Posted In: News
Yesterday 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.
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.
(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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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...]