|“North Wind” #1 on sale now or available for free at MySpace Comic Books|
Welcome back for the seventh installment of THE COMMENTARY TRACK. This is the regular feature at CBR in which we invite creators to stop by and talk about their most recent release, often in spoiler-filled detail. Go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It’ll be just like a DVD commentary, but without all the awkward pauses.
Usually, THE COMMENTARY TRACK updates on Fridays. This week, we have a bonus Track for you.
BOOM! Studios’ new comic, “North Wind,” is the story of the earth in an apocalyptic Ice Age. It’s a survival tale where pelts keep you warm and are the most valuable thing of all. And now, amidst a desperate and violent world, a hero emerges.
“North Wind” made headlines last week for being released for free on MySpace Comic Books at the same time as comic shops. Despite some retailer backlash, the comic is quickly moving to a second printing.
For this special edition of THE COMMENTARY TRACK, the author of the title, David DiGilio, joins us to discuss his first foray into the world of comics. Coming from a screenwriting background, he has a lot to say about the technique of writing for comics.
As always, there are spoilers in this commentary track. If you want to read the issue cold (pun intended), please check it out at MySpace or your local comics shop today.
“North Wind” #1 Commentary by David DiGilio
Okay. Let me get something off my chest up front. I’m not a comic book guy. At least, I haven’t been for the past 15 years. Yes, I’m a storyteller. A screenwriter to be exact. But my comic book collecting took place in the eighties. I’ve got the “X-Factor” and “Firestorm” comics to prove it. Don’t get me wrong. I love comics. In fact, I was pretty much bred on comics. I devoured them from the age of 6 to 18, then I went to college, and devoured a whole lot of stuff that probably lessened the value of a six-figure education. Fast forward to 2002. I’m a working writer in Hollywood. One of my first meetings, perhaps the first general meeting I have with a producer in town, is with none other than. . . Stan Lee. In preparation for the meeting, I tear the tape off my old collector’s box and dig out my old copies of “Marvel Universe.” And suddenly, as I’m thumbing through those great encyclopedias of superpowers, I’m a kid again. And it’s at this point that I decide to write a comic.
Six years later, you’re looking at the result. And while “North Wind” evolved from that great desire to write in one of my favorite mediums, this opening page evolved from something much more mundane. The Holiday dinner table. Back in December of 2000, I found myself in a heated debate with my step-father, a government scientist, and my older brother, one of those guys who just knows shit, like about everything. I pretty much sat on the sideline as they went back and forth about global warming. Now this was long before Gore and Di Caprio made global warming the favorite talking point of arm-chair activists. And out of this conversation came what I thought was a very cool concept: gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere could ultimately plunge us into the next Ice Age. Being a storyteller, I took that concept, multiplied its horror factor a thousand times, and started thinking how people would survive on snowball earth. My other great love of the eighties, besides Jean Grey, was post-apocalyptic movies. “Mad Max,” “Terminator,” you name it, I watched it, and then had nightmares because of it. Now, twenty-odd years later, the fears of nuclear war and humanity-hunting robots, has been joined by a new apocalyptic scenario – environmental meltdown.
So, armed with this love of comics, movies, and social scientific debate, I set about writing the first script. Images of a new end of days scenario kicked off the book. Oil fields burning. People fighting their way into Mexico. And a narrator talking about modern-day scenes in a dialect that hints to the reader that we’re in the future looking back on past mistakes. This is how we welcome you to “North Wind.” And since this is a “dvd” commentary, I wanted to welcome you to it with one interesting tidbit from the production process. This narrator has a female voice. Being new to comics, I asked my editors at BOOM! if there was any way to portray gender in the opening narration. To which they replied, as they often so calmingly do, “don’t worry about it. If the writing’s good, it won’t matter.”
Our artist Alex Cal is getting great reviews for his work on the book. Being a relative newcomer to current comic book art, I can’t say I really knew how good he was until I saw panel two on this page. This is an image of the Twin Petronas towers in Indonesia being destroyed by a nuclear blast. The detail, the scaling, it’s just a frightening and real image. That’s when I knew we’d been very lucky to find Alex.
As for the writing of the book, I’d written a dozen or so film and TV scripts before writing “North Wind.” But I had no idea how to write a comic book. Enter BOOM!’s estimable Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid. As I struggled to figure out the proper way to create this world, character, and dialogue, Mark Waid saved my ass by sending me four copies of his own scripts. Aside from being great reads, his “Fantastic Fours” and “Supermans” showed me the way. In film speak, I quickly realized that comic book writing was akin to being the writer <I>and</i> director of a feature film. You write by panel, providing essentially a “shot list” that shows the image for each panel. And then you write dialogue to accompany the image. Most of you guys probably know this. But as a teenager reading “The Punisher,” I sure as hell didn’t. So, I thought I’d pass this tidbit along to all you aspiring comic book writers out there. Go find some sample comic book scripts (I’m sure they’re available on the web). Read your favorites and start writing your own. It’s a simple craft, yet highly difficult to master. So don’t go hating all over issue 1. Because I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got a steep learning curve in this process. But thanks to Alex, Mark, and the guys at BOOM! I think they did a pretty good job of hiding my mistakes.
