THE MARS THING
POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don’t get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE’s purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of my specific process.
So this is the Mars Thing that was once going to be called RED before some old and wheezing fucker beat me to the title.
This excerpt follows an A story and a B story that, by the time it’s all done, introduces JOHN BOONE, our main guy; ZAN, his Martian girl Friday; and their sidekick-mascot TIM (who they all call TIMMY), a new-to-Mars journalist here to write about what Martian life is like in the wake of being more or less abandoned by Earth. The A Story, running across the top two tiers of the page, is our introduction to John; the B is Zan and Timmy, running one three panel tier below.
A sirocco is on its way that will halt incoming and outgoing traffic to the Elysium settlement for 36-48 hours. John made one last run to the across the Elysium Planitia to collect various core samples for homework. He’s lingered a little too long outside, and the storm is right on his ass. His introduction is one part Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (pacing and dramatic decompression), one part Indiana Jones-as he refuses to relinquish the ice core he’s retrieved, even when detrimental to his well being, and one part balls-out race against the Martian Harmattan.
As he fights for his life against the superstorm, the path he takes from the outskirts of Elysium to a bar simply designated as 262 introduces the reader to the general size and accomplishments of man on Mars to date as well as the spatial geography of the Elysium Planitia, nestled in the shadow of the colossal Elysium Mons (although not as colossal as the Olympus Mons, which is pretty played out as far as Mars fiction goes). I hope the sequence works as a nice, robust, Man of Action intro to Boone.
The B story runs across the bottom tier, three even panels a page. Zan and Timmy are sharing a drink in 262, waiting for John to arrive from the crevasses of the Planitia. Being his first night on Mars, Timmy is close to losing his shit. Zan, a fourteen-year Mars veteran, nurses her drink and nods a lot. These second and third generation Martians are quiet, self-contained, non-confrontational (to one another, anyway…), and largely stoic. Economy of life is everything to Martians. Waste is the ultimate sin. In a world where, literally, everything is used and reused, excess is frowned upon greatly. Not is a class-sense sort of way, but as an affront to your fellow Martians: Waste leads to death.
As a result, Martians speak in clipped, short sentences when they speak at all. Syllables are dropped, odd conjunctions formed, etc. Between each other, Martians can speak such an economic form of English that, in all actuality, it’s almost a new language, or a major variation on an old one. To some like Zan, it’s almost an effort to speak full English any more. Timmy is jabbering nutjob, a fidgety, loud, uncomfortable kid, basically.
There’s eleven pages here, instead of ten, because the 10th page is really only the 9th with the splash and all. I wrote it, and the inimitable Steven Sanders is drawing it.
The Elysium Settlement, nestled like an abandoned and rebuilt jewel in the heart of the gorgeous Martian plain. The gigantic Elysium Mons in the distance.
This looks like nothing anyone has ever seen before, ever.
BLACK with RED text:
one // storm
EST of the regal Martian Plain that will end, eventually, on a small excavation encampment. The skyline of the Elysium Mons dwarves all around it, even though it’s probably 300 miles away. Think Monument Valley, only spooky. Ominous reddish-black clouds in the background streak an onyx sky like rivers of blood, rust dunes rise and fall against odd, jagged rocks.
CLOSING IN: the Mons nearly fills the background. Faintly, perhaps, we may divine the remains of tire-treads across the wasteland towards the small encampment.
CROSSCUT TO BAR: ZAN-short for Susannah-is setting two drinks down on the table she shares with TIMMY, whose back is to camera. She’s rugged. Not unattractive per se, but not one to be fucked with. Ever. Seriously. Knock it off.
ZAN: BOONE’S COMING. GRABBING SAMPLES BEFORE STORM.
TIMMY: THANKS, SUZANNAH.
MCU on ZAN-serious, almost dour. This oncoming storm is fierce and not to be fucked with.
TIMMY (os): WHADJA CALL THAT STORM AGAIN?
REVERSE MCU ON TIMMY. Sad. Scared. Imagine moving to Kansas to find yourself experiencing Tornado Warnings the minute you arrive.
TIMMY: AND IT’S–
TIMMY: IT’S BAD NEWS?
CLOSING IN still towards the encampment. Tracks definitely visible now, maybe a noticeable white speck that will eventually be revealed as a Martian dunecycle-a three-wheeled motorcycle-looking thing, with large back wheels. It looks like an old Harley chopper with the laid-back seat and high handlebars… in space!
