Saturday, May 06, 2006

Commentary - Pages 1-5

SEAN: OK, so, let's talk about this first panel on page one. This is obviously our homage to Will Eisner and his Spirit designs. I wanted a nice big panel to establish B-City, how it's a metropolis made up of different character-types from multiple genres. I think you did a good job of capturing that here - we have the rocket ship and the zeppelin and the flying cars and what have you.

How did you approach the layout of that panel, because I know I told you I wanted an Eisner-riff, but there are a lot of ways to approach that? Did this layout pretty much come to mind immediately or did you do a few different versions?

JOEY:Well when you originally approached me with the idea, I came up with some rough designs using a few other Eisner techniques, the lampost and shadow wording, I tried fairly unsuccessfully to come up with one of those kickass windblown debris shots, but in the end the decision to have Mayhem Tower loom heavily in the background pretty much nailed down the type of shot I was going to use. And remember, originally the opening page called for a zoom in to Matt's office, a film shot I love to use over and over, so when I went to do the Eisner page, because I wanted to try and fit it in seemlessly with the existing layout choices, it was a gimme.

The rest just came together from a desire to show some art deco-esque buildings and toss in the elements you mentioned, the rocket, the airship (because I have some kind of airship fetish), and the car. Also, I really wanted peoples first color shot of Big City to be big, and crammed with buildings. Even if the perspective is kind of skewed.

I'm glad we went with the stereotypical Eisner shot though, people who know their comics, immediately recognize it and know what we're going for, there's no mystery, there's no suspicion that we are trying to pull something over on the readers by imitating Will's work, it's just a straight homage that I'm happy we got around to doing.

Oh, and I still chuckle when I see that bum's "Humph", nice and down to earth compared to the rest of the crazy elements in the pages to come.

SEAN: I love that bum and his dog! That was really inspired on your part and it's my favorite element on the page.

I definitely wanted that first page to establish not just B-City, but Mayhem's presence there. He had to overshadow everything.

If I feel we've fumbled the ball at all visually, it's solely in the sense that Big City never quite feels big enough and that we didn't push for a bigger visual presence for Mayhem's influence on the culture like we had planned. I know those billboards in the first panel were designed, originally, to showcase some Mayhem product placement, but I felt that with the dialogue at the bottom, I was doing a sufficient job of establishing his character. I'd go for a more visual punch now.

It's interesting, I was watching Mystery Men the other day and was struck by how HUGE they make Champion City in that movie and how they really anchor Captain Amazing's presence into it all. I think the visuals in that film are a lot darker and more hi-tech than what we are going for, but it really hit me how we might have pushed it more.

JOEY: I'd go along with that, in my head I always see Big City as this huge sprawling visual mess, with spotlights constantly flashing in the distance and aircraft ala Blade Runner, except antiquated, flying around. Unfortunately I usually get a little intimidated by big background city shots, so they rarely come out like I see it my head. Ahh well something to work towards I suppose.

Speaking of backgrounds, and to move this along a little, on page 2 we get just about the only shot ever of Mayhem's full office, sadly looking more like a large closet than a grand office suited for Mayhem's ego. I always wished to have more of Mayhem, just because I know as a one of the creators how he really is, how he is perceived and what he's up to and it makes me laugh. Plus as you said before, I think we missed out on being able to establish him as the main man in town. The dialog on these pages gets it off to a good start, but since its all text it doesn't quite sink in.

As always the little references to people and things from our pop culture bring a smile to my face, and it just seems appropriate that the mayor is named after Forry.

SEAN:Oh yeah, I had to have a homage to one of the first and greatest horror/sci-fi collectors. I think B-city is a real reflection of Forry's interests.

I loved the original idea you had for Mayhem having the skinned fur of a weird ass creature for a rug in the first try at this page. It's too bad we lost that, but I like having his logo on the rug now.

JOEY:I figured, being the super self important snob he is, he would have his initials on everything, the tower, the crime monitor, his rug, hell if i had to draw hs bathroom, he would have monogrammed towels.

