Category Archives: Influences

Jack Davis: 1924-2016

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July 27, 2016 · 1:15 pm

A Ramble on Roger and Val and the Structure of Floppies and Television

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So, I’ve been watching this rather brilliant BBC show called ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN, and it’s really got me thinking about ways to apply its structure to comics. It’s something that the equally compelling LUTHER sparked in much the same way.

ROGER AND VAL is a remarkably brave “comedy” starring Dawn French and Alfred Molina as a married couple, and they’re the only two actors who appear in the show. It takes place in real time, with no music, just after they’ve arrived home from work. They talk about their day, and deal with whatever issues a middle-aged married couple deals with after arriving home from work. The show was created by twins Emma and Beth Kilcoyne

What I find remarkable about the show is that the first two episodes give absolutely no hint as to where things will eventually head. The first real concrete clue that the show is more than it seems comes at the very end of episode three, and then the fourth episode opens things up about halfway through with a sort of staggering moment that changes the focus as well as the viewer’s awareness of the situation.

All of that aside, it occurs to me that almost the only place I’ve seen this structure work is British television. What executive penguins (to borrow a term from Mamet) greenlight a show that, for two episodes, sets up low key expectations, only to turn them around in the next two episodes? Evidently, some executive BBC penguins do.

The existence of creator-owned comics gives comic book creators a chance to approach things this way, but when every first issue is used to judge a series as a whole, is there any way to sustain an audience doing so? Can you hook readers with clever dialogue and engaging characters, and hope that’s enough to keep them around until you twist the knife and ratchet up the interest, a few issues down the road?

Thinking about it, I guess that’s sort of what Jason Latour and I were trying to do with THE EXPATRIATE. We tried to hook readers with a mystery about a man on the run, and then threw the craziest shit we could think of in their faces. Of course, we fucked it all up after that, but I guess it was an attempt.
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Maybe that’s the only way to really make it work. Hook people with the appearance of GENRE X and then eventually reveal that it’s really GENRE Y.

With the next couple of books I’m doing, the goal is to provide reviewers and retailers with the complete series prior to release, so they can judge the book’s merits beyond the first issue. More and more I’m thinking that’s the only way to engender trust that things are headed in a direction worth following.

In any event, ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN is another example of British television impacting the way I think about storytelling in comics. And I recommend tracking it down.
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Chandler on plot vs. the scene

From the introduction to his Trouble is My Business collection, from 1950. Raymond Chandler discusses the strengths of the hard-boiled mysteries he helped popularize (and elevate). I think this bit applies to most genre storytelling…including comics:

“The technical basis of the Black Mask type of story…was that the scene outranked the plot, in the sense that a good plot was one which made good scenes. The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing. We who tried to write it had the same point of view as the film makers. When I first went to work in Hollywood a very intelligent producer told me that you couldn’t make a successful motion picture from a mystery story, because the whole point was a disclosure that took a few seconds of screen time while the audience was reaching for its hat. He was wrong, but only because he was thinking of the wrong kind of mystery.”

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The Influence Map

Shane White put out a challenge to create one of these bastards, so I did. There are several key influences I realize that I missed (Mad Magazine! The Chronicles of Narnia! Lloyd Alexander!), but it works (click for a large look):

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Road House (1948)

I’m probably the only dude in America who doesn’t get turned on by Patrick Swayze’s Road  House. Too much fake eighties gloss clinging to it for my taste, and it never really commits to being as bad as it should have been.

I did watch my father and my wife nearly come to blows over control of the remote once in Oklahoma, though. She was attempting to watch something, and my father kept insisting she flip back to Road House during commercials. You want to piss a woman off, force her to watch Road House in random four minute bursts. There was actually a point when pops almost bought a place called the Road House, just off the lake in Oklahoma. I’m sure he would have exhausted himself searching for his own personal Swayze to chase Okie trash out of the place after last call.

The original (1948) Road House, however (actually just one of a few films to share the title) … Richard Widmark, Cornell Wilde, and Ida Lupino? Fuck, yeah! It’s not great noir, really, but Widmark gets to play one of those borderline psycho roles he excelled at, Wilde gets to BOWL like a bad-ass, and Lupino drags her ass wearily through the best rendition of “One For My Baby” (maybe my all-time favorite standard) ever put on film. The scene featuring Wilde attempting to teach her to bowl, while she attempts to finger her ball without dropping her cigarette…worth the price of admission.

Look for it:

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Donald Westlake (AKA Richard Stark)

From the NY Times:

Donald E. Westlake, a prolific, award-winning mystery novelist who pounded out more than 100 books and five screenplays on manual typewriters during his half-century career, died Wednesday night. He was 75.

Mr. Westlake collapsed, apparently from a heart attack, as he headed out to New Year’s Eve dinner while on vacation in San Tancho, Mexico, said his wife, Abigail Westlake.

Mr. Westlake, considered one of the most successful and versatile mystery writers in the United States, has earned three Edgar Awards, an Academy Award nomination for screenplay writing, and the elite title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.

I was a huge fan of the Parker novels, which Darwyn Cooke is now adapting  into graphic novels for IDW. Darwyn told me he had consulted with Westlake on the books, which I thought was pretty fantastic. If you’ve never read Westlake, you owe it to yourself to check him out.

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