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

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Astounding Annotations - Week 7

So here we go again 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. This is the comics equivalent of director's commentary, so if you've just stumbled upon our little site you might want to check out the story itself first (I recommend starting here). And yes, I'm aware this is all pretty damn self-indulgent, so I'll try not to go on and on. And away we go...

Day 19


Panel 1: I think it's fair to say that Astounding doesn't slouch when it comes to insane plot twists. This was probably the craziest, if only because I'm not sure whether it really plays upon any existing comic book tropes. (Of course, my general theory is that, if you've come up with something no one has ever done before, there's probably a very good reason why no one else has ever tried it.) When I came up with the basic idea for Astounding a couple years ago, the notion of splitting the hero into two characters was one of the original ideas and, when I came to actually tell the story, was one of the key story beats I started with. But more on that in a second. Basically, this panel is trying to pull of a tricky balancing act wherein we clearly flash back to a previous scene but manage to show it slightly after the timing of the original panel, as the Mentor is now gone. The recap helped as well. This week probably has the best recap, actually, as it's melodramatic in the best tradition of old cartoon narration and does as good a job as anything else in clarifying what the current situation is.

Panel 2: I was very proud of myself for only using one word after all the (completely legitimate) complaints of unnecessary verbosity. Although I doubt anyone who didn't actually, you know, write the strip would understand what the hell's going on. I guess I just hoped people would remember that, in the previous week, Mr. Astounding had successfully traveled to his universe, meaning this body had now been left behind. I also was banking on people remembering his comments in weeks 2 and 4 that made it fairly clear somebody was remaining behind while he was having his adventures in other universes.

Panel 3: Fourth degree burns go right down to the bone. If you check out the previous week, there's no doubt his injuries were that severe. And I decided to have the chart use the decidedly non-medical phrasing "something like a bolt of lightning" to better explain why the Mentor had used those particular words in the previous week. For whatever reason, I had become very unhappy with the Mentor saying that, so I threw this in as a continuity patch. No, even I don't remember what was bothering me there.

Panel 4: It only took seven weeks, but this thing finally has decent supporting characters who aren't Mr. Astounding or Nora. Agents Byrne and Campbell are based visually on Chiwetel Ejiofor (you may have seen him in Inside Man or Serenity, which are both unspeakably awesome movies in completely different ways) and, well, Bruce Campbell, as a commenter pointed out. More on them in a second.

Day 20


Panel 1: I'm going to take a break from rambling about me and take a moment to recognize Joe's awesomeness. For instance, I love the fact that he took the completely unnecessary (and no doubt time-consuming) extra step of adding the painting "Christina's World" to the background of this panel. I now challenge our readers to work out the intricate thematic relationships between "Christina's World" and Astounding. And...GO!!!

Panel 2: That was a long way to go for a "Meh" punchline. Worth it though. By the way, Agent Campbell is rather obviously named after Bruce Campbell, and Agent Byrne is named after Burn Notice (which stars - you guessed it - Bruce Campbell) with maybe a dash of actor Gabriel Byrne thrown in for the spelling.

Panel 3: This panel (along with the last panel of week 6) is what sets up one of the big conflicts going forward, namely that Mr. Astounding's powers endanger the universe, which pays off in a big, big way in week 11. Also, Agent Campbell ejecting the tape was one of those little details I wanted to make sure we got in there so that what happens in week 8 makes total sense. I am way too obsessed with things making perfect sense.

Panel 4: Another cool detail Joe threw in: he felt Byrne and Campbell would give our hero a shirt they thought he'd find cool, which explains the eighties goodness that is a G.I. Joe shirt. By the way, when I saw the trailer for the upcoming G.I. Joe movie before the new Star Trek, the entire audience erupted with laughter when they saw the title card. Words cannot convey how badly that film is going to bomb.

Day 21


Panel 1: Between the reference to the monkeys writing Shakespeare and that allusion to Einstein's claim that God doesn't play dice with the universe back in the previous day, I felt I had really hit my geeky joke quota with this week. That is some deeply, deeply nerdy humor right there. Oh, and notice how this version of our hero has his eyes closed. Just trust me on that.

Panel 2: Another panel where I wanted to keep things nice and punchy. This was very much the moment where this character becomes a hero, and it's specifically where he does something our other protagonist hasn't had to do yet, in that he actually has to make a difficult decision.

Panel 3: And hey! Here's the other version of the character, again with his eyes closed! That's parallelism at its finest, folks.

Panel 4: Again, the posing of the characters between panels 2 and 4 is meant to match, although it's not quite as explicit as the connection between 1 and 3. The key difference is that the Mr. Astounding version has his eyes closed, indicating he's about to leave for a different universe, consigning his alternate version to death in a fire. Indeed, both think they're about to kill the other, hence the mutual "I'm sorry." Much like week 5, I was really trying to build to a bit of a dramatic crescendo here, at least with my mind. I'm not sure whether it's actually possible to do that in a comic strip. Still, I think it's a cool moment regardless.

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