak more than anything else. So into the uncontrolled fire goes Eric. And so too does Lon, hoping she’ll survive.

The thick white section is time passing and that’s the kind of thing you can script all you want, but the whole team has to work to pull it off. Thankfully, Sami changes up the angles on the shot for the next panel, and Tree dominates with her colours, and the result is a very clear transition of time.

That movie caption came very late in the game. I wasn’t listening to the song though, I promise.

This final panel is so well laid out, so much space around the characters, so much world still out there hogging the frame. And their words are going to be true forever and for everything moving forward.

PAGE SIXTEEN

I scripted this page as a conversation. I had to get it all out. Then I edited it. Then I broke it across panels. Then Sami wanted to kill me. But then he came around on this stupid over-panelled idea. And then, once drawn, I edited the script again. Thinking about the truth of the moment, the stuff that was Capital N Needed, and also thinking of Ferrier on letters, ha. These are the beautiful moments of collaboration.

I also dig how that final panel runs full down into the bleed, as Lon looks back into the zephyr. That’s art storytelling well beyond my pay grade.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

This kind of summarises how to combat trolls, and how to fight against the world, and how to stay upright through the resistance. Tl;dr – fear is for fools, and fear is their tool.

Lon is completely resolute here in this sequence. My idea is that ever since she found out she’d be a mother, Lon has grappled with violence. She wanted to step away from it, she wanted to rise above it, be better than it. A parent protects.

But, the thing is, protection can be a violent game. Retribution can occur, and you can’t always remain passive. We hope and wish for such a thing, but it’s just not true. It sucks, but it’s not always an option. Lon finally understands that, she realises violence doesn’t mean you aren’t protecting, and parents aren’t a passive shield. So she steps up to make the world a better place, for her kid, but also just in general.

This page is the culmination of Lon’s growth.

The zig zag of the final tier of panels is glorious as it focuses on Lon, and the movement, and not the actual violence.

PAGE EIGHTEEN

And so Milla becomes the one with the metal plumage now. That whole throne, her death, everything was built to this moment of flipping the intro.

The rest of the page is Lon dealing with the cathartic pain of what she’s become, and the world in which she has to become in. And Sami handles it all perfectly. The absolute carnage of Alex and Eric, and her one delicate hand says it all. She’s accepting, but that’s still a painful internal transformation to undergo.

Beside Lon, always with her, is Asia. Accepting, supporting, they are a team. As good parents should be. While the world twirls around them, they must hold fast. Their one true goal is the same, and becoming violent, seeing the world vastly change with these sleepers awakened all around, this changes nothing for a parent.

A parent protects their child, that’s the job. Protect, teach, lead, love.

PAGE NINETEEN

The future is safe. It’s unsafe for man people, but the actual concept of the future, the time ahead, is safe now. Things can still be amazing.

That part is probably just wishful thinking from me. I’m happy to cop to that.

This final image is the close of the story, really. The zephyr floats above, the city burns below, and will only get worse, and our two ladies are allowed a moment. Because if you pull back enough, you’ll see the world is a melting pot of emotion and action, and yet we endure. We find a way to move forward and find a way. We have to, there is no other option.

You search it out, you carve your own space, and you make a little piece of the universe yours. This is what Lon learn and hopefully we do, too. Keep moving and defend yourself, your ideals, and your love forever. Because on the horizon, you’ll find your island.

PAGE TWENTY

Okay, Coda time.

I always love a good coda. And I came up with the brainchild that because it’s a coda, we could use a different storytelling method. So we were allowed to use captions. But not just any captions, we could go crazy, use big arcs of words like BWS did in WEAPON X. man, I loved writing these pages.

This coda is Lon applying her lesson, showing us she’s going to be alright, she hasn’t forgotten.

It also teases out what’s happened in the aftermath of this mess: people are hunting the names of the sleeper agents, because some have managed to go dormant, and that scares people. But should it?

Isn’t acceptance the key, much like Lon told Milla. Fear is the problem, so remove it’s teeth. So Lon wait, ready to act, if needed, but happy not to if she can avoid it.

Also, dig that bear design, obvs influenced by Weapon X as well.

PAGE TWENTY ONE

We get the time frame now because we see Asia’s belly. We can see months have floated by, and the world is still there. Lon and Asia are still there.

Asia gets to describe the flipside to Milla’s beautiful canvas, which makes the title of the story take on a new meaning now, I hope. Every person’s beautiful canvas is the life they create, that they foster, and respect, and love, and craft for the future.

As these two bicker, as lovers are wont to do, we see Alex as a spectre, but a rather content one. This is the personification of Lon’s state of mind. She’s able to come to grips with her past, all of it, and understand it all in a broader lifelong, worldwide context.

Which builds us to the final page…

PAGE TWENTY TWO

I love playing the end against the beginning, and I’m 100% happy with how we’ve done it here. This is a wheel turn, but the wheel has advanced, so it’s the same, but it’s different. This is life.

I also can’t overstate how much Tree’s colours bring this whole moment home. They are such a difference from the opening page of 31 – and that blue horizon behind them calms me and makes me smile every damn time.

The book on the table is another Argento jam. I’ll let you google it, but know it’s not chosen for specific reference to story moments here, but more as just a neat bookend, and important because Lon has put that book down. She’s moved onto something new, a little less violent and horrific. But the book is still there, ready to be picked up, if needed.

Ending with “This has been THE BEAUTIFUL CANVAS” was something I thought up and then couldn’t not do. It brought it all together for me.

And that’s the story. Many have asked if I will do a sequel, and you can see here that people survived, so I really could, but I don’t have anything to say as yet. Lon’s lesson is so important, and is so complete here that I’ve certainly closed the door on this. But I’d be interested in coming back to the characters a decade later, as the wheel has turned many times, and see how they are coping, how the world has transformed as it’s moved on, and what their daughter is like.

Hell, I’d give her a sibling, without this curse, and see what family drama that breeds.

Now that I think about it…hrmm…

BACK MATTER

Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Fun, as always. And always nice to gush about your amazing team when they so clearly deserve it.

JAM SESSIONS

Okay, this one was a beast. I don’t know what I expected when Dan Hill and I entered a room to talk about Matt Fraction. Maybe we should have limited ourselves to just 1-3 books. Maybe. But probably not.

Matt Fraction looms over most of my work, and not always in ways you might expect. I just dig his work ethic, his devotion, the fact he’s busy as hell and manages it, and his quality. I don’t specifically want to write books like him – I don’t think I could, nor should, nor would. I want to write RKL books, but I want to always strive for more, so he helps me think of what that ethereal more might look like.

There’s too much to cover, but this might be my favourite Jam Session we’ve done yet. Or maybe it’s the worst, I don’t know. But I enjoyed it, and I hope you dig it, and if it gets you to try out one Fraction book you hadn’t before, then it’ll have all been worth it.

Also: daaaamn, that Kivela illo. Love it, as always.

THE TRUTH

Fraction took all the space, so we scrapped this. But I have one written. Maybe we’ll put it in the tpb.

And that’s us done. How sad, how wonderful. If you came this far, especially with the annotations, you are wonderful. Thank you.

There will be a tpb collection of BEAUTIFUL CANVAS at some stage. I know when, but can’t confirm just yet – set phasers for 2018 and some present buying for your smart friends, though. I will tell you when I can, because you should buy 5 and give them out at birthdays and for Xmas and such because it’s probably a safe bet your friends didn’t get it already, and if they are your friends then they are probably smart enough to get it and good looking enough to love it. Just like you are.

But until then, thank you.

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THE TWO FISTED HOMEOPAPE – The Smell of a Number Edition

My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.

This week was The Smell of a Number Edition – here’s a sample:

“I know I know, I’m being political. And this is a newsletter about writing, right? So here’s something:

Be political. Be informed, be active, be angry, be as right as you can as much of the time as you can.

Because then you’re living a life where you’ve got shit to say. And the best stories have shit to say. Fence sitting/hand wringing isn’t a story, and it won’t drive your characters through to the end. I want to write stories about suicide and the diamond forming pressures of parenthood and the galactic failure of idiocy to lead and the infinite self-absorbtion we’re facing as a people. I want to stake claim to ground in those fields, and I want to do it by synthesising the world around me, and hating things, and wishing for things, and for being engaged.

The moment you shrug and let shit happen, well, you’re already dead. And so are your stories.”

To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.

The Two Fisted Homeopape – The Whispered Mentions of 2018 Edition

My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.

This week was The Whispered Mentions of 2018 Edition – here’s a sample:

“Listened to Bryan Cranston on the latest Nerdist and he mentioned two major things that stuck with me and made me think about story planning and creativity.

He mentioned that old chestnut that Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman was only supposed to last a few episodes, he was Walter White’s plausible “in” to the world of meth. But then Paul slayed it in the role, and he got to stay.

And, that’s pretty cool, force of will, chemistry, and talent got me half a decade’s work, rather than just a few weeks.

But I got to thinking about what they did to the overall plan of the show for Vince Gilligan. Because the show is about Walter White breaking bad, but it’s also about Jesse Pinkman becoming unbreakable. That dual narrative is the entire heart of the show, and it clearly wasn’t there from the very start. Which is crazy, and kinda awesome.

And the other thing Cranston said was he worked with some professors to get into Walter’s head on that level, but he didn’t want to study cancer because he wanted to discover it with Walt, which is an insane idea, but is actually something I think rings true. I find I have to script a little to discover the characters and the world first, and it’s why characters start to break away from their plot outline because you’re now discovering the plot beats as they discover them, and seeing it as you better know them after inhabiting some page real estate with them.

Creating worlds and filling them with populations is some kind of wild alchemy, and I’ll always be wary of it.”

To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.

RKL Annotations – BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #3

Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.

Issue #3 was shifted back a week, but distance [of time] makes the heart grow fonder, right?