SEAN:Totally! The man is arrogant, to say the least. I want to move on to the next page, because I think it's the most interesting of the first four. First off, I love the suspense you create here, particularly in that middle tier. That long panel, with the shadow falling across the rug is great. It really draws the eye and extends the time the reader spends on the picture. We move from her turning at the sound in the last panel above, to her in the doorway and our eye moves across, following the shadow.

How hard is it to create suspense in the art, i.e., how much planning and thought goes into it, or do you just feel your way around it?

JOEY: Hmmm, I would say fifty fifty. Honestly, about half the time, I'm trying to recreate something I saw in a movie or picture how something would look if it were shot with a camera, maybe not a direct lift from a scene, but definitely the feel and mood. That long panel in the middle was some of my first attempts to get some of that noir lighting that I completely choked on in the first pass through this, and maybe even some of a Citizen Kane crane shot, because damnitt, you cant go wrong with that! You try and mark out a page like this with beats, so that, if there were a camera, where would it point to drag out the readers attention the longest, before the big reveal. So you have things like the closeup on the switch (in the script though, not really my idea), but by making the top 3 panels roughly the same size, people will dwell on them a few seconds equally, and then move to the big shot, where hopefully their eyes will linger long enough to make the shocking panels at the end actually surprising. Its a serious pain in the ass in comics, considering the reader is just as likely to scan the whole page at once and not be affected at all.

Oh and just for the records, I remember hating you for writing the panel with Matt's head spun around. I know you were going for a big shocking ultra-violent visual, but man was it ever hard to get it to look right. I mean, I even made that panel with all the striped slashes more out of a want to cover up details because I just couldn't get it right on paper, and not so much for the effect itself. Which of course is the feeling around part you were talking about, because that made the shot work I think, and it was completely on accident.

So speaking on that, why did you decide to go with something so graphically shocking, instead of just trying to stylize the murder scene?

SEAN:Well, I could have just had him, you know, strangled, but I started thinking about how bland that would be. From the beginning, I wanted his murder to be a) visually grotesque and b) the kind of murder the average human couldn't possibly accomplish. So,at first, I had him shot with a raygun from across the street, but anyone could have done that (well, not anyone, of course, but a human could have pulled it off). And, for reasons that will become important later, his body needed to be intact, more or less.

I liked the idea of Stella finding Mayhem in a state that was so off, so upsetting, that it would set the tone for the kind of off-kilter violence we'd be throwing up later. This is a violent world with a candy coating.

And, for the record, that broken glass effect on that panel really does work - for me, it was Stella's world falling apart, her entire sense of the inherent justice of the world with Matt being in it. All at once, that was yanked from her. So, cheat or not, it worked for me.

Now, for the next two pages, since they're both more or less the same scene, we have some more exposition about Matt's roll in the city and his celebrity status tied into some humorous dialogue from the police. I love that beat you give the coroner at the bottom of page four. LOL.

JOEY: LOL thanks. I'm a huge huge fan of repetition in comics panels. It can be used to create everything from suspense to comedy, its something that my favorite artists use to great effectiveness and I never get tired of. So its one of those tools, like thought balloons that really only work in comics, (unless your David Lynch I guess) that needs to flaunted from time to time. (although I am still glad at the choice of not using thought balloons in this story).

And man, that whole bit with the leprosy and the "Yeah I'm gonna have to ask you to leave..." made the timing on those 3 panels work. That still makes me laugh when I read it.

So if we're counting 4 and 5 as the same pages, we get to the introduction of what really is the other two main characters of the story, Nick and my hands down favorite character to draw Jarvis. I know most of what you were referencing when you made Jarvis, the hardboiled detective, etc, but I don't think you ever said where you got the inspiration for Nick, was it just a straight laced senior cop, or did you have something specific in mind?

Also, I never got around to asking this, I don't know how obvious it is, but I modeled Jarvis after Edward G Robinson/Peter Lorre on a whim, when you originally wrote these guys, what was the picture you had in your head for them?

SEAN: Oh, you nailed both of those guys. Nick is modeled after Robert Stack more or less and I always saw Jarvus as looking shady and a little smarmy. If they ever make an animated feature, I hear Steve Buscemi doing Jarvus' voice. You really just embodied those personalities with those designs. The interplay between those two characters is a hoot to write.

Well, I think that's good for these pages, don't you?


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