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Behind the Scenes of Scott Allie’s “Exurbia”

by  in Comic News Comment
Behind the Scenes of Scott Allie’s “Exurbia”
“Exurbia” graphic novel on sale in October

First announced at this year’s Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle, “Exurbia” is an original graphic novel written by venerable Dark Horse editor Scott Allie that will arrive in October. Illustrated by Kevin McGoverm, “Exurbia” stars ruined idealist Gage Wallace as he stirs in a town that is simply waiting for the Earth to swallow it whole. Soon, though, Gage will be sucked into events beyond his control, pursued by a menagerie of bizarre characters, even as his ex-girlfriend hunts through his diaries for the secret that first sent Gage to his listless existence.

CBR News previously spoke with Allie about the project, its memorable mutant cast, and how his career as an editor has influenced his own writing. Allie joins us again for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the first few pages of the graphic novel.

Commentary by Scott Allie

“Exurbia” is unlike anything else I’ve done as a writer and unlike most anything I’ve edited-although there is some precedence, with “Instant Piano” and “Scatterbrain” and the “Little Annie Fanny” reprints. Kevin McGovern and I came up with this over a long period of time and worked on it for years. It’s a story of the struggle between belief and cynicism, idealism and apathy, conformity and identity. With a lot of stuff blowing up. But mainly it’s a goofy, fun, post-punk urban nightmare.

As an editor, I put together a lot of trade paperbacks after the miniseries have been done, and with “Exurbia,” I wanted to do something different with these opening pages and how the credits and such work with the story pages. So this first page here, I wanted the idea of a half-title page, lots of open space, but a nice little drawing and the title. The drawing is the Rat, our twisted addition to the tradition of Mickey Mouse and all the other great cartoon mice. I don’t think there’s been one like him before, and I think his time has certainly come. Kevin traced the logo, which Richard Starkings and Comicraft had designed for us a few years back. With the logo, I wanted something classic and readable, but graffiti inspired, to go along with the story. Probably I wound up more traditional than street, but I can’t pretend I’m down with the urban scene.

We started doing the comic in about 1996, honest to God, and I wrote an opening scene that is pretty much unchanged in the published version of the book. But after writing the whole graphic novel, basically, I realized I wanted to add a prologue and an epilogue. I needed more context to set it up and finish it. Hence the “Fourteen years ago.” Kevin lettered that caption by hand. Lia Ribacchi, our Art Director, told me she loved Kevin’s lettering and I realized there was something there I’d been missing. Most of the lettering of the book is done with a font based on my handwriting, which I use for most of the books I write. The font was created by Nate Piekos of Blambot. I indicate where I want the balloons, arrange the lettering, then Kevin inks the balloons and pastes in the text. With this page, I wanted to pull way out and set the location, which I never took time to do in the original version. We’ll get to that in a few pages.

This first panel is based on a panel much later in the book-again, one that I wrote and Kevin drew long before we’d go back to this prologue. I wanted to use this new prologue to set the stage for the doomed town, and better develop the roots of Gage’s relationships with his friends and with his girlfriend, Brenda. The story is largely about isolating Gage, cutting him off from the people who care about him, and the prologue was needed because originally I didn’t take much time to show those connections before they were severed. These pages show Gage at his happiest and healthiest. This particular page is based on a short story Kevin and I did in my old self-published book, “Sick Smiles,” before we’d really developed the world, and I think maybe before we knew about the Rat as a character.

I hope people get the Edna Granbo reference. I guess with the internet it’s just a question of whether or not they want to. The “AIIIE!” in the first panel is the logo for my old self-publishing outfit, Aiiie! Comics, based on the sloppy way I used to sign my name. Nate Piekos recreated the letter shapes for me, and I think he’s popped it as a SFX into some books for other companies over the years, which amuses me to no end. Zero, Gage’s skater friend, is the only guy in the book who swears, and he does it with the words bleeped out. I don’t remember why I decided on that, and it’s pretty random, but it’s mainly just having a little fun with the conventions or cliches of the art form. 

Panel 2 here is a weird choice. Why cut to the window out there? I thought it was important to show the ramp that Zero skated in on, which I couldn’t really set up before he made his entrance. Looking at it now, though, it feels sort of random, and unnecessary. No one was really wondering how he got in the window, right? 

So now we cut to the present. Another opportunity for Kevin’s handwriting to come into it, and more importantly, setting up some of the locations for later on in the book, showing another roving perspective on this town, after it’s fallen to ruin. “Exurbia” is about the town in a lot of ways, as the title suggests. So I felt it was important to add this stuff, moving the camera around the town. Patties is a real bar that used to be in Portland. Later in the book there’s a scene there, with a transvestite in a bathroom, and the thing that Gage says he saw really happened one night in the bar. Remember that when you read the book.

So this is a little like the movie credits. We’re still moving around different locations that will be important later, and we throw in that title and our names, on a spot where in another book I might have inserted a page break for credits. Note the litho crayon making the textured effect on that wall in panel 1. That’s important later.

End of the prologue. I was very specific about this for Kevin in the script, because of how I wanted the staff credits and indicia to work. I’ve seen the page laid out now with that text, and it worked pretty well. The designer on the book, Josh Elliot, also did the “Solomon Kane” trade paperback design, and if you’ve seen that you’ll know why I trust him. We’ve got a pretty crack design team at Dark Horse.

So this was originally-and I mean for like twelve years-the first page of the story. Kevin drew this page first, and he drew it many times before landing on this style, this layout. But he probably penciled this version of this page six years before he penciled the preceding page. Weird. Kevin and I talk a lot about who Gage is, whether he’s me or Kevin, and I frankly go back and forth on that, but this conversation harkens back to an argument I had with a girlfriend in college. Not one of my finer moments, but as weak as it was, I thought it would work well in a story.

Panel 3, Gage’s line. In real life, I said to my college girlfriend-who was accusing me of not meeting her halfway in the relationship, not stepping up, and just letting things pass me by-“Well, the band’s coming along nicely.” She went nuts. That was a very lame thing for me to say. With Gage and Brenda, I think it’s even more heartless for him to say “crossword,” because that really tells her how important she is to him right then. Again, looking back on that night in college, it sort of stings. I still have a bit of an acid tongue, but I hope I don’t do things like that anymore. 

This page also introduces the idea of the Rat. The Rat is the second most important figure in the book, the Kurtz to Gage’s Willard. He’s a man-sized talking rodent who smokes a cigar, and whom the denizens of this doomed town worship-almost all of them but Gage. “Exurbia” and Gage were kicking around for a while between Kevin and me, but it was when we figured out the Rat that the book really clicked. 

The story is mostly about Gage and the Rat’s relationship, but the book is full of other absurd characters, each of whom has a place in the tapestry of the city. I grew up in a small town, Ipswich, MA, where I knew every eccentric or nutcase, knew his or her name and had some sort of passing relationship with him. When I moved to Portland, OR, on which the town in the book is based, I saw a lot more weird characters and I’ve imagined this fictional town in the book where all the weirdoes are as familiar as the drunk neighbor-mom in the small town, or the guy in the trenchcoat who once flashed you and also happens to be your friend’s uncle. I love supporting characters, and when you have a protagonist who can’t decide whether or not to participate in his own life, you need an interesting cast around him to keep things moving. Hopefully I’ve made that happen in “Exurbia.”

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