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

Sami came up with a bunch of those little warning signs for the cover and eventually chose the best ones to use. I love that Sami’s brain is constantly cooking when you collaborate with him. He’s such a gentlemen, and a crazy genius to boot.

I love that the gorgeous exosuit Sami designed gets some play here.

PAGE ONE

This page didn’t exist for a few drafts. I cut straight to Lon launching out the window to open this issue, and I’m glad now I didn’t. This flashback isn’t much on narrative, but it sets a character tone, and we get to call back to it later, so it pleases me so.

That idea of having a wide white bar down the side and putting text into it is very obviously something I stole from Brubaker’s work on KILL OR BE KILLED. I won’t try and hide that influence. And I’m actually happy with the excerpt from the book Lon is reading – sometimes those words never come to me, and sometimes they work. These one work [for me].

Seeing the girl twice playing on this page, when you know she dies in a minute, gets more heartbreaking every time I read this page.

PAGE TWO

Dig that exosuit superheavy design by Sami, and Tree coloured the hell out of it. Writing this sort of stuff is the absolute best part of the job.

Also really love how Sami timed this page to match with the final page of #2 so it makes sense for it to have happened and worked out. Sami’s layouts are genius for this kind of thing. You can also see that ghost reflection in one of the shards of glass and realise that Sami is damn well capable of anything on a page.

PAGE THREE

Choreographing everyone on this page did my head in during the planning stage. Who was going to react, how, where, why, and what would it leave them doing and where?

In the end, I don’t think this is my strongest page. It gets Asia moving out of the scene. It gets Eric to see Milla in the chopper, but it doesn’t do much more. It’s a bit thin, really. I like the pacing of Eric’s lines, and the passage they take, but they aren’t doing much.

“I’ll do better next time” is all we can say, right?

PAGE FOUR

Whereas this page certainly does something. We reveal this idea of ‘sleeper agents’ that Milla has access to and can activate. This should answer certain questions the answer might have been holding onto. Does it grab their face and scream the answer into their retinas? No. I want you to piece it all together. But it’s all here, coming to light.

THEY BOTH YIELD is a prime example of the way I’m giving info out. That title clearly tells you what I think of both of these characters, but it won’t say it outright. I refuse, and I hope you don’t mind.

PAGE FIVE

This page reveals Alex has run away from Lon, but we don’t show you Lon on the car, coming to, without him until the next page. Again, just the way I like to roll things out. I’m sure it’ll throw too curvy a ball for 1 in 10, but I think the rest won’t mind.

That plant horse is just madness, right? I sometimes feel like I could throw anything at Sami and he’d nail it. Also love that pink background Tree dropped on the mayhem. Makes it pop in all kinds of funky ways for your mind.

PAGE SIX

This is an instance of a boring page – Lon wakes, she gets picked up by Asia, they move to where the action is going to be – and yet I’m completely happy with it, and here’s why.

I used the page to show a little more about Lon, and even Asia.

Lon stares down the ghost of the girl she killed, and she walks away mid-sentence. She’s trying her damnedest to move on.

And Asia has just stepped up to show herself as this rad sci fi bike riding lady of action who isn’t going to back down from the situation. She’s going to stand by her girl.

The way Sami paced out Asia picking up Lon is really well done, and that bike is just crazy gorgeous. I think flying bikes are my new trope.

PAGE SEVEN

Okay, we see that Alex is a super danger to everyone around him, we get Lon and Asia moving to the scene, and we start to connect Eric and Milla. This page does stuff, but I’m not crazy excited by how it does it. It’s perfunctory, it’s just doing what it has to do. I did struggle with this page in the script, because I had characters who needed to get into position, and I had to place them into position, and that’s kinda all I did.

The sfx of the helicopter being dragged down into the road was my idea – and I’m not certain I made the right call with it.

I didn’t notice Sami snuck a CHUM Easter Egg into Panel Three.

Also: don’t ask me the timeframe on Eric getting to the downed chopper just after Lon and Asia zoom away.

PAGE EIGHT

Sami draws the best faces. His angry Alex is a sight to behold. That he can go from humanity to wild sci fi destruction in half a page consistently excites me. He’s an illustrator who is limitless, and writing for that is as much fun as it is anxiety inducing. You never want to waste what you’ve got.

The way Triona handles the building corner falling, and the pink background building to an emotional retaliation is lovely. Every panel always has so much feeling in it.

PAGE NINE

That big mess of rubble and a map is why artists hate writers.

I’m sure colourists hate writer, too.

Basically, writers are dicks.

But this page looks so good, and gives us such information, and it’s funky in a way only comics can do so beautifully. We get our guy saving himself, and then a showdown with Alex, and then fire across the page. There’s tension and time and space on this page. Sami did a great job with the duelling fire across the bottom, and we crosscut with Eric’s conversation with Milla just to layer in a bit more, and draw both scenes together a little bit.

PAGE TEN

People have wanted answers, and this page is what it looks like to get answers from me. Milla is somewhat oblique about it all, but she’s also laying a lot out on the line here. What she’s doing is clear, and the scope to which she is doing it. The rest of the page isn’t very razzle-dazzle, but you need to focus on these words. I need you to understand what’s going on.

PAGE ELEVEN

Milla gets one last dig in at Eric, about spreading who he is, and then we introduce Moore to the scene. Because things have to finally move on – you can see I’d be horrible at writing a 5 page sequence of talking heads because I’d constantly worry I was losing the reader. All i ever do is worry about these pages – is it too boring, is it too confusing, is it too lame…reframe, repeat.

Eric’s action against Moore is harsh, maybe not well thought through, but he’s operating from emotion now. Milla got under his skin.

PAGE TWELVE

Hot damn Sami and Tree know how to create pain and scope for their firefights. Especially with those inset panels, they make you linger, they drag you into the smoke and hold you there.

Asia drops a little more exposition – because the facts are rolled out slowly, and she has a plan. We also know she’s gutsy enough to try it, too.

PAGE THIRTEEN

I love the colours on this page, the heat of the yellow. You feel it all.

Then we get that panel, and Asia Prof X’s into Alex’s head. For me, she’s looking in there here and seeing a representation of what he feels. It’s not literal, how many of our thoughts and feelings ever are? But it’s the monster he feels he’s become in this short amount of time, it’s this horrible dragon he feels affinity with – which is a problem because he saw his mother as the dragon, too. He’s blaming her for what he’s becoming, which is totally unfair and untrue.

So Asia gets knocked down and we get yet more inset panels of Lon just looking at everything. She’s weighing up her options, she’s looking at what needs to be done against what she hoped was all she’d have to do. I needed to make Lon’s choice in this sequence difficult, so we build up her tension with the moments/panels.

PAGE FOURTEEN

“Kicking back the tide” is such a great saying. And so many of my characters will do just that, endlessly.

Eric is here to mess up Milla’s cabbage patch, and he openly tells her so. This is one of those ‘down’ pages, where for pacing you are setting up for the next moment. I just wish it did more for Eric or Milla rather than just a decent line for each one.

Though I do like that Sami seems to be driving the extra car, and he goes up in flames. That must’ve been fun, ha.

PAGE FIFTEEN

Those smoke clouds from Sami/Tree are just gorgeous. There’s such beauty in them.

Eric throwing Moore into that car is the end of his story, and what a way to close out. I liked Moore, but this was his abrupt stop, he doesn’t get a full looping arc like the others.

I like the angle Sami uses for the final two panels as we split Eric from the camera, we give that pause of time, that shift of focus. Sami’s an expert at making the physics of those moments work so well on the page.

PAGE SIXTEEN

This page is all about Asia giving up and Lon realising she has to take a new angle on things. The plan she’s been running with since like Page 4 of issue #1 won’t hold anymore, sometimes you’re a killer and you have to kill. So Lon has to make a choice, and act upon it.

That gun barrel inset panel, and the pink, and the sfx, is what collaboration looks like. Every person in the squad worked to make that moment pop like that.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

Lon approaches the scene, she’s cold now, detached from things. Asia is reactive and hustling, and all Lon can offer the solution is more bullets. She’s broken by now, and on a slippery slope towards the end of this issue. All roads are leading to this final page, now.

The briefcase full of fish is something I now wish was just real and able to be bought in some local market.

PAGE EIGHTEEN

Eric is completely sucked in here. And he’s processing, pausing, and then realises he can search for his daughter.

I wish I’d build a buffer panel between the 1-2 here, just to give his thoughts a little more time, even just a white bar, something. Reading it, the moment feels quicker, and I wanted it to be him really pausing and then realising what he can do with this camera.

Milla sees what’s happening, and she wants it recorded – which should tell you so much about her, and what she does, and what she loves. And at the same time, Eric looks back at her and he’s just giving up. He’s got his daughter on screen, and he’s…well, it makes more sense next issue, but this reaction from him is totally in character here. For this moment, he’s beyond thinking about Milla.

PAGE NINETEEN

This is the tipping point for Lon, where she sees this whole mess fucking up her world. This is what makes her realign herself, yet again.

Sami and Tree did such an amazing job of showing Asia walking into Alex’s mind by walking into his panel – all an idea from an edit by Dan Hill. I swear, everything you love about this comic exclusively was not me, haha. Though I did purposefully make Alex’s repeated word mean two totally different things across those two panels. He’s telling Asia not to come in, but then he’s chasing it by telling her not to care.

Again, Sami’s inset panels electrify the pacing, the transition of things. They also make me subtly think about that cut back-and-forth you’d get in ALTERED BEAST when levelling up. I’m sure that’s not what Sami was drawing from, but it’s what I’m connecting to.

That goddamn dragon and all it symbolises.

Alex turns now, not pushing Asia away, but rather pulling her in. Holding her in close for the body blows.

