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.
This is the first part of ANODYNE, my contribution to the Warren Ellis-edited anthology NIGHT RADIO, coming from Avatar next year. It was my first attempt at writing something serially that didn’t involve apes and lesbians, as well as my first go at maintaining a rigid grid. I’m talking to an artist now, and hopefully there’ll be some show and tell soon.
I’m amused to note that not only was Ed Brubaker’s first CATWOMAN arc called ‘Anodyne,’ but that he uses the same dialogue-match-cuts that I do here in his new Wildstorm series POINT BLANK. Which you should be reading.
Anyway. ANODYNE is about kids too dumb to slow down, too smart to sit still, and too young to not say ‘fuck’ every third word.
ANODYNE is being written to correspond to a strict 8-panel per page grid. The main exceptions to this are on the first and last page of each section (which are four paneled pages-one half-page panel, one full tiered panel, and two 1/8 page panels). The FIRST PAGE of each section goes HALF, LONG, 1/8, 1/8; the LAST PAGE is the opposite.
HALF PAGE PANEL. Nighttime at the Trestle: every American town has a place like the Trestle. An old, secluded place in the middle of nowhere where kids go to get high, get laid, and get in trouble. Anodyne’s is an old railroad trestle over a snaky little river, wide enough to actually need a trestle and deep enough so kids can jump into it. Layer and layers of spray-paint cover the trestle, each one announcing who loves whom forever, whom exactly is eating dick currently, and the different CLASS OF that owns the place for that particular school year. The current year is CLASS OF ’93.
The trestle itself is surrounded on either end by patchy woods thick enough to provide cover for most of the illicit acts that may take place inside of them. Large rocks sit near the mouths of these woods on either side, boulder-y kind of rocks also covered with graffiti.
So, we’re in the woods at the mouth of the Trestle. On PANEL RIGHT, lying back on top of one of these rocks is BECKY. She’s doing the whole punk-y catholic schoolgirl uniform thing; her blouse unbuttoned and down around her arms, one bra-strap hanging off of her shoulder. She’s looking up at him with THAT LOOK. Between her legs on PANEL LEFT and sliding up her not-so-long skirt is NEMO PARSONS, our… er… hero. NEMO is 17 or so, bearded like a beach bum but dressed like a mechanic. BECKY is working on unbuttoning his shirt while pulling a deep drag off a joint clenched in her teeth. Behind her, we see the opening through the woods, and the old railroad line running into the night like stitches. We see strange trees in the background, catching the moonlight in weird ways.
NEMO: I’M NOT A CRIMINAL. I JUST KEEP GETTING CAUGHT.
BECKY: C’MERE. SHOTGUN.
LONG PANEL, running the width of the page. In CLOSE now on the two of them as BECKY has grabbed NEMO by the face and kisses him, exhaling a huge gulp of smoke into his mouth. Smoke twists and curls out from her nostrils and at the sides of their lips where they connect. Warm. Wet. Stoned. NEMO looks at her through one open eye; BECKY’S are wide open looking away.
1/8 panel. On BECKY, running a hand through her hair as the medication starts kicking in. Sultry, sexy. Naturally or medicinally, everything’s tingling, buzzing. NEMO’s back in town and she wants to party…
BECKY (1): I’M– IT’S COMING ON NOW.
BECKY (2): TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS.
1/8 panel. Back on the two of them from BEHIND NEMO, his pants and boxers are down under his ass as he enters BECKY between her legs. She’s arching her back and pulling him further into her. NEMO, eyes shut tight, is on PANEL LEFT looking down and right…
BECKY (1): I MISSED YOU SO MUCH, BABY.
BECKY (2): I LOVE YOU. WHERE–
NEMO (1): DON’T.
NEMO (2): DON’T RUIN THIS.
We’re outside of PEREGRINE’S HOUSE, a typical suburban home in a fairly well-to-do neighborhood. It’s the sort of house that kids spend large portions of their teens and twenties trying to pretend they didn’t grow up in. Parents go away, kids have high school-wide house-parties. None of the neighbors call the cops because they know that their kids do it too when THEY go to the beachhouse for a week…
Anyway. Cars are parked and piled on top of one another. Through the multiple windows we see the shilouettes of kids partying, drinking, dancing, fighting fucking. Over the door hangs a hastily painted banner reading WELCOME HOME MOTHERFUCKER.
