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Issue #178

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #178
  • Tough week here. Four deadlines bearing down on me: an issue of the latest ROBOCOP mini-series, an issue of my CSI mini-series, an assessment of THE SPIRIT for THE COMICS JOURNAL‘s forthcoming Will Eisner commemorative issue, and a 5000 word short prose story for an upcoming paperback anthology. And that’s just this week…

    Recently I got an e-mail asking why several graphic novels I said in the past I was working on aren’t out yet. For the most part, it comes down to one word: artists. The three I wrote for Platinum Studios are still being drawn. Then I was doing three for the fine folks over at AiT-PlanetLar Books: the return of Whisper, a “death of the west” western, and a political crime thriller.

    So far, WHISPER: DAY X has been through three artists, all of whom (at different times) insisted pages were being done and dragged their feet for months before finally vanishing off the face of the earth without producing a thing. The script is done, and has been for ages. We’re still looking for another artist for that one.

    The western, RED SUNSET, is fully scripted. The artist drew around three-quarters of it. He was threatening to have the rest done a few months back, and now his e-mail address is no longer valid. So your guess is as good as mine at this point.

    VIDEOACTIVE, though, was my fault.

    There are some things that sound really good in your head. I liked the idea. I still like the general idea. Larry Young liked the idea. He liked it so much he lined an artist right up, Toby Cypress.

    There was a little problem, though. Toby was ready to start right away, wanted to start right away (and Toby’s quick!) – and I hadn’t written a word of it at that point. As is often the freelancer’s life, I was juggling a lot of different things, and sitting down to completely work out and write the book was out of the question. But neither of us wanted to lose Toby, so I did the worst thing possible:

    I started feeding him pages.

    A lot of comics companies work that way – not Larry, usually, that I’m aware of, but I’ve slapped books together that way for virtually every monthlies publisher I’ve ever worked with – and there’s something to be said for writing on the fly (sometimes you can get a transcendent energy from it you can’t achieve any other way), but it’s one thing to do it on a 22 page monthly comic and another on an 80+ page graphic novel. (Not that I really think stories under 128 pages at an absolute minimum should be called graphic novels but that’s another topic…) The downside is huge: what you do early on ends up locked in stone when you do the rest of it later. In most cases, writers don’t have a huge amount of power in this business; it’s usually their job to “write around” artist deviations from the plot or script, not to insist material be redrawn. Not that this was a problem with Toby, but the principle was the same. I’d been writing chunks of the story piecemeal over a few months and was thirty-odd pages in when I had the worst revelation a writer can have:

    It didn’t work.

    I’m not talking little plot points didn’t work. You can always fix those if you’re willing to beat yourself up enough to do it. The situation didn’t work. The characters didn’t work. The flow was choppy. The action meandered. Things happened just to create movement on the page, and nothing really progressed. The protagonist was weak. The dialogue was clunky and needed a complete overhaul. Motivations and objectives were too obscure, and after thirty pages I doubt anyone coming to it cold would’ve had a clue about what was actually supposed to be going on in the story. It didn’t work.

    Which didn’t mean the story couldn’t be saved. I’ve since figured out ways to save it, and plan to one of these days. (Hopefully before summer, so if anyone mentions VIDEOACTIVE, be sure to plant one of those ™ symbols right after it, okay?) Trouble is, the way to save the story is to turn it into a completely different story. Unfortunately, sometimes you only figure this out midstream.

    Meaning the art’s unsalvageable. None of it can be used for the new version. Which means Toby’s out in the cold with 30+ pages of art he can’t use anywhere else for a story that’s never going to be finished. So I’d like to publicly apologize to Toby for making him waste his time (and to Larry, who got caught in the middle of it). It wasn’t my intention, but it’s how it worked out, and it really is all my fault.

    That’s the problem with karma. Maybe it does come back, but in my experience it almost always comes back on the wrong person.

    Like I said, I plan to do a new, better VIDEOACTIVE at the earliest possible opportunity. In the meantime, I get a lot of requests for script samples. Bear in mind I don’t use standard comics script format but instead use a modified screenplay format, but, since most wannabe writers never see the stuff that goes horribly wrong, here, for the first and only time, transliterated as best as possible into HTML language, are a few pages (self-censored for language; I’ll put language in a script that I don’t feel comfortable with in the column) of a script that went horribly wrong. See if you can spot where.

  • PAGE ONE

    OPEN ON:

    1. LARGE OVERHEAD SHOT, FULL ACROSS THE PAGE, HALFWAY DOWN. INT. SUNSET HICKS’ APARTMENT – THE LIVING ROOM. It’s an apartment a woman would live in: nice furniture, everything neatly in its place, the furniture tasteful – modern chairs, leather sofas, matching chrome standing lamps, matching tables, finished matching natural pine bookshelves and entertainment center. (See diagram.) Or that’s what it would look like under normal circumstances. Everything’s in disarray now, as if the place has been ransacked. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM is SUNSET HICKS. (For Sunset, think a 28 year old.) She’s dressed in a woman’s nice suit, skirt not slacks, nylons but no shoes. She’s on her knees, sitting back on her legs, ankles tied together, wrists tied together behind her back. She’s blindfolded. Coming out of the bedroom, a little nervous, is CLUNY. He’s fairly young, younger than Sunset, and jittery, though we get that more from his body language than his face, since we can’t see his face. He’s wearing sneakers, a jump suit, and a ski mask. So does RAYMONDS, an older man in his 50s, muscle going to seed, who stands near Sunset, slightly in back of her, and looks with exasperation toward Cluny. Both men hold snub-nosed 38s.

