The long road home.

• Wednesday, May 9, 2012 4 comments
I have been away for awhile. That's not what this post is about. 

"Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name" is finished, and off to the printers for an initial run of around ten. Test copies, I suppose you could say, but still a fairly big milestone for myself, and for my illustrator Justin Cornell, and or third collaborator, Laura Calandros.

"Town with No Name" is kind of a unique project. It's existence predates this blog, and even predates Justin's involvement. I was just coming out of my dry spell, my post-Bennington, non-writing funk, and was sort of adamant about all my projects I had coming up. Nothing stable, or money-making, or anything like that, but for the first time since graduation my mind felt fertile again, and I had a remarkable focus, at least for me. One night while out with Laura, she mentioned an idea she had, and played a song for me, the latter of which I don't remember the name of, the former, the mother/daughter vigilante team who would eventually become Calamity and Tana Cash. Laura had the name for the daughter, the eponymous "Calamity Cash," but not the mother, and not much else. She sort of graciously said if I  had any ideas, I could play with her toys, and play I did, sketching out a rough, Kill Bill-meets-Hunter S. Thompson-inspired modern day western. 

These original stories mimicked what appears in "Town with No Name" in spirit, but boasted a more over-arching storyline, and every bit of popular culture inspired craziness I could come up with. I sketched out a series bible, some rough storylines, all that, but didn't have an artist lined up, and wasn't entirely sure anyone would be all that interested in getting involved in a "Preacher-with-women"-style of thing. [All of this work still exists, somewhere, and there is still a part of me that very much wants to tell these stories. Who knows what comes next? Let's keep talking about what came first.]

I was approached by Justin who was looking for something to draw, a comic-related project which he could get some practice in on, and try and judge how he'd work, how fast he'd work, what equipment he'd need, etc. It was kind of a "jump right into the deep end" way of learning, and I thought it was ballsy as hell of him, and was equally excited because I though a Calamity Cash story would be the best thing for what he was talking about trying to do. People who have seen my comic work know it's not terribly dynamic - my paneling leaves a lot to be desired, I mostly leave layout decisions to artists [or did back then], and the bulk of the story is usually people talking back and forth to each other, Clerks-style. So something with some action, something that would allow Justin to dip into a bunch of different genres, and try out a lot of different things - well, that was something else a project like Calamity Cash was perfect for. And the chance to show Laura her Calamity and Mama Cash kicking ass seemed like a nice perk too.

I took about six months on the script, partly because of a breakup, and partly because I was struggling with just what story in my whole Calamity Cash canon would be best to tell. There were things I wanted to get in, and again, I wanted a story with as much actiony-stuff as talky-stuff. I was basically in what Steven Bach would call a George Lucas situation, where I needed to look at all the stories I had to tell, and pick the one - the "New Hope" of the bunch which was closest to a story with everything I needed, and everything a story needed - particularly a complete narrative, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

"Town with No Name" was the winner of the bunch.

And then it got kind of out of hand on my end. I'd written a lot of comic scripts at the time, very little ever getting made, and it probably would have been smarter had I stuck to something simpler in style. But since Justin was approaching this as practice, I thought I would too, and try and stretch what I was capable of. For Justin's sake, I really shouldn't have. But I went with something complicated, because I wanted to see if I could. And in writing that complicated thing, what was supposed to be a 25-ish page comic became a 45 or 46 page monster.

Might have been fine. 52 pages with the supplemental material we wanted to put in it, that would have been large, but still comic-sized, still what most printers are comfortable doing without tossing us into graphic novel territory.

When I finished, I felt sort of bad at the project's size, but Justin wasn't phased by it, or at least didn't seem so. I think maybe he felt like if he was going to dive into the deep end of the pool, what was twice as much water anyway? And with the extra time I'd taken to put together so much content, work on "Calamity Cash and the The Town with No Name" started, fittingly, slightly behind schedule.