Welcome to our first full-pager. It was supposed to be where you find the credits. But Alex went ahead and made the image so cool, we decided to keep it clean. Thanks a lot, Alex. Seriously though, I probably get more mentions/questions about this page than any other in the first issue. Usually, they consist of “what were you smoking when you came up with this?” But I’m happy to say that I don’t write with enhancements. If Aaron Sorkin did indeed write “The West Wing” on mushrooms, it’s as bad as Barry Bonds hitting home runs on steroids. It’s cheating… But I digress. Back to the full-pager. This image, and the setting of the whole story really, comes from an old rule of storytelling. If you want to make things interesting for the reader, think of something and then write its opposite. Today’s Santa Monica pier = sun, fun, surf and fat tourists. “North Wind’s” Santa Monica pier = ice, snow, and fat fur seals. This is all a long way of saying that I love this page, and this image, because it immediately sets up the conflict of our book. The world is no longer the world we know. How will man survive? It’s all right there in this image.
Introducing your hero on page 4 might be late in the comic book world. Or maybe it’s early? One of the great things about writing comics is that there’s flexibility to the rules. I tried to introduce Pak, our young hero, earlier, but this is where he kept landing. Now, I’ve gotten a few questions about Pak’s young age. I mean, is this a kid’s book? What’s with all the children running around? Well, don’t worry. Pak’s gonna grow up in our story (and quickly). I just dig the prologue style of storytelling. You learn so much about a character from seeing their formative experiences as a child. I also wanted to bring some levity to this dark world. Pak and Schuyler’s relationship was fun to write. It’s the playful banter of two kids who probably don’t even know they’re in love, and it’s a nice counterpoint to the harsh surroundings.
Okay, a little insider info on this page, much debate was made over the color of our tiger. It was originally written as a white Siberian tiger, but we have so much white and grey that our colorist got worried about the tiger getting washed out in the limited palate. So, then we saw the tiger in full color. We didn’t dig that. So, then we went back to white, and I think our colorist Francisco added that pink hue to help the tiger pop off the page. As I stand in awe of Alex Cal’s ability as an artist, I also stand in awe of Francisco’s ability to bring Alex’s drawings to life.
Action in comics. This was my first real attempt at creating a set piece out of still shots. I’d read dozens of fights, chases, etc. in the comics of my youth. But I didn’t realize how difficult they were to write. One thing I leaned on, maybe a tad too much, was sound effects. They add life to the page. Make things a multi-sensory experience. And to complete my opening lovefest trifecta, our letterers Marshall and Terri know how to make an sfx work. My favorite is the Tiger’s roar here on page 7. It’s loud, gripping, and the orange and black colors somehow tie it even more to the tiger.
Also on page 7, we introduce the Obi-Wan character of our story. . . The Skinrunner. He’s the kind of guy that, as you’re writing, you realize will be the iconic character of your story. I dig his introduction on this page. In his close up, you might notice a similarity to a certain icon of spaghetti westerns. The cinematic Western played a big part in the creation of “North Wind’s” story, and the Skinrunner is my homage to Clint Eastwood, the guy who epitomizes the genre.
You write what you know. It’s a great adage in storytelling. The Skinrunner’s weapon of choice (flaming Poi), which makes its debut in these two pages, came out of my experience traveling in Thailand. I was there for a month in 1997, and while doing a stint rock climbing in Railay Bay, my buddy and I took up fire twirling. Surprisingly, it’s not that hard, though it’s definitely the kind of thing you only pick-up between the ages of 16 and 29. Fire twirling is also visually stunning. The flaming stars leave long tracers in the night sky. In a word, mesmerizing. Which is exactly the effect I needed for the Skinrunner to hypnotize a one ton tiger. So, I put it into the story. Alex really captured that effect in panel two on page 8. The circle of fire in the tiger’s eye is another one of my favorite images from book one.
Welcome to the Outcast village. In any world, there are different classes of people, each representing man’s relationship to the environment he inhabits. In “North Wind,” the Skinrunner represents man’s purest relationship with nature. He’s a nomad, living off the land, respecting the prey that he kills, and riding an untamable beast, the white buffalo. The middle-men of this world are the Outcasts. I pictured them kind of evolving from today’s hybrid drivers. They respect nature, but also know that man has a certain way of living, so they do their best to live our lifestyle on Mother Nature’s terms. The third caste of “North Wind” appears later, so I’ll hold off on describing them.
