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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
"Danger Boy"
"Doug Potter"
Wolverine: Prodigal Son
Swallow Me Whole
Nate Powell
The Raven and Other Poems
Annabel Lee
Gahan Wilson
Comic Book News (sales figures n' such)
Recent Books of Interest

Wolverine #1: Prodigal Son by Antony Johnston (script and Wilson Tortosa (art) Del Rey Wolverine #1: Prodigal Son
For Wolverine fans who can't wait for the movie, or want more after watching that illegal bit-torrent version, or who just want to keep reading and be surprised, Del Ray offers this Manga-style reboot of the Logan mythos. Or, if not a re-boot -- à la the new Star Trek film, say -- then a parallel Wolverine-ish universe, freely acknowledged in the intro as existing separate from, and entirely alongside, whatever "X" continuity may be unfolding in the comics, or on screen. Here, in digest-size B&W panels, we find Logan still a man without a past, or rather, a teen without a past, a foundling growing up in a wilderness-surrounded dojo, the best fighter of the bunch, mainly because he can be reckless -- he heals from any wound. As you already know. His claws, however -- he's discouraged from disembowling fellow students -- are still bone. Nary a trace of adamantium in sight, nor any Professors with surnames starting in "X," this is Logan as a teen rebel with an unfolding cause, after an -- inevitable? -- encounter with ninja-like mercenaries later. What do they want? Why are they after him? Subsequent issues will hold new answers. Meanwhile, if you don't ask too much of it in the "weighty" dept., this is a pretty nimble read.

Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell (Top Shelf) Swallow Me Whole
Absolutely intriguing, and I'm still sifting through my thoughts and feelings about it after a single read-through before deadline time. By way of "plot" synopsis, Top Shelf's own copy serves as well as anything I could conjure here: "Two stepsiblings hold together amidst schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, family breakdown, animal telepathy, misguided love, and the tiniest hope that everything will someday make sense." And that's just the thing -- it doesn't make "sense." Not in the usual three-act conflict/resolution/catharsis storytelling kinda way. Nor, I think, is it supposed to, since Powell is trying to convey the experience of schizophrenia from the inside out, drawn -- so to speak -- from his own 10 year stint of working with adults with developmental disabilities. He excels at the use of negative space to convey emotions -- mostly engulfing, panicky ones -- and one is left, at the end of the book, with a kind of wistful sadness, and the thought that you'd better read it again -- though hopefully, not in the obsessive-compulsive manner of the book's protagonists. Currently nominated for an LA Times Book Award in the Young Adult Literature category -- where Powell finds himself the only graphic novel, up against the likes of prose-slingers like Neil Gaiman, Oscar Hijuelos, and Terry Pratchett.

Classics Illustrated #4: The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (verse) and Gahan Wilson (art) (Papercutz) Classics Illustrated #4: The Raven and Other Poems
The Papercutz group now has the old "Classics Illustrated" moniker, and they've been releasing graphic novelized book adaptations, like The Wind in the Willows, Great Expectations (!), and more. To mark the 200th anniversary of a certain E.A. Poe's birth, they've released this handy dandy volume of Poe's verse, illustrated by the marvelous Wilson, whose oeuvre and aesthetic (thus I use big reviewer words) would seem to be perfect for the task. And, in fact, is. It's not really a "graphic novel" though, no matter what the jacket copy says. But it's a terrific compendium of the familiar (that title poem, one of my own favorites, "Annabel Lee," "The Conqueror Worm,") and the less so ("Lines on Ale"). It's a great Poe volume -- the themes of unbearable loss and creeping pestilence are all here, so put it on your Halloween shopping list now.

Adaptation Blues

Page 1

Panel 1

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

Danger Boy - Ancient Fire
Danger Boy - Ancient Fire
That script is from an adaptation I was working on for a proposed Danger Boy comic, a kind of sequel to the print series, picking up several months after the fifth book ends.

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.

Panel 2

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.
comic shop
comic sales figures

Panel 3

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.

Danger Boy - A Barnstormer's Tale 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.

Copyright © 2009 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, and perhaps, economy willing, additional comic tales set in the same story world. He also works as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics,for the Hollywood trade paper Below the Line. Despite a certain ambivalence, he recently signed on to Twitter.

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