Flipping the Switch: Chapter Three

The final sequence of Chapter Three (not counting the one-page epilogue) is one of the most challenging and experimental scenes we have written for DROWSE thus far. The short, 12-15 page chapters have given the story a sleek economy, like classical narrative cinema. Every panel has been purpose-built to further the narrative. If a panel or scene wasn’t working towards that, we chucked it. The closing of Chapter Three, however, in which Caine wanders a neighborhood in the Linden Harbor section of Fairhaven in search of…something his esoteric mapping machine, the Infinity Projector, tells him is there, completely disrupts that model. Looking at it through the principles of the classical narrative model, it’s essentially a four-page waste of space that doesn’t “go” anywhere. Instead, it’s concerned with being somewhere, with mood, and especially with using the built environment to communicate the interior state-of-mind of Paul Caine.

If what we’re describing sounds suspiciously like what filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni was interested in exploring in his early 1960s cinema, you’re spot on. Antonioni – and in particular, the final scene of L’eclisse (1962), which you can see here (beginning at 1:29) – was a huge influence on the way in which we constructed our expression of Caine’s state of mind here. Antonioni’s camera-eye explored landscape and the built environment to express the alienation of everyday life in Late Capitalism. He’s definitely influenced our own preoccupation with using space and place, surface gestures and objects to express interior states-of-mind. Beyond the L’eclisse influence, you might also spot a couple of nods to other Antonioni films, like Red Desert (1964) and La notte (1961).

Constructing this scene was a huge creative challenge. Surely there must be other ways to express feelings in comics other than thought balloons or caption boxes? Can exterior things (buildings, objects, etc.) be used to express interior emotions and at the same time serve a narrative purpose that builds the city’s character? On top of that, can the built environment of the story be represented in such a way that we construct an architecture of the interior? In the final scene of Chapter Three, Caine wanders, lost amid an empty, post-industrial wasteland that is under transformation into something more alienating and eerie, until the concrete and brick buildings of the city itself box him in and weigh down upon him.

In addition to this cognitive mapping of Fairhaven, there’s also geographical mapping at work here, as this brief tour of these spaces of Late Capitalism set the scene for the social unrest that’s about to boil over in Chapter Four…

Flipping the Switch: Chapter Two

We’re back with another look at the creative process behind DROWSE! This month, we’re giving you insight into the collaborative back-and-forth involved in creating comics in a team setting. 

While there are distinct stages to the production of a comic that occur in a specific order (writing, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering, etc.), it’s a bit reductive to think of the creative team as an assembly line. In fact, the comic is a fluid object throughout its production. Every member of the creative team — no matter how late in the process their role occurs — actively brings creative decisions to the table that can spark a re-thinking of earlier ones. The development of page 8 of Chapter Two is a good example of that.

On this page, the speech delivered by Joachim Scholz, leader of the People’s Project, was worked and reworked literally up to the moment we sent the chapter to our letterer, Taylor. Once we saw Jaime’s insanely hypnotic art, we knew we couldn’t obscure it with an overly-verbose speech. It forced us to pare down the speech for maximum impact and re-work which part of it took on the transitional “page turn” function in the last panel. Taylor also collaborated with our editor, Kev, to devise the singular way in which the newspaper quote read by Scholz is presented in panel 1. Compare an early draft of the script to the finished page:

Flipping the Switch: Chapter One

We know, we know. “Where’s Chapter Four?”

Trust us — it’ll be worth the wait (and you’ll soon see why it’s taking a bit longer than usual). In the meantime, we’re here to introduce a semi-regular feature that will offer insight into the creative process behind each chapter of DROWSE. Today, we’re delving into a process sequence — from script to colored and lettered finished page — for page 9, panel two from Chapter One.

Because of the complexity of this two-page scene involving multiple actors in shifting planes of action, you’ll see in our script that we largely left the direction and framing to Jaime and only really described the action occurring in the panel. 

In his initial thumbnail, Jaime’s first instinct was for an overhead shot, which really gave us the scope of the market and the gathered crowd (and, of course, set up the secondary plane of action with Ben in the background). As an initial mapping of the scene, this makes sense.

