swampthingbookcvrYesterday I launched this special SpiderBaby Archives dissection of the historic Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 — historic as Alan Moore’s first issue, and Alan’s first work for a ‘Colonial’ (as he once put it) publisher.

  • Alan’s debut issue has just been reprinted — for the first time ever! — in the brand-new DC/Vertigo Swamp Thing hardcover Volume 1, which is available now wherever graphic novels are sold (though I recommend the venue with the PaneltoPanel.net exclusive signed bookplate by yours truly — just click on this link).
  • (The softcover collections of the complete Alan Moore / Bissette / Totleben / Veitch / McManus / Alcala / Woch etc. collaborative run — the series that launched the entire Vertigo line — are still available from PaneltoPanel, too).
  • Repeat of ground rules for these archival posts:
    1. Post links to Myrant, please – don’t lift graphics for your own blog, journal or website.
    2. Do NOT lift these posts and/or my text to place them on your blog, journal, flicker pages or whatever.
    3. Please respect all copyright notices. This material is shared (with correct copyright ownership noted) in the interest of history for fans, scholars and researchers.
    4. If there are any problems, we’ll abandon the project.

    ‘Nuff said.

    srbsotst20pg1ink1(Swamp Thing art ©1983, 2009 DC Comics, Inc.)

    The analysis began with the first-ever comparison between Dan Day’s pencils and John Totleben’s inks of SOTST #20′s symbolic tableau splash page. Don’t be too quick to judge the nature of Dan’s pencils from that piece, though — Dan was assigned this issue under daunting deadline parameters, and as you shall see, in some sequences, Dan’s pencils were adhered to closely, while in others John Totleben took pages in entirely different directions, with the approval of editor (and Swamp Thing co-creator) Len Wein.

    But before their was graphite and ink, there was — the word.

    The first page of Alan’s debut script is, in fact, an undated letter.

    As this was the December 1983 issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing, and John and I were already working against incredibly stretched deadlines on the first series writer Marty Pasko’s final issue (SOTST #19), I would guesstimate the time of this letter was likely late spring/early summer of 1983. Sorry I can’t be more specific than that; none of the archival materials are dated for this issue.

    [Note: I have since been given info by Bob Heer -- see comments thread, below -- and more importantly John Totleben that does firm up the dates in which all this happened. I've revised this post accordingly, and I'll get into the particulars with Friday's post, once I clear with John what I have permission to quote - SRB]

    [Addendum note, March 2010: I have in fact found complete 1985 notes, including all dates, for this entire chronology.

  • I have inserted them into Part 1 of this essay -- click here to access -- and consider those dates firm and documented.
  • Superceding all other conjecture or discussion in this essay and/or its comments, SOTST #20 was indeed penciled and inked in the spring/summer of 1983, June-July to be specific. To show how tight we were working against deadlines, my notes indicate that I finished pencils on SOTST #17 in May 1983, and the issue was on the stands July 1983. SOTST #18's framing 3 1/2 pages were done in June 1983, the issue out in August; I finished all my work on SOTST #19 in July and completely penciled SOTST #21 in August, with a generous assist from Rick Veitch -- and SOTST #19 was out in September, "printed on white Mando paper for the first time!" - SRB, March 19, 2010.]

    (As noted yesterday, while I will be posting excerpts from relevant letters and scripts, nothing of a personal nature will be posted, nor will any signatures be posted — nor will any complete scripts be posted. Please treat these letters excerpts as being ©1983, 2009 Alan Moore, the script pages as ©1983, 2009 DC Comics, Inc., though the photocopies are the physical property of yours truly and are only accessible today because I held on to them.)

    First of all, though I wasn’t working on this issue, Len sent me photocopies of every scrap of written information to keep me up to date on what was happening. While I was frantically wrapping up pencils on SOTST #19 working piecemeal from writer Marty Pasko’s phone calls (we were essentially working Marvel method, for the only time in my DC experience: Marty would phone me two-three pages at a time while he was preoccupied with his scripting chores for Saturday morning animation), I was also to begin pencilling SOTST #21 while Dan Day and John Totleben were finishing work on SOTST #20!

    srbsotst20mooreltr1

    Alan’s immediate concerns are still self-evident when this letter is read today. In fact, his unhappiness with the narrative density of SOTST #20 wasn’t his fault: Marty Pasko’s scripts had, from the debut issue of the series, been remarkably dense constructs.

    The cumulative rat’s king of overlapping plot threads, some of which dated back to SOTST #1, were no doubt a daunting task to deal with. Pasko prided himself on the weave of his serialized narrative tapestry, but there was a lot to unravel and try to somehow bring to a satisfying conclusion while creating a relatively ‘clear slate’ for what was to become “The Anatomy Lesson,” which Alan already had worked out as a new beginning for Swamp Thing.

