Friday, June 27, 2008

My life as a fictional character

A few months ago I talked about my life as a comic book character. Now, I've been given a new fictional identity as the editor of the literary journal, "Left Coast Quarterly." This distinction was bestowed upon me by my good friend, Tim Lehnert in his very funny and (painfully) accurate story about the writer and the submission process. Tim's story is called "The Story" and appears in the most recent issue of the Canadian literary journal Descant. If you liked Nabokov's "Pale Fire," you'll really enjoy "The Story." If you've read "Pale Fire" and didn't think it was one of the finest novels ever written, please don't ever come to this blog again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Available Now

SCOOBY-DOO #133 is available in comic book stores now. It contains a brief installment of my "Velma's Monsters of the World" series about monsters from myth and folklore. This time the monster is the Chilean Calchona.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Return of Captain Cutler's Ghost

I have now been writing the SCOOBY-DOO comic book for just about 10 years and over 100 stories (I think 86 have seen print so far). Issue #135, which goes on sale August 20th, marks the first time I've contributed any art to the series.

I'd long wanted to write a SCOOBY-DOO story that used one of the very familiar episodes of the original tv series and to retell that episode from the villain's perspective, where those meddling kids in Mystery Inc are meddlesome, constantly interupting the villains meals and forcing him to put on his monster costume in an effort to scare them away from the scene of his crime in progress.

When I finally got my chance to write such a story, I sat and watched pretty much all of the first season of Scooby-Doo only to discover that none of the stories really lent themselves very well to my premise. Watching them while mentally working out the logistics of where the villain might be at all times, even when not on screen, made me realize that logistically, almost none of the stories in those episodes was remotely plausible, unless the villains were real high speed quick change artists, and had teleportation powers to boot. The only story that came close to fulfilling my needs was "A Clue For Scooby-Doo" which featured the glowing deep sea diver known as Captain Cutler's Ghost.

I was able to work out a suitable scenario for Captain Cutler that followed the plot of the tv episode while giving Cutler stuff to do when the kids weren't around, but also realized that there wasn't going to be all that much humor in there, when I was hoping for escalating "Fawlty Towers" beleagerment on Cutler's part. Oh well. You can't win them all.

While I was writing the story, I was also taking note of what reference I'd need to provide the artist. I really wanted the art in the comic book, particularly the settings and props, to match what was on the show. For some reason, when I was a kid, it always bugged me when I read a comic book based on a tv cartoon, or movie, and things didn't look the same as they did in the cartoons they were based on, particularly if characters were the wrong color. While this was occuring to me, I also thought that maybe the cover itself should match the look of the tv episode. This isn't to say that I don't like the art that graces the cover of "Scooby-Doo" each month, but since this issue was based on a well known tv episode, I thought the art should have a more painterly look to it that mirrored the look of the animation cells, as opposed to the traditional colored inked pencils. I knew from my own collage work that I could pretty easily match the look of the show using paper cutouts instead of paints, and pitched the idea of doing the cover myself.

Once the idea was accepted, it was time to come up with some rough layouts of cover ideas.

These first two designs followed the tradition of depicting Scooby-Doo and Shaggy being menaced by the monster. The second design, I felt was too all over the place. The first one, I actually like a lot, but no one else did, which is okay, because I really didn't think that either of them fit the perspective shift in the story.

This third cover idea was actually very close to what I wanted, which was to have the villain just going about his business, while the menacing forms of Mystery Inc. lurk outside of his environment--the threat to the villains machinations. The problem? There's nothing very exciting about a big close up of a featureless deep sea diving helmet that can't express itself. If I'd picked pretty much any other villain, this design would have worked fine.

I was on the right track though, and editor Jeanine Schaefer agreed, so I came up with a few other ideas.

Most of these ended up having the same problem in that they felt too soft. We know that Shaggy and Scooby aren't really menacing, and Captain Cutler can't express himself too well, so I finally compromised and came up with the solution of having Cutler and Shaggy and Scooby seperated by a porthole in the side of a sunken ship, and having Cutler posed as if trying to keep out of sight (while still watching Shaggy and Scooby), but posed in a way that also suggested menace. I also decided to give Scooby an alarmed expression as he finds himself looking into Cutler's mask.

The final image was too big to fit on my scanner, which is why this image looks a bit soft and the colors aren't true, but it does show the line work I used on Cutler to suggest his glow.

This scan is truer to the final look of the piece, though the two different yellows on Cutler have bled together a bit. The color schemes and character expressions were modeled very closely on the tv episode, and I think the result does in fact have a painterly quality to it, as if this was taken from the animation cells, or at least a hypothetical Little Golden Book adaptation of this episode.

I did forget to take one factor into account when I made this cover; licensing needs. Even though I could pull up screen grabs that exactly match the way Scooby and Shaggy look in my collage, it was determined that their likenesses weren't quite right, and so their faces were changed and no longer quite match the rest of the artwork, which is my one real gripe about this being done, even though I think Scooby appears too calm now.

This sort of model sheet matching is something that happens pretty regularly. I remember either Charlie Adlard orGordon Purcell telling me about an issue of "The X-Files" comic book that involved Mulder and Scully wearing, I think, Hazmat suits, but that all of the shadows that would have naturally fallen on the characters' faces under such conditions needed to be removed so that the reader could tell that it was Mulder and Scully in those suits. It looked really odd, especially since none of the other characters needed to have the shadows removed from their features.

The finished cover also had some colors changed (which I like, even though Scooby-Doo's wetsuit no longer matches the one he wore on the show) and a glow effect added to Captain Cutler's Ghost, which I also like.