Night at the Western: March 2010 Winner at Zuda Comics!

Welcome from the NIGHT AT THE WESTERN team. We are honored to be the winners of the March 2010 competition at Zuda Comics, and look forward to bringing you a year of comic noir at Zuda. On this page you'll find lots of extras and behind-the-scenes looks at Night at the Western. Enjoy, and check back often for updates!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sound and Fury

Well, the sound and the fury of competition are over at Zuda, and not just for us, as it looks like the website is changing its format permanently, and eschewing the rough-and-tumble of the monthly competition in favor of some other - and yet to be named - method of choosing new comics. Part of me will be sad to see the competitions go: although it was a nerve-racking and painful process at times, and March probably aged me a year, I think that I learned a lot from competing. However, I have faith in the Zuda staff, and am sure they are making the right decision. Having runt he website one way for two-and-a-half years now, such a drastic shift would surely not be taken lightly, and I am sure it has been in the works for some time.

Meanwhile, we're working hard on Night at the Western: I've scripted out new screens, taking into consideration a lot of the comments that we got during the March competition: for one thing, you're going to be seeing fewer long caption panels and less voice-over as Yours Truly learns better how to tell a story visually. NATW is going to be a roller coaster of a ride, with plenty of bumps and shocks along the way, and I'm bursting with ideas but please do be patient, and keep in mind that October 2009's winner just started updating, so the leaves could well change before you see new panels from us up at the site.

In the meantime, feel free to peruse a tongue-in-cheek side project: because while Night at the Western might not be a barrel of laughs, many things in life are.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Night at the Western's "Soundtrack"

I've always thought comics would be a little more interesting if comics came with a soundtrack, so here's a look at what our team listens to while we're working:

Music sets the mood, so when working on the darker stuff I listen to:
Skalpel, especially, with its cut-and-paste Polish Jazz tracks, has been in heavy rotation lately.

While Cesar is drawing, here are his top 5:
Steven from Fonografiks has this to say: 

I listen to Clutchy Hopkins a lot while I work. It's mostly jazz/funk instrumentals, like a tension filled score to a modern noir thriller that hasn't been filmed yet. Check out People's Market (as Misled Children) and Clutch Of The Tiger (with Shawn Lee).

But what you hear in your head is, of course, entirely up to you!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Screen 8: From Story to Script to Screen

Here's the penultimate competition screen -- where I'm trying to bring all of that menace we've built up together, and hint at the dark night to come. I'm working, in this screen, from this chunk of the original story:

For some reason, the kid's laugh set the man off, and he stopped dancing. "Shaddap!" he yelled. His eyes flashed. "Shaddap, retard!" He turned to the woman.  "Emma, Shut up your retard son."
She smiled over at the table. "Go put some more songs on, Frankie. "Her eyes were sad. The man watched the boy get up. You could see in his eyes he hated the kid. The woman was ashamed, but she said, sharp and low to the man "Don't you tell him to shut up. He's a good boy."
They stood there and looked at each other for a while like a couple of wrestlers across a mat. I'd had enough of their show. I went to leaning against the wall again, smoking real slow. I disliked the cook very much. I have a kid brother who spends his time in a class with other kids like him. Some of them are in wheelchairs, or have braces on their legs. My kid brother just can't learn. Kids at school push him around. Once they got him to take a bath in the big sink in the locker room, and brought in the girls and stood around and laughed. Then when he got out crying and swung at one of them, they blacked his eye and busted his lip. The cook reminded me of those kids.

As with the other screens, I dialed up the menace a bit in the script:

Screen 8: Four panels, the first three across the top of the screen, the fourth a wider panel at the bottom.
Panel 1: Choker-shot of the greasy cook in his paper cap. Spittle flying from his mouth, in a rage:
    Cook: Shut up! Shut the hell up! Emma! Shut up your retard son!
Panel 2:  Close-up of Emma, her doughy face now also twisted in anger.
    Emma: Don’t you tell him to shut up! He’s a good boy!
Panel 3: Medium shot of Frankie, sitting in the booth with an empty milkshake glass pushed off to the side.  Frankie’s head is enormous, the hair on his scalp sparse, his mouth open in a worried O, with a line of drool sliding down his chin. His eyes are still invisible behind the thick glasses, which reflect the fluorescent light fixtures and, warped, the café itself.
    Emma (off panel):  Go put some more songs on, Frankie . . .
    Caption: The cook and the waitress, Emma, stood there and looked at each other for a while like a couple of wrestlers across a mat.
Panel 4: The narrator’s face, high-contrast in the light of the café window, the cigarette still burning in the side of his mouth, drifting around the lengthy captions:
    Caption (top left): I'd had enough of their show. I have a kid brother in high school, a class with other kids like Frankie. My kid brother, he just can't learn. Kids at school, they push him around. Once they got him to take a bath in the big sink in the locker room, and brought in the girls and stood around and laughed.
    Caption (bottom left): Then, when he got out and took a swing at them they blacked his eye and busted his lip . . .
    Caption: (bottom right): Well, I found every goddamned one of them. Every. One. And now you can be damned sure they leave my little brother alone.