    CLUNY

    It’s not here.

    RAYMONDS

    Goddammit.

    2. Across the page, one quarter in height. LOW ANGLE SHOT, looking up past Sunset’s face to Raymonds. Raymonds has grabbed Sunset’s hair and pulled her head back so she’s forced to “look” up at the ceiling, though, of course, she’s blindfolded so she can’t see anything. He grinds the nose of the .38 into her hairline at her temple and thumbs back the hammer with his thumb. There’s cold rage in his eyes.

    RAYMONDS

    You’ve got a beautiful carpet, Officer Hicks. Don’t make me get blood all over it.

    RAYMONDS

    Or do you want to die? Is that what you want?

    3. Across the page, one quarter in height. LOOKING DOWN, for a CLOSE-UP of Sunset’s face. The snub-nose is still pressed to her scalp. But she has a sly, triumphant smirk on her lips. She doesn’t seem angry or threatened at all.

    SUNSET

    I already got what I want, Franky.

    SUNSET

    Let’s rock and roll.

    PAGE TWO

    1. INT. WAITING ROOM. The austere but tasteful offices of L.A. Deputy Police Chief Simon Timmons. It could be a dentist’s waiting room. Sunset Hicks, in her policewoman’s dress outfit – skirt, high heels – sits a little uncomfortably in one of the functional waiting room chairs, looking up from her magazine as the RECEPTIONIST, a conservative brick of a woman in her 50s, who sits on the other side of her window and eyes Sunset like an exterminator examining a strange bug. There’s an opaqued window on the wall perpendicular to where Sunset sits. Next to the receptionist’s window is a door leading to the inner offices, and opposite that, next to Sunset, is the exit door. No one else is in the room.

    CAPTION

    Six months ago:

    RECEPTIONIST

    What kind of name is Sunset anyway?

    SUNSET

    My father loved California sunsets. He liked the name.

    2. OBSERVATION ROOM. Deputy chief TIMMONS and Franky Raymonds look out at Sunset through the opaqued window, which is see-through from this side. It’s a small room, you have to stand up in here. Timmons is in his 50s and, though dressed in a very nice businessman’s suit (Brooks Brothers, not Armani), looks like a thug. He eyes Sunset with utter disgust. Raymonds is normally dressed, in a sports coat and slacks, and blandly half-glances at Sunset without any real emotion whatsoever.

    TIMMONS

    So she’s the one who shot her partner.

    TIMMONS

    I went to academy with her father, did you know that?

    RAYMONDS

    I didn’t, sir.

    3. HALLWAY. Raymonds, IN THE FOREGROUND, is just coming out of the room, still holding the door, watching Timmons, who walks away from Raymonds and “us,” slouching slightly as he walks, as if he’s feeling vaguely defeated. The hallway is nondescript.

    TIMMONS

    He was a blasphemous little turd of a man. I see the daughter carries on the family tradition.

    TIMMONS

    Let’s get this over with, Frank.

    4. THE WAITING ROOM. Raymonds opens the inner door and thumbs Sunset in. He looks at her blandly, as if she’s not worthy of more energy than that. Sunset sets down the magazine and starts to get up as she looks over at him.

    RAYMONDS

    Deputy chief Timmons will see you now, officer.

    PAGE THREE>

    1. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: A bedroom – a couple having sex. Lights are low but not off. The YOUNG MAN is in his 20s, muscular, longish curly dark hair, a thick moustache that curves down to his jawline and makes him look vaguely sinister. The YOUNG WOMAN is about the same age, long straight blonde hair, the girl next door. We’re looking at them from IN FRONT, SLIGHTLY OFF TO ONE SIDE. They kneel, naked, on the bed, the woman leaning forward to brace herself with one hand. He’s behind her, pressed against her, leaning into her and reaching around her to cup his hands over her breast. Her leg extends forward a bit, blocking any view of her genitalia, while her body blocks most of our view of him. We can’t tell which hole he’s in but whatever they’re doing, it’s not missionary position. Both gasp and smile and roll their eyes in an overdramatic contorted display of carnal ecstacy.

    SFX

    (stylistically a little wild)

    UHHH UHHH UHHH UHHH

    2. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: SAME ROOM. We’re behind the couple now. They’re IN THE BACKGROUND. IN THE FOREGROUND, framing the couple, are the shoulders of TWO MEN in nice but conservative suits. One should give the impression of being a heavy man. The couple, startled and angered, crane their heads around for a look at “us.” Whatever naughty parts might be visible should be blocked by one shoulder or another.

    MAN

    That’s quite enough of that!

    YOUNG MAN

    HEY!

    3. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: CLOSE-UP Young man’s face, contorted with rage, craning over his “shoulder” to yell at us. He looks like a sex-crazed madman.

    YOUNG MAN

    YOUNG MAN
    This is our home!

    YOUNG MAN

    Get out of here or I’ll call the police!

    4. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: TWO SHOT – the two men. The fat one is in his 60s and beams mock-tolerantly at “us,” as if chiding us for our youthful stupidity. The older man is old and skinny to the point of prunishness; he gives the impression of being mummified, and he glares at us with scornful, unforgiving eyes. Both are clean-shaven, clean-cut, very aristocratic looking. They wear very nice suits and ties, they look like… well, stereotypical Republicans. Again, they frame the BACKGROUND: a couple of stereotypical KEYSTONE COPS who stand not too far behind the two men and smile viciously as they twirl their billy clubs.