Crawling over a dune, we can now see the dunecycle clearly, a portable-by-vehicle bore-drill behind it, and the hole that the drill has dug, nestled in a field of large holes. The landscape looks like a waffle.
ZAN in PROFILE FG, taking a long pull off of her drink. TIMMY, slouched shoulders, stares into his wistfully.
TWO SHOT, full. TIMMY (l) and ZAN (r) almost knee-to-knee at their small table, with one empty chair on the other side. One gets the feeling that everything on Mars is cramped and close-yet another reason to keep quiet, huh? TIMMY is still staring into his drink, ZAN is eyeing this newbie trash up and down with just enough contempt as to be palatable.
The door from the outside is visible between them.
TIMMY (1): HOW BAD?
TIMMY (2): IS IT JUST BAD? OR LIKE, BAD-BAD?
OVER ZAN’S SHOULDER on TIMMY, trying to be polite and not whine although he knows he’s failing.
ZAN: SHOULD BE SMALL. DAY OR TWO.
TIMMY: OH– SO IT’S NOT BAD-BAD.
Closing in now on the hole. The drill, we now see, is hitched to the back of the dunecycle. Whips of wind, also visible, kick dust across the landscape.
Hooks and other climbing apparatus are evident at the lip of the hole, which is maybe three feet in diameter-taught and pulled, we understand that someone is actually down there. Between two of the hooks is a small digital clock.
OPPOSITE TWO-SHOT from 3.4 (ZAN on left, TIMMY on right). TIMMY holding his pint glass of potato vodka and Tang, examining it kindly.
TIMMY: WE’RE NOT GOING TO, LIKE, DIE OR ANYTHING.
ZAN: NEVER KNOW. WIND’LL RIP SKIN FROM BONE.
ZAN: RIP BONE, TOO.
MCU on ZAN, sipping her drink.
TIMMY (OS): HOW DO YOU STAY SO CALM?
ZAN: MARTIAN WAY.
REVERSE on TIMMY, worried and upset. Holding onto his glass for dear life. He’s almost yelling.
TIMMY: MARTIAN WAY?
CLOSE on the hole, so it almost fills the frame. The little clock, we see, is buzzing wildly but over the winds it can’t be heard. Wind streaks by furiously.
The wind has become so fierce that it blows the little alarm down the hole.
MCU on ZAN, eyes steeled and determined– this is the Martian way.
SAME as 5.3
REVERSE MCU on TIMMY– totally perplexed by ZAN and her inner (and outer) calm.
SAME AS 5.2, only without the clock. The wind is has picked up and is streaking wild lines of dust and rocks everywhere. The hooks are nearly buried in a newly-formed sand drift.
SAME ANGLE as 6.1. The hooks are now totally buried, and sand is pouring into the hole. A SINGLE HAND emerges with alarm clock thingy.
SAME as 5.3 again– sorry. Photostat it or something, I dunno.
ZAN: SO HOW DO YOU KNOW BOONE?
TWO SHOT; TIMMY’S posture starting to relax a little.
TIMMY: I DON’T, ACTUALLY.
MED. TIMMY, staring into the bottom of the glass. There’s a little bit of shame and embarrassment at what’s coming out of his mouth.
TIMMY (1): MISTER BOONE WORKED WITH MY FATHER.
TIMMY (2): HE SET ALL THIS UP.
A GLOVED HAND putting a sealed core sample in a strange, sci-fi looking tube out of the hole, red lights blinking proudly on its side. Think the end of TEMPLE OF DOOM, where Indy’s hand pops up over the cliff-side with the magic devil stone.
FROM BEHIND, a half-body with a helmeted head pops out of the hole, portable drill in one hand, and faces the direction of the wind. The helmet is dirty and dinged and very well worn. Dents and scratches mar it like badges of honor.
MCU on ZAN, burning into TIMMY with a terrible stare– another spoiled rich kid.
TWO SHOT, ZAN taking a long, hard swig off of her Martian Screwdriver. Bemused now, if someone who doesn’t take shit off of anyone can be bemused. TIMMY taking a little baby-sip at her encouragement.
ZAN: DRINK UP, LITTLE MAN.
REVERSE CU on TIMMY, almost gagging as he sniffs the drink, melodramatically sticking out his tongue, etc.
TIMMY: TASTES LIKE ANTI-FREEZE.
ZAN (OS): PROBABLY SOME IN THERE, YEAH.
