Thursday, December 18, 2014

CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE AGAIN

On television they’re trotting out Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch, It's a Wonderful Life and seemingly-infinite variations on A Christmas Carol.  Here at Creation Point we have our own Yuletide tradition, a short Christmas tale of mine called The Truth About Santa Claus:  offered annually as a kind of cyber Christmas present.  My way of wishing all of you who visit this site the happiest of holidays and the most magical of Christmases.  I offer it again this year—along with a trio of wonderful illustrations by my friend and collaborator Vassilis Gogtzilas.  So grab a plate of Christmas cookies, pull a chair up close to the fireplace and enjoy.

THE TRUTH ABOUT
SANTA CLAUS

“THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!”

He’d been thinking about it for days—ever since he heard Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo announce it on the school bus—and he didn’t believe a word of it, not one word.  (Well, maybe ONE.)  But Cody had to be sure, absolutely, positively sure—

—and that’s why he was hiding behind the couch at midnight on Christmas Eve.



His mother was there, asleep in his dad’s old easy chair, the reds and blues of the Christmas tree lights making her look peaceful and happy and impossibly young.

The tree, by the way, had not ONE SINGLE PRESENT underneath it.

That didn’t make sense.  If there WAS no Santa Claus, if his mother was the one who bought the presents, wrapped the presents, stacked them under the tree, then how come she hadn’t done it?  How come she wasn’t awake RIGHT NOW arranging them all?

He got scared.  Maybe there wasn’t going to BE a Christmas this year.  Maybe Mom had lost her job and they didn’t have any money and so she COULDN’T buy him any presents and—

And then Cody glanced over at the windows and noticed that it was snowing.

Or was it?

If that was snow, it was the WHITEST snow he’d ever seen.  It was snow as bright as moonbeams, as bright as sunlight, as bright as...

Stardust.

Quickly, but quietly (he didn’t want to wake his mother), he scurried to the window and looked out.

It was coming down and coming down and COMING DOWN all across town, whirling and whipping, spinning and gyrating, out of the night sky.  Glowing so brightly that it almost hurt his eyes to look at it.  And Cody saw that it certainly wasn’t snow, and it absolutely wasn’t rain, it wasn’t ANYTHING he’d ever seen before.  But each drop, no...each flake, no... each BALL of glowing WHATEVER IT WAS, seemed to pulse and spin, soar and vibrate, as if it were alive.

And the stuff, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS (and he knew now that it was magic.  He just KNEW), wasn’t collecting on the streets, wasn’t piling up on the rooftops.  It was MELTING INTO (that’s the only way he could put it:  MELTING INTO) every house (no matter how small) and apartment building (no matter how big).




EVERY house and apartment building.

EVERY.

He looked up.

And there it was:  coming RIGHT THROUGH THE CEILING of Apartment 3F, HIS apartment, swirling, like a tornado of light, around the chandelier and then down, down, down—

—STRAIGHT FOR HIS MOTHER.

At first he almost yelled out a warning, “Mom!  Wake up!  MOM!”  But something made him stop.

Instead of yelling he ducked back behind the couch and watched, eyes peering over the top.

Watched as the light-tornado wheeled around his mother, so fast, so bright, that he could hardly even SEE her.  But he COULD see her.  Most of her, anyway.

And what he SAW...

The light poured in through the top of her head, through her eyes, through her chest, through her toes.  It lifted her up—still sleeping!—and carried her out of her chair and across the room.  And as she floated—

—she started to change:

Her hair became white, her nose became red, her belly ballooned like the most pregnant woman in the history of the world.  Her feet grew boots, her head grew a hat, her nightgown grew fur.  An overstuffed sack sprouted, like a lumpy angel’s wing, from her shoulder.  And then—

AndthenandthenandTHEN, it wasn’t his mother there at all, it was him, it was SANTA CLAUS!  STANDING RIGHT THERE IN CODY’S LIVING ROOM!  Santa Claus who, with a laugh (exactly like the laugh Cody always knew he had, only better) and a twinkle in his eyes (exactly like the twinkle he’d always imagined, ONLY BETTER) reached into his sack and pulled out package after package, present after present, and placed them, carefully, like some  Great Artist contemplating his masterpiece, under the tree.

When he was done, Santa Claus stood there, grinning and shaking his head, as if he couldn’t BELIEVE what a beautiful tree this was, how wonderful the presents looked beneath it.  As if this moment was the greatest moment in the history of Christmas, as if this apartment was the only place in all the universes that such a Christmas could ever POSSIBLY happen.

And then the MOST amazing thing happened:

Santa Claus turned.