    FAT MAN

    We own the police, young man.

    FAT MAN

    You should learn to respect your elders.

    5. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: Again, the two men frame the picture, but they’ve turned to “us.” The fat man smiles with “see what will happen to you” glee while the old man continues to glare fiercely. IN THE BACKGROUND, the couple is now pulled apart. One cop is wailing on the young man with his billy club; the young man is curled up fetally, covering his head with his arms, trying to protect himself. The other cop stands with his back to us, his pants down, and his legs spread just far enough apart that we can see the young woman kneeling in front of him, her hands reaching around to hold onto his butt, which his shirttails cover.

    FAT MAN

    This year, vote Republican.

    FAT MAN

    Because the only thing the government should regulate is your sex life.

    6. One-half across the page, one-third in height. Pull back: Timmons turns his head to scowl at “us” as he points a remote control across a CONFERENCE ROOM to switch off the large wall-mounted TV screen. That’s the screen we’ve been watching.

    TIMMONS

    That filth interrupted the Superbowl last Sunday.

    TIMMONS

    Approximately 140 million men, women and children in this country saw it.

    PAGE FOUR

    1. WIDEN OUT to show the conference room. It’s mostly a large oak table surrounded by chairs. Windows go from the ceiling halfway to the floor the length of the room on one wall, offering a view of the Los Angeles skyline. Timmons seats himself at one end of the table. The TV is on the wall behind him. Raymonds stands stiffly in the corner near Timmons and clinically watches Sunset, who sits primly and politely at the other end of the table, hands folded on the table in front of her.

    TIMMONS

    The FCC has determined the broadcast originated from Southern California. The FBI is launching an investigation.

    TIMMONS

    They’ve asked for a liaison with the force and I’m assigning you.

    2. CLOSE-UP REACTION SHOT Sunset. She’s not quite insubordinate, but she’s seething a little, and there’s suspicion in her eyes.

    SUNSET

    So you’re sending me to Siberia.

    SUNSET

    Is this my punishment?

    3. Timmons shoots Sunset a look across the table, as if he’s mock-bewildered by what she’s saying but is smirking at her with the same “feel my power” smugness the fat man in the commercial demonstrated. Raymonds flashes a horrified look at Sunset, but Timmons isn’t looking at him so he doesn’t see it.

    TIMMONS

    Are you refusing your assignment, officer?

    SUNSET

    No, sir. I just don’t believe it’s coincidental.

    SUNSET

    We all know the bureau’s attitude toward local cops.

    4. CLOSE-UP Timmons, who continues to smile but it’s tighter now, as if he’s fighting to keep smiling, and there’s anger in his eyes.

    TIMMONS

    Officer Hicks, if I could I’d put you in the electric chair. At minimum, I’d certainly throw you off the force.

    TIMMONS

    But you’re the media’s darling, the policewoman who murdered her own partner to save the life of a citizen.

    PAGE FIVE

    1. Sunset seethes more as she peers down the table at Timmons. Timmons, sort of closing in on himself in impotent fury, peers back down the table at her with sheer hatred.

    SUNSET

    Sir, he was going to kill her. I warned him to stop –

    TIMMONS

    The woman was a crack whore.

    SUNSET

    She hadn’t done anything!

    2. CLOSE-UP Timmons, choking back his rage, letting his hatred pour out. Behind him and off to the side, Raymonds watches uncomfortably.

    TIMMONS

    A policeman’s life takes precedence over everything. If you don’t understand that, you don’t deserve the badge.

    TIMMONS

    Raymonds. Get her out of here.

    3. HALLWAY. Raymonds and Sunset walk down the hall, Raymonds hanging just a little ways back, looking mildly amused and fed up. Sunset half turns to look back at him, as if she’s a bit baffled by what he’s saying.

    RAYMONDS

    Nice going, Hicks.

    RAYMONDS

    Timmons gives sermons at his church in Glendale every Sunday.

    4. TWO-SHOT at the door to the outer office. Sunset looks at Raymonds with a “y’know, I’d love to but I just can’t quite bring myself to do it” grimace, and Raymonds rolls his eyes, as if amused by what he perceives as her sheer stupidity.

    RAYMONDS

    Want to rehabilitate your rep? You might consider attending regularly.

    SUNSET

    That’s some evangelical thing, right?

    SUNSET

    I don’t think I could do that.

    5. Raymonds opens the door and waves Sunset out, and as she passes, she looks at him thoughtfully. He looks at her, again with dark amusement, as if she’s about to make a comic pratfall and doesn’t realize it while he does.

    RAYMONDS

    Some advice: check the promotion rosters against who goes to Timmons’ church. But, hey, it’s your career.

    RAYMONDS

    Be in plainclothes at the Federal building 9 AM Monday. And welcome to Siberia.

    PAGE SIX

    1. THE FEDERAL BUILDING, WESTWOOD – DAY. Sunset, dressed in a nice Diana Karan suit (skirt, not slacks) and tasteful heels, carrying a medium sized black leather purse over her shoulder, walks across the parking lot toward the building, one of MANY PEOPLE, mostly also in nice suits, walking toward it. (This building actually exists, at the corner of Westwood Blvd and Veteran Ave. Try to get some reference on it.)