NEMO and BECKY stand at the door; PEREGRINE (whom we’ll meet properly in a few more panels) is opening it.
PEREGRINE: BECKY. NEMO.
From inside the house, angling out of the front door. FOCUS on NEMO and BECKY, framed through the doorway. Opening the door is PEREGRINE, as close to a best friend as NEMO allows himself. NEMO and BECKY are post-coital, a little stoned, and more than just a little late.
PEREGRINE’s got a beer in his hand and braces one arm across the open door. NEMO smiles, hands in pockets, smoking; BECKY’S arms are folded and she’s looking the other way. “Don’t ruin this” stung a little…
REVERSE on PEREGRINE from behind NEMO. PEREGRINE is a bit older than NEMO but not much; they’re dressed vaguely similar and visually belong to the same clique.
TIGHT on NEMO and BECKY. BECKY has her arms folded still and looks away. NEMO is ready to get hammered.
NEMO: WHERE’S THE BOOZE?
A group of GUYS (PEREGRINE included, standing directly in front of NEMO) around a bottle of Jack and a matching array of shot glasses. NEMO pours zealously as the fellas all react differently to the idea of even MORE shots…
LETTERING NOTE: The dialogue below should be presented in overlapping balloons IN THE BACKGROUND, trying to create a dense cluster of words to match the people/environment below them, a visual texture of noise. Only NEMO’S lines are credited.
1: WHERE YOU BEEN
2: TOO FUCKED UP
4: GLAD YOU’RE BACK
6: YOU GET BUSTED?
7: NO MORE
8: FUCKIN’ FUCKS…
NEMO (1): C’MON, YOU PUSSIES.
NEMO (2): I’LL DO TWO FOR ONE.
On NEMO, two shot glasses in tow, grinning madly. On his RIGHT ARM is a big, wide WATCH BAND that covers about two inches of wrist.
NEMO (1): ‘GRINE, YOU IN?
NEMO (2): TWO FOR ONE. C’MON.
SAME SIZE REVERSE on PEREGRINE, sipping slowly from his shot glass, peering over the lip at NEMO. PEREGRINE is onto something…
PEREGRINE (1): WHAT’S THE RUSH?
PEREGRINE (2): YOU GOING SOMEWHERE?
NEMO kicking back the first shot as PEREGRINE just looks on, smiling smugly. Something’s happening between the two of them here. Implied conversation.
NEMO: DRINK, BITCH.
Alright, stay with me here. We’re flashing back and around a bit, filling in some shit. There are ADULTS here, presented PEANUTS style, as bodyshapes without FACES. These eight panels are all laid out nearly-identical, too-NEMO in profile in the foreground on PANEL LEFT looking RIGHT, and a GROWN-UP to his side, talking. Exciting to draw, huh?
Here we meet NEMO’S DAD, who happens to be Anodyne’s SHERIFF. A younger, un-bearded NEMO is in FOREGROUND from PROFILE, bleeding cut under his eye, head hung low as the DAD, in UNIFORM, stands FACING US. We can maybe see from the badge down to his belt, complete with gun, stick, CB, etc. In one of DAD’S hands is a bottle of Jack, obviously confiscated.
DAD (1): –OUT DRINKING, YOU LITTLE BITCH?
DAD (2): LOOK AT ME WHEN I TALK TO YOU, BOY.
SAME-ish, only NEMO is about four and DAD is dressed casually… we’re at a party or a barbecue or a cookout of some sort, if there’s room for background data. He’s got a short boy of beer up to his head and is pulling it back. The DAD’S hands are on his hips proudly. It’d be cute if it fucking wasn’t. Another man stands next to him.
DAD: BOB, LOOKIT MY BOY GO.
BOB: MIND HE DON’T BLACK OUT, THERE.