PAGE TWENTY

Sami gives us Milla, and her movement, and the drones, and even a sign pointing to the Market Square 5 miles away. Damn, he knows how to get everything you need right in front of you.

The rest of this page is dedicated to Milla being a dick and just enjoying what she has created. She can hustle her ass somewhere AND take little moments to engage with the art of her city.

And the look on her face says it all, she’s enjoying all this far too much. Also: dig that green background in the final panel.

PAGE TWENTY ONE

I used the word beautiful in this comic at strategic places to show you what the ‘beautiful’ of the title is – and it’s anything but our standard definition of the word. It’s usually the opposite, and it’s ghastly, and yet it’s also completely what’s captivating on the page and in a narrative. We love seeing the shitshow in stories, and that’s just how Milla views the real world.

How far apart are we, truly?

Lon is alone now. Asia is trapped in the head, Alex is out, and then the ghost appears, making her feel more trapped inside herself.

It took me ages and ages to get the right rewrite to unlock what the girl said here. Man, it was like pulling teeth, but I really think we pulled it together.

When she whispers, you can zoom in and read it. I always hate that squiggly line that means you can’t know yet. It gets me every time, so I couldn’t do that to you.

And so Lon turns a corner. She is truly sorry, and she is honest when she says she didn’t know how to save ‘you’ – which could be Alex, could be the ghost, could be herself. In this moment, she doesn’t feel like a saviour, she feels like a killer, and she feels like she’s giving up. So she aims the gun, at the ghost, and on the other side, in the line of fire, we see Alex.

Will the shot at least save Asia, she doesn’t know, but dealing out death, yet again, is all she’s got.

PAGE TWENTY TWO

I’m interested to see what people think of this final page. It’s wild, and silent, and so beautifully illustrated. Sami shows that bullet getting closer and closer – yet another ending splash that plays with time. Triona nails the concept of the flames and the heat intensifying.

I did have a movie title caption on this page until the final lettering draft, where I realised we just didn’t need it.

This moment wasn’t the bombast, not really, it’s about being inside Lon’s head to feel this moment drag out slowly. This is her death, come what may.

BACK MATTER

Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Starting to get into a swing writing these.

JAM SESSIONS

Man, Sami continues to slaughter these illos for these pieces, right? This one right here is just glorious, really something of beauty and value. Just like the flick it discusses because THE RUNNING MAN will be curriculum viewing within the coming decade, you better believe it.

THE TRUTH

Weird, tangentially connected, a delight to write. I wonder if anyone is really reading these?

And that’s us for another month. Join us on the final Wednesday of August as #4 lands and concludes this wild wild ride, you’ll see it on the stands because it looks like this:

The Two Fisted Homeopape – The Rundown Edition

My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.

This week was The Rundown Edition – here’s a sample:

“My Writing Ticks!

John Lees recently wrote about his writing ticks, and what genius ticks they are – hit up his newsletter to always learn more – or back him on Patreon because he’s one of the sharpest dudes I know, and always executes plans so you know it’ll be a good place to give a monthly tip – and it got me thinking about what my own writing ticks are.

In a slight moment of introspection, I found a large one.

Water, and underwater creatures

I’ve long been fascinated and scared of water. There’s a mystical unknown about it that just lures me in constantly. I seem to use water heavily in many stories, and it’s often more than just a location, it’s an element to the foundation of the story.

So HEADSPACE had its answers out on the water, and the monsters in NEGATIVE SPACE came from the water, and salvation might have been out on the water in CHUM. BEAUTIFUL CANVAS and DEER EDITOR have mostly steered clear, I think, but [THE ENYA PROJECT] deals heavily in the location of water, and [THE PLANET SNOWBLOOD PROJECT] is a whole mess of ice.

Another pitch also features water as a kind of MacGuffin.”

To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.

My Newsletter – A Study in Madness and Shame

I write a weekly newsletter about my life making comics that I send out every Monday. Perhaps you’d like it.

I love writing this newsletter. It’s a personal insight into who I am and what I do. It’s a journey. And it goes straight into your inbox, waiting for whenever you are ready, and you won’t miss it [unless you choose to].

It’s 2017 and nobody actively checks sites anymore, blogging feels dead. Social media is wonderful, but so heavily weighted down with dread lately. When cities burn, you feel like a fool fiddling as you talk about how many pages you wrote that day. Or maybe social media needs that, too, it probably does, but sometimes opening up the portal to connect means other stuff connects with you. It’s heavy on the heart and I openly admit I need my time away from it. I need to have enough heart for my own family, and children I teach, and worlds I create [and destroy], etc.

Plus, when The Natzis! start doxxing people, you start to reconsider how open and accessible you are online. I mean, I guess white grand wizards could just subscribe to my newsletter, then I’d be screwed, but I live in hope to be off their radar.

Anyway.

So I have this weekly newsletter and it’s the space where I’m really personal. It’s the space where my week is summed up. It’s the space where if you don’t exist in my weird pockets of the Australian Space/Time Continuum, you can catch what I’m up to.

I write a recap of sorts about my writing week – what I’m working on, how it’s going. I try to unpack my writing process, what I do, how and why. I want anyone reading it to get a sitrep on me, but maybe learn something through that process they can use themselves. I love nothing more than when someone replies that they loved the process slices in my week – especially when it’s an artist realising how writers tick.

Then I rapid fire out a suggestions of things/links you might dig – podcasts, interviews, articles, kickstarters, etc.

Followed by what quality media I imbibed that week and what I took away from it, good or bad [though I tend to usually only spend energy focusing on the good and helpful].

There’s a corkboard of dates for things coming up that’ll feature me or my name.

Then I drop some kind of After Credits Sequence – a little something for those who read all the way down. Could be an After School Special closing quote. Could be a weird short story. Could be a rant. Could be crap. Could be a link to something, or a cheeky heads up about something coming up.

Most newsletters come in ~1500 words, lately. The biggest ever was 5k, but I won’t be trying that again any time soon. They rarely dip under 1k. They should feel worthwhile, without being laborious. Should be.

Anyway, yeah, I write a weekly newsletter about the comic life I chose [not the comic life that chose me].

I really think you’d dig it.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE TWO FISTED HOMEOPAPE HERE

Oh, yeah, it’s called The Two Fisted Homeopape – I figure if you get where those two elements have come from then you’re going to love my newsletter. Enjoy.

RKL Annotations – BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #2

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.

Maybe.

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.

PAGE ONE

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.

PAGE TWO

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.

PAGE THREE

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?

PAGE FOUR

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.

PAGE FIVE

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.

PAGE SIX

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.

PAGE SEVEN

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…

PAGE EIGHT

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?]

PAGE NINE

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.

PAGE TEN

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.

PAGE ELEVEN

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.

PAGE TWELVE

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.

PAGE THIRTEEN

Fight. Page.

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.

PAGE FOURTEEN

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.

PAGE FIFTEEN

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.

PAGE SIXTEEN

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.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

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…

PAGE EIGHTEEN

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.

Eh.

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.

PAGE NINETEEN

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.

PAGE TWENTY

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?

BACK MATTER

Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Fun, as always.

JAM SESSIONS

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.

THE TRUTH

Another fun page to put together. I can only hope some people dig these.

And that’s us for another month. Join us on the final Wednesday of August as #3 lands, you’ll see it on the stands because it looks like this:

RKL Annotations – BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #1

Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.

 

We launched on Wednesday the 28th of June to some great reviews and responses.

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.

If you want – you can also listen to these views on SoundCloud on The Crystal Plumage, my podcast about this comic :]

THE COVER – SAMI KIVELA

I love Sami’s covers. The guy is always on fire, every book feels different, and even every cover has a very specific flavour. I could look at Sami’s covers forever. But when we talk specifically about this one, you have to think about how it launches the book. It presents the isolated character, which is so very important to this story. She’s alone. And she’s holding that gun, but not in any power pose. She’s a woman with violence in her world, and she hasn’t let go of it, but she’s feeling a little defeated, a little reflective.

Juxtapose that with the white pregnant silhouette, surrounded by a city aflame, which wraps up a lot of Lon’s fears. She’s bringing a child into a world on fire, and it’s in turmoil because of her actions at times. She fears for her child because it might grow up to run across someone just like her.

It takes that parental doubt and mixes it with self-loathing all at first glance. I know you won’t get all of those things, but they’re there, they’re waiting for you.

And let’s give it up for Ryan Ferrier’s logo. The boxing ropes building that angle for the words to read on. The fact there are two types of canvas onto which you can create your beautiful images. There’s paint on the easel in your workshop, and there’s blood on the mat in the boxing ring. Both are beautiful, in their own way, and that concept of brutal beauty runs through this book. Ferrier nailed it on this one, especially with such a bold logo that can read with any colour, against any background. Something we do take advantage of.

THE COVER – CHRISTIAN WARD

I mean, what do you say?

Christian Ward did a variant cover for our comic. And it’s bloody gorgeous. I first saw it on my phone, I was between teaching classes, and I just stopped. I mean, how do you process something like this? Dude is a beast, and this cover is sublime.

Cut forward then a month or more and I find out on twitter, while chatting with Christian and someone else, that the blue skin he’s done is actually a sonogram. I mean, I’m an idiot for not noticing, but watch my head explode on hearing this. The cover is so simple, and elegant, and I’m still in utter love with it months later.

I also LOVE her eyes and the blood splatter on her.

PAGE ONE

I’ve already written a lot about this page, our opening contract.

Read about Page One here

I love this page, it’s a beautiful melding of character and tone and story and I think it’s the best opening page I’ve ever been a part of. I actually think it’s sold the book just as well as our covers have.

PAGE TWO

And we instantly change the scenery, where we find a very different Lon. Kicking back, relaxed. Or maybe just switched off. Maybe this is her with her shields up, not like the first page which is very much shields down.