    2. INT. LOBBY. Sunset waits in line in the lobby to go through a METAL DETECTOR to get to the elevators. She digs in her purse. There’s a UNIFORMED SECURITY GUARD at the metal detector, eyeing everyone who goes through with bland suspicion.

    3. HIGH ANGLE SHOT, SECURITY CAMERA VIEW. Sunset walks through the metal detector, holding up her identification for the security guard to see. If she notices a security camera, she doesn’t give any indication of it. Her attention is on the security guard, not on “us.”

    FLOATING BALLOON

    She’s here.

    FLOATING BALLOON

    Keep an eye on her.

    4. INT. FBI OFFICES. The offices are big, open, modern, with a circular reception area. There are numerous desks, but they’re all modern too, and various AGENTS at their desk, doing their work. The RECEPTIONIST is young but proper, and she smiles politely at Sunset as she approaches, and points off down to the right, but it’s barely more than a hand movement.

    SUNSET

    Hi. I’m supposed to see an Agent Markley –

    RECEPTIONIST

    The corner office all the way at the end.

    5. INT. AGENT MARKLEY’S OFFICE. We’re BEHIND Sunset as she raps nervously on the door and looks in. MARKLEY sits behind his desk and looks up harshly, glaring suspiciously at Sunset. Markley is in his 40s, a once handsome man now gone fire and brimstone thin in the face, and his hair is receding too. Behind Markley’s fine desk are floor-to-ceiling corner windows that allow a view of the Westwood skyscape.

    SUNSET

    Special agent Markley?

    MARKLEY

    I’m sorry, do you work here?

    PAGE SEVEN

    1. REVERSE ANGLES. We’re behind Markley now, and we’re looking over his shoulder at Sunset, who stands uncertainly in the doorway. Markley stands, leaning forward on his desk, eyes fixed hawkishly on Sunset.

    SUNSET

    I’m –

    MARKLEY

    I know who you are, officer Hicks. We do keep track of cop killers here.

    MARKLEY

    That isn’t what I asked. I asked if you work here.

    2. Markley starts toward Sunset now. He’s not moving quickly or threateningly but there’s a faint, dangerous smugness about him that he doesn’t realize is there, and Sunset’s starting to get a little pissed off by his attitude.

    SUNSET

    I was assigned –

    MARKLEY

    The correct answer is no, you don’t work here.

    MARKLEY

    Federal agents work here. You’re a police officer.

    3. Without even looking at her, Markley takes Sunset by the upper arm – not painfully but firmly, and begins to usher her out into the general offices. He has that smugly stern look on his face. Sunset doesn’t resist, but we can tell she’s resenting this.

    MARKLEY

    You have no standing here. You’re not an investigator.

    MARKLEY

    If we need data from the Los Angeles Police Department, it’s your responsibility to get it.

    4. Markley “delivers” Sunset to the desk of SPECIAL AGENT DEANA CHAPIN, an attractive woman in her mid-30s. She wears attractive glasses. Markley looks down at Chapin, Chapin looks up at him, neither look at Sunset, who’s fuming but bottling it up. Markley takes his hand off Sunset’s arm. Chapin seems all business, no emotion.

    MARKLEY

    You’re not to deliver any bureau data to the LAPD unless specifically asked to do so.

    MARKLEY

    This is special agent Chapin. She’ll be your contact here. Do what she tells you.

    5. Markley turns his back on them and walks away without missing a beat. Sunset, standing next to Chapin, sourly watches him leave. Chapin allows herself a faint smile.

    MARKLEY

    If I catch you dispensing information from this office, I’ll have you prosecuted.

    MARKLEY

    Please don’t ever come into my office again.

    SUNSET

    He always like that?

    6. Chapin turns to Sunset now, and extends her hand with a friendly but not too-warm smile. Sunset relaxes and brightens a little, and shakes Chapin’s hand.

    CHAPIN

    That’s strictly need to know. Call me Deana, by the way. Okay if I call you Sunset?

    CHAPIN

    You’ve got quite the interesting dossier. Let’s get you a desk.

    PAGE EIGHT

    1. Later. Chapin enters Markley’s office, where Markley stands at the window to the outer offices, propped against it with an arm and propping his chin on his arm to stare darkly and thoughtfully out at Sunset, now sitting at a desk across the room with her back to Markley. Chapin is a bit chagrined as she looks at Markley.

    MARKLEY

    What’d you think?

    CHAPIN

    Who’d have expected Timmons to send us an honest one?

    2. Markley, straightening up, turns toward Chapin with a wry smile. Chapin, closing the door behind her, seems uncomfortable with what Markley’s saying.

    MARKLEY

    She’s a local. How honest could she be?

    MARKLEY

    At any rate, we work with what we’ve got.

    3. Chapin continues to stand, turning to keep facing Markley as he sits behind his desk. We can see his mind working, but he’s just a bit too impressed with his own cleverness. Chapin continues to look a bit unsettled.

    MARKLEY

    Give her a few days to settle in. Make yourself her new best friend.

    MARKLEY

    I’ll have taps on her phones and cameras in her home by day’s end.

    CHAPIN

    That legal?

    4. Markley, seated behind his desk, looks up sharply at Chapin. He’s a man who doesn’t like to be argued with. Chapin flinches a bit, unwilling to strongly challenge him.

    MARKLEY

    We can always find a judge who’ll say it is. Have a problem, agent Chapin?

    CHAPIN

    It’s just… this could destroy her. What if she doesn’t deserve it?