    Resolving the multi-layered plot strands of the Pasko run necessitated Alan writing in a style not his own — a conscious and calculated adoption of some elements of Marty’s approach to comics working toward something closer to what Alan had already planned for our opening narrative arc, clear of the tangled web of the Pasko Swamp Thing universe.

    srbsotst20alanltr2

    Some of these concerns Alan raises with Len did malinger — resulting in some terrific one-shot stories down the road, among my favorites being Alan’s resolution to the whole Liz and Dennis scenario (more on that later). 

    We would work collectively to address the occasional glitch between Alan’s UK upbringing and the realities of American life throughout our run on the series. This was always rare, and always part of the fun.

    srbsotst20alanltr3

    As you can see, schedule was first and foremost an issue — and one of the reasons Len had approached Alan to take over the writing duties on the series.

    Alan states here he could turn a script around in three days — and he sometimes did. In fact, the historic “Love and Death” issue (SOTST #29) was scripted in less than two days (necessitated by editor Karen Berger’s quite-correct decision to dock the script Alan had just completed, which was part 1 of “The Nukeface Papers,” for a later issue, feeling we needed to keep narrative momentum up as we were attracting a whole new readership by the time we were up to #29).

    At the time we were hammering through this whole SOTST #19, 20 and 21 logjam, I recall Len telling me (in a phone conversation) that given the weekly deadlines UK writers like Alan habitually worked under, he guessed the monthly deadlines would be a piece of cake for Alan. Indeed, Alan turned around “The Anatomy Lesson” in record time, and I was pencilling SOTST #21 mere days after completing the final frantic page of SOTST #19.

    (A note: Though Rick Veitch and others have long made hay about my deadline situation on Swamp Thing, the fact is we began our run — with SOTST #16 — well behind the eightball, and the fact that Marty Pasko was on his way out the door only further stalled any head of steam we could work up. Len’s decision to bring in a new writer who could hopefully get ahead of schedule out of the starting gate was critical, and we were all laboring on SOTST #19, 20 and #21 in an intense work crunch — hence, in part, my asking Rick ahead of time to jump in on pencilling the Sunderland Building pages of SOTST #21 with me. Once I read Alan’s scripts, it was even more imperative to me to bring Rick into the process, as this was really something new and exciting for all of us. This has since become legendary in part as me being so slow an artist that I begged for Rick’s help, which simply isn’t so — it was planned and his help was sorely needed before SOTST #21 was even scripted. That said, it did take me a minimum of five weeks to pencil an issue of a monthly comic — do the math.)

    Between this introductory letter and Alan’s opening script pages, we find his most concise articulation of his methodology as a comics writer — which, at the time, was completely new, by my experience.

    Having myself worked by this time from scripts by many comics writers, from hardcore vets like Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Archie Goodwin and Marvel’s then-honcho Jim Shooter to the hand-drawn thumbnails (with dialogue and captions scribbled in) of my beloved Scholastic editor and frequent script writer Bob Stine (aka R.L. Stine of the yet-to-come Goosebumps phenomenon), I’d seen all manner of comics scripts. I’d never seen anything like Alan’s approach to the medium and process.

    Having noted all that, let’s look at the first page of Alan’s first-ever Saga of the Swamp Thing script — his first-ever script for an American publisher, DC Comics.

    sotst20scriptpg1

    The conversational tone of Alan’s scripts was completely unique: these were, in essence, letters to the artist(s).

    In this case, Alan was writing with no idea who would be drawing the issue — Len seized upon Dan Day (brother and former collaborator of the late, great Gene Day) for the task, and whatever you may think about Dan’s pencils in the posts to come, keep in mind, please, the enormous pressure and incredibly tight deadline under which Dan was working. Dan was the man for the job because he could turn it around quickly, period.

    Note Alan’s apologetic tone, sorry he wasn’t able to streamline the script to fit the strengths of the as-yet undetermined penciller. This, too, was unique, and among Alan’s greatest gifts as a writer — and to his creative collaborators.

    There are countless historic precedents to this practice, from the EC scripts tailored to the strengths of the respective EC artists to editor/writers like Stan Lee and Robert Kanigher applying the same criteria via what scripts they assigned to which artists in their freelancer pool. But what Alan had begun to do in the UK with his 2000 AD scripts (could anybody but Dave Gibbons have illustrated the Time Twister classic “Chronocops”?) was an orientation to the collaborative process that he was about to bring to a whole new level with his new American publisher.

    To my mind, the most obvious precursor and contemporary to the magic Alan was about to conjure was Alejandro Jodorowsky — who had by this time scripted many, many comics albums in France and Belgium, including his classic Jean Giraud/Moebius collaboration The Incal — and the ‘magic’ aspect of creating comics was key to the creative alchemy both Jodorowsky and Moore were capable of with their respective collaborators on each project. (For all those intent upon Moore’s shaman incarnation, I heartily suggest a serious look at Jodorowsky as a precursor, and the documentary The Jodorowsky Constellation for a broader context.)