You’ll also notice there is no caption to guide you through space/time. I want you to pay attention, this is important. Don’t assume anything, don’t be lazy. It’s on you to keep up.

This page drops all the exposition the first doesn’t. It sets up Lon through how Milla sees her. It sets up Milla through her actions, and her words, and her tone. And it sets up their interaction, their job roles, and what Milla wants Lon to do.

I had a blast writing this dialogue. Milla’s voice came quickly and easily to me, and was a blast to bash out every single time she’s on the page.

Then I pull a Remender and start the dialogue here…

PAGE THREE

…and end the line here.

I know, I know, Remender didn’t make this up, it’s just a trick I learnt consciously from his work, UNCANNY X-FORCE was doing it and I dug it.

So here we have Lon on the job, this is the main problem she’s been thrust into that propels the narrative forward. On Page Three. Because I didn’t wanna mess around, there’s little point waiting, let’s get this party started.

Milla wants someone in this house dead and so we show you the house with the most deplorable person yammering away. I want you to think she’s the target. Her house is a mess, she’s a mess, and you know there’s a kid there, so I want your protective gears turning.

Then we just ratchet it up with the coke on the carrot – which is something a mate of mine gave me a note on [that no one would snort coke off a carrot], but it was just too fine a visual to pass up. Plus, it keeps the carrot in her hand for the next page.

PAGE FOUR

This page!

I could write an ode about this page. This here is pure distillation of what collaboration over years becomes.

When Sami and I started working together, on the pitch for what would become CHUM, I guess it was pretty straight forward. The pages were standard, not too many panels, and with room for Sami to stretch.

Then, before we made CHUM, he and I made DEER EDITOR, and it was through creating 144 tablet pages together that I came to truly understand the beast Sami is. I knew what he was good at, I knew where I could push him. I knew where I could tease him, and leave him open, and he’d create mayhem and beauty. There’s a page deeper into the first issue of CHUM where Sami took a fight scene and created a mural of violence. It’s gorgeous.

So, by the time we’re making BEAUTIFUL CANVAS, I like to think we’ve become a great and complementary machine. The fact this page came out in the pitch pages proves that to me [because, boy, do we go even further as the book progresses]. I set this page up as a page of fury and calm, a page of stupidity and precision. It’s Sami and I together completely.

The slow intro, the mum snorting and then looking up, it gives way to a crescendo of humanity across three panels. And Sami imbues those three panels with amazing timing and body language. Lon stands, ready, a coiled spring – she shoots, precise, one shot, all energy coming out her hand and gun, nowhere else – and then she holsters, not even looking anymore, she’s not lascivious, there is no doubt. This is a hit.

Playing that against the mother, coked to the gills, throwing a carrot like it’s her weapon, when the knife is clearly there, and having her huddled, and then full body aggressive, and then thrown straight back. It’s some glorious motion.

But it’s Sami that makes it flow, like a river of blood through a diagram of humanity. He put these inset panels in, he decided to draw focus, and slow us down even further, so we’d feel the hit, and so we’d have to see Lon. It’s a beautiful page and I managed to not need to overwrite it at all.

I am growing.

PAGE FIVE

The first page we see Alex Ellroy, and I’m completely selling you on where he is at the very start of this narrative. He’s small, quiet, withdrawn, 2 pages back we could see he plays board games with his dolls. He’s just this little kid, and then we see his reaction to his dead mother – because Sami draws faces better than anyone – and we get that hug as he says “Thank you.” and we can only imagine his origin story.

Poor little bastard.

Which is why I don’t waste time on the moment. Get in late, and definitely leave early. Cut to the car, show Lon’s decision in action, not even her making the decision, just show the reasons for the decision, build to that moment, then let the reader know it’s been made.

This is what we call a ‘lock in’ for the protagonist. They are making a choice to veer off, they are funking up their own story. It’s always the best way for things to go the shape of a pear, rather than just shoving providence into their face and giving them no agency.

PAGE SIX

It’s one thing to write a dead girl. It’s another to have Sami and Tree bring it to life. Jeeeez, it’s heartbreaking.

This sequence was the lynch pin for me and the mission statement of this book. Lon might be locked in, but it’s uncertain, it’s all reaction, she’s flying by the seat of her pants. So we have the boy press her on it and she just doesn’t know. She’s in a crisis of faith, and so when in doubt she doesn’t – but just not killing the boy does not tell her what comes next.

It’s also all kinda seed for Alex’s journey. He’s in for a wild ride, and he needs to discover this truth as well.

Intercutting this with the flashback, and never telling you what’s when and where, was my way of hoping the audience is really with us. This page is the test. It’s layered, tough to read, and I hope that slows you down. Soak in that dialogue from the flashback, think about what Lon is going through.

PAGE SEVEN

Lon doesn’t know. This is where she’s lead herself. She doesn’t know if she’s good. She doesn’t know if things with Asia are good. She just flat out doesn’t know.

And yet she drives on.

I love how Sami draws Lon’s face up close. She’s a beautiful character, and yet you should be so sucked into her emotion that you don’t quite register it. The story should elevate her beyond eye candy completely.

Then that last panel – now you can really tell we were ending our pitch pages, can’t you? I wanted the pitch pages to be this whole opening scene, and here we close it. Lon drives off with Alex, towards the city, and the colours are sublime.

I dropped that ‘movie title’ in here because the book doesn’t have captions, and I mostly dig that, but sometimes I use my words as punctuation, so this really threw me not having those beats to end scenes on. So I invented a work around. I didn’t want to just write captions when I *really* felt like it, so I didn’t get that lazy, instead I invented these movie titles to drop into the story at strategic moments to unpack the characters, and maybe a little of their lives or world around them. I chose THE HITWOMAN WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE because it’s a beautiful phrase, and it’s also a shout out to Dario Argento. This was my way of sending up a flair to my people, and those who dig Argento should now know we are connected through this story. We’re going to be on the same page, and I hope you’ll sit down a while and listen to the story with me. I hope we get some time to enjoy this together.

PAGE EIGHT

I love the bold scene-opening panel of this sequence. A huge vertical panel, all Sami, which is interesting because there’s also a lot of talking on this page, but he still spends all this real estate on setting the scene. I dig it hugely, because Tree coloured the ever-loving hell out of it, and because Sami drew in that clown head up in the foreground and it’s creepy and awesome and speaks volume to the tone of the scene.

We then meet Eric and Agent Keely. The gist of things is that Eric screwed up his life and ended up sentenced to this weird purgatory gaol of an abandoned fair on a boardwalk somewhere.

Why? Well, like Keely says, it’s to do with Milla Albuquerque. From there, I don’t spell too much out. I’m not interested in having these two characters, who clearly know each other deeply, conveniently lay out their cards on the table as if the other person doesn’t know. I want oblique references, I want the bare minimum. I know that might not be great for all readers, but it gives this scene what I wanted – familiarity between the two men. I want the reader to finish this page and know how these guys interact, and what their overall beef is. Eric screwed up, he’s his own problem, and Keely has to come check up on him.

I also gave them takeaway coffees for two reasons. One, it keeps them busy. They can sip, or brood over the steam, or spill their coffee, or throw it away over the side. This is action through which we can continue to tell the story. When Kelly spills his coffee making a point in Eric’s face, you feel it.

And, two, these coffees mean Keely stopped on his way there to get 2 coffees. That’s a stand up move, and deserves a little respect.

PAGE NINE

Here we drop that bomb that Eric’s isolated here for some kind of protection, and protection FOR others. It’s a bizarro witness protection program. I think I had recently read Darwyn Cooke’s SLAYGROUND adaptation from the Richard Stark novel and the fairground as crime scene idea was juicing in my brain.

I think I would have scripted this two page interaction about two dozen times. Never able to make the Jenga fit into place, never quite happy with it. But where we got it to, I am happy with it. This was given a final script after the colours came in. I was tweaking this whole sequence right down to the wire. Because you always know when it’s second best [or for a while, it was maybe fifth best], and in indie comics there is no excuse to not take the time, get it right, and then happily move on.

The moment of Eric working out how to break free is also obliquely set up and explained. Eric has this little ball, like a geotag, where they were tracking him. He’s found it, removed it [with a knife, I guess], and now he’s unfettered, and with a mission. Which I want you all to connect/assume involves Milla :]

Then we cut to the final 3 panels and Sami absolutely nails these. The ease with which he shows flow. The inset panel of Keely dead, and that gorgeous sky from Tree. This is a 2 page talking heads scene, and yet Tree and Sami make it feel like so much more.

But do you know the science of what’s going on – how’s that tag work, what happened to Keely specifically? Well, maybe wait and see…

PAGE TEN

This page, and sequence, slowly came around to become something I dearly love. Lon laying her heart out on the line, a truthful and honest moment. She’s on an old ass phone because anachronisms please me. And she’s eating noodles because that’s what Rick Deckard would do. Truly.

This is just Lon talking, but hopefully you’re also gleaning some information – the time frame, Lon’s feelings. I dig the pacing of the flashback, and that final panel with the restaurant finally established is my way of finally pulling back from Lon. We’ve been up close [and personal] with Lon, so it was time to see the world around her a little bit again.

And I only use the L word when I mean it, and I write Lon like she’s the same.

PAGE ELEVEN

That loaded pause leads to one of my favourite bits of this comic. I can remember coming up with the idea that Lon was rehearsing on an empty phone line. I was stoked to have a little more business on the phone that wasn’t just Lon and Asia actually talking. It gave it more of a cycle.

Lon’s views of love are her own and in no way represent the company to which she is contracted.