    5. Markley leans back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, eyeing Chapin like she’s some curious specimen, as if he’s trying to determine whether she’s a potential problem. Chapin’s really uncomfortable now, and a little nervous about being looked at that way. Her body language suggests submissiveness, sending the signal that, no, she won’t be a problem.

    MARKLEY

    She’s LAPD.

    MARKLEY

    If she’s not dirty now, it’s only a matter of time. Consider this a pre-emptive strike.

    CHAPIN

    Just out of curiosity, why do you hate Los Angeles so much?

    6. Markley, no longer looking at Chapin, starts working on papers on his desk. Chapin’s headed out the door, but turns her head to look at Markley, as if hoping to see some change for the better in him.

    MARKLEY

    A much better question’s why don’t you?

    MARKLEY

    That’s all for now. Keep me updated.

    PAGE NINE

    1. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: HOMELESS MAN, white and in his 40s, stands on a street corner, staring out dumbly at nothing at all, as if afraid to look in the eyes of the PEOPLE hurrying past without paying attention. He’s dressed in what seems to have once been a fairly nice suit, and for being dirty with ragged hair and beard he looks very middle class. He holds up a broken Styrofoam coffee cup and wears a sign pinned to his chest that reads: WIPED OUT BY STOCK MARKET – PLEASE HELP.

    HOMELESS MAN

    Spare change? Spare change?

    2. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: Two FAT, PIGGISH LOOKING MEN in very nice suits get out of a stretch limousine – the door is held open by a very proper CHAUFFEUR. The piggish looking men have nothing but contempt on their faces. IN THE BACKGROUND, Homeless Man sees them, gets angry and points accusingly.

    HOMELESS MAN

    You!

    HOMELESS MAN

    I know you!

    3. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: Homeless Man stalks angrily toward the Piggish Looking Men. They turn toward him, eyeing him with amused contempt.

    HOMELESS MAN

    You told me to put all my money in the stock market!

    HOMELESS MAN

    Then you cashed out, crashed the stock and left me penniless!

    4. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: Homeless Man and one of the Piggish Men are eye to eye now. The Homeless Man is furious, unwittingly, holding the coffee cup out in front of him, but the Piggish Man smirks back with utter, unfeeling contempt.

    HOMELESS MAN

    That was everything I had!

    PIGGISH MAN

    Too bad. It’s mine now.

    PIGGISH MAN

    Thank goodness for deregulation.

    5. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: Homeless Man is startled and flinches and cowers as POLICEMEN appear from nowhere, pummeling him with nightsticks. The Piggish Man deftly, with a cruel smile, plucks the coffee cup from Homeless Man’s hand.

    PIGGISH MAN

    And law and order.

    PIGGISH MAN

    And I can get welfare from the government but you can’t.

    6. One-half across the page, one-third in height. TV SCREEN: As, IN THE BACKGROUND, the policemen drag off the Homeless Man, IN THE FOREGROUND, the Piggish Man empties the contents of the cup, a couple dollars and a few coins, into the palm of his hand, and he and the other Piggish Man beam down on the sight of the money with sheer rapacious flee, as if having an orgasm right there on the spot.

    CAPTION

    This year, vote Republican, because the rich can never be rich enough.

    CAPTION

    And you wouldn’t know what to do with your money anyway.

    PAGE TEN

    1. INT. FBI OFFICES – CONFERENCE ROOM. It could easily be an insurance agency. There are a dozen AGENTS, mostly men but a couple of women, including Chapin, of ages varying from 26-50 and of varying races, all dressed in nice, conservative suits, sitting seriously around a long formica-topped table. Each has a manila folder full of briefing papers on the table before them. At the head of the table stands Markley, who points a control at the 42″ projection TV behind him to switch it off. An agent toward the front of the table, a 30-something Asian man named SPECIAL AGENT YOSHIDA, skeptically voices an opinion. Both Markley and Chapin are in different clothes than the last time we saw them, indicating it’s a different day.

    MARKLEY

    That interrupted The ABC Evening News last night.

    YOSHIDA

    A bit crude, wasn’t it? As propaganda, it’s laughable.

    YOSHIDA

    How do they expect to change anyone’s mind with that?

    2. Markley, suppressing a weary sigh, looks hard at Yoshida, who cringes in his chair just slightly, aware he has incurred Markley’s quiet wrath.

    MARKLEY

    Their political views and production values aren’t the issue. What’s at issue is they’re breaking the law.

    MARKLEY

    And every time they do it some ***hole journalist gets some ***hole congressman to pester the attorney general.

    3. A bit nervously, Chapin and the rest of the agents get out of their seats and start edging for the door, holding their manila folders but never taking wary eyes off Markley, who doesn’t look at them, but half-turns toward us, muted but seemingly embittered.

    MARKLEY

    Then the A.G. calls the director, who calls me to ask why we haven’t brought in the video pirates yet.

    MARKLEY

    Go forth, my children, and find me something to tell him.

    4. THE MAIN OFFICE AREA. Sunset, sitting at her desk – she’s also in different clothes now, also a nice but conservative woman’s suit – looks up as Chapin approaches her. Chapin, manila folder in hand, gives her a friendly, if weary, smile; it shouldn’t seem as though Chapin’s making a beeline for Sunset’s desk but is just passing by. Sunset looks more bored than anything else.

    SUNSET

    Trouble in River City?

    CHAPIN

    The usual. Markley’s on another tear.

