Hear me, O my rapturous children, and I will tell you the saga of page thirty-eight.
By which I mean: the lettered page proofs for my forthcoming graphic novel The Executor arrived last week. They’ve been a long time coming. I first started talking to Vertigo Comics about writing something for them in 2004, and finished the script in 2007. Worth the wait, though. Absolutely gorgeous art by Andrea Mutti. Another year yet before it hits bookstore shelves, as part of the new Vertigo Crime line; but in the interim, here’s a backstage tour of how and where the magic happens. Buckle up, keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times … and whatever may occur, please do not feed the artists.
There’s no fixed format for comics scriptwriting, nor for how much of their art is dictated by the writer and how much the artist improvises around the rhythm section of the script. It’s still a relatively young medium, feeling its way; a lot of the best work is indie or small-press, and even the majors like Vertigo are open-minded and adventurous.
The medium’s reigning genius, Alan Moore, writes panel-by-panel descriptions so incredibly detailed that if he weren’t a genius you would call him a monomaniacal madman. My own script, by comparison, is so laconic that I feel the need to defensively stress that many of its other pages have rather more in the way of scene-setting and authorial directions. (Also, I mostly write prose novels, so I worried when I started this project that my natural tendencies might be logorrheic. I may possibly have overcompensated.)
Once the words were all arrayed in neat little rows, my editor Will Dennis sent me samples from half-a-dozen artists. One seemed to stand so far above the others – head, shoulders, torso, thighs – that I assumed the choice was rigged. (Later I learned that this was not the case.) So Andrea, who lives in Milan, got the script translated; I drove around upstate New York and Akwesasne, where the story takes place, and took hundreds of pictures of the terrain for him; and he got to work.
He’d send me sketches, I’d warn him when I didn’t think they fit the story, and Will served as judge. Collaboration is hard at the best of times, and doubly so across time zones and oceans. People can get pretty possessive about the stories they tell, and how. But one of the main things that distinguishes professional writers and artists from amateurs is how willing they are to set their own ego aside for the sake of the work. Fortunately, we were all professionals, and such headbutting was nearly nonexistent.
Andrea worked so fast that Will and I began to theorize that Andrea had a whole team of illegal Moldovans locked in his basement, mainlining speed, and drawing and inking 25/7. Once the sketches were approved, he emailed black-and-white TIF files at all hours -
- and then grayscale JPGs of the final inked product.
Finally, Vertigo had the dialogue lettered onto the page by the estimable Clem Robins. Lettering is mostly done by software these days, but I like to think it still has that homemade-apple-pie feel.
(Note, however, that this page was photocopied rather than printed, and then photographed by yours truly; the final version will look a whole lot better.)
Et voilà: from page to page.
It’s always a strange kind of fun to receive a physical copy of a book I wrote, to hold and weigh my words transmuted into a thing. Stranger yet, and somehow more visceral, to see them intermingled with this kind of chiaroscuro art. I’m sure it will be even odder to see it bound and stacked on shelves.
June 2010, in case you were curious. I for one can’t hardly wait.