This panel, and the panel preceding it, will be seen in their proper context in PART FOUR. For the time being, it’s just a bit of mystery. PEREGRINE’S DAD, a non-descript, white- collar kind of banker guy, is looking at him, speaking. The top of his head is cropped by the panel, so we really just see a mouth, a jaw, a shirt. PEREGRINE is peaking over his father’s shoulder.
PEREGRINE’S DAD: HOLD ON, SON. WE’RE GOING TO GET YOU HELP.
PEREGRINE: Jesus Christ, Nemo…
SAME, again. NEMO is a bit older and back in trouble. BEARDLESS. Behind him, instead of his father, sits a man in a suit taking notes. This is one of NEMO’s many LAWYERS.
LAWYER (1): –YOUR FATHER, AS COUNTY SHERIFF, MAY BE A PROBLEM. NOW, AS YOUR COURT-APPOINTED ATTORNEY, I–
LAWYER (2): ARE YOU SURE WE DON’T KNOW EACH OTHER, MR. PARSONS?
SAME, again. We’re in a University Library. NEMO, BEARDLESS, is furtively making sure the coast is clear. His LAWYER was, a few years ago, he whom NEMO would cop from. He’s dressed like a typical collegiate drug-dealer and looks a little speed-baked. We don’t need to see that much of a visual resemblance; we’re getting the relationship here by juxtaposition.
LAWYER: FIVE FOR TWENTY-FIVE. KEEP YOU UP ALL WEEK.
NEMO, shortly before he left town. Again, BEARDLESS. BECKY stands behind him. We recognize her by the schoolgirl outfit. She’s buttoning her shirt quickly. Everything about her posture says rage and anger. We’re coming in on the end of a very, very large fight.
BECKY (1): I WISH YOU WERE DEAD.
BECKY (2): I HATE YOU.
PUNCH IN back to 1.4, on NEMO, BEARDED as he and BECKY start to fuck at the trestle… NEMO’S eyes are shut tight. What first looked like pleasure now looks quite the opposite-he’s almost wincing.
BECKY: I LOVE YOU. WHERE-
BACK at the party now. ANGLE on a couch where BECKY and PEREGRINE’S GIRL whom we’re calling JENNY sit and drunkenly gossip. JENNY is decked out like a tomboy punk girl shitkicker: she’s got on a baby-tee of some sort and a mechanic shirt over it; baggy shorts and high-rising combat boots, socks pulled up high. Two streaks of greasepaint under each eye. She’s fucking TOUGH-she’ll out-drink, out-fight, and out-fuck almost anyone. We’re looking at them through a huge crowd of fellow partiers…
BECKY: “DON’T RUIN THIS.”
PUNCH IN on the two girls. JENNY is looking over her shoulder and back, something OFF PANEL catching her attention. BECKY is looking at her, exasperated by JENNY’S lack of concern for her troubles.
JENNY: SWEAR HE’S BEEN TALKING TO THAT CUNT ALL NIGHT.
BECKY: JENNY, ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?
JENNY’S POV on what’s catching her eye. PEREGRINE is making time with another girl. Her back is turned to him as she pulls up her shirt, revealing a tattoo spanning the width of her lower back. Her pants are slung low, a thong peaking up from her waistline. PEREGRINE is leaning in close to her back, one hand placed between her shoulderblades.
BECKY (OP): WHAT THE FUCK?
On NEMO snorting a rail of crank off of a kitchen counter sans straw; PEREGRINE is leaning against a wall trying to stay conscious. Some skeezy CRANK DEALER is with them, twitching, scratching, vibrating in place.
NEMO: AH, WHAT THE FUCK.
In the FOREGROUND, a large group of kids, PEREGRINE included, are playing some variation on Spin the Bottle. As a matter of fact, PEREGRINE is leaning forward and kissing TATTOO GIRL, also leaning forward through the circle of surrounding kids. JENNY is in the BACKGROUND glaring.
PEREGRINE: WHAT THE FUCK.
HIGH OVERHEAD on the whole party scene. FOCUS on JENNY, who sits on the couch away from the game itself as it unfolds in front of her in the living room, staring at the scene bitterly.
