A comic strip by Alasdair Wilkins and Joseph Shivers, as seen in The Harvard Crimson!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Astounding Annotations - Week 1

So here we go with what I'm calling "Astounding Annotations." Basically, this is an opportunity to explain some of the more obscure references I threw in (and there were a bunch of them), and to give some idea as to why I did this in the first place. Yeah, I'm aware this is pretty damn self-indulgent, so I'll try not to go on and on. And away we go...

Day 1


Panel 1: The whole thing starts at Lamont Library, which is Harvard's main undergraduate library. I also work there. You can probably guess which was more important when it came to deciding to use it. Basically, I needed a place where someone could plausibly doze off, but could equally plausibly be awoken by somebody. A student workplace seemed like a good solution, and I just wrote what I knew. Although I've never fallen asleep on the job. I swear. Well, I may have come close once.

Panel 2: I actually came up with this idea two years ago, back when I was a freshman. (That's part of the reason why our main character is himself a freshman, but more on that later.) It went through a bunch of possible ways I could go about making this a reality, including a radio play, which would have proven difficult when so much of the story is visual, and an amateur film, which wouldn't have worked because there's no way I could have pulled this off on the sort of budget I would have had. I then pretty much shelved the idea for a couple years until Joe mentioned the possibility of doing a comic strip for the Harvard Crimson. When I realized my other ideas were too big to tell in the time and space given, I went back to this concept. This first day fell into place really quickly.

Panel 3: That might have something to do with the fact that this strip has about 1% of the average day's worth of dialogue, what with only having one word split over two panels. You might find this hard to believe, but I'm actually a pretty wordy guy.

Panel 4: For the record, I generally feel "OK" is spelled as just two letters. But "okay" seemed to read better when separated across two panels. That's the kind of scintillating inside dirt you just can't get anywhere else, am I right? (Please don't tell me I'm wrong.)

Day 2


Panel 1: This is totally a reference to the Terry Gilliam classic Brazil, in which the main character, Sam Lowry, has dreams in which he wears pretty much this exact getup.

Panel 2: The idea here is that if you could suddenly make any fantasy real, I just sort of think the first dream would be flight. Maybe that's just me, but I felt it was strongest fantasy to start on.

Panel 3: One of the things we really tried to do was be fairly consistent in matching panels in one universe to the next panel in another universe. This made for some rather tricky poses for Joe to pull off, although I think he did a brilliant job (especially on the end of week 2, but we'll talk about that when we get there).

Panel 4: Bob isn't based on anybody that I know of, either in character or appearance. I couldn't even clearly tell you whether he was the hero's boss or just a coworker. I usually like to work that sort of stuff out, but we got the go ahead from The Crimson to do this on a Thursday, and we had to get the finished panels in by Sunday at noon. This didn't leave a ton of time, especially when I was spending the weekend in New York covering Comiccon. Yes, I'm that much of a nerd.

Day 3


Panel 1: Might as well go ahead and explain the title. I'd never really come up with a title for this idea, so I went through a couple possibilities before settling on Astounding. I first considered Escape!, partially in reference to a short story by Isaac Asimov, my absolute favorite author of all-time, and partially because that's what the character was doing. I decided that title didn't really fit the full arc of the comic and so went with Astounding Escape for a moment, but then I just went with Astounding, which was again partially a reference to the magazine Isaac Asimov published a lot of his best stuff in, Astounding Science Fiction.

Panel 2: Then there's the main character. Another casualty of writing so quickly is that I never did get around to naming him, and after not figuring it out in week one I decided the time had passed where I could come up with something satisfactory. I think this actually works out sort of well, considering the fact that, despite his great powers, he's definitely meant to be a bit of an everyman. Besides, with so many different versions of him running around, it's not like a name would have been that useful anyway. Although I guess the fact that he's hung up on someone named Nora does provide for a rather obvious possibility as to what his name might be. (Think of a recent Michael Cera movie, or the Thin Man series, if you're a fan of old mystery comedy series.)

Panel 3: Our hero is the only person in the entire series who I gave Joe a visual reference for. Specifically, I told him to base him on actor Jamie Bamber, who plays Apollo on the recently concluded Battlestar Galactica reimagining. I'm not really sure why, other than the fact that I thought he'd make a good physical match for Mr. Astounding, and I have a huge weakness for throwing in references to nerdy stuff I'm currently watching. This is obviously a very scrawny version of Jamie Bamber. I'll leave it to you to google him, as all the results I look at leave me rather, erm, confused.

Panel 4: With flight out of the way, how's about James Bond? That's pretty much the idea here, although Agent X-20 is a reference to a character on the sixties puppet show Stingray. The dude was a villainous half-man/half-fish thing, but it seemed like a good codename for a secret agent. And it was hopelessly obscure. Great combo from where I'm standing.

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