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Note, too, that though I've done my utmost to make this analysis as comprehensive and accurate as possible, checking all available archived documents in my files, I welcome any and all comments that might correct, revise or confirm the memories I'm sharing here. So far, so good; as John Totleben wrote me after the first part was posted, "As far as your recollections about that issue, it seems to jibe with what I remember after all these years!" That said, please read the comments threads accompanying each chapter, and enjoy.]
Having now brought you up-to-date on the behind the scenes craziness and the Marty Pasko-plotted-and-scripted narrative material essential to reading Saga of the Swamp Thing #20, it’s at last time to wrap this up with an overview of what went down and how it went down.
This is, no doubt, going to seem a bit anticlimactic, especially given the buildup here. The climax, if you will, was in fact Alan’s, John’s, Rick’s (as in Rick Veitch) and my next issue — “The Anatomy Lesson” in SOTST #21. (When time permits after the May Center for Cartoon Studies graduation, I’ll piece together an in-depth dissection of “The Anatomy Lesson.”)
Suffice to say SOTST #20 succeeded in doing what was necessary:
* it was delivered in time to save the series from cancellation;
* it launched Alan Moore’s tenure as the new writer on the series;
* it succinctly tied up the majority of plot entanglements from the preceding 19 issues of the series, and in doing so cleared the way for “The Anatomy Lesson” and a major, primal rethinking of the entire character and series.
But I urge you to revisit the ‘what if?’ list with which I opened Part 4 of this dissection; I would argue SOTST #20 spawned all that, and much I did not specifically cite, prominent among its spawn Alan’s and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen.
As they say, “from tiny acorns mighty oaks do grow.”
As this dissection is about process, not product, I won’t get into the minutae of SOTST #20′s narrative proper
Now that the issue is back in print in the new Swamp Thing hardcover collection, the story itself is in easy reach. Give it a read, enjoy, and hopefully Part 4 of this essay offers all you need of ‘what came before’ to make sense of SOTST #20 today.
So, without further ado, back to process:
Note, please, Marty Pasko’s final few lines in the SOTST #19 plot included in Part 4 of this essay. This is clear evidence that Alan’s script for SOTST #20 was in hand in June, 1983 — bearing out Bob Heer’s supposition about when it was likely written (see comments thread, Part 1) and John Totleben’s and my own memories and extant records of events.
As already noted, the pressure in this pressure cooker was extreme indeed.
As a team, including guest penciller Dan Day, we were straining to complete two issues of Saga of the Swamp Thing in less than one month, and begin work on SOTST #21. As already noted, we were each in various states of unusual duress in our private lives throughout all this — essential to today’s chapter is the fact that John and Michelle Totleben were to be wed (and were indeed married, as planned) even as John was simultaneously working on SOTST #19 and 20. Get your head around that for a just moment.
“This was also the do or die moment,” John Totleben says, “as Len was leaving for a two week vacation and had to have everything on his desk when he returned or the book would be cancelled. The powers that be, or were, had laid down the decree, but we all know how that panned out in the end!”
Len departed with the pencils in hand on SOTST #19, most of the inks done and the rest underway (I’ve no idea what stage Marty was at in the final scripting for letterer John Constanza, and there’s not a scrap of archived paperwork to indicate I ever knew), and with John already inking Dan Day’s pencils on #20. I was beginning work on SOTST #21, and Rick Veitch was pitching in almost from day one on that issue
Before the following, I just want to emphasize:
Dan Day saved the series by making his deadline.
Nothing can or will ever change that fact, and Dan certainly earned our collective undying gratitude for that; he should have yours, too.
That said, here we go…
As already noted, Dan’s decision to take immediate and rather radical license is obvious as soon as one compares Alan Moore’s script with the published SOTST #20.