SAME as 4.1, only it’s LATER. The lights in the house are all off, and various bodies lie passed out or asleep all around. JENNY has nodded off on the couch, out cold.
SAME: but JENNY has woken up with a start. She’s looking around the room, dismayed at the fact she’d blacked out, lost time, lost her boyfriend.
JENNY: OH, WHAT THE FUCK?
On NEMO, bleary-eyed, confused, and OUTSIDE. It’s dawn and the four kids are at the trestle. In the early morning light, the place looks even stranger somehow, rustic and antiquated. Something from a painting somewhere, maybe.
NEMO (1): WHAT?
NEMO (2): DID YOU-
PULL BACK to an establishing shot of the trestle, the rocks, etc. The four kids sprawled out. Isolated and open, sunrise outdoors. Stark contrast to the party scene.
NEMO: DID YOU JUST SAY SOMETHING?
On the rock where NEMO and BECKY fucked early now lies PEREGRINE. TATTOO GIRL is topless and curled up, sleeping on PEREGRINE’S lap. NEMO and BECKY are at the base of the thing, BECKY sound asleep.
PEREGRINE: DID I WHAT WHAT?
NEMO, from OVERHEAD as he hangs his aching skull down and grips in his hand. BECKY is curled around him, sleeping.
NEMO (1): I GOT CONFUSED.
NEMO (2): I THOUGHT WE WERE STILL WAITING. NEVERMIND.
TIGHT on NEMO, a few of his synapses are starting to fire again. His eyes narrow.
SIMILAR to 5.1. NEMO looks up and back to where PEREGRINE sits grinning
NEMO: YOU FIGURED IT OUT, DIDN’T YOU?
On PEREGRINE, sitting on the rock, staring into the horizon.
NEMO hangs his head, bracing himself for what comes next. Enduring a little bit of emotional blackmail from his best friend.
PEREGRINE (OP): SO, HEY, I GOT A FAVOR TO ASK.
NOTE: This is a seven-paneled page, the last panel occupying a full tier.
The TWO BOYS walking along the trestle bridge itself. This page, across its progression of panels, pulls further and further away from the trestle in each as PEREGRINE rambles on and on about his scheme and NEMO responds. The idea is to start in close on a tight two-shot and end up far enough back that we have more of an idea as to the town’s geography and size.
SO: yeah. This is a CLOSE UP on the two of them, washed-out and burning out from the night’s events, PEREGRINE playing mastermind to NEMO, who’s just plain exhausted, shirtless and wrapped in a blanket. PEREGRINE leads, NEMO follows.
PEREGRINE: YOU WENT HARDCORE TONIGHT, AND I BET THEY’LL CHECK YOU FOR THAT SHIT.
BACK a bit further to MEDIUM CLOSE UP. PEREGRINE has turned to face NEMO for confirmation of his story so far. NEMO’s a little put off by being so transparent.
NEMO (1): YEAH.
NEMO (2): TWICE A WEEK.
BACK further. FULL on the boys, as they reach a point on the trestle where they choose to sit. PEREGRINE is already seated, legs dangling over the edge; NEMO is bending down like an old man to join him.
PEREGRINE (1): SO THAT MEANS YOU WANT OUT OF HERE.
PEREGRINE (2): AND YOU’LL NEED MONEY. FAST.
BACK off of the bridge now: NEMO and PEREGRINE are two small figures seated over the churning river below.
PEREGRINE (1): OR YOUR DAD WILL COME AT YOU. FASTER.
PEREGRINE (2): IF I’M WRONG, I’LL APOLOGIZE.
NEMO: YOU’RE NOT WRONG.
Further back now. We can’t even make out the two boys on the bridge anymore, and the outskirts and roads in and out of Anodyne are visible. This could be a standard establishing shot of small woods.
PEREGRINE : NO, I’M NOT.
Back further still, far enough to place the woods in context of a larger suburban environment. We can see how the river and woods give way to backyards and a park, houses hither and yon.