I was glad I built all that white space in the middle, a gap in which our two leads find a quiet space to talk. So I built that gap in the middle into things. And then I kept redrafting as I went along, always refining. I find I constantly was refining and redrafting dialogue in this book to give enough information away, but never at the expense of character. Who they are, and why they are, matters more to me than actually what they do. So you sub one for the other whenever you can – or both at the same time if you are good enough, and I so rarely am.

PAGE TWELVE

I couldn’t figure out how to cut to after their conversation – I wanted to give them privacy. Sometimes, you get more power from not hearing the specifics, I think. The caption came to me and it feels helpful in an odd way – because a 5 minute and 8 second conversation is a long one in my books. Certainly long enough for Lon. And I like how it reads on the page.

Then we get this layered scene that is my meagre attempt at what I like to call “JAWS scripting.” It’s where conversations occur in the foreground and background and you don’t need to hear all of both of them, you just need the general idea of both. So we get this lovely back and forth between Lon and Alex, because they’re bonding, and I want them to become tight. This means whatever I do to them later on will hold some gravity.

And against this, we have the waitress, who seemed so damn nice, reporting back to…someone.

Vague, or annoying – you decide.

PAGE THIRTEEN

Yes, truly meet Milla Albuquerque.

That pot plant with the ‘Believe’ written on it is totally stolen from my office. I have the exact same thing. But Tree coloured this one green, so it looks better than what I’ve got.

Then we cut to Milla and I dig the stance Sami gave her, and the triangle framing, but mostly I just love that skyline. That’s Sami and Tree just being electric gods together. And I think it’s enough to maybe distract from the blood on that watering can, maybe.

This page is quite simply a thesis on how Milla operates, and how she views the world, and what Lon is working against. Milla lumps gardening in with revenge and love and every emotion and action is just an ingredient for her – just a colour on her palette. If you marry this mindset against Milla hiring Lon to kill Alex, and most likely having hired her to kill plenty of other people, then you get a fairly decent insight into Milla. I don’t connect all those dots here for you, but I guess some readers will, and I thank them for it. I also hope they enjoyed the work, and the results they get.

Then we get that hand in the pot. That was a visual that came to me instantly when wanting to really reveal and introduce Milla. I may have been missing HANNIBAL from our screens. You know, that show about beautiful mayhem and blood? Yeah, it’s informed Milla in quirky little ways.

PAGE FOURTEEN

Panel Two is the stronghold here. Milla divulges exactly what Lon was sent to kill Alex for. It was a test.

A test for what, you ask?

Well, maybe by the end of #1, and certainly by the start of #2, you’ll have enough to piece together what was supposed to happen.

And as for Moore, he gets hinted at, and then Milla pretty straight up explains his connection into this story. Because I can’t always hide everything from view.

The final panel of Milla saying “People just want to die for their craft” is my best attempt at a BKV page ender, albeit incredibly subtly. Y’see, she’s talking about Moore’s tenacity, but she’s also hinting at the fact the guy hung up in front of her has voluntarily put himself into this position. He’s down with being a part of Milla’s beautiful canvas.

See, I told you it was subtle.

PAGE FIFTEEN

I absolutely love all of these weird fuckers.

Why are they here? Well, because I want this world to be weird. Not by having every single element and thing weird, but by showing that weird resides in it. They also exist as a subtle hint to the fact this world has started experimenting on people. There are ways to make people more than human. This opens up the story for the final page of this issue, and the crux of the problem at the heart of the story, and we make this a lot more concrete in the back matter page of The Truth.

You can also blame this scene on PREDATOR. I love that intro scene of the ensemble, so I did my best to poorly ape it here. Writing these freaks was a lot of fun, and a chance to try out a few voices I would never use to headline a comic, but that intrigue me nonetheless. The bird guy’s sqwarks are my favourite, by far.

Plus, that bottom panel with the moon and the cloud and the kick ass car. A hell of a thing to behold.

PAGE SIXTEEN

I love ELO. I think Dan Hill secretly loves Ello. Blame him for the joke, it was his idea [at which I LOL’ed and put it straight into the script]. It’s also yet another nod to this reality being different. Ello became the titan in this story.

I love Sami’s design for this car, and you see how it works in action here and it’s just glorious. Then I cut this moment with a panel of Asia talking to Lon on the phone in the past because I want you to feel the stakes of this moment for Lon. I want to ensure we are all on the same page – perhaps this is one of my few times of overtly handing across information in this book. Even though I’m still not giving much away.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

Poor Lon. Getting her ass kicked like a good pulp lead. These freaks giving her a good ol’ tenderising, and I need them to be good at it because I need her knocked out.

That panel at the bottom where she’s landing on her head/neck, man, that body language from Sami is dynamite. Those legs are all over the place.

Also note the fine as silk SFX from Ryan Ferrier.

PAGE EIGHTEEN

Meet Moore.

This guy sucks.

Which is why I intro him in such a predatory manner. The guy’s just filth. As he talks to himself, you should get a feel for who he is.

I dig the little moment of the assistant handing the phone across to Milla and she’s over it, and over Moore. Her flippant line sets up their relationship in totality. She kinda hates him, totally needs him, will be vitriolic towards him, but she’ll keep him around, and obviously for a reason. He’s good at his job.

PAGE NINETEEN

Oh, also, the 6 panel grid on these pages. I love the 6 panel grid, but have never really written for it. Sami nails it for this sequence, proving once again he’s smarter and more useful than me.

This is the needle scratch moment for Milla. She was assuming Moore would check in with footage of Lon attacked by Alex after the hit occurred. Or, maybe as a test to see if Lon could still do it. Instead, she’s told neither option occurred, and the plot has swerved away from her. This scene serves a purpose, to make everything clear to Milla, but it also allows us this character interaction, which in itself unpacks these characters more.

Then you see that elephant chair and you realise Dan Hill is really one hell of an editor for suggesting it. Whereas the business with Moore and the pizza is all me. Because he’s just that callous – eating her old food, and stepping over her dead body. Like I said, he’s pure filth. But even filth is art if presented right, right?

PAGE TWENTY

Look at Off-Brand Killer Croc with his Liefeld pouches going to use housing his mobile phone.

Lon gets a little GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS on the phone, and we don’t know to whom she is speaking. That’s on purpose, because maybe you just can’t trust anyone moving forward. Maybe it’s Milla doing a funny voice, maybe it’s her flunky, maybe it’s Asia, maybe it’s Alex…?

You’ll have to wait and see.

Sami with the inset panels of character deaths. Absolutely dynamite. And man did I have to work hard to figure out how each one died, and if one could maybe be alive for later as an Act IV come back. But, no, they are all dead here.

PAGE TWENTY ONE AND TWENTY TWO

And again we fracture the structure and take you back to that first scene, that fateful phone call Lon had with Asia. I hope readers are keeping up by this stage. Because that opening page, now, it should hold even more weight. It’s the moment Lon finds out she’s going to be a parent and she’s just killed this other kid and she’s just mentally crumbling, and so this moment has ghosted over the entire issue. This is her dilemma, this is her fear.

That concept of just breaking a shitty burner phone in half will always take me back to Mike in BREAKING BAD. Such a boss move.

So Lon runs off to find Alex, and when she does, he’s this dangerous little creature. He’s got them iron fists glowing, there’s something wrong with him, and there’s something wrong with Lon. It’s a dangerous moment to pause on.

I want you guessing about what comes next. I want you interested, and worried, and intrigued. I want you invested in what happens in the next moments. Because from what you know of Lon, she’s unhinged, and dangerous, but she’s also clinical and rocked by enough death this week.

Can I also say, that image of Alex with the flame hands, and the red mist beyond the trees, man, it’s killed me to not share that image online because I’m so in love with it. Also kinda proud of that Movie Title panel I dropped in there.

And that’s the first issue. I hope it sells the next 3, right?

BACK MATTER

Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Coming up with Back matter Essay titles is hard to do, but damn if it isn’t fun. HEADSPACE had ‘Brain Waves’ and CHUM had ‘Get In the Fucking Sea’ [which always made me smile]. And this has the above, which I am still happy with – which is the main test to pass.

These pages will just be me being truthful, unpacking my head a little, and connecting with you personally [I hope]. This one was fun to write.

JAM SESSIONS

But then you get to turn the page and see Sami Kivela draw Philip K Dick and you know all is right in the world. This pin up is so gorgeous, I’d already preordered it from Sami before he even drew it. It’s my favourite author, and my favourite artist, jamming together, in a book that’s my best thing so far. I needed this in my life, and it’s already proudly on my office wall. I’d told him about the essay series we were thinking of doing, and hit him up to do a spot illo for it, Sean Phillips style, and he just dominated it.

The fact it’s followed by a Jam Session between me and longtime top mate Dan Hill is just pure candy in my pocket. I love chatting to Dan about stuff, he always makes me smarter, and I love doing these, so the whole back matter selection just fills me with gleeful joy.

THE TRUTH

Then there’s THE TRUTH page, which was a dumb idea I had, that Sami didn’t have time to execute – and then we did it anyway :]

I’ve made this page completely non-essential to the narrative, but gee it slips a lot of little hints in there you might like to further enjoy this world we’ve built. These newspapers are ‘in world’ items showcased here for us all to look at and enjoy, but also to study. Each story is picked for a specific reason, and they’ve been crazy fun to write.

And that’s the comic. If you picked it up, thank you. If you enjoyed it, well, thank you muchly. If you’ve told your mates, shared the good word, lent it out to a mate – that’s the good work from on high you deliver, praise be.

This comic is a work of passion, and it exists because the creative team is committed to making comics. We love that you wanna read comics, and read about comics, too. Thanks, and we’ll see you in 4 weeks for #2 – the opening pages are just dynamite.

RKL Annotations – DEER EDITOR #1

The issue that launched thousands of dollars of crowd fundraising for Sami Kivelä and myself. For a dumb comic idea, stemmed from a poor joke about typos, and written on my phone, I feel like DEER EDITOR has taken on a life of its own. And in all the right ways.