In his introduction to the script, excerpted in Part 2 of this essay, Alan wrote of his methodology: “Where my actual panel descriptions are concerned, all I’m really interested in doing is establishing the pace of the storytelling and enough of the atmosphere for the artist to pick up on what I’m trying to do. For this reason, please don’t feel duty bound to stick everything into the panel that I suggest… since you’re the guy actually sitting at the drawing board, you’re the one with the final say on what’s going to work and what isn’t. …So don’t worry too much about the specifics.. [the latter ellipses are Alan's] just try and pick up on the mood and the dramatic pace of the story and I’ll be happy.” (etc.; read the original excerpt for the full context).
That said, Alan was not inviting the artist to upset his carefully measured “pace of the storytelling.” Alterations to panels were one thing (“…If you have the room and the inclination and want to stick in, for example, a couple of extra silent frames to enhance some particular sequence, then please go ahead…”), but compressing the already dense action of the issue by a full page by turning page 1 into a silent symbolic tableau splash pages was another matter altogether. As Alan noted in his script, “I’ve probably crowded you a little too much for that in this particular yarn, come to think of it.”
Regardless of the speed with which Dan was turning in the sorely-needed pages, and the quality of those pages, when Dan changed page 1 to the tableau-style splash page, he instantly made his editor very unhappy. Len was overjoyed with Alan’s debut script, and ecstatic over that for SOTST #21; he didn’t want anyone to deviate from what Alan’s scripts.
And, well, Dan did. Big time. Here’s Alan’s complete page 1 preamble:
Got that? And that was just the set-up for the artist, a laundry list (if you will) of things to be seen in the coming panels.
Continuing — the script for page one, proper:
That’s a lot of narrative information to dock for a splash page.
Except — well, that’s not precisely what Dan had done. Dan didn’t ignore Alan’s page 1, Dan exchanged Alan’s splash page — page 2 of the script — for his own splash page.
This didn’t throw off the pacing of the rest of the issue; it was Dan’s decision to open the issue with a dramatic full-page image rather than a 6-panel opening page, and instead move the narrative flow and information Alan had scripted as pages 1-3 into a dramatic two-page spread instead.
This also meant the splash page would be the first visual of the entire issue, rather than an interior left-hand page (page 2 of the comic).
It’s a choice one can disagree with, but it is a choice, and one based on sound visual reasoning.
Dan wanted the issue to open with a dramatic full-page image to hook the reader; Alan wanted to open with 6 panels accompanied by his protagonist’s inner voice, speaking to himself (and the reader), leading to a grisly pay-off image of Swamp Thing cradling Arcane’s remains (see script page, below).
Alan wanted to open with a page that did not show Swamp Thing.
Dan wanted to open with a dramatic portrait of Swamp Thing in Samson-like action.
Dan’s tableau is symbolic (which is only enhanced by John’s decision to add the faces of the many supporting characters, including Arcane, in place of the spectral faces Dan had roughly pencilled in — note this was decades before Scream, the movie, which is not what Dan was evoking in his pencils).
It is a potent but fatalistic image; we all know Samson’s fate, making Dan’s decision an ominous foreshadowing of what is to come.
Now, here’s what Alan had in mind for the splash page, placed on page 2:
So, this meant Dan was actually meshing the script for three pages (1, 2 and 3) into two pages of comic art — the double-page spread of pages 2 and 3, as follows:
(I couldn’t scan these two pages as a spread, sorry — I hope this loads as a double-page spread after this is posted. If need be, Cat and I will tinker with this after the fact to make it work.)
Let’s take a closer look at these two pages, and then check out what John did with these pages in the inks.
Before we analyze the artwork, let’s also read Alan’s script for page 3, which became in Dan’s double-page spread the lower tier of the double-page spread: the top tier, across both pages, was comprised of the panels Alan had composed for his script’s first page (revised to show Swamp Thing, unlike the POV – point of view – shots Alan called for). This makes page-to-page presentation of this sequence more than a little clumsy here, but bear with me.
Here’s Alan’s script for page 3:
Here’s a closer look at Dan Day’s page 2 and 3 pencils.
Remember, these were designed to be read as one spread; make the mental adjustment, please. These aren’t to be read as singular pages — read across the top of page 2, then page 3, as one narrative tier — then, read the bottom of page 2, and then the bottom of page 3, as the second complete narrative tier.