    [To be continued...]


    Discussion (13) ¬

    1. mike dobbs

      I’ve stopped giving you career advice a long time ago, but I can’t resist one last time. You realize what you have been doing here…writing a book on your career. Do a few more installments, collect them and query. It will sell. Seriously.

    2. BobH

      Fascinating stuff.

      Since Moore mentions the recent UK election, that would place the letter after June 9, 1983, presumably soon after for the wound to still be fresh enough to mention. #20 would seem to have come out around October 20, 1983. Someone more familiar with production schedules at the time would have to chime in, but four months to get the book pencilled, lettered, inked, coloured, to the printer and into stores does seem tight.

    3. James Robert Smith

      Amazing history here. Nice to see it put down for us to see by one who was so intimately involved in it all.

      I’d forgotten that Dan Day illustrated that first Moore issue. It had completely slipped my mind.

      What John Totleben did with those pencils is absolutely stunning. Day did a decent job laying out the page, but JT’s finished work is just astounding when you consider the template over which he was working.

    4. Rob Imes

      I agree with Bob… All of these histories that you’ve written for the blog these past months have been fascinating and deserve to be preserved in print form. Dave Sim seems to be doing something similar with his upcoming “Cerebus Archive,” altho as a bimonthly comic series not a book or blog. Anyway, great stuff! (Now let’s see if this comment makes it onto the web… two previous times I tried, a couple weeks ago, my posts oddly vanished without making it into the posted comments.)

    5. Mark Clegg

      Hi Steve,

      Minor correction you might want to make, SOTST #20 was the January 1984 issue, not December 1982 as you state above.

      Fascinating history. I forward to the rest.

    6. srbissette

      Thanks, Bob and Mark — I’ve also been in touch with John Totleben since the first version of this post was online, and we’ve got some firm dates in hand now.

      I’ll be getting into that with Friday’s post, and please note I have made revisions to the above post accordingly — note, too, Mark, that though SOTST ended up being the January ’84 issue, it was SCHEDULED as the December ’83 issue. I’ll get into that in some detail on Friday, though.

    7. srbissette

      Mike, you’re psychic — that’s part of why I’m doing these posts. It’s a daily means of chipping away at such a project, and accessing new info (thank to the comments and emails these posts prompt) to make sure I’m as accurate as possible in the final product.

    8. srbissette

      Rob, I’ve no idea why your earlier comments wouldn’t ‘take’ — apologies! I’ve alerted my computer guru Cat to your email, and hopefully the fact this comment did post is a good sign.

      I’m indeed planning a book. I won’t be free to include all the illustrations I can post online, nor cite Alan’s scripts as liberally, it will still be as comprehensive and intensive as I can make it. We’ll see if there’s a home to be found for such a volume, but I’m going to continue as time permits.

    9. Rob Imes

      Thanks, Steve!! I think your own observations about the scripts, putting them in context, etc. are as interesting to read (maybe moreso) than the reproductions of the scripts themselves. I can’t imagine a publisher not being interested in such a book, or the other stuff you’ve written about on the blog.

      When I saw the paperback book “Stephen King Goes to the Movies,” I initially thought (hoped) it might be a book like his great “Danse Macabre,” with King essays about cinema. (I was disappointed when it simply reprinted some of his stories that had been made into movies, with new brief King intros added.) Your blog entries about movies, comics, etc. would make a great book.

    10. Rick Veitch

      GREAT series, Steve. I’m surprised this hasn’t spread out on the internet yet, since it is so crucial to understanding one of the great tipping points of comics culture.

      A minor quibble with your mention of me helping out on “The Anatomy Lesson”. I don’t remember it being planned so much as me recognizing a certain tone in your voice over the phone that told me you were stuck in one of your blue funks again and unable to draw. (I know many people razz you for being “slow” but I always tell them Bissette is blazing fast once he’s got his ass in the chair and a pencil in his hand. The trick is getting him started). You and I had already been through thick and thin at that time, so I sort of knew when you were stuck and also knew how the book was hanging by a hair. So, I think what happened was I offered to come over and give you a hand, rather than it being any sort of planned situation. And since I could see you were financially stressed, working for lousy rates and trying to support a new family, I did it gratis as a neighborly helping hand (although after you generously cut me in on a piece of the first collected edition it paid off handsomely).

      It also paid off in the sheer delight of sitting in a room drawing comics with you. Once you got past your stumbling blocks and started rolling you were a wild man!