This issue was my first foray into crowdfunding and Kickstarter in a solo way, and it felt like another step up in my comic making career. I only had a few credits to my name so far, I was still quite green, and this was my first time dabbling in tablet pages – and I wish I could pinpoint the reason why I went for them here. I can’t remember why, the book has seemingly only ever existed in my head in tablet pages, but I’m crazy glad I did.

Then you bring in Sami and the whole things comes together like crisp morning Lego snapping into place.

I love DEER EDITOR. I love Bucky, and the world he is in, and collaborating with Sami, and I hope one of all of those things never ends. But for now, I want to celebrate what we’ve done and do something new – I’m going to write annotations over 2 years after the issue came out, and over 3 years since I wrote the script.

Let’s see how much I can come to hate myself over the coming pages, shall we?

For those playing at home, I’m going to number tablet pages, and I’m going to read from the Broadsheet PDF [which contained a tonne of extras and fun stuff] – so, drop the needle on them antler noir tunes.

DE_cover01_small

COVER

It’s probably stupid to say it, but this cover feels iconic to me now. The amount of times I’ve sold the red cover at shows, the amount of time I spent looking at it, and the quality with which Sami nails it.

I asked him to do something Saul Bass inspired, and this is what came back and I fell in love. That silhouette is killer.

You’ll also notice that Kivelä features after Lindsay on the cover. I asked him repeatedly to put himself first but he just wouldn’t, and the guy who controls the design controls those things. I vowed to get him back for this, and our two follow up series have had his name first, sucker.

But in total, the cover sells crime, death, urgent red, and a hint of an anthropomorphic beast.

CHAPTER ONE

I can’t remember whose idea it was, but we went with these chapter breaks in the digital version basically because why not? They look gorgeous – Nic J Shaw designed it simple and elegant – and it’s a PDF, you can go as long as you want, really, within reason.

I feel like the quote sets things up, build intrigue, but doesn’t give anything away.

PAGE ONE

I’ve come to love establishing shots, but not always of buildings and the usual fare. I want to know about a character, usually, so something about them gets a quiet moment to intro.

As such, Bucky is a journalist/editor, so we open on his desk. I scripted a lot of this, but Sami made it his own. I remember getting this page through and really thinking we were onto something.

I also wanted to denote the snowy Xmas vibe [because Shane Black is my jam – no, honestly, that’s why this issue is snowing] and I wanted to use the lyrics to SILVER BELLS, but I soon realised I couldn’t do that without incurring some hired goons on my doorstep, so I did the next best thing – I ripped the lyrics off and made them my own. Swapping the word time for crime is a personal career highlight.

I also really wanted a subtle double entendre in that opening caption where Bucky says he gets one phone call and suddenly ends up in the morgue because he then goes to the morgue to chase a story, but also because he’s going to ‘die’ in the end of this issue.

I know, Spoiler Klaxon, please, but most of you have probably already noticed that there are more issues in this series. Because Bucky is alive. But this comic initially started life as a one-shot, and I think the OG plan was for Bucky to die. So, had we never gone back to the well – and I assumed Sami would get busy elsewhere, and/or our Kickstarter campaign would do average at best – then I played it like this as all we’d get.

But the campaign did well. And Sami turned away some other work just to keep Bucky alive, so he makes it out of issue #1, but I still liked the foreshadowing of this opening caption, so I like that it remains.

As for the items on the morgue table, I wish I had added some other weird stuff on there, like a can of Spam or a torn out page of MOBY DICK, but I didn’t and now I never can. Oh well, I guess you’ll just have to imagine what movie John Doe saw before he kicked the bucket.

PAGE TWO

Anyone who pledged for the Radio Drama knows the coroner speaks with a thick Maine accent. Kinda.

I look at this page now and wonder why I didn’t start with the John Doe on the street, and then the Pinto clipping him, and his head getting bashed in. But instead we get another guy talking about all the action. Because I love to start comics hella engaging :[

The biggest thing this page gets right is building the page turn/swipe reveal of Bucky. Otherwise, this guy might as well be named Coroner James Remar [I hope some of you get that reference].

PAGE THREE

Bucky stands, proud, defiant, aloof. This first panel sets up a whole lot of who he is.

I introduce the sniffing aspect of his character early so we can use it later.

Bucky line of “Goddamn useless corrupt asshats.” still rings tinny in my ears, it’s a mouthful. I think your mistakes do haunt you on the page forevermore.

PAGE FOUR

And so our opening four page scene ends. The casual relationship between Bucky and the coroner is set up, so we can use it again effectively later, but it isn’t the kind of thing that’s a series opener, to be honest. But we live and learn.

This is all good, standard stuff, it works, but it doesn’t elevate. I’d completely restructure these pages now, if I had my druthers. But, for now, they set up Bucky, and they set him on the course.

PAGE FIVE

This page is about introducing the location of Walter’s Bar, but it’s also about introducing some voice for the book. This is a pulp book, I want it to have that prose voice over feel, like you just dug it out of an underground secondhand book store. It’s similar to what I was going for in CHUM, but maybe dialled back one or two.

I think I was still finding my voice with Bucky here, I didn’t have him quite so nailed down as I did by the time I got to scripting #3. I had my ideas about him, but it’s really only after having them go through a few things that you see how they react and how they truly are.

PAGE SIX

It’s during this scene that we hopefully get the idea that no one cares there’s a walking/talking deer just shooting the breeze.

I also dig the interplay with Walter and Bucky, they work well and he’s a blast to write. And looking back, I can see this issue was about bouncing Bucky through certain pulp levels to get him to gather the info he needs to proceed – like a lot of quality pulp does, and often needs.

PAGE SEVEN

I don’t consider myself a funny guy – on the page, in person, on social media – but Walter griping that he’s not a hidden mic and so didn’t record the conversation of two randos in his bar tickles me every time.

But then I come back down to Earth with a thud every time Bucky manhandles that ashtray. Gah, nasty shit makes my skin scrawl.

I’m also noticing, on this page and seven pages in, that each page doesn’t completely have as much to talk about and dissect as other annotations purely because each page is really half a page, and I didn’t want to jam pack every page because that would be rubbish for Sami, and it’s really not how tablet pages work. The norm seems to be 2 panel pages, with 3 the max, and yet I average 3-4 generally, so here I’m trying to keep it simple, give the page room for text, and make sure I build to some kind of reason to turn the page.

PAGE EIGHT

I wonder how many readers still have no idea who/what Jo Malone is? I probably could have worded that whole second panel better.

But the matchsticks led here, so then the credit card has to lead to her.

I also haven’t nailed down why Rachel was in Walter’s. We never explain it, though I know how to make it a few different things depending on what we might need it for down the track.

PAGE NINE

I really wish this page wasn’t killing a woman. That’s a big change I’d make to the issue, this could most definitely be a dude.

Bucky mentions his smell, again, and then he references John Doe’s key which was there all the way back in Page One.

I love Nic J Shaw’s white balloon against the silhouette.

PAGE TEN

Sami did great work on this page, considering the density built into it. There are so many little elements – and some of them are like her presence in Walter’s, we can use, or tweak then, as we see fit anywhere in the future if need be. Some of these things are locked in stone, but many of them were me just throwing things against the wall to see what stuck.

Of course, in a room with a dead woman Bucky decides to case the joint. Until the foot creak on the threshold, and this takes place on a real paper page turn, too, so it’s a properly set up deal, as well as for tablet.

PAGE ELEVEN

Adrian Brody flees the scene, and I love Sami’s designs on ‘other’ characters.

This page is just planting another seed to capitalise on later. Plotting this stuff out was hard work, I remember, ensuring so many things get set up, and connect in ways that might only ever matter to me.

And here the journalism puns begin, with Bucky talking about chasing down a story and having to literally chase this story on foot. It’s not high art, but there are a tonne of newspaper quotes and words in the world, and I slowly wanted to work them all in.

PAGE TWELVE

This page is pivotal for me because it shows the parameters of Bucky’s ‘powers.’ He can run super fast, but only in short bursts. Because he’s kind of unfit, the running wears him out. His antlers are pretty bloody strong, but he’s not a superhuman/deer.

PAGE THIRTEEN

I love the way Sami drew the newsroom, the cube farm aspect of it all. The depth and world-building Sami goes to always impresses me.

Here we meet Dan, completely modelled [in pretty much every aspect] on actual editor for this book, and great mate of mine, Dan Hill. Yet again, this scene provides Bucky with someone else to bounce off, but this relationship very obviously feels different to me than Bucky with the coroner or with Walter. There’s actual respect at play here, subtle, but there.

I’ll also make no bones about the fact Dan calls the killer the ‘actor’ and I stole that term from Richard Price who I first saw use it in FREEDOMLAND [a great book, though not his best, that’s still THE WANDERERS].

PAGE FOURTEEN

I dig that Sami went for tall panels on this one, it shows his range when using the tablet page. He’s so good at fitting everything in there and never really feeling crowded.

This two page scene with Dan shows me how much stuff I was burning through in this issue. All overall scenes were mapped out as 4 pages, so two print pages, and this interaction with Dan moves the needle a little and it’s only 2 tablet pages. I tried to get into scenes and bounce out. Partially because the genre demands it, but also because I figured if this was to be a one-shot then I could not dilly-dally, I needed to get things on the page and then move them off. Shit had to be done, so you rocket through scenes, you strip back, and you make shit happen.

This inset panel around the phone was possibly the first inset panel I ever scripted. It’s a device I love to use, I think I first consciously recorded it into my brain from Aja on his IMMORTAL IRON FIST run. Having the phone vibration in the panel gutter is just sublime.