Hopefully leaving the reader wanting to see what lies ahead.

here's the thumbnail that Cesar worked up for this screen:

Followed by these pencils:

And these inks.

But the real beauty is in the final colored page, when the reflection comes to life. Check that out at Zuda, give us a vote, and add us to your favorites. Believe me, you want to see how this Night at the Western ends . . .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Screen 7: From Story to Script to Screen.

From the Zuda message boards, it looks like Screen 7 is a bit of a favorite. It's one of my favorite screens as well, using a comics technique called a polyptych, where moving characters are repeated across a single background -- in this case, the three dancers moving left to right across the background of booths.

Here's the rather largish chunk of text I was working from:

He tossed me my keys and walked with a slow swagger back to the office. I gave him enough money for my whole room, since he was short. I knew I'd never see the half he owed me. But I'd won anyway. It was the principal of the thing that mattered. Not that he wouldn't have enough after L.A.; he'd have plenty. Plenty for the rest of his life.
I went over and took a look into the coffee-shop through the smudged plate glass. They didn't look like they expected much business. There was a man in a chef's hat dancing with a heavy woman. The man looked twenty or so. His black hair came out in greasy curls from under the short order cook hat, and his eyes didn't line up right on anything, like he was looking at two things at once. He had a big white grin on his face, and he could move. He had his greasy hands on the woman's hips and they were dancing something between a twist and a lambada--and he almost made it work. But the woman . . . she just stood there while he moved all over and laughed with her small lipless mouth hanging open. She had a very large pink uniform on, and I could see that her collar was sweat-yellowed even from through the window. She looked like a luckless forty or so, and her knees were being pulled down toward her calves by gravity. But maybe she'd been pretty once--when she was the man's age.
A kid sat in one of the booths, watching them. He was seventeenish, and his head was much too big for his body, so that it lolled always from one side to the other. His eyes were occluded behind glasses that told me he was near blind, but he watched them anyway, with his head lolling back and forth, and a thin line of drool hanging pendulously from his lower lip.
The man growled something at the woman, and sank his fingers into her expansive buttocks, which made her stop laughing long enough to slap at him playfully and say "Oh, sto-op!" This got the kid's attention and he started laughing too, real deep and slow like a steam train chugging up a hill. It was the laugh of a lobotomy case, and as he laughed he nodded his head up and down in time, and his mouth broke into an open-mouthed grin like a jack-o-lantern.

Which I stripped down to this page of script:

Screen 7: Two panels.
Panel 1:  the hotel at night, with long quadrangles of light from the café window and the office, Nick walking away, a dismissive hand over his shoulder, who also has his back to Nick, and is faced toward the window of the café. The characters cast long, scattered shadows.
    Nick: Fine. I’ll have plenty of money once we get to LA, anyhow.
Panel 2: The café, viewed through the window, with the narrator’s head and left shoulder in the foreground (outside of and slightly obscuring 3, below). The panel is divided into three parts, with the action displayed as a polyptych across the three panels.
1: Near the jukebox, a man in a paper chef’s cap is dancing with a fat, doughy woman in a waitress uniform. He is wearing a grease-stained apron.
    SFX: Huh huh huh. Huh huh.
    Caption: They didn’t seem to be expecting much business.
2: They move across the floor past a table (in the foreground) with a couple of dirty plates and an empty coffee cup on it. The man has his hands on her fat buttocks. In the background is a kid, about seventeen, sitting in a booth and watching them, an empty milkshake pushed off to one side.  His head is much too large for his body, and his eyes are invisible behind a pair of thick glasses. He is drooling. Now we see that it is him who is making the noise from 1:
    Emma: Oh, stooo—oop!
    Frankie: Huh huh huh HAH.
    Caption: This really got the kid going and his laugh started getting louder . . . like a steam-train going up a hill.
3: With a turn they are now in front of the lunch counter, and the man is holding the woman out at arm’s length. She is still smiling, but the expression on his face is one of anger.
    Frankie (off panel): HUH HA HA HA!!!
    Caption: It was the laugh of a lobotomy case, meaningless and loud, and as he laughed his head nodded up and down like a Jack o-lantern on a stick.