    CHAPIN

    Hey, let me ask you something.

    PAGE ELEVEN

    1. Chapin casually sits on the lip of Sunset’s desk, resting her hands on it to balance herself and in the process absent-mindedly setting the manila envelope down. Sunset doesn’t notice it, because she’s looking with a little surprise at Chapin.

    CHAPIN

    I need you to check LAPD files for anyone arrested for computer crime or electronic theft in the past five years.

    SUNSET

    I’d need permission from my bosses.

    SUNSET

    Doesn’t Markley have to authorize something like that?

    2. TWO SHOT looking up over Sunset’s shoulder as Sunset looks with dark thought up at Chapin, who clasps her hands behind her neck, craning her neck around as if stretching. Chapin winces a bit from the effort.

    CHAPIN

    Just between you and me, sometimes Markley’s too paranoid for his own good.

    CHAPIN

    I mean, we’re all on the same side, right? Where’s the problem?

    3. Chapin whips her head around, suddenly tensing, and she and Sunset both look over at Markley, who stands impatiently outside the conference room door.

    CHAPIN

    Anyway, I’ll take responsibility –

    MARKLEY

    Agent Chapin! My office! Now!

    4. IN THE FOREGROUND – we’re looking at the room as if we were standing in the doorway to Markley’s office, looking out – Chapin walks swiftly toward “us.” She looks businesslike, wary, a touch worried. She doesn’t carry the manila file. At her desk IN THE BACKGROUND, Sunset watches Chapin leave. Sunset looks unsettled, as if she really just doesn’t like being there.

    No dialogue.

    PAGE TWELVE

    1. At her desk, Sunset looks down at the manila folder still sitting on the edge of her desk. She’s a bit surprised, and a bit put off, to see it.

    No dialogue.

    2. Sunset looks warily around the room as she sets her hand atop the manila folder. The various agents are busy with their own work, no one’s paying attention to her.

    No dialogue.

    3. Sunset sits back in her chair, the manila folder open on her lap, and she reads a paper inside, running her finger along the lines as she reads.

    No dialogue.

    4. CLOSE-UP REACTION SHOT Sunset looks down at the page she’s reading and gasps. There’s disbelief on her face, and something like paranoia, as if all kinds of unpleasant thoughts are suddenly battling it out in her brain.

    SUNSET

    (tiny)

    Oh ****.

    PAGE THIRTEEN

    1. EXT. LOS ANGELES CIVIC CENTER – NIGHT. There are various people in full evening dress – tuxedos and gowns, that sort of thing, and nothing kinky about it like crossdressing or anything like that; this is a conservative, moneyed crowd – milling around the doors to the civic center, chatting and drinking champagne from fancy champagne flutes, as if something inside is on intermission. Sunset, dressed in her usual clothes, walks uncomfortably among them, aware of how out of place she is.

    No dialogue.

    2. INT. CIVIC CENTER. At the bar, snappily dressed in a tuxedo and holding a glass of scotch and ice rather than champagne in a flute, Raymonds is approached by a vaguely apprehensive SECURITY GUARD, a burly black ex-football player type, in an off-the-rack blazer. Raymonds glances at him with annoyance. Standing near Raymonds but paying no attention is Timmons, also in tuxedo but with no drink in hand, who is speaking earnestly to a slender older exquisitely tuxedoed (in a very conservative manner) white man named ELIJAH PEAL, who seems pleasant enough but has a vaguely satanic air about him, merciless and sociopathic. But don’t focus on him here.

    GUARD

    Mr. Raymonds?

    GUARD

    There’s a police officer here who says she needs to speak with you.

    3. EXT. LA CIVIC CENTER – NIGHT. Raymonds, no longer glass in hand, comes stomping out of the civic center, heading toward Sunset, who turns to look at him, vaguely puzzled, as she stands there. The other people are starting to head back in, though this is in no way a reaction to what’s going on with Raymonds and Sunset.

    RAYMONDS

    ****, Hicks, you out of your mind?

    RAYMONDS

    If Timmons catches you crashing his fundraiser, your *** is grass.

    SUNSET

    Your office said you’d be here. Didn’t know Timmons was running for anything.

    4. Glancing over his shoulder as if to make sure no one’s watching him, Raymonds grasps Sunset around the bicep and hustles her away from the center. Sunset doesn’t resist, but she does look at him with annoyance. He’s mildly pissed off.

    RAYMONDS

    He’s not. The chief’s backing Elijah Peal for governor. Expects to sit at “the lord’s” right hand after election day.

    SUNSET

    And Timmons moves up to chief.

    RAYMONDS

    Right. So what’s so urgent it couldn’t wait?

    PAGE FOURTEEN

    1. THE BOTTOM OF THE STEPS. Sunset and Raymonds talk to each other – Raymonds smirking with anticipation, Sunset reticent – paying no attention to the security camera on a lightpole, aiming down at them.

    RAYMONDS

    Scope out something juicy from the Feds for me?

    SUNSET

    Yeah. I think.

    SUNSET

    I mean…

    2. INT. VAN. A surveillance van. Markley leans eagerly, excitedly (in a good way), over the shoulder of a SURVEILLANCE TECHNICIAN for a good view of the TV monitor in the Tech’s control panel. Chapin’s there as well, hanging back, uncertain and uncomfortable about what they’re doing.

    MARKLEY

    Here it comes. We’ve got them.

    MARKLEY

    Make sure you get this on tape.