PAGE FIFTEEN

I mean, look at this page, there’s no waddling about, it gets in, gives the info it needs, in a nice and interesting way, and it moves on. I know I didn’t script #2 as tightly, mostly because I knew it’d stand on its own but also form the middle of the triptych I knew I could build. I mean, and this is a long bow to draw, but consider THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, there’s no need for it to completely pack in and tie up as much as A NEW HOPE did because it comfortably knew it was the middle of the trilogy and it could lob up balls that wouldn’t be swung at until 3 years later in RETURN OF THE JEDI.

I’d love it if all 3 issues were this tightly plotted and delivered, but the 4 tablet pages per scene/sequence rule set up here was actually very hard to do because I was constantly trimming panels and refining dialogue and getting it just right. The next two issues I got to let the characters have moments, to take breath, and that in itself was another kind of challenge as well as favour.

I just scripted something about ‘white noise’ in Bucky’s caption, but wasn’t thinking it’d be actual final dialogue, but then Nic grabbed the idea and put that tv white noise screen into a kind of thought balloon and I fell in love.

PAGE SIXTEEN

Those envelopes are there purely to set up his escape in the third act of this issue. I wanted to seed this idea that people hated Bucky, like a kind of subtle racism going on, and that’s why he got shitty letters and eventually an assassination attempt via the cake. I don’t know who sent the cake specifically, but I know I’ll continue to use this idea in future tales [if we get that chance] because in today’s global climate, well, of course there’d be people who believe Bucky is an abomination.

The cereal test is a phrase used in newsrooms to gauge whether news is fit to print in the newspaper, or on the front page specifically, because if someone can’t stomach it over their morning cereal then maybe it’s a little too far. It was a term I dredged up and filed away in the very early stages and it definitely stuck so I’m glad I got to use it here.

When I started in on this book, I googled around for information about deer and journalism. I like to believe that’s what BKV does before he starts anything, too, so he can drop factoids into his work and look smart. I look smart, right?

CHAPTER TWO

Boxing references will always win out. Chess a close second, but boxing is just the greatest metaphor to strip. Plus, I find boxing fascinating. The idea it’s this gentleman’s game when it’s the most brutal form of competition you can imagine, and yet it does hold this rarified air, which fascinates me in its duality. I like duality. The way things are and aren’t at the same time is an endless source of inspection for me.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

I love Randy, he’s just one of those scenery chewing characters everyone loves to write because anything goes as soon as they open their mouths. I think I scripted the shirt but that hair is all Sami.

I scripted this grotto scene, because of course Randy rolls like this, but forgot this was set in a deep Shane Black winter. So Sami drew in those column heaters around the place and it’s such a glorious save and solution from him, but it also says a million more words about this guy and his place, and everyone else there, that I never would have known how to string together. Those heaters are one of those pure blinding collaborative moments that you wish for every time you hook up with an artist.

I’ve also realised that Randy is introduced with that thick black background behind him and above and I’m realising Sami also introduces another character in the third issue in the exact same way. I will have to keep an eye out for this trick now, because I love it, and want to be able to script it so Sami knows I pay attention and I care.

PAGE EIGHTEEN

Bucky being annoyed by the ‘horny’ comment and correcting to antlers was something that came into the first draft instantly as Randy’s introduction and it never swayed. I love it when a moment comes to you fully formed and survives all the edits and drafts and you still love it two years later.

So we’ve just met Randy and we’ve set up that he obviously knows Bucky, and now we push into Bucky getting to what he needs, and then we build to the page turn.

PAGE NINETEEN

The absinthe comment I like, but something about it, like 5% of it, just doesn’t quite click into place for me. I can’t even put my finger on it, and I dig 95% of it, but that niggle remains. I wish I knew what it was.

Bucky pretends to be drunk enough to just wander on by and the driver from earlier pulls a Lando reveal so we know he’s there. I love the Lando reveal.

PAGE TWENTY

The simplicity of this page, the way Bucky has played the angles, and pulled an audible when the guards where there and he knew they’d know him. I like writing Bucky as the smartest guy in the room. Sometimes.

I’m also astounded at how much Sami put into this page. From memory, I edited this page heavily down from 5, or maybe even 6, panels. Now, the door kicks and we cut straight to them looking out the window – I trust you’re smart enough to imagine them crossing the room in those gutters.

Then Bucky leaps off the roof and my heart swoons. This panel was one of those perfect collaborator moments where I realised I was in love. The body language, the silhouette, that snow, it’s all perfect – it’s also got that DARK KNIGHT RETURNS vibe rolling on and who doesn’t dig on that?

PAGE TWENTY ONE

This establishing shot is yet another one of those moments in my writing career where I worked out that artists work way harder than writers. This panel is ace, and no small feat, and it’s also beautiful. All Sami.

Whereas the second panel is a true marriage, my idea, but it totally relies on execution to work, and Sami’s character designs, even for the background, are always so varied and intriguing that I knew this would work. And it totally does, playing the scene out, giving us what we need, and other things.

This panel/page is an exemplary reason of why I like comics, and why comics can do things that only work so well in this medium.

PAGE TWENTY TWO

The mechanics of making this page work are all on Sami. Fitting the gun in the hand in shot, showing how the gun is hidden, using that middle gutter to split Bucky but not move him. That’s all Sami problem solving the page of script I gave him.

I also love how Bucky cuts through the shit. He’s straight up, and I think that’s a reflection of how I decided to script the book. If scenes are short, there’s no time for ball tickling. Bucky has to move things forward, constantly.

PAGE TWENTY THREE

Now, this gutter divide I did script, so the reader wouldn’t instantly look down, they’d be locked on the guy with the gun in Bucky’s neck, and not glance out of that panel. Then we follow down and realise he’s not in as much danger as you might have been feeling.

Again, notice this guy entered scene only last page, and now he’s gone, having played his part, and the next part of the sequence is about to hit Bucky.

That breaking a story/story breaks you line is another one of those things you jot down early on in the research phase and you know you’ll find a place for it. This one I’m 100% happy with.

Though, strange fact, I initially gave the guy grawlix as he ran off in that line, then I realised all the other shit that goes down in this issue and can’t remember why I thought I’d need grawlix, so you’ve ended up with the full F swear. I hope you’re happy.

PAGE TWENTY FOUR

I love the black panels, the pause for the words to soak in. It’s a cinematic device to me, the voice over on the black screen before the fade in [or after the smash cut out – or both in this case] but it’s also something that plays different in comics because we aren’t used to having panels devoid of illustrations. So white strips, black space, other colours, I’m having a play with all of them over time.

I seed in the girl’s jasmine scent here so I can speed up her next scene.

PAGE TWENTY FIVE

The first panel here is set up to capitalise on the hate mail Bucky gets and deliver the coup de grace – the poison cake for later. But look at how Dan delivers it, he knows it’s from Bucky’s hater and yet he’s still all smiles about it, and Bucky is not. In this panel, I’m squeezing in Chekhov’s cake as well as showing the difference between these two men – one optimistic, one pragmatic.

Having Dan hack into someone’s email and then discover someone else is also hacked in there and deleting stuff at the same time is actually a thing I’m quite proud of. Him taking screenshots and getting what he can before it all disappears seems like good journalism to me. I usually don’t feel inventive or even smart enough to come up with cool stuff like this, but this one time I feel like I nailed it.

No, I don’t know how Bucky uses an iPad with those nails.

PAGE TWENTY SIX

We have both Bucky and Dan off to chase the next lead, Dan exits, and then the next piece walks in.

This close up of Bucky with the nose bandage, blood showing through it, is my clearest nod to CHINATOWN. We are forever in debt.

The scent moment pays off, and we get one of those good panel/caption ellipsis hold overs. Even better on a page turn, but in this comic it’s all about compression.

PAGE TWENTY SEVEN

I never have Bucky hit her back, he never lays a hand on her. It’s all restraint.

This moment is one of those reversals they say you should do in your stories. Give the character something good, and then take it away from them by making it into a negative. It’s supposed to keep the audience on their toes, they say.

But I’ll be honest, as much as this helps the plot because ‘Jasmine’ here has clearly been affected by something/someone, it’s all just set up for the next page.

PAGE TWENTY EIGHT

Bucky flipping Jasmine over and then pinning her to the wall with his antlers was another one of those things I wanted to see the character do from early on. Antlers would have to be a great restraint, despite the fact Jasmine could be kicking Jesus out of him with her legs, surely.

I also like that Bucky stops her without hitting her, and also flips her completely over his head, somewhat hinting at his levels of strength.

A lot happens in the gutter between these two panels, and initially I scripted it with way more beats so the reader didn’t get lost, but here I think anyone can draw the connection easily and surmise what took place in the gutter for this transition to make sense.

PAGE TWENTY NINE

I think this is the only full half page split vertically and silent. There’s no ‘huge’ reason why I left this panel silent, I just didn’t think any caption/V.O. was needed when his body language sells it all so truly.

Then we catch up by having a talky panel next, the cop and Bucky, sparring, and Bucky getting in his great last line. Bucky, to me, truly is a man from an older time.

PAGE THIRTY

And yet, despite Bucky’s reticence, and his shot back, the cop is fine with him. I’m hinting at larger world connections where Bucky clearly gets on well with the cops – until he stops being helpful – and they’re gonna treat him relatively straight.

Bucky writes on the notepad and I’ll cop to me doing this to ensure everyone followed me along for the next two pages. I wish we had Bucky write more on that notepad. Oh, well, live and learn.

PAGE THIRTY ONE

This whole locker thing is a personal riff on the locker used in GET SHORTY. How I don’t have Dennis Farina in this comic, as a cameo, just baffles me now.

It took me forever to work out a way to script the fact that Bucky already had a copy of the key made. I must’ve scripted it as like 5 panels and I slowly pared it down and now I’m really happy with how it’s all landed.