    11. srbissette

      Thanks, Rick. I found two notes in my papers among all the stuff I’ve been scanning and posting from phone conversations saying “Call Rick for backup.” Obviously it came up in conversation with John during all this #19-20-21 boondoggle, and John encouraged me to call you and ask for help — hence, it was part of conversations amid trying to figure out how in hell we were going to save our collective bacon (not just Bissette’s bacon).

      You and I have long had a ‘big brother/little brother’ relationship that I did my best to redress before I ultimately left comics, in part to clear the slate on such dynamics (my decision, no one’s ‘fault’, this isn’t about blame). Given that, I don’t doubt for a moment your memory of all this, but can also chalk up my reluctance to ask to (a) exhaustion (even without pencilling SOTST, Maia’s birth alone and all Marlene and I dealt with before and afterword certainly would explain a weary, worn me) and (b) dread of once again asking big bro’ for help. Still, I also recall making you a set of photocopies of the script for #21, and the pencils themselves reflect my doing all of SOTST pencils prior to #21 on my lonesome.

      Given the clear chronology that emerged once I pulled together all my notes, sketchbooks, the bound scripts and photocopies of all pencils and inks, and once John reminded me of his and Michelle’s wedding in June 1983, it’s clear we were all (Marty included) bucking some major life changes. I’m glad you jumped in, whether I asked directly or not! You not only kept me going, you made #21 better than it would have otherwise been.

      But it’s been a full decade since I left comics; I’m done playing into the old tapes. At age 54 with all I’ve seen with other people’s lives, I don’t need to chalk up the welcoming of help on #21 as being part and parcel of Bissette’s weaknesses, which is how the customary telling of the tale unfailingly posits it.

      I’ve since seen young parents absolutely ravaged by the first few months of life with a new baby. It’s exhausting under the best of circumstances, sans job issues or pressures. Marlene was also having to get back to work at Green Meadows School (in Wilmington, VT, the school for autistic children John and I, and then Alan, based our Demon plot upon), and that meant I carried a lot of child care in those months, too. I was amid a grueling cycle of deadlines; I was bucking not only a writer being behind, but my own limitations (it forever took me at least five weeks to properly pencil an issue of SOTST) and the fact Marlene and I were fucking exhausted and understandably preoccupied with our new life with Maia, who was born the end of April 1983. I get into this in today’s post (April 3rd), which you should see.

      For the record, for those reading, note please Rick’s citing my voluntarily paying Rick out of my pocket for the assist — not just out of my pencil page rate, but out of every royalty check that ever followed, straight through to the end of 1999. I always paid Rick for his respective assist work on all issues of SOTST, and continued to pay that percentage for his respective page/panels per issue until the end of 1999. I also actively campaigned over the years for DC to credit Rick for that work, but they never capitulated.

      I stopped that practice in 1999, as I left the American comics industry, in part because Rick was finally getting DC royalties for his part in co-creating John Constantine (that’s a long story I won’t get into here). We continue to earn far, far more from Constantine in royalties than any of the original SOTST team ever have from Swamp Thing, and that is due in part to my willingly being a complete prick when it was time to be one. Also, since I was the only member of the Swamp Thing team to ever cut such a check to any other member for work on given issues, it seemed fair enough to let this all go. By then, I figured doing so for 15 years was a solid enough gesture, and doing so solo was reason enough to cease the practice.

      The same cannot be said for (a) the issues John and I plotted, sans credit or (b) any work I did for/with anyone, except with/for Rick.

      Rick has continued, over the decades, to see to it Bissette gets a pagecheck/paycheck and copies of any King Hell book or publication I had a story, page or panel in.

      So it’s all good between us.

      Except I’m still the l’il brother (pun intended; see LITTLE BROTHERS post).

    12. srbissette

      March 2010 addendum comment:

      Rick, having just found my 1985 sketchbook with all the notes, it’s obvious I wasn’t “in one of [my] blue funks again and unable to draw” — I must have been in full-blown ‘I’m going to shit my pants’ mode deadline-crusher madness spaz attack frenzies!

      Maia was born end of April 1983, so we had a newborn in the house; due in part to Marty’s foot-dragging 3-pages-dictated-at-a-time pace of delivery of script on SOTST #19, Len was breathing hot and heavy down everyone’s necks to ensure we didn’t blow it completely. Add to that marvelous li’l Maia entering our lives and household, the fact SOTST #19 was finished in July and SOTST #21 pencils were delivered in August indicate a pretty major, near-miraculous work crunch.

      You pitched in and it all got done at an impossibly breakneck pace and still turned out to be one of the best issues we ever, ever did.

      So, again, THANKS in spades, and hope this newly-discovered chronology firms up any doubts about the timeline, and makes it clear how frantic that June-August truly was for all concerned — and how badly Rick’s help was needed and how greatly it was appreciated!

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