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

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Astounding Annotations Week 14 Part 3

Wow, so here we are. The very last batch of Astounding Annotations. Astounding Returns will finally be starting up for good next week. Until then, enjoy my prose in a more extended, less illustrated format. Self-indulgence ahoy!

Day 42


Panel 1: I really wanted to make it clear that this was an ending to the story, whereas the previous two days were apart from the main plot. I think that should be fairly obvious if you, well, read them, but this was my acknowledgment that I still vaguely remembered what the story was ostensibly about.

Panel 2: And I even remembered what the resolution supposedly was! I think it's fair to say that Astounding has a somewhat amorphous plot. That's partially because of its serialized structure, where I tried to come up with a cliffhanger every twelve panels and some sort of punchline or twist every four, and it's also because of how I wrote it, starting with not much more than an idea that I then followed to its somewhat logical conclusion. Of course, I had to invent my own logic, but still. My point is, I suppose, that I think the characters care more about the exact workings of the plot than I necessarily do. I was more interested in what the characters themselves (OK, OK...the plot was also of considerable interest), which is why I tried to make this final day as plot-light as possible. Even if I bent over backwards in previous weeks to make everything make some sort of bizarro sense, here I just wanted to bring the character to the thematically appropriate place.

Panel 3: That's as much my own personal philosophy as anything else. I think regret is an important part of life. Like Ted says, it's just proof that you had to make a choice. I imagine this is a theme I should follow up on a bigger way at some later date.

Panel 4: And if I had to do one thing differently, I'd probably find a way to restructure this first line so that panel is a closer match for the one from week 1. Ah well. Can't have everything. Love the way Joe slowly made Ted corporeal again, by the way.


Panel 5: This was all drawn on location (is that a thing?) at Lamont Library, just like in week 1. Joe really nailed all the interiors and exteriors. I realize not all of my readers will necessarily know the place, but I do think it helps anchor the reality of this universe to have such clear reference points.

Panel 6: Oh, Bill the librarian. Always with the one-liners. How many funny characters does that make? Agent Campbell, I guess, and maybe the Corpsman? As a general thing, I really tried to resist the urge to give my characters a lot of one-liners. Mostly because I didn't trust myself to come up with actually funny lines, but also because I think it's an easy trap to fall into where all the characters become quip machines. Which would have been a hell a lot more boring than what I actually made, I promise you that. Well, at least the way I would have written it.

Panel 7: I really like the energy of this scene. There's something very natural to the way Ted is leaning against that panel. He's not in motion, so I can't exactly compliment Joe on that (although that girl walking also looks great), but there's just something very real about his posture there.

Panel 8: I probably shouldn't have said "still" twice there. Also, are the flowers clear enough? Eh, they become clearer later, if nothing else. Besides, they're meant to be a bit of a non sequitur, at least at first glance.


Panel 9: Could he still become Mr. Astounding? Hmm, it's an interesting question. I mean, the magical lightning doesn't exist in this universe, so that could be a real stumbling block. Considering the multiversal gateways are now closed, I would speculate that his powers are limited to this one universe. That would mean that he can, say, rearrange atoms in the air to create those flowers, but he probably couldn't do something completely impossible like be Mr. Astounding. But we'll never know...for now.

Panel 10: Are you guys ready for me to get pretentious? I mean, it's the last three panels, so it's now or never. (OK, fine...this won't be the first time I've been pretentious. Just indulge me a little bit more. We're nearly done.) I thought a lot about Watchmen throughout the writing of Astounding, in part because the (pretty decent) movie came out during the writing process, and also because any aspiring comic writer really should try to learn (and then rip off) as much as possible from Watchmen. I wanted to do something here that isn't based on any specific scenes. It's more just an attempt to replicate how I feel when I read parts of the book. There's a lyrical quality to Watchmen, which isn't something I can really properly describe beyond calling it, well, "lyrical." If I had to put my finger on it, this principally involves lines with several meanings, at least one of which is an overarching callback to everything we've seen before. It's an attempt to couch everything we've seen in a couple of lines. That's what I tried to do here.

Panel 11: And this exchange is absolutely crucial on that front. I'll leave some of it up to your own interpretations, but the part most directly germane to the last panel is how much Ted developed as a person. As he himself acknowledges, he never really was forced to grow, at least not until his big decision in week 13.

Panel 12: This was a huge change from how I was originally going to end things. My initial plan was basically to end with Ted saying, "Nora, I've got something I have to tell you." OK, that might not sound like much, but the implications are vastly different. In the original, the idea was that he had realized he needed to act on his emotions and he was simply going to confess how he felt. That is, in a word, lame. That ending was fundamentally passive, particularly with the idea that he "had" to tell her, as though he wasn't really make a choice. And that goes against everything Ted should have taken away from this crazy adventure. I never would have considered it if I wasn't such a passive loser myself when it comes to this sort of thing. (Eh, I'm working on it. Hell, writing Astounding was one big way of working through it, particularly in week 4. Chronopolis will have much more active characters when it comes to romance and the like. Promise.) What saving the multiverse as a superhero has given him is, naturally enough, confidence. It's more than enough confidence to actually try to, um, court a woman. (Did I really just call it courting? Like I said...I know nothing.) That starts with the far less serious opener that we see here, something that doesn't scream "Ooh boy here comes a confession" quite like the original incarnation of the line, which is just the sort of thing likely to weird Nora out. Whatever it's about to say, it's coming from a more confident place where Ted actually believes he's capable of winning Nora's affections. I ended things here because I wanted to show that Ted didn't need his powers to make choices, although he had grown as a person because of them. Whether his advances actually win over Nora is something I didn't feel the need to show - indeed, I couldn't quite bring myself to end on an openly romantic note - but I think the fact that I call this "The Beginning" should be a fair indicator of how I think things worked out. Oh, and Joe's art here is absolutely perfect. I'd say more about it, but unlike with my writing, I don't think that's necessary.

Well, consider Astounding well and truly annotated. Join us next week for Astounding Returns! As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read.

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