    3. EXT. CIVIC CENTER – NIGHT. CLOSE-UP OF SURVEILLANCE CAMERA LENS. Reflected on the lens are HIGH ANGLE LONG SHOT Sunset and Raymonds (remember, it’s a reflection so their positions should be a mirror reverse of Panel 1) as Sunset turns away from Raymonds, leaving him puzzled and annoyed simmering to anger.

    SUNSET

    I mean no. Not really.

    SUNSET

    I need clearance to get some files, and I need it on the q.t. I hoped you could help.

    4. INT. VAN. Markley stands abruptly, furiously, almost smacking his head on the roof, turning away from the screen in outright disgust. Chapin smiles a little at him, a bit wickedly, pleased with herself. The Tech still looks at the screen, with some surprise and apprehension.

    MARKLEY (B)

    ****! WHAT’S SHE DOING TO ME?

    CHAPIN

    Told you she was an honest cop.

    TECH

    Hey, check this out –

    PAGE FIFTEEN

    1. EXT. CIVIC CENTER – NIGHT. Raymonds angrily grabs Sunset by the hair, pulling her back toward him. She winces in pain, momentarily not in control.

    RAYMONDS

    Who the **** do you think you are? You already forget who you’re working for?

    RAYMONDS

    Files my lilywhite ***! Don’t you ****ing hold out on me!

    2. INT. VAN. Enraged, Chapin draws her .38 special and starts for the van door, but Markley, intrigued by the scene on the monitor, gently touches her arm, signaling her to hold back.

    CHAPIN

    That son of a *****!

    MARKLEY

    Wait. Let it play out.

    3. EXT. CIVIC CENTER – NIGHT. Sunset’s fist punches Raymonds hard, right across the jaw, and he staggers back in pain and rage, liked a stunned animal, letting go of her hair.

    RAYMONDS

    ****! OW!

    RAYMONDS

    I’ll bust you off the force for that, Hicks. Assaulting a superior officer –

    4. Sunset straightens her hair and glares with humorless mirth and contempt at Raymonds, as if almost pitying him. Raymonds, calming down the way someone calms down when they get icewater dumped on them, looks even a little fearful as he rubs his jaw and looks up at the security cameras mounted on poles around the parking lot.

    SUNSET

    Don’t even, unless you want a harassment suit. We’re in the land of security cameras, Raymonds. Videotape’s your natural enemy.

    SUNSET

    I’m coming in for the files in the morning. Do I get them or not?

    …and it exponentially disintegrates from there, like a bad TV show, into a morass of muddy plotlines and sleepwalking characters in some weird dance… Sometimes you just have to know when to walk away or start over…

  • Quick review:

    Jonathan Vankin’s currently an editor at Vertigo, but he started as the writer or co-writer of such tomes as THE SEVENTY GREATEST CONSPIRACIES OF ALL TIME. His new book (with John Whalen), BASED ON A TRUE STORY* (*but with more car crashes) (Chicago Review Press/Independent Publishers Group; 434 pg. trade paperback, $18.95), is about the most fun you can have reading anything outside comics. Vankin & Whalen dig up the dish on 104 docudramas ranging from PATTON and PEARL HARBOR to SERPICO and GANGS OF NEW YORK to SID AND NANCY and (of great importance to all comics fans, I’m sure) FROM HELL, outlining how Hollywood “heightened the reality” with gunplay, explosions, time compressions and various other innocent techniques like pure fabrication. (The drug-dealing hero of BLOW, for instance, never tried to stop dealing drugs or felt any particular remorse over anything but being caught, unlike the character Johnny Depp plays.) As might be expected, the writing is irreverent, but it’s also breezy, intelligent and often funny. And where else are you going to run across phrases like “a Rocky-esque redempto-pic. Read it. You’ll like it.

  • North Korea has nukes (or so they say; I guess since we’re not supposed to believe anything the North Koreans say, this means they don’t have nukes). The Shi’ites have a majority in Iraq’s (but not enough of a majority to matter). The Hand Puppet has a plan for “saving social security” (much like he “saved” Medicare by making sure that, whoops!, looks like initial cost estimates were a few hundred billion south of reality, sorry about that, but that’s progress for you), reviving the dollar (hey, has the price come down on Canadian comics yet?), and creating new jobs (to make up for the 800,000 or so the private sector lost during his first term, but, hey, that’s offset by all those new government jobs).

    Ain’t the 21st century great?

    When I lived in Los Angeles in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I used to regularly tick off a friend (hi, Brad!) by suggesting that Beirut was the paradigm for the next century. (This one.) At the time, Beirut, once known as the jewel of the Mediterranean (the father of a girl I went to college with taught at the American University there), was pretty much an expanse of bombed out ruins generated by a) a not entirely explicable explosion of tensions between mutually intolerant and equally obtuse Muslim and Christian factions of Lebanon; b) self-destructive conflicts and power struggles within each of those factions; c) Israeli army intrusions to deal with their Palestinian problem; d) Syrian encouragement of the factionalism and disintegration of Lebanon to put pressure on Israel. And various other factors. No matter: the paradigm held. I was half-kidding, and he knew that, but only half, and he knew that too. What I meant was that we could look forward to, across the world, factionalism risen to militant violence as the standard for civilization. Then Beirut got quiet again. Really quiet. Never even mentioned. One journalist called it “one of the Middle East’s safest cities.” My mistake.

