January 18, 2010

THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

One of the criticisms against 10 Beautiful Assassins that have been – at least partially – legitimate is that during some of the action sequences, you sometimes have no idea where the hell this all is taking place. I know at least one reviewer who has somewhat miffed about it, and I can understand that, if only a little here and there.

When I began writing the story, I made it clear that locations needed to have their own personality, that where this is all taking place is just as important as what, or as I told the publisher right from the get-go, "one of the major things about why European albums are often so much better than what is produced in America (and often, Japan) ... is that the artists and writers know where their stories take place." One of my favourite examples of that is an album by Roger Leloup of the Yoko Tsuno series. One I noticed immediately when I was a child, since a majority of the plot takes place in the city of Wuppertal, which is just about 10 miles away from where I've grown up. And each panel, each moment was a pitch-perfect rendition of the city, so much so that you could use that book and go through the city with the album as your guide.

And so I said to everyone involved, since 10 Beautiful Assassins is essentially a road movie (a crazy one, but still...) I want us to do all the locations as close to reality as they can possibly be... and show them off. A good thing was that all of the locations I planned to use were locations I knew personally.

(Yes. Yes. I have been to Cannes. I have been to the Film Festival. Big whoop-de-doo!)

And that meant that even despite the fact that Elmer had never been to any of those places, I could find him the right spots in Cannes, in Monaco, in Paris, I could provide him with big folders of photo material that would allow him to at least understand a little bit of what the hell I was talking about.

If you look at the first couple of pages, the ones in Cannes, you can see what I was aiming for, and they are without a doubt some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. They gave you a sense of place.


The rough work in progress of the first double spread of 10 Beautiful Assassins...


... and the finished and pre-lettered version of the same page.

...or, as described on the very first page of the script (accompanied by a lot of photo references)...

EXT/CANNES/EVENING

We OPEN UP with a SERIES of LOCATION SHOTS, almost done like a MONTAGE in a movie. All are designed to show CANNES at its most GLAMOURFUL during the FILM FESTIVAL.

It’s LATE EVENING in all of them, a WARM SUMMER’S NIGHT with the SUN JUST SETTING BEHIND THE HILLS that has FILM STARS, WANNABES, JOURNALISTS and GAWKERS all up and down the CROISETTE.
 

BETWEEN those IMAGES, we have ONE BLACK TITLE CARD PANEL, the way you’ve seen in the preface of Darwyn Cooke’s Selina’s Big Score.

IN WHITE LETTERING on it, we have:

CANNES

Also during this OPENING BARRAGE of IMAGERY, we have BERNIE BLACK’S thoughts as CAPTIONS, going with the flow…

CAPTION (BERNIE)
This would be so much harder in Beverly Hills… 



CAPTION (BERNIE)
… where everybody knows everybody…

CAPTION (BERNIE)
    … and the rich and famous are protected by walls…

CAPTION (BERNIE)
… and security systems…

CAPTION (BERNIE)
…and body guards…

CAPTION (BERNIE)
… but not…

Later on, these things went completely by the wayside. You can see it as the book progresses. Now, I am not going to blame Elmer for that. He was in serious need to push out pages after pages after pages, and the European style of taking good care of each panel, that went out of the window... because both him and I were under serious deadline pressure, and with a publisher who had absolutely no regard for quality, who, let me repeat that... had not even a simple understanding of the notion that places are characters in a story.

Yes, he's that kind of a retard.

I noticed the lack of backgrounds, quite naturally (me not being a retard) as we progressed, and I did continue to give Elmer as many photographic references as I could find, sometimes even more than that.

One of the things that worried me was the big F1 car chase in Monaco. Now, Elmer had done a beautiful establishing shot of the city, but I felt that – since the majority of the potential readership had never ever seen the place (outside of movies, and even there, I'd be hard-pressed to give you an example as to where somebody used the F1 race as a background for an action sequence) – we needed to show the race circuit itself.

Especially since in the script there was a joke that "we are going in circles" followed by "Of course we are. This is a race circuit". Now, how to do that, I wondered.

And I had my script accompanied by the following potential layout...



In other words, I would give the audience a chance to see the race circuit, with the appropriate panels (and the joke, the joke was very important) as overlays to a bird point of view of the entire city, with the race circuit highlighted.

Now, that would have been a shitload of work, so Elmer decided to go with my usual foreword of "if you have a better idea, do that and disregard what I am telling you"... and probably thought, I am getting paid next to nothing for this, and I am tired, and that crazy fucked up German wants me to do what?

And so, what the readers see is this...



... which is kind of okay in and of itself, but at the cost of the joke, which is on the right-hand side... and since you never ever got the feeling that you were indeed on a city race circuit, you only get Crystal telling Bernie that... the scene and especially the dialogue in it are as weak as anything that Mr. Close-Up Marc Forster did in Quantum of Solace (I wrote that scene way before that Bond movie, thank you very much, shut up). There is an inherent danger in close-ups, and one that more and more writers, artists and directors don't even recognise. If you have a story that takes place in a location your reader/audience is not at all familiar with, you need to not only establish the location, you need to let it breathe.

With that in mind (and since I am insomniac right now), I used those five panels and quickly (without any artistic pretense) plugged them into the original layout proposal.

And yes, I do believe that this version would have worked better.