He turned slowly.  So slowly Cody couldn’t even tell at first that he was moving at all.  And—slowly, SLOWLY—those twinkling eyes, that Smile of smiles, fixed itself on the two boy-eyes peering, in wonder, over the top of the couch.


And what Cody felt then he could never really say:  only that it was better than any present anyone could ever get.  Only that it made his heart so warm it melted like magical WHATEVER IT WAS, trickling down through his whole body.  Only that it made him want to reach out his arms and hug Santa Claus, hug his mother, hug his father (and FORGIVE him too, for running out on them) and his aunts and uncles and cousins (even his Cousin Erskine who was SUCH a pain) and Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo (who really wasn’t so bad most of the time) and all his  friends and teachers and the kid in his karate class who always smelled SO BAD and, embarrassing as it sounds, it made him want to hug everyone and everything in the whole world including rabbits and snakes and trees and lizards and grass and lions and mountains and, yes, the EARTH HERSELF.

Cody wanted to hold that gaze, to keep his eyes locked on Santa’s, forever. (Or longer, if he could.)  Wanted to swim in that incredible feeling, drown in it, till GOD HIMSELF came down to say:  “Enough!”

Except that he blinked.  Just once.  But in that wink of an eye, Santa was gone.  Cody’s mother was asleep in the chair again and, for one terrible moment, the boy thought that the whole thing must have been a dream.

Except, under the tree:  THERE WERE THE PRESENTS.

Except, out the window:  THERE WAS THE SNOW, the rain, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS, shooting up, like a blizzard in reverse, from every house, every apartment building.  Shooting up into the heavens, gathering together like a fireball, like a white-hot comet—

—and fading away into the night:  going, going...

Gone.

Without so much as a tinkling sleigh-bell or a “Ho-ho-ho.”

Not that it mattered.

Cody looked at his mom.

Cody kissed her.

“I love you,” he said.  And he was crying.  Happy tears.  Christmas tears.  Like moonbeams, like sunlight.  Like stardust.

Mom stirred in the chair, smiled the softest sweetest smile Cody had ever seen. “I love you, too,” she said.

And then she drifted back to sleep.

Cody sat at her feet, warming himself, warming his SOUL, by the lights of the tree.

And soon, he, too, was drifting off to sleep.  And as he drifted, a wonderful thought rose up, like a balloon, inside him.  Rose, then POPPED—spreading the thought to every corner of his mind.  Giving him great comfort.  Great delight:

“One day,” the thought whispered, “when you’re all grown-up, when you have children of your own.  ONE DAY,” the thought went on...

“It will be YOUR TURN.”

Merry Christmas.

Story ©copyright 2014 J.M. DeMatteis
Art ©copyright 2014 Vassilis Gogtzilas

Monday, December 15, 2014

PLOTTING IN THE DARK

In the previous post, we broke down an issue of Justice League 3000 and featured Keith Giffen's unique way of plotting (essentially drawing an entire mini-comic).  I thought it would be fun to see what a (somewhat) normal comic book plot looks like, so here's the first half of my plot for Justice League Dark #36.  Read it through, then look at the actual story to see how our wonderful artist, Andres Guinaldo, interpreted my plot.  You'll also get a sense of what it's like scripting from your own outline: dropping certain elements, adding others, discovering new wrinkles you didn't realize were there.  The heavy lifting is in the plotting, for sure, but scripting can be a real revelation and help you find the heart and soul of the story you thought you understood.  Enjoy!  (And let's not forget that Justice League Dark is ©copyright 2014 DC Comics.)



Justice League Dark #36:
The Amber of the Moment, Part Two:  
Long After Tomorrow
(22 pages)


Page One
Tier One:
Half pager.  A reverse angle of the last shot  in our previous issue:  “Camera” is behind Nightmare Nurse, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing and Andrew Bennett (all of them weak, weary, wasted) as they stand at the literal edge of the world:  it’s as if a giant hand came and snapped the edge of the planet away.  And beyond it?  Infinite blackness.  Asa realizes that the vortex that opened when the House of Wonders exploded (in the JLD Annual), has carried them to the very end of time.  The chunk of rock they’re standing on—let’s call it Nowhere Land (for our own reference, not for the story)—is all that’s left in all the universe.  And that chunk, Nurse senses, is being eaten away by Non-Time:  bit by bit by bit.  Soon it...and they...will be gone.

Tier Two:
Close four-shot of Nurse, Frank, Swampy and Bennett:  stunned, confused...and, yes, afraid.  How the hell did this happen? they wonder.  How did they get here?  And where are Zatanna and the others?