PEREGRINE: AND AS IT TURNS OUT, I COULD USE SOME QUICK CASH MYSELF, SO…
Last one, full tier establishing shot/survey of the entire town. We can see the entirety of the place, a little oasis of civilization in the middle of nowhere. Medium-sized, with rows of little houses everywhere, resting on the meridian between the lush green and harsh desert of the American southwest.
NEMO (1): I HATE THIS PLACE. I HATE MY LIFE.
NEMO (2): I CAN’T GET OUT OF ANODYNE FAST ENOUGH.
PEREGRINE: ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, HUH?
Alright: the robbery bit. The plan will go horribly wrong for several reasons, one of which is NEMO being bombed out of his gourd.
What we’re looking at, however, is BECKY’S CAR. It’s night, and drizzling lightly. We’re over the hood ANGLED DOWN. We can see through the windshield BECKY in the driver’s seat, JENNY leaning up from behind, and NEMO in the passenger seat, smoking and staring out of the window. There’s a reflection of a neon sign across the glass reading MR. YUMMY’S! It’s a yogurt shop. NEMO is babbling away to no one in particular.
NEMO: OH, GOD, LET’S SEE: CRIMES I’VE COMMITTED WITH WOMEN.
NEMO is leaning forward onto the dash, snorting a line of speed to get himself ready. JENNY is still peaking forward from the back seat while BECKY stares distantly out of the window.
NEMO: UM. PURCHASE, SALE, AND USE OF NARCOTICS. POSSESSION WITH INTENT. LOITERING. VANDALISM.
From the FRONT of the car as JENNY is leaning up between the seats and doing a rail of her own. NEMO looks over JENNY’S arched back to BECKY who refuses to meet his stare.
NEMO: CORRUPTION OF A MINOR? I’M STILL A MINOR. UM… INDECENT EXPOSURE? PUBLIC, UM… DOIN’ IT IN PUBLIC? TRESPASSING. ARSON ONCE, ACCIDENTALLY. REMEMBER?
CLOSE on NEMO, gripping a roll of nickels in his right hand, squeezing them tightly as the speed starts creeping up behind his eyes. From his WATCH, kept on his right wrist, we see that it’s 9:58 PM.
NEMO: MENACING AND ASSAULT, I GUESS.
OUTSIDE of BECKY’S CAR as passenger door and the passenger side back door open, NEMO and JENNY getting out and going into action. Low angle, lit from parking lamps. Light catches the rain scattered across the asphalt. Teenage nightmare.
NEMO: KEEP IT RUNNING.
FROM INSIDE the shop. We see NEMO and JENNY approaching the glass door from BEHIND PEREGRINE, who’s wearing some insulting vest and paper hat sort of outfit that the poor bastards that run our nation’s yogurt shops are forced to wear. PEREGRINE has one hand outstretched as if to say “hi” or, maybe, “stop.”
SLIM, NARROW panel of PEREGRINE opening the door, peaking out between the crack as if to keep NEMO and JENNY out.
FROM INSIDE the shop as NEMO hauls off and cracks his best friend squarely on the jaw. PEREGRINE, not expecting to be walloped so hard, especially by a guy with a fistful of nickels, FLIES BACK. NEMO is controlled but enraged; he didn’t just hit PEREGRINE. The nickels are exploding out of his fist like confetti.
NEMO storms into the Yogurt shop. JENNY, mouth agape, stands in the doorway and stares and PEREGRINE, unconscious on the FLOOR.
JENNY (1): YOU KNOCKED HIM OUT.
JENNY (2): HE DIDN’T SAY ‘KNOCK ME OUT’, HE SAID JUST MAKE HIM LOOK FUCKED UP ENOUGH.
NEMO, his back to us, is at the counter, frozen in place. His head slightly turned, looking back at JENNY.
SAME distance. NEMO has turned back around to face the counter, or more importantly not to look at JENNY and his best friend, unconscious on the floor.
NEMO: NO SUCH THING.
From OVER JENNY’S SHOULDER as NEMO vaults over the counter, like he’s rehearsed it a million times over in his head. JENNY, a hand held up to her mouth, looks down.