Cesar thumbnailed it out this way:


But then decided to change it.

And here are his excellent pencils:

Followed, as usual, by bold inks.

And of course, the full color, finished panel can be seen at Zuda Comics. Vote for us so we can continue to tell this story!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Screen 6: From Story to Script to Screen. ORIGINAL LYRICS

The main feature of panel 6 is the use of tension -- voyeurism (the view through the window into the cafe) Slightly menacing lyrics issuing from the cafe jukebox, and dialogue that, at this point, is not fully comprehensible to the reader. Heavy shadows bring a Noir tension to the faces of the characters. I feel like we are taking big risks here, possibly alienating readers who want things spelled out right away -- but I want things to unfold at a suspenseful pace, rather than giving it to everyone on a silver platter and right up front.

Here's the chunk of story that I was working from:

Inside the coffee shop, there was a jukebox playing at low volume, and the tinny sound of "Mammy!" filtered under the door. Interwoven with the music was another sound which I finally identified as laughter--a woman, probably heavy. A young man's voice answered her. And then another voice could be picked out, a childlike one talking very slowly and deliberately. The woman kept laughing, and her voice, high but with the full sound of weight behind it, gave me chills.
I decided I was going to get the key from Nick before I lost my room rights--I was too tired to put up with his knocking around in the middle of the night tonight.
Nick was walking out of the office toward me. He had a big shit-eating grin on his face, and he was holding up two sets of keys.
"Separate rooms," he said. 'You're in number nine. I'm in number ten. Queen sized beds. Color television. Free HBO."
"You paying?"
"Sure . . . for mine."
"And half of mine." I was fishing through my pockets for a cigarette, glaring up at him.
'Fuck that."
"Pay for half of mine. I need to explain it to you? To spell it out? What?"
He stood there with the keys in his hand, weighing his options. I had the cigarette in my mouth and was trying for a lighter now.
"Fine. Whatever," he said finally. "I'll have enough to pay you back after L.A."

As with all of the panels, I pushed around a lot of the details, deciding to reveal certain things a moment earlier, and other things a moment later, than in the original story. Here's the script:

Screen 6:  Five panels, arranged to fit best:
Panel 1: Nick coming out of the office door, in shadow, backlit, but we can see the grin on his face.
SFX: Music, drifting across the panel: I’m gonna turn you around and put you upside down . . .
Panel 2: The café window with the “Open All Nite” sign in close-up. A blurred figure wiping a counter down. A jukebox in the corner, all of it hazy through condensation on glass.
    SFX: Music, emanating from the jukebox . . . and if that don’t stop your runnin’ around
Panel 3: Nick’s hand dangling a key out to the Narrator:
    Nick: You’re in number nine. I’m in number ten.
    SFX: I’m a-goin’ to set my foot right down on you, a hoo-hoo . . .
Panel 4: Two-shot, the narrator taking the key.
    Nick: Queen-sized beds, color TV and HBO . . .
    Narrator: And you can pay for half of mine.
    SFX: Music continues: I’m gonna stop your struttin’ baby
Panel 5:  Choker shot, the Narrator dragging on a cigarette, smoke curling around his face.
    Nick (off panel): What the hell for?
Narrator: I have to spell it out for you? What?
SFX: Music: Till you say you’re through!

At this point, the observant reader will realize that the music has already changed from what was playing in the story. From Al Jolsen to Buddy Holly. And it's not Buddy Holly in the final panels singing, but yet a third song. It was Buddy Holly until the last minute, when we found out that we wouldn't be able to use those lyrics (defensible, I thought, as a cultural reference) and had to replace them. And here's where a varied career comes in handy: I had lyrics of my own from way back in university, when I was upright bassist for The Chop Tops and I penned a country / blues number called "I Blame You." Since this screen is all about some unexplained tension between the two men, the lyrics fit perfectly.

Cesar thumbnailed the panel out like this:

And from there worked up these pencils:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Screen 5: From Script to Severed Fingers . . . er . . . Screen, that is.