Long shot—as they turn away from the edge and walk across this bizarre, barren landscape.  As we said last month: “...black, blasted rock as far as the eye can see.  Not a hint of foliage anywhere.  Mountains rise, sharp and jagged, like a shattered sword.  The sky above is pitch black:  no moon, no stars, not a hint of light.  The only illumination comes from cracks and gauges in the earth, spitting up a hellish light that casts shadows—they seem to be alive, creeping and slithering with will and determination—across the world.”  Bennett notes that this world...if they can even call it a world...has a rudimentary atmosphere.  There’s (barely) breathable air here.  And it’s bitterly cold—even for an undead vampire.  Nurse senses that the atmosphere isn’t natural...that it’s been magically created.  “By who?” Frank asks.

Very close on...something hidden in the shadows, watching Nurse and the others.  We can’t see anything except for two inhuman eyes, gleaming with madness, staring out.  (This, we’ll shortly learn, is the mutated Felix Faust—as seen on our wonderfully creepy cover.)

Page Two
Tier One:
Closer on Nurse, Frank, Swampy and Bennett—as Swamp Thing suddenly weaves on his feet, staggers...

Closer still:  ...and falls.  The others whirl, concerned.

Two-shot of Swamp Thing and the Nurse—as Asa kneels beside Holland—who’s suddenly shriveling, growing thinner, his plant-flesh growing harder, crustier:  it’s as if the very life force is being drained from him.

Tier Two:
Close on Swamp Thing—even more shriveled.  His face sunken, his expression one of confusion and pain.  He looks like the plant equivalent of a cancer patient, days away from death.  “The Green,” Swampy gasps.  “I can’t feel the Green...”  And the reason for that is, on this world, there is no green.  (Well, for the most part:  there’s a twist coming later.)

Another angle—as Nurse calls up the Rod of Asclepius (see reference):  Asa holds the glowing rod in one hand while, with the other, she feeds Swampy healing magic that will keep him alive...but only for a time.

Looking up at Bennett, from Swamp Thing’s perspective—the vampire not just concerned about Holland, but about himself.  He needs blood to survive and, even though he’s fine now, the time will come when he’ll have to feed.  And what then?  There’s nothing to feed on here...except the other three.  And even if he’d consider feeding on them...they’re not alive, not human, in the conventional sense.

Page Three
Tier One:
Wider—as Frankenstein helps Swamp Thing to his feet (the Rod of Asclepius is gone now)...  

Another angle:  ...and the four of them walk on across this inhospitable landscape.

Tier Two:
Long shot of Nowhere Land hanging in the blackness of space (it’s about the size of Manhattan island):  one sliver of land in an absolutely dead cosmos.  The Heavens black as pitch, not a hint of life, of light, to be seen.  Time Itself, Nurse says (in caption), is closing in on this barren piece of rock, eating away at it.  “But to call it Time is a mistake.  It’s more...the absence of time.  Non-Time.”

Tier Three:
Back with our JLD-ers—as wings sprout from Andrew Bennett’s back (there’s a specific look for this so let’s get reference for Andres) and he tells the others that he’ll fly ahead, scout the area.  Perhaps there are other places on this god-forsaken rock that are more hospitable.  

Angle from behind the group—as Bennett flies off...and our shadowed figure (all we see here is the silhouette of Faust’s head) watches them from the foreground

Closer on Swampy, Nurse (backs still to “camera”) and Frankenstein—who whirls to face “camera,” hearing something skittering up behind them.  Frank’s expression makes it clear that, whatever he was expecting to see...it wasn’t this.  

Page Four
Full page splash.  Pull wide—as dozens of rat-sized creatures (Andres:  these creatures should look exactly like the Faust creature on our wonderfully creepy cover...but significantly smaller.  Faust himself will be along shortly) come swarming out of the shadows, skittering toward—and onto—our JLD threesome, overwhelming them: knocking them to the ground—those intestinal tentacles wrapping around Nurse, Frank and Swampy. 

                                                              Page Five
Tier One:
Angle on Frankenstein—as he uses his sword to hack away at the creatures.

Angle on Nurse—blasting some of the creatures away with a spell.

Tier Two:
Angle on Swampy—too weak to defend himself as—wrapped from head to toe in slimy tentacles...

Another behind Swamp Thing:  ...he’s dragged off...struggling vainly...across the hellish landscape, into the shadows.

Tier Three:
Angle on Nurse and Frank—as, free of the creatures, they race after Swampy.  Ahead of them we glimpse...something moving in the shadows.

Looking down at Nurse and Frank—as they, in turn, look up in amazement at the (off-panel) thing that’s emerged from the shadows.