It would be a trend. Justin speaks about it much more eloquently in this post on his blog, though there were also a lot of outside factors, some on his end, some on mine. In the four plus years we've spent working on this thing together, I've watched Justin grow, and change, nearly lose an eye, throw out his back, move a couple of times, get married, and become an uncle. And probably a hundred different things that I never bothered to write down, nor did he, which will just be reserved to our late night conversations in the IHOP about what kind of desk or chair might make his job easier, or how certain "artistic staples" might only be around to make the work harder. And alligator clips. How alligator clips are worth their weight in gold.

And then, there's me. I re-wrote "Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name" at one point, after roughly half of the pages had already been drawn. I honestly can't recall if this was requested, or something I just decided to do - I believe it might have been the latter, however, as I had to rewrite one or two lines, and suddenly kicked into editor mode, and wound up doing the whole last half of the book. So not only did that stall things out for a short period of time, it also significantly altered some later stuff in the book, and changes had to be made to earlier parts as well - even though I tried very hard to avoid that [now there's a interesting writing/editing practice for you writer types out there - make sweeping changes to the end of story without touching it's beginning. Note: if you like callbacks, you will hate this "exercise"].

Naturally, as we were coming near the end, some... incongruities were starting to become clear to us. For clarification's sake, I've always found Justin's art to be tip top, but as he got more comfortable working on the page, and got better at setting his own layouts up, he started to voice concern about the first half of the book and the last looking too different to be combined in one volume. And considering I had re-written the last half, the optioning of splitting the book into two for printing sake didn't seem too outrageous to either of us.Nothing was decided for sure, but were leaning heavily towards that.

And then a computer snafu made the decision for us, eating half of Justin's work, and all of the backup files. Justin decided scanning and toning everything all over again wasn't worth the time, especially considering he wasn't crazy about his work on the early sections of the book [again, this was his call, not mine - I think Justin's art was excellent throughout - though there is a marked difference between the first and latter half], and I more than supported that decision as we already sort of had plans to split them up, and dammit, it'd been years. We both knew it was time to get this thing done.

Justin quit his job, and knocked out the last few pages at record speed. I did up a new intro, a sort of "Last time on Calamity Cash..." page, which summarized about 24 pages into four-five panels, and then I spent the last several days editing, still haunted by the memory of a single typo in "Sulk: The Morning After" and a malapropism that wasn't, but at times I will swear was. There were more than a few panicked emails, me wondering if the thing I missed the first time had already been sent off to be printed, but Justin was taking his cues from the Ents, and not being the least bit hasty in polishing everything off.

The end result is "Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name No.2." Sort of as a throwback to something Justin and I both remember from collecting comics, getting that issue number 2 of 2 from some mini-series or other, maybe as a reprint at a big box store, or in huge pack of comics you'd buy at flea market [outside of this particular post, don't be surprised if at some point I herald the the first issue as an unprecedented sell-out and success in storytelling, rivaled only by Dante's Inferno, and now forever out of print]. The order's out now, and what comes next is the wait, to see just how it all turned out.

I have a pretty good idea. Without flirting too much with hubris, the book, editing-wise at least, should be immaculate. And the art, the half tones, the layouts, not to mention the cover, which looks awesome and pulpy and distressed and... well, awesome, has really come together into something I'm proud to have my name on. Justin's done great work, found us a printer, and put in a small order to see how the book will look in-hand.
Assuming everything goes well, and the printer comes through [which, this is really Justin's wheelhouse, so I'm expecting top notch quality], we actually have the funding to do a small run. If anyone's interested, naturally, email me at mojo.wire.productions@gmail.com, or message me on Facebook, or hit me up @themojowire on Twitter. Having some idea of how many we'll need will make things easier, but while we have a pricing point, we haven't really decided how we're going to handle that yet, if we're even going to worry about selling them at all.

This was about making comics. This was about Justin seeing if he could. This was about Laura seeing her characters come to life. And this was about me giving her that, and seeing my work actually on the page, paneled out, which to this day brings me a level of satisfaction I can't begin to describe.

And it's done.