Note, those of you who care, that these pages had been lettered by John Constanza; this indicates in the flow of pages between Len, John C., John T. and me that Alan had completed his script, and Dan the pencils, for SOTST #20 before the pages for SOTST 19 I had pencilled from Marty’s dictated plot pages had been inked (meaning John Constantza had to letter those pages after they were inked — and after Dan Day’s pencils had been lettered, too):
And here is what John Totleben did with these two pages (also to be read, as above, as a double page spread).
Note that John having the script in hand while inking meant he could alter, enhance and/or add visual information to incorporate elements specified in Alan’s script that weren’t necessarily visible in Dan Day’s pencils. This is why Alan, John and I always insisted that Len mail Alan’s script to John, too. This wasn’t standard practice at the time, and there were occasional issues where I had to post John photocopies of Alan’s scripts when DC failed to. This was critical to our team cohesion and ongoing creative chemistry — and it sure was vital to the successful completion of SOTST #20.
Just as importantly, John also knew what I had pencilled in SOTST #19, and Dan Day most likely had not seen any but the earliest pages of that issue. Take this into account, too, please.
Space and time simply doesn’t permit seeing this process through page by page. Suffice to say (trust me) that what you’re seeing here is fairly typical of the symbiosis between Alan’s script, Dan’s pencils and John’s inks.
Note, too, John’s considerable reworking of Swampy’s physique. John and I had Swamp Thing down solid, and since we were the ones who redesigned the character post-“Anatomy Lesson,” we really redefined the look and feel of the character. Again, no slight to Dan Day — he was drawing Swampy as he had been, and Dan’s Swampy beats the mossy snot out of some of the versions DC had published in the years prior to Saga of the Swamp Thing‘s launch. John and I were already intensely into our own take on the character, and nobody could have second-guessed us by this point.
However, these first three pages were extraordinary — hence my decision to highlight them — in Dan’s deviation from Alan’s script. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at the final couple of pages of SOTST #20, too, because John’s final renditions were completely unlike Dan’s pencils.
Wrapping up for today, I think it’s important to note how all this shook out at the time, while the work was being done. John Totleben specifically recalls (in an email to me last week, quoted here with his permission), “Len was not entirely satisfied with the way the pencils turned out on that issue. When I asked him what he want me to do he just said, ‘Make it look good!,’ which I took as his blessing to do whatever I needed to achieve that end.”
Lest any of you think ill of the work Dan Day completed in record time, John also offers the following memory of subsequent events. “To be a bit fairer to Dan Day — I met him at a show in Toronto shortly after #20 came out and he told me that he was really not all that into drawing monsters and creepy horror stuff and felt a bit out of his element. He was quite surprised at the changes I made, but I didn’t offer any apologies for doing so.”
I think everyone can agree that John’s beyond-the-call-of-duty inking — complete with rich atmospherics, revisions and alterations — made SOTST #20 a worthy debut for Alan Moore. If nothing else, John’s attention to atmosphere and detail also made for a seamless transition between our final issue with Marty Pasko (SOTST #19) and our first collaborative effort with Alan (SOTST #21).
As Alan, John and I were exchanging lengthy letters during this period (again, this all happened long before FAXes, email and the internet), John subsequently received an enthusiastic letter from Alan, too, praising all John had done on #20 to make it better than anyone had any reason to expect.
[Note: I've decided not to post any further excerpts from Alan's letters to these online essays; the letter to Len quoted in Part 1 and 2 was part of the script package John and I received, and served a primary function there, but the rest I'll save for a hoped-for future book on this subject. Copies of the letters will soon reside in the Bissette Collection at HUIE Library at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.]
To be concluded…
Script pages ©1983, 2009 DC Comics, Inc.; physical copy property of the SpiderBaby Archives; artwork ©1983, 2009 DC Comics, Inc.; physical copy property of the SpiderBaby Archives. Swamp Thing and Saga of the Swamp Thing © and ® DC Comics, Inc.