This is the full, widescreen terror that is the Harmattan. It is the most terrible storm in all of Africa-literally it rends flesh from bones. Deep shit. Winds so powerful that they cover everything instantly in dust and sand. People get consumed by it, and vanish, the meat rent from their bones. And then the bones turn to dust and keep right on blowing…
And here it is, bellowing over the Martian landscape-red, black, and all-consuming.
The idea here is that this might by a POV shot, which would be a logical continuation of 7.2, but really it isn’t. Stay tuned.
SIMILAR as above, with a central black speck in the dead center of the storm. Very far away from where we are, it’s visible as a form perhaps but nothing too specific.
MCU on ZAN, glass to her mouth, drinking and looking TIMMY in the eye over the rim of the cup.
TIMMY: I’VE NOTICED SOMETHING I’D LIKE TO ASK ABOUT.
MCU on TIMMY, leaning into ZAN conspiratorially.
TIMMY: I DON’T WANT TO OFFEND YOU WITH THIS–.
REVERSE MCU on ZAN, trying not to be offended.
TIMMY (OS 1): MARTIANS SEEM TO MOVE FUNNY.
TIMMY (OS 2): EVERYONE MOVES ALL CHOPPY.
The BIKE almost fills about half of the frame top to bottom. A raging dust squall close behind-it almost looks like the squall itself is furious smoke pouring out from the bike’s monstrous tires.
THE DRIVER on the bike from the chest up-helmet turning back to check on the storm’s progression. One Gloved hand is gripping the handlebars, holding on for dear life-the other cradling a satchel close to his chest the way one might cradle a baby. We can’t see inside the mask at all.
TWO SHOT, TIMMY keeps talking and staring at ZAN, humoring him as she cuts him off.
TIMMY: LIKE LITTLE ROBOTS, OR–
ZAN: –MOVE FAST WHEN IT COUNTS.
REACTION MCU on TIMMY, listening but not really hearing what’s being said.
TIMMY (1): WHY IS THAT? I MEAN–
TIMMY (2): I’M A WRITER.
TIMMY (3): I WRITE.
FULL TWO SHOT of them both, ZAN on left, TIMMY on the right.
TIMMY: AND I’M ASKING THESE QUESTIONS–
ZAN: KNOW WHAT WRITERS DO, TIMMY.
Finally! A different angle! From a HIGH OVERHEAD ANGLE, we get a better shot of the BIKE and RIDER desperately towing the drill-caddy behind it. The DRIVER is turned almost all the way around checking the distance between he and the storm. In the far right of the panel, off in the distance we see the Elysium Settlement. The bike streaks by trying to outrace the dust almost immediately behind it now.
The RIDER appears to be heading for a small-ish drop-off or cliff, even…
LOW SIDE ANGLE on the BIKE as it begins to fly off/over the drop-off that the DRIVER didn’t see in the above panel…
…and it doesn’t look like a controlled jump at all.
OVER ZAN’S SHOULDER ON TIM, really into talking about himself.
TIMMY: JUST TIM, PLEASE–
TIMMY: BUT– THE PIECE I’M HERE TO WRITE– I’M GOING TO BE ASKING-AND I’LL USE–
OTS ON ZAN, getting a little huffy.
ZAN (1): EXACTLY.
ZAN (2): YOU USE.
CLOSER on ZAN now-she’s serious. She’s kicking life-saving science, if only this jackass would listen to her.
ZAN (1): MARS ISN’T LIKE EARTH.
ZAN (2): EVERYTHING COUNTS HERE.
LOW ANGLE-the BIKE is flying in one direction, the DRIVER (in the foreground, as if falling to camera) bucked off of it and flying in another. He’s UPSIDE DOWN, one hand outstretched, the other still holding onto that goddamn satchel…
IMPACT-similar LOW ANGLE, if further back. The DRIVER landing on his side, dust kicked up where he collides with the Martian soil. In the distance we see the BIKE and CADDY experiencing a similar fate.
REACTION on TIMMY– shocked, perhaps, at the implication that he’s being useful.
TIMMY: I– I– I–
TIGHT TWO SHOT, from the SIDE. ZAN leaning forward, puts her hand over TIMMY’S mouth.
REACTION on TIMMY, ZAN’S hand still clamped around him, his eyes wide with panic.
ZAN (OS 1): EVERYTHING.
ZAN (OS 2): EVERY MOVE. EVERY BREATH.
This is © by me and Steven Sanders.