Caption: (Lettering note—our speaker is Eli Sands, our titular, and as yet unidentified "Danger Boy"): "When you're a time traveler, you don't live your life from beginning to end, like everyone else"
Art: Close on a baby, nestled in a pair of arms. Hints on the edges the frame—bits of clothing, glimpsed background—should give the barest suggestion of our current setting: Alexandria, Egypt, in the year 365
Of course, the fifth book hasn't been released yet, as my nervous publisher cites market conditions, scaling back on titles, wherever possible, as opposed to personnel (which, I guess, is a kind of strategy for helping your employees make it through, but how long can a publisher keep whittling away at its own inventory, its "merchandise," as it were?).
I was hoping to have triumphant comic news for this column, as contracts were being reviewed by self and agent and enthusiastic indie comic book company. Agent and self asked a couple questions, tweaked the contract just so, and I sent some sample pages of the script -- I'd been working ahead of the deal closing, and was excited to be writing comics again -- to the publisher, while waiting for the last of the green lights.
All the green turned red.
It wasn't my script, or "Danger Boy" in particular, but rather -- and this after a couple months of optimistic talk on indie publisher's part -- a sudden precipitous slump in said publisher's sales. Their YA -- "Young Adult" (i.e., aimed-at-teens) -- titles in particular.
They'd been doing well with some biographical projects, it turned out, but the figures were back from the comic shops, and it appeared they'd have to be canceling some existing titles, while refiguring their business strategies.
Caption: "Time doesn't move in only one direction"
Art: Wider—and now we see an older male face, bearded, Alexandrian—in frame with the baby, looking at her: Two bookends of life
It's hard out here for a pub. Especially if you're not Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse -- someone with an established pipeline to film production, for all that good syntax that comes with titles appearing both on theater marquees and comics shelves. Of course, whether the "single issue comics shop" model can continue to thrive in the era of the graphic novel is an open question.
Again, name brand comics will sell single issues for awhile, but for indies, the future may be in bookstores. In fact, this same indie publisher, rather than having me go straight to a "Danger Boy" graphic novel, wanted me to do three or four short "stand alone" 22 page issues -- stand alones, he told me, sell better than new series in comics shops -- and if all went well, those would be bundled into something graphic novel-y, and vended to bookstores.
Caption: "You do things that make no sense to anyone else—like rescuing your own mom, before you were born"
Art: Wider still, and now we see the arms holding the baby belong to THEA, age 15—daughter of Alexandria's last librarian: Dark hair falls around her shoulders; her eyes are fiercely deep and alive. Standing next to her, we see more of the man—THEON, tunic'd and robed, gray in his hair and beard. He's just been through some kind of calamity, and we see more of the evidence around and behind them: the great city of Alexandria—mostly in ruins.
We're in that brief period of time between the great quake of 365 C.E., and the massive wave that followed. There are smashed pillars, a cacophony of tumbled walls from the Library and Museum, and scattered statues of the gods in the boulevards. Featured prominently should be the severed stone head of Serapis, the snake god—we will be coming back to this image.
We also see the Harbor, in the distance. Oddly, it looks like a massive drained pool—with stranded fish and debris left in its wake.
In the b.g., near Thea and Theon is a young man—around 14—who appears to be an American—all blue jeans and T-shirts—though we can't quite tell yet...
Theon speaks to the girl:
You're telling me, child, that you are my granddaughter,
and this baby—my baby—will grow to be your mother?
Then came the sales figures on those other titles, and here we are, script started, yet now wandering, Diogenes-like, looking for --if not an honest man -- a new publishing perch.
On other fronts, the prose books have been recently optioned for film and/or TV translation. And while an option is a far cry from "opening at your theaters next Friday," or "new episodes Thursdays at 8," it's still a tangible first step, and one that might make an indie publisher -- one might think -- want to hang on for the long haul.
But you can't get to the long haul if the short haul falls totally apart, and one wonders what kinds of business models indie pubs are using to stay afloat at all. Well, cutting costs is one: I know that the putative DB comics deal involved little up front money, and much more on a theoretical back end, so the risk was spread around.
As for me, working on the comic, and a new (non-Danger Boy) prose project at the same time, made me realize how much comics-narrative informs my other written work. In the book I've started -- about L.A. under, shall we say, rather apocalyptic circumstances (are there any other?), I recently finished a scene where I intercut one character's inner monologue over the dialogue of two others.
In other words, the paragraphs alternated, though in a comic script, the inner monologue would be the "source" narration in the panels, commenting on the images and conversation within it.
A kind of layering that comics excel at, and which makes storytelling in that medium so much fun for the storyteller.
And perhaps that is lesson of our current hard economic times: The idea of "fun" must increasingly be decoupled from the idea of "money."
Though if storytellers are to return to the wandering bard template, and sing for their suppers, that may still leave various comics projects unfinished.