Page Six
Tier One:
Half pager—revealing the full-sized Mutated Felix Faust (as he is on the cover) emerging from the shadows (hanging, suspended, from his web-like tentacles which are attached to an outcropping of rock):  Swamp Thing’s body is half in/half out of Mutated Faust’s body, caught in that disgusting web of intestines.  The Mini-Fausts are crawling all over their “father’s” body, scrambling back inside him.  (Yes, I know it’s disgusting.)

Tier Two:
Angle behind Nightmare Nurse as—Frankenstein yelling for her to stop—she runs toward Mutated Faust...

...and leaps into that mass of intestines...

...getting gobbled up alongside Swamp Thing.

Page Seven
Tier One:
Another angle—as an enraged Frankenstein takes a run at the monster (Faust grinning like a loon, eyes ablaze with triumph and lunacy), as...

Wider:  ...from another direction, a swarm of bats appears (it’s Bennett—who became aware that his partners were in trouble.  And let’s get reference for this transformation for Andres)...

Tier Two:
...attacking Faust (while Frank hacks away at him with his sword).   But it’s not doing any good...

...because Faust sprays a geyser of steaming poison from his mouth, directly in Frankenstein’s face:  the monster, his flesh burning, screams and falls back...

...after which Faust whirls, turning his attention to the bats, spraying more of the poison at them.  In response, the bats catch fire...

Tier Three:
...and the entire swarm falls, in flames, to the ground...

...becoming the collapsed figure of Andrew Bennett:  his body steaming, his flesh seared and scarred.

(Important to note that Faust isn’t just a monster, he’s a magician—and this mutated body is composed of magic.  Each tentacle is, in its way, a spell; that noxious spray he spews isn’t just physically painful, it’s composed of dark magic.  So he’s attacking on both a physical and metaphysical level.)

Page Eight
Tier One:
Wider—as Faust rears up over the fallen Frank and Bennett (Nurse and Swampy have, apparently been digested) ready to move in for the kill.  But...

Closer on Faust.  ...he stops suddenly, his expression changing to one of confusion...

Closer still.  ...and then absolute horror.

Tier Two:
Pull wide—as the Faust-thing explodes (having been blasted from within by one of Asa’s spells):  guts and gore spattering in all directions...Nightmare Nurse, holding Swamp Thing, expelled from the creature, tumbling directly toward “camera.” (Did I mention that this was disgusting?)

Page Nine
Tier One:
Angle on the four gore-covered, aching and weary, JLD-ers slowly getting to their feet.  But before they do...

...they begin gasping for breath.  Not just for breath:  they’re suddenly overcome with the sense that their very beings are being drained, bled out.  It’s hard to concentrate.   It’s as if their minds are dissolving into stardust and soon they’ll be swept away, into the infinite darkness beyond.  The atmosphere, they realize, is starting to collapse.  Their protection against the ravenous Non-Time will be gone in a few minutes and they’ll be devoured.

Closer—as Nurse turns to see Felix Faust’s head, severed from his worm-thing body, looking up at her:  weak, desperate, he informs the Nurse that he’s the one who created this protective bubble in the first place.  She has to help him, re-form him, or it’s the end for all of them. 

Tier Two:
On Nurse—as she hesitates, wondering if she could possibly trust this...whatever the hell it is.  But the truth is they’re going to be dead in a minute:  their choices are limited.  And so...

Wider:  ...with her last remaining strength, her last remaining magic, she unleashes wave after wave of healing light... 

Wider still:  ...restoring Faust, who lays, sprawled, across the ground, muttering incantations.  And, as he chants, the atmosphere is restored.  They all feel themselves being restored...for the moment, at least.  (Asa’s light also heals Frankenstein and Bennett’s burns.)

Page Ten
Nine panels.  Three tiers of three.  All of them CLOSE-UPS of Felix Faust.  In all of them Faust is looking directly at “camera.”

Tier One:
1)  Faust begins to calmly tell his tale, but...

2)  ...as he does...

3)  ...an expression of terrible fear contorts his face.

Tier Two:
4)  Fear slowly becomes sorrow...

5)  ...and the Faust-thing weeps...

6) ...tears (composed of that poisonous substance he spat at Frank and Bennett) streaming, and steaming, down his face.  He wails—giving voice to thousands of years of torment.

Tier Three:
7) The tears stop and Faust’s expression becomes one of agonized loneliness.  For a moment...

8)  ...sanity seems to return to those lunatic eyes.  And then...

9)  ...Faust hangs his head, gazing at the ground.  No longer looking “at camera.”