PAGE THIRTY TWO

The call in by the flunky is a textbook move, so I coupled it with the enigmatic darkened figure in their study plotting danger. I love his gramophone in there.

I fill this page with text but don’t actually show what’s in the bag. I think that’s a rookie mistake. A little touch of what’s there, a hint, something would have felt a little more complete. Though I do like the slab of captions juxtaposed against his one word.

And you can see here that these chapters really end on little breaks, a chance to get up and stretch the legs.

CHAPTER THREE

This quote has become the back cover quote for all the print versions and I kind of dig that. I think going through your issue and highlighting the lines you think are top shelf, the ones that sing, that sum up the theme or tone of the piece is a fun exercise. Especially if you can’t find one, because I think that says a lot.

It would probably be a good exercise to go through the comics of others and try to find that one line. I liked how Hickman’s FF run had those quotes on the front cover for the first little while.

PAGE THIRTY THREE

I love the building of The Truth. Sami doesn’t really know it, but the building he drew looks like it came straight out of my childhood, it feels like something I know, and that pleases me so very greatly.

A nice silent page, captions aside, that ends with a click. I’m trying to build tone here, I’m hoping you are a little worried. I’m also hoping you dig my whole tree metaphor. Sometimes I feel like I nail a line and that final line here just wraps up so much of what I want to mean about it all.

PAGE THIRTY FOUR

I hate the word “ain’t” – I always teach my classes that ain’t clearly isn’t contracting two forms of anything and as such it needs to die in a fire. But. I will put the word in the mouth of a character because I think it says a lot about someone if they use it, and also when/where/how they use it.

Again, the ominous tone on the page, the way the thug just walks in and sits down so confidently. It’s the way he carries himself that matters, not what he says. Which is why he says so little, and it’s not a threat. This is just matter of fact business for him, and that’s the biggest problem/sign.

PAGE THIRTY FIVE

I’m not one for writing a lot of tough guy dialogue, but I clearly hear this guy in my head and it mostly rings true. I can see/hear him going through these motions. I also had to work hard so it felt organic enough that Bucky would be able to introduce the cake into the scene.

Why did Bucky keep poison cake on his desk? Well, y’know, just in case.

PAGE THIRTY SIX

He’s saying no to the cake as he accepts a piece of it. That right there says a whole lot about this guy. Then the way he shrugs off his doctor. I like that he has a doctor, that he’s got problems. After writing this page, I felt I knew him a lot better.

Oh, look, Sami dropped another one of those half ink backgrounds.

PAGE THIRTY SEVEN

Did you know deer process toxins differently than us. They do it better. So I figured with Bucky being the weird hybrid he is he can have all kinds of special ‘powers’ and one of them is the ability to really shrugs off toxins.

The caption about them finding his body in the car was a scripting gaffe I tried to fix and failed. It’s meant to imply that Bucky is going to drag the guy down to his car and it was put in there after the art came in and I realised that him leaving the poisoned body on the press room floor might not be good for business. But the art had already come in. I tried to script around it, but nothing fit. Not even what I ended up going with. One of my biggest failures in comics, though it doesn’t kick in the guts as much as I thought it might. Huh, maybe time does work.

Wait, why is the Leaving City sign visible as you drive into the city? Man, I scripted that, this page is not my friend at all.

PAGE THIRTY EIGHT

Randy is so deplorable, it’s fun to write. Though it makes me look like kind of a hack, I’ll admit. Or, I’ll admit to worrying about.

I like that Bucky ignores his surroundings, he’s literally just there to hide out and do his job.

This set up to the page turn says a lot about who I think Bucky is…

PAGE THIRTY NINE

Y’see, Bucky’s an arrogant. Fool. He just rushes in, thinking he’s got the info so he’s untouchable. It’s a fool’s play, but it’s the kind of thing people do a lot before thinking all the pieces on the board through. And while I think Bucky is a great journalist, this story is also about him being overly sure and missing the story. It’s about his fallibility, and how he has to fix it.

PAGE FORTY

There are a lot of throwaway lines in the captions that explain away the need for extra scenes, or pages, or even panels. I don’t want to show Bucky threatening the mayor with his story leaking upon his death to establish that Bucky isn’t going to die here. I throw in mention of a ‘standard journalist/scumbag deal’ and it tells us all we need to know. Most of us have seen crime fiction where someone’s information will leak, to the police, or the public if they die or don’t check in by a certain time or use a specific code.

Mayor Jackson also not being worried about Bucky should be his first sign he’s stepped into the brown and smelly. But Bucky doesn’t read that stuff, sadly for him.

PAGE FORTY ONE

Nothing says cocky like ‘telling your villain how it is while munching an hor’s douvres’ cocky. Though Mayor Jackson’s ‘laughing in the face of this shit’ cockiness comes close.

PAGE FORTY TWO

Having Bucky walk his stupid ass right into the trap was a big moment for this book. I think like the pulps of old, I wanted this fallible hero, this fool, who mostly just stumbles into the right things while being beat up for the wrong things, and this page/moment was perfect for that. He never should have gone back, but here he is and here’s how they treat him.

And you’ll notice the crowd doesn’t care. No one ever questions anyone in power, they let all sorts of shit fly.

PAGE FORTY THREE

And with that, the Mayor spits on Bucky [metaphorically] and has won. Because it’s always darkest right before the dawn, right?

That placement of the “I’m an idiot.” caption is just genius from Nic J. Shaw because it’s almost hidden, and a lazy reader will skip it, which they can and the book will still work, but as an aside beat this works perfectly.

PAGE FORTY FOUR

Huh, I just realised Bucky goes to sit on his car and stare at the horizon to centre himself exactly like Standard does in CHUM #2. That’s subconsciously weird – though I do like to sit at the surf and just look out, so I guess it’s me projecting my own safe/calm place. Who knew that happened?

Bucky drives a convertible because of course he does.

This page is Bucky gathering himself and then firing himself into the final launch, but it really doesn’t read as too stirring. Nope, not at all. When you are supposed to be asking yourself what does each scene/page do, why does it exist, I may have failed on that one. I mean, it allows for the transition to get him to the house, but I think it does it poorly. There should have been something else that sets him in that direction. Lazy.

PAGE FORTY FIVE

In the first script, Bucky drives up the street, he screeches his breaks, he reverses towards the woman, and then he gets out. It was just too much. Having him screech his tyres here – subtle as it is – is more than enough. Eliminating that ABCD storytelling and just dropping crisp single letters is the most important aspect of editing/rewriting. Well, it definitely was for a younger Ryan still wobbly on his green legs.

This page has much better build, it goes a new place, builds a new tension. Much better, more effective for the reader.

PAGE FORTY SIX

A big conversation – that took a long time to edit just right – and another build to a tense moment. This final scene at least hits a decent stride.

The idea he can smell and hear the tiniest things that hint at truth, lies, etc means Bucky is my antlered Matt Murdock, and I’ll never shy away from admitting he totally is. I mean, they are actually two very different men, but that idea of the truth at their core, and many of the abilities, is totally swapping over and that’s no accident.

We end on a boxing term, because of course we do. I’ll run out of them eventually. Or I’ll just study harder to find more obscure ones.

PAGE FORTY SEVEN

I have Bucky react to what he’s figured out, but I consciously chose for him to not tell us. I didn’t want to completely spell these things out. He mentions it about ‘family’ in the second panel and I’m hoping people make the connection, especially if they’ve worked out how much of an influence CHINATOWN is on all of this.

The tiny ‘PFT’ sfx pepper the page, the blood blooms on her coat, and, again, the reader is expected to keep up.I really went back and forth on whether to be so obtuse, but in the end that’s the kind of thing I like to read, so it’s mostly what I’ll always write. There’s nothing wrong with a reader having to do a little work.

PAGE FORTY EIGHT

We end on a splash, and this moment was always the point of the issue. Bucky is so certain, and he finds the connective tissue he wants, so he takes it at face value and assumes he’s nailed it. But that’s just not how it works, so he’s overly confident and it gets him shot.

Then we end on that red bar, mostly because this was a digital only Kickstarter campaign, and you can do whatever the hell you want with a PDF so putting that red panel isn’t going to alter print prices or specificities so we went ahead and did it.

And that’s the end.

BACK MATTER

THE TRUTH by Ryan K Lindsay – an essay

I often bang on about how I wrote this comic on my phone while walking the summer streets of my neighbourhood at night with my baby daughter strapped to my chest.

I mention it a lot because it was my moment where I realised I would not accept excuses from myself. It was when I realised I was a writer, and always would be. It was a nice feeling to just power on, despite the world seemingly telling me I couldn’t at that very moment. The world’s a dick, what would it know?

You find yourself in weird places, you have weird places you find within yourself, and if you wanna make those two things connect and make art – then you can.

DEER EDITOR is one of my favourite things to have created, partly because of what it is, partly because of how I did it, and partly because of when it came about for me. But mostly because it started Sami Kivelä off on a relationship that’s lasted a very very long time, and only gets better with age.

I hope these thoughts have been of some help.

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!

CHUM_Cover_03

COVER

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.

CHUM_Cover_03B

VARIANT COVER

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.

PAGE ONE

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.

PAGE TWO

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.

PAGE THREE

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.

PAGE FOUR

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.

PAGE FIVE

“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.

PAGE SIX

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…

PAGE SEVEN

…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.

PAGE EIGHT

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…

PAGE NINE

…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.

PAGE TEN

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.

PAGE ELEVEN

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.

PAGE TWELVE

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?

PAGE THIRTEEN

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.

PAGE FOURTEEN

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.

PAGE FIFTEEN

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.

PAGE SIXTEEN

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?

PAGE SEVENTEEN

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.

Remember, breathe.

PAGE EIGHTEEN

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.

PAGE NINETEEN

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.

PAGE TWENTY

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.

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