TIGHT on PEREGRINE, blood coming out of his nose, his cheek split open. Eyes half-shut. Trying to pull himself up, and failing.
DETAIL, TIGHT from JENNY’S POV, on PEREGRINE’s hand. Written on his palm in black marker are the words TATTOO GIRL, and a PHONE NUMBER underneath it.
Here’s where it all starts to spin out of control. Medium on NEMO as he stands in front of a door marked MANAGER. He looks over his shoulder momentarily.
NEMO: REGISTER’S OPEN, I’M GOING FOR THE SAFE–
From BEHIND NEMO’S shoulder, focusing on JENNY. She’s holding the trashcan over her head, her face contorted into a snarling rage. She’s about to brain PEREGRINE, laying at her feet out cold, with it.
JENNY (1): YOU!
JENNY (2): CHEATING!
JENNY (3): FUCK!
SAME as 8.8, only the MANAGER’S DOOR has been opened by the Not-Supposed-To-Be-There MANAGER. His massive forearms are grabbing for NEMO, still turned around watching Jenny have her meltdown.
CUT outside to the Parking Lot, inside BECKY’S running car. BECKY is crying behind the wheel, teeth clenched just slightly harder than her hands on the steering wheel.
BECKY (1): “DON’T RUIN THIS.”
BECKY (2): FUCK YOU, NEMO.
BACK inside the store. The MANAGER, cropped and not really all in frame (his face isn’t, anyway, continuing the PEANUTS thing with grown-ups), is grabbing NEMO from behind and raising him up into the air.
MANAGER: ROB ME?
NEMO crashing into the back wall of the manager’s tiny office. Violent. Shelves fall, shit going everywhere. NEMO probably doesn’t even feel it. He’s really gotta look like a rag doll, like a piece of trash tossed away effortlessly. Limp, nothing.
ANGLE ABOVE the MANAGER as he stomps NEMO with his massive foot. Violent, brutal. NEMO is covering his head and face with his arms. Messy, kinetic.
MANAGER: ROB MY STORE?
TIGHT on NEMO, his face cut and pulped, bleeding. He squints and looks up to meet to onslaught of stomps and kicks.
MANAGER: LITTLE BASTARD!
NEMO’S POV, angling UP at the massive wall of MANAGER who is out of breath, furious. Huffing and puffing through more physical activity in the last three minutes than he’s gone through the last ten years combined.
MANAGER: HEFF! HEFF! HAD ENOUGH? HEFF!
TIGHT CU on NEMO, bashed and bloodied. Angry. Defiant. Trying to get up.
NEMO: FUCK YOU.
NOTE: This is an upside-down mirror of PAGE ONE-two 1/8 sized panels, one full-tier, and one half page.
From behind NEMO, silhouetted in FOREGROUND as he tries to pick himself up. The MANAGER is collapsing in front of him, the cash register smashing into his skull. He’s bent forward at the waist and falling TOWARDS us. Cash, coins, springs scatter everywhere.
MANAGER: YOU SON OF A–
OVERHEAD. The full carnage of this fast, mean fight in such a small room obvious to us now. Papers are everywhere, boxes scattered, shelves broken. A cash register lies open, its guts out there for the taking. Wall-safe is, by coincidence, open too. The MANAGER is now fallen ON TOP of NEMO, pinning him down. Behind him stands JENNY, crying, hysterical.
JENNY: I– HE– I–
NEMO (1): GEDDIMOFF.
NEMO (2): CAN’T GET UP.
WIDE PANEL, HIGH ANGLE DOWN, back in the MAIN ROOM of the store. PEREGRINE is prone and bleeding severely on the floor next to a well-dented trashcan; JENNY is REACHING INTO HIS SHIRT POCKET. A limping, staggering NEMO leans against the doorframe on his way out.
NEMO: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
HALF PAGE. EXTERIOR, from high above the store. The PARKING LOT is totally empty. No BECKY waiting in the running car, no nothing. Rain, streetlamps, and the wide open Texas night.
NEMO: SHE’S GONE.