(And here we learn what’s happened to Felix Faust.   How his hunger for magical power, for eternal life, led him to eventually uncover a forbidden, and long-forgotten, magic that could corrupt God Himself:  Living on for age after age, Faust used the forbidden enchantments to evolve, mutate, in order to survive the harsh changes to the Earth—and, yes, that’s where we are:  Nowhere Land is the Earth, or what’s left of it, at the End of Time.  Humankind, we learn, long ago left the planet, moved off into the stars—but Faust remained, happy to be the Lord and Master of all that remained (what remained wasn’t much—but he was batshit crazy by this point).  Eventually consumed by a cosmic loneliness that drove him even farther over the edge, Faust then began to create these miniature versions of himself...out of his own flesh and consciousness...in order to have some semblance of companionship.  Time crawled on and on and, eventually, Death came to the universe.  All the life-forms on all the worlds were swept away as Time Itself died...and Non-Time began to consume all life.  Faust has struggled to keep this small remaining piece of Earth alive...but he knows that eventually all his struggles will be in vain.  Nowhere Land will be consumed, drowned in the Ocean of Non-Time.)

And, off that, we cut to:

Page Eleven
Tier One:
Panel one is a smaller panel INSET in the HALF-PAGE panel two.

1)  Inset.  The Beginning of Time.  Night.  Exterior shot—of the house we saw last issue:  Zatara’s house—which has been magically restored since its destruction by the Mome-Rath.  Weird lights flashing from within.  Then we’re...

2)  Half pager.  ...inside—where we find Zatanna in the living room, standing in the center of a magical star-shaped spell (see reference) that floats in the center of the room.  Zee, we learn via her first-person narration, has spent the equivalent of a year here (although time flows very differently at The Beginning), first lost in a kind of mad loneliness (that parallels Faust’s), then, finally, finding her center again, her purpose.  She’s determined to find a way out, a way home.

Tier Two:
3)  Closer—as the Star grows brighter and brighter and then...

4)  Another angle:  ...dissolves:  Zee gently wafting to the floor.  Sparks of light—like fireflies—swirling around her.

5)  On Zee—kneeling on the floor—an expression of concern on her face. 

(As she’s been probing the ethers, probing the deeps of Time Itself, Zatanna has become aware of some kind of as-yet-undefined disruption in the Timestream.  A kind of chronal aneurysm that may be about to burst.  Now, she realizes, this isn’t just about saving herself...this may very well be about saving everyone and everything.)  (I’m not sure how much of this I’ll give away here...it may be too soon.  In which case, I’ll hint at this without hitting it on the nose.) 

***


Hope you found that enlightening.  And if you'd like to know what a full script—art and dialogue, all of a piece—looks like, just click here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

BWAH-HA-HA

I thought it would be fun to take a peek behind the curtain and give you a sense of how an issue of Justice League 3000 takes shape.  (And let's not forget that JL3K is ©copyright 2014 DC Comics.)  

It all begins with the plot—and the formidable imagination of Keith Giffen.  As you'll see below, Keith doesn't type up his plots, he, essentially, draws mini comics (of such quality that they can stand on their own as entertaining reads), complete with story and dialogue notes.   

As far as I'm concerned, the hardest part of the job is the plotting and Keith is a master of the craft.  He's also one of the best visual storytellers this medium has ever seen.  





Keith's plot goes off to the amazing Howard Porter, who then translates Giffen's art breakdowns into the jaw-dropping pages JL3K fans marvel at month after month. The level of detail and emotion Howard gets into his pages never fails to astonish me—and the guy tops himself every single issue.





Once Howard is done, I sit down with Keith's plot on one side, Howard's art on the other and get the characters talking to each other.

There are times I hew so closely to Keith's plots that I feel guilty cashing the check (well, not that guilty), other times I veer wildly off into unexpected territory.  This sequence lands somewhere in the middle.

The important thing is that Keith has always encouraged me to play, have fun, not be bound by the plot.  Our collaboration is based on that sense of play.  Keith's plots always surprise and entertain me and I want my scripts to do the same for him.






I can't underestimate the contributions of our letterer, Rob Leigh (who can fit all that damn dialogue on the page and do it with genuine style and grace) and the coloring team at Hi-Fi, who bring new levels of depth, excitement and reality to Howard's pages.  And, of course, our editor, the wise and easy-going Harvey Richards, manages to work with all of us and stay sane, which is a masterful feat in itself! Just pick up the current issue of Justice League 3000 and you'll see how much these talented people add to our stories.  

This concludes our peek behind the curtain.  Any questions?

Monday, December 8, 2014