Screen Five is one of my favorites for sure, and the moment when we get a flash of what's in store for our characters at the Western Motel -- and we get to make a visual rhyme between the glow of a Coke machine and blood -- one of my favorite moments of this 8-page teaser. Here's the script:

Screen 5: Divided vertically into four panels.
Panel 1: The Narrator emerging from the office door, crossing toward the coke machine panel left. Behind him, Nick is leaning on the counter, talking to Laura.
Caption: But that’s how it was.
Panel 2: he is standing in front of the coke machine. We see him in profile, tense face in the red, bloody-looking light of the machine, plunking quarters in.
                Inset: Quarter going into the slot.
Caption: Dead as dead could be.
SFX: Kt-Chunk!
Panel 3: The Narrator’s POV, looking into the office at Nick, who is leaned across the counter and holding onto Laura’s wrist. She is in mid-laugh, her teeth showing. It is her right hand, and it looks as if he is about to read her palm or something similar. We see all of this through the glass doors and OPEN sign on the window, all the clutter of looking in from outside.
Panel 4: A pool of blood on a concrete floor , a bloodied hand missing two fingers, and the top of a scalp, not identifiably any one character’s, though the hair is dark and matted with blood. Drifting across the inset in jagged lettering, and bleeding just slightly over into the full panel: LLLllaaauuuurrraaaa!!!!! Whhhaaaiiii???
Caption (to main panel): And he wouldn’t be the only one.

Which Cesar thumbnails out here:


And then turns into this set of unnerving pencils: 

Followed by these heavy inks, after the jump:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Screen 4: From Story to Script to Screen

Screen 4 is the first interior, and gives us a chance to meet our "femme fatale" in this story -- Laura. if anyone gets that name-check, you let me know.

This, basically, is the chunk of story that I was working with for this screen:

The office was a shabby little room, with handwritten notes on the walls about smoking (none in the rooms) and checkout times, and dusty posters of desert island vistas and palm trees on beaches-neither of which were anywhere near this place. There was no-one behind the counter, but we could hear the TV playing in the back room. We rang the bell.

I remember the feeling that hit me when she walked out. Her face was like a painting I had seen once and stared at wondering. Nick started in on her instantly--I recognized that look; his face went a little white, and his smile came out, wolfish, charming.

She smiled at us. She was short, with black hair, pale skin, her face a little round. She had glasses on with thick frames that made her look young, poor, and smart all at the same time. She was pretty, but not in a California way. She was wearing a blue knee-length dress and a black faux-fur coat.

"Hi," Nick drawled. "We need a room and some gas." He leaned over the counter and nudged me in the shin (my signal).

And here is how I converted it to script format. I made a major change, and decided to use a film noir technique of heavy foreshadowing here. I want the reader to know that some of the characters are doomed, but just be wondering how . . . and more importantly, who will survive. Not as extreme a technique as D.O.A or Sunset Boulevard, both films which start with dead narrators, but I wanted Zuda readers to know up-front that there would be a bodycount.

Screen 4: Divided horizontally again. One widescreen panel along the top, then two panels below.
Panel 1: The office is a shabby little room, with handwritten notes on the walls about smoking (none in the rooms) and checkout times, a chipped formica countertop, and dusty posters of desert island vistas and palm trees on beaches. Happy people in ‘50s bathing suits grin out from the beach photos on the walls. The shot is from behind the two men, with the Narrator still on the driver’s side, slightly frame left, Nick to the center, ringing the old fashioned bell.
SFX: Ding!
Caption: There was nobody behind the counter, but we could hear the TV playing in the back room.
Panel 2: Medium shot of Laura, coming from the back room. A pale face with a scattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, hair in a bob with bangs, and thick-rimmed glasses that look out of place on a face this classically beautiful, in an old-fashioned way. She is wearing a thrift-store faux-fur coat and a dress with a lace collar.
Caption: She was pretty, but not in a California way . . . she had one of those faces that you find yourself staring at in wonder, like a painting that catches you in a gallery.
Panel 3: Counter-shot, Nick’s face with a wolfish grin on it.
Nick: Hiii . . .
Caption: He started in on her right away. I’d seen it before – this sudden shift in him, an alertness that came into him like a dog hunching its shoulders.
Caption: Suddenly so alert . . . it was hard to imagine that by dawn his blood and brains would be all over the cement floor of some lonely garage.

If that doesn't get the reader's attention, I'm not sure what will . . .

Cesar thumbnailed the scene out like this . . .

And from that, built these excellent pencils, which you can see after the jump . . .