Monday, 31 October 2016

Deconstructing the Comic

A few months ago I was working on a jigsaw puzzle.  It was a real humdinger of a puzzle (one gets to use words like 'humdinger' when referencing jigsaws).  The image was of St Paul's Cathedral in London--a grey building against a greying sky on a stone street.   It was February in Vancouver and raining and so the whole ode to the colour grey seemed rather fitting, but it didn't make the puzzle any easier to complete.  As my friend and I chatted and chipped away at it over Old Fashioneds and a charcuterie plate, we found ourselves seemingly at a dead end despite the fact that approximately a third of the puzzle remained in pieces.  The trouble--we discovered-- was that multiple pieces fit snuggly in numerous places (and the colour scheme seemed to suit as well) and sooner or later we found ourselves at an unworkable impasse where none of the remaining pieces seemed to have a place.  

There was nothing to be done but pull apart our finished work and try again.   How depressing.  How discouraging.  If it weren't for the Old Fashioneds and a can-do attitude we might simply have tossed the whole thing in the trash and moved on with our lives.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective on jigsaw puzzles) we took apart the sky and started again.  We didn't know where our mistakes were and so we had to be sure to go back far enough to remove the roots of our errors, not merely the most recent ones.  

Poor Holger Danske has languished for a good long while.  One could say he's even been slumbering as is his wont.  A couple of months ago I stumbled across a comic industry graphic novel grant and suggested to Cody that perhaps we should shake the dust from our Sleeping Viking and try again.  The whole project needed overhauling, though, in order to fit the guidelines and so recently I began what I thought would be a matter of condensing our miniseries into a graphic novel format.  Our version clocked in at 248 pages total, while the grant was requiring graphic novels between 64-100 pages.  As I hacked and slashed with abandon to our manuscript, I realized that it was like the grey puzzle all over again.  The pieces fit where we had placed them; they even matched the surrounding colour scheme, but they weren't in the right places.  

There is nothing like a whole lot of time and distance to make you unsentimental about your narrative choices.  The false trails and dead ends were a lot easier to see once I was willing to take the whole thing apart and start again looking at the individual characters and plot points; ready to jettison anything and everything that didn't serve the plot.  And, it turns out, a lot needed to go so that better ideas could take their places.

What was amazing with the jigsaw has been true of the comic as well.  Deconstructing the many hours of work that had already been completed was daunting and felt incredibly wasteful, but the rebuilding came together with greater alacrity than I could have dreamed.  The grey sky that had taken hours to go nowhere suddenly snapped into place without difficulty.  When I have edited the series previously, I had been reticent to make changes to the parts that Cody had already completed the art.  I have no such qualms these days.  The rewrite is always stronger than the first draft.  I assume the same principle holds true across mediums; not to mention the fact that he always wants to redraw everything anyway.

(Remember these guys?  No? Yeah.  Me neither.)

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