I also liked the idea that the Outcast village would have a woman as a leader. Without sparking a religious debate on CBR, I thought that all the talk of “Mother” Nature in our cold, new world would mean that the idea of one male god would be supplanted by a new respect for the female representation of Mother Earth. I tried to represent this shift in power by making Eron, Pak’s mother, the ruler of the Outcast village.
I dig this page for a couple reasons. One, I like sled dogs. Two, we finally get to see the third class of our new world, the ruling class, known as the Scavengers. These are the guys who have held on to the ancient way of life with a rigor mortis grip. They live in buried cities, mining the leftovers of a long dead world. And to them, heat is everything. Panel four on this page stands out for me. Welcome to Los Angeles rush hour two hundred years in the future.
I think this might be the only two-pager in the “North Wind” series. So enjoy it. I decided to do it because it’s our first journey into the buried world of Lost Angeles, and I wanted to give the underground city a sense of scale. It’s also our first return to the modern world. The buildings and the ice that encases them offer another visual symbol of the conflict between old and new that carries through “North Wind.”
Exposition is always the hardest part of writing. How do you talk about the rules of the world and the histories of your character without grinding your story to a halt. I’m a big fan of our use of exposition on page 18. Pak’s trip across the Down Market floor quickly sets up the value of heat in the new world, and you also realize how aspects of current every day life – books, human connection – have been exploited by a system that views warmth as its highest commodity.
Every hero needs a worthy adversary. We introduce Pak’s on this page. Slaughterhouse Joe. Yes, I’m taking some flak for the name. But I want to point out two things. The great villain of “Road Warrior” was called Lord Humungous. And there’s a story behind Slaughterhouse Joe’s name. When climate change and nuclear war destroyed life as we know it, Joe’s family owned a cattle ranch in California’s central valley. With the sudden scarcity of food, Joe’s great-great-great-grandfather became a very powerful man. Joe’s ancestors drove their cattle south to Lost Angeles, where they built a slaughterhouse and became a family of dictators. Joe is only the latest in a line of simple farmers who became kings. But Joe has inherited a dying city. Heat has become scarce. His control tenuous. He knows that he must find the coastal refinery or his rule and his city will collapse into anarchy.
Now, that entire paragraph you just read is exposition. Probably stuff I should have put in the book somewhere. But guess what? I didn’t. You’ll only know Joe’s backstory if you read this commentary. Smart move by Dave? Probably not. But like I said, I had a steep learning curve.
Not much to mention here. Pages kind of speak for themselves. But, as I did with the Skinrunner, I asked Alex to model Slaughterhouse Joe on another icon from the world of cinema. I’m a big “Apocalypse Now” fan. You might notice a resemblance between Joe and Marlon Brando. Now just imagine Joe speaking with a gravelly slurred lisp, and you’ve got the full Brando-as-comic-book-villain experience.
On page 21, we’ve got another one of my favorite panels from the book. Panel Three shows Wolf screaming “Answer Him!” I imagined that after 200 years of living in freezing temperatures, certain traits would fare better than others. Facial/body hair being one of them. Wolf is that guy. I love this panel because it captures Wolf in an animalistic moment. The long nails. The sharp teeth. I dig it.
Sometimes our most heroic moments are our biggest mistakes, but we still learn from them. Pak’s arrow missing Joe by inches will come back to haunt Pak and his village. But it’s also the moment that sends him on the path to becoming a hero. Also, I debated for a long time about how to end issue one. I finally settled on my old fave. . . the cliffhanger. If you had a chance to catch my TV show “Traveler,” you know I’m a fan of this story device. Pak has had his chance to kill Joe. Now it’s Joe’s chance to return the favor. Like I said before, Pak is going to grow up quickly.
And that’s it. Hope you guys enjoyed this little stream of consciousness commentary. It was fun to look back on the book and how the stuff from my head managed to land on the page with the help of Alex, Frederico, Marshall, Terri, Andrew Huerta, and all my friends at BOOM! Enjoy book 2, keep spreading the good word about “North Wind,” and thanks for reading.
Thanks again to David DiGilio for stopping by to talk about his first comic, and for his fresh perspective. “North Wind” is a five-issue mini-series that will be released to comic shops and to MySpace Comic Books at the same time moving forward.
If you have any titles or creators you’d like to see a commentary track from, drop us a line. If you’re a creator with a book due out soon that you’d like to stop by to talk about in detail, let us know. We’re especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we’ve had a shortage of those so far. We’re busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there’s always room for more!
Now discuss this story in CBR’s Indie Comics forum.
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