    And boom, just like that, the paradigm reasserts itself. A bomb goes off in a busy commercial sector of the city, apparently solely for the purpose of eliminating powerful Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri, with much of his motorcade and sundry, random passersby as collateral damage. And it’s suddenly apparent that the “redemption” of Beirut is only a bomb or two thick, that the violent factionalism that almost destroyed the city twenty years ago still seethes below the surface. Just how far below is the million dollar question. It reminds us that we’re not far removed from violent factionalism here, and sometimes it feels like it’s getting closer and closer to an eruption. I’m not talking about political disagreements – there will always be those; I may dislike the administration but I wouldn’t want them murdered either – but about calls to violence. Like when Ann Coulter or The New Republic start offering the roundup and/or execution of “liberals” (or “traitors,” as Coulter prefers to call them) as the “final solution” for liberalism in this country. Labels are a funny thing; The New Republic feigns being a liberal journal though it hasn’t been for a long time, but expresses a wish for the violent suppression of liberals (and “liberalism,” whatever that means these days) and still claims liberal credentials, whereas if a liberal suggested the arrest, torture and execution of all conservatives he’d be instantly branded an insane and dangerous radical while Coulter makes the same suggestion about liberals and is just referred to as… well… a conservative pundit. Go figure. Not that it really matters what Coulter or The New Republic or Pat Robertson or Bill O’Reilly or anyone else waves a flag about. What matters is the current and seemingly growing mood in the country that consideration or even tolerance of other viewpoints is weakness, that negotiation or reconciliation is weakness, that even acknowledging other perspectives equates to endorsing them, that immediate violent action (regardless of the facts of a situation) is not only a proper but a preferred response and anything less is weakness. This obsession with weakness is what’s scary; we know how strong the country really is, right? So why the obsession with weakness. Only people who are afraid of looking weak are afraid of looking weak, and the problem with fear is that it turns on you just like that. Some people talk like we’re already experiencing a cultural, take-no-prisoners Beirut here, and maybe we are. If that’s true, it wouldn’t take much to ignite a national or even worldwide Beirut. Beirut as a paradigm is verging on worldwide already.

    Speaking of resurging paradigms, Orwell seems more on the mark than ever these days, what with the government trotting out one misrepresentation and fabrication after another, and the press immediately approaching every pronouncement as a statement of fact. The Social Security “crisis,” for instance. There isn’t one, but Our Leader says there is, so there must be, because he is Our Leader. If there really is a Social Security “crisis,” if they really think it’s in such desperate shape that immediate salvation is necessary, there’s a really easy way to do it that has nothing to do with the stock market that would make sure the fund never runs out. The fund caps SS eligible income at $90,000/year. The simple solution: remove the cap. It’s not like whatever gets put in those donors wouldn’t get back, if they live long enough. That’d keep more than enough money in the fund to handle pretty much any contingency.

    Bear in mind, I’m not recommending they do that. It’s not necessary, because the Hand Puppet’s Social Security figures are about as accurate as his Medicare figures and the fund doesn’t need it. I’m just saying that if they really think there’s a problem, and they really feel drastic action is necessary, that’s the most logical option that would benefit the largest number of people. (I also like to watch steam blowing out from Republican ears, like Elmer Fudd in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.) But it’s just another hot button issue, a way to manage a longstanding Republican agenda item.

    Orwell’s prescience also manifested recently in the Office Of Foreign Assets Control‘s (who even knew such a thing existed?) decision to prohibit American publishing houses from publishing works originating in countries under sanction, in the absence of government approval. Publishing houses will be liable for up to a million dollars, editors, publishers and others subject to quarter-million dollar fines and ten year prison terms. The Baltimore Sun’s article cites the pure anti-First Amendment unconstitutionality of this, and discusses the side-effect of barring the work of dissidents from listed countries. But they’re missing the point of it. Ostensibly, it means no one in a sanctioned nation can make money off their work in the USA, but it’d be easy enough to put any money in escrow or confiscate it (and did Mao actually earn and/or receive royalties when they published his LITTLE RED BOOK here?) It really means, from the government’s POV, we are no longer allowed to know what our enemies think or understand how they express themselves, aside from official government (ours) proclamations on the matter. I guess even the slightest chance that I expect the courts will blow that one out of the water, but there’s no telling with the courts, especially these days. Is it already 40 years since Phil Ochs sang, “Somehow it seems strange to hear the State Department say “You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay”?

  • Addendum:

    Over at Comic Book Galaxy, Alan David Doane has gone into an uncharacteristic fit of cheerleading and made a list of his 100 Things He Loves About Comics. It has its moments, but more fascinating is his later added rationales for his choices. It’s fun.

    In case I haven’t mentioned it, the first issue of my CSI: SECRET IDENTITY mini-series is now available from IDW and ROBOCOP: WILD CHILD is out from Avatar. VIVID COMIX is finally out as well, and getting mentions here and there. Man, if I’d only known all you need to get tongues wagging is naked women… (But, Marc, would it make a good movie or not?)

    Like I said, if you want to know the real inside scoop on how comics are made, there’s only one place to find it: the massive 300 page Master of the Obvious collection, TOTALLY OBVIOUS, available (cheap!) only in .pdf format through PAPER MOVIES. I had some lovely testimonials here, until my @&#$ computer ate them while crashing, but take my word for it: 50 TOTALLY OBVIOUS fans can’t be wrong. (Or was that 50,000 Elvis fans? I forget…)

    See you next week in a brand new show.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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