However, you’ll see that when he reached the pencil stage, Jaime completely re-composed the panel and opted to embed the reader within the assembled crowd. The inking stage really reveals the strength of this new composition. Now the reader sits alongside the utility workers who mock Stoney and Archie, Ben catches our eye in the background, and the canopies form leading lines that direct our eye to Stoney. Not only is this a more engaging presentation of the action in the panel, but the overall composition of the complete page has been strengthened.

Welcome to the world of DROWSE!

Better late than never, right?

It only occurred to us a few days ago that we launched DROWSE without a word from its creative team, so this is more than a little past due. Suffice it to say, we’re thrilled that our story is finally out in the wild and look forward to continuing to create compelling and challenging comics for you.

DROWSE has had a long and convoluted genesis. We initially developed the property as a weekly comic strip for a proposed digital comics website curated by longtime friend Rick Ritter in 2011. The site was intended to build upon the creative success of Rick’s Don’t Look! A Horror Comic Anthology (2010) by giving a more expansive platform to many of its creators, including us. Sadly, the site was scuttled for one reason or another, and we paused the development of our own strip shortly thereafter to pursue other career opportunities. 

Originally, our then-untitled “occult detective” comic was to be presented as a reprint of a weekly strip that ran in a fictional underground newspaper in the 1950s and was stylistically influenced by Terry and the Pirates and Dick Tracy. An element of self-reflexivity was key to the story as initially envisioned. The detective, over time, would grow aware of being trapped in the strip and would figure his way out, thus transforming the comic, formally, into something new.

Foolishly, in 2013, Frank thought he could revive the story while working on his PhD. For fans of Paul’s sidekick Ben Franklin, you’re welcome, as his addition to the mythos (and some story beats you’ll see around Chapter 14) was about all that came out of this attempted revival.

Until finally…

In 2016, looking to collaborate again, our first thought was to revisit our unnamed occult detective. We dusted off our old Word docs and set about revamping the material. Ideas excitedly and effortlessly flew back-and-forth in months of emails and phone calls. In our more sober moments, we lamented how long it took us to get DROWSE off the ground. Still, that lost time may have had its benefits. We returned to the project better writers and more mature collaborators.

In time, we presented a comprehensive story bible and a very-rough first draft to editor Kev Ketner, who later joined the project. Kev brings to DROWSE an impressive resume as a comic book editor for a variety of publishers, supernatural project management skills, and an uncanny ability to know how to provide just enough feedback to nudge his team in the right direction. Kev has a true knack for what works and what doesn’t, and has saved more than a few embarrassing pages from publication (seriously, the dialogue in the opening scene of Chapter 3 went through about six drafts). Oh, and he also designs those killer chapter title pages!

Kev in turn introduced us to our letterer extraordinaire, Taylor Esposito. If you’ve read an American comic book within the last ten years, you’ve probably seen Taylor’s work. In addition to enhancing the visual storytelling and adding personality to the characters’ dialogue, Taylor goes the extra mile and makes unique and innovative creative choices — such as the way in which he presents Scholz quoting the newspaper article during his speech in Chapter 2 — and works closely with Kev to get things just right.

Of course, DROWSE wouldn’t be what it is without the truly out-of-this-world art, design, and worldbuilding of artist Jaime Huxtable. Jaime is an absolute master storyteller. He can take a sequence like the outdoor market scene in Chapter 1 — a challenging and potentially problematic exercise in which he must negotiate action on multiple planes — and make it look uncommonly easy. From the sobering historical tragedy of Chapter 2’s opening scene to the bizarre, Superstudio-meets-The Prisoner pod technology of the People’s Project that follows, Jaime is crafting an artistic voice for DROWSE unlike any other. And we haven’t even talked about his coloring

So…what can you expect from DROWSE?

We’ve plotted out DROWSE into four “seasons,” which will be broken down into arcs of four chapters each. Our goal is to publish individual chapters monthly — or close to it — with short breaks between arcs. To fill the void during those story breaks, expect to see behind-the-scenes content, supplemental material, and a few other surprises posted regularly.

Welcome to DROWSE. Embrace the unconscious mind…

Frank & Nick