Book Talk: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

[Incomplete, but I'd rather post it as is than not. This was written in like...June , I meant to come back and finish explaining whatever I'd started but that never happened]

 

I did something I haven't done in a while when I read Red Dragon. I started the book just after midnight, read about 40 pages in then went to sleep. My laptop was off, it was just me and the book. I woke up, peed then hunkered on my bed to read for a while. I left my room, scrounged for food, found little then I went back to reading. I tried to take a nap, it was too hot for it to be any good, then I went back to reading. My laptop was off next to me the entire day. I sent out a few tweets, not many, and I kept tabs on my tumblr notifications from my phone but it was me, the silence of the house and the book all day. 

It was a good day. 

Like with my other 'Talks', there will be spoilers, you've been warned as I write and think over a book that has about 7 years on me to the month. Let's do this thing.

 --

I'm on tumblr and I think I've gotten to the point where I hate all fandoms equally. I'm a fan of stuff but I don't prescribe to being in a fandom or any of that shit. I really don't care, but I feel I've moved past not caring to not wanting to see any of it. I'm tired of slashing, I'm tired of people swooning over characters and shipping and stupid macros that aren't quotes but the fan's not rose colored but awkward lust colored interpretation of a scene.

It's happened with the show Hannibal, which is a murder-crime show with gruesome, horrific murders and insane characters. I hit a point with being tired of this fandom and not putting up with it and ignoring it when some fool lamented Hannibal being portrayed as a villain and not an 'anti-hero'.  

If I could reach through the Internet and slap the stupid off someone's face, this is someone I'd do that to. 

Let's take a step back. I grew up knowing the name Hannibal and that is was an insane cannibal because of the 1992 hit movie Silence of the Lambs. I was about to take the time to set this fool straight as I went to research the book and learned it was the second in a series. About a week later I checked out Red Dragon, the first in the series, from my local library. 

I knew little about the world of Hannibal Lecter when I started and thankfully I've only seen the first 3 episodes of the show. My vision of the characters was tainted by the actors but it's not the worst, to be honest.  

So, Saturday morning, I hunker down in my bed, propped up by pillows and I start reading and I'm pretty jazzed by the entire thing from the foreword that Harris wrote where he discussed getting around to writing the one scene with Hannibal in the book. I get going and we're dropped into Will Graham's beginning of the investigation. 

The book takes place ages after when the show does, a virtual lifetime later. That's fine. Will's apprehensive about going back and consulting in these types of serial killer murder cases where there doesn't seem to be anything connecting these two families and why they were killed. With Will Graham, the book tracks his slow descent into his own madness as he gets focused on the victims, the families, the case and he loses the little bit of family that he has so they can be safe. 

The book is third person limited, we go into Will's mind and we go into the mind of the villain, Francis Dolarhyde but it's mostly following Will. It's dramatic irony as the audience knows most of what's going on with Dolarhyde as he loses control, he feels a little Multiple Personality Disassociative Disorder, or maybe Schitzopherenic, especially near the end. So we know from the middle of the book how he chooses his victims and what some of his issues are. His cleft pallet (I think that's what it is) and speech problems. His mother and grandmother issues, his being bullied and how he's found solace in a painting and dubbed himself The Red Dragon after the painting. The Red Dragon beceomes a voice for him to follow and kind of give himself up to. 

Will is focused on the families and what Dolarhyde has done as he brutalized them. After they were killed he would dance around naked and I think have sex with the mother while making the dead family 'watch'. It's all a bit creepy. Will fixates on the wrong aspects of the families as he tried to figure out who Dolarhyde is and why he chose these families. It's the smallest connection between them that lead to the attempted capture of Dolarhyde. He works as a film processing company and both families had their home movies processed there. They lived in different cities and almost superficial similarities. They were both affluent, they both had a few children and pets. These things ring out from the glimpse into Dolarhyde's past, he wasn't just perceived as being ugly, his birthmother remarried a wealthy man and had three beautiful children. Dolarhyde was thrown to the curb and psychologically abused by the grandmother that took him in, 

 

Comic Talk: Black Lightning: Year One- Jen Van Meter & Cully Hamner

I knew nothing about Black Lightning before DC released an animation short featuring Black Lightning's daughters needing to go to school, and he's fighting something but needs to get home to get his girls off to school. I saw it and thought "DC's trying to develop a black hero? Fantastic!" and wanted to know more about him. 

I don't remember why I chose this book. I like the Year One concept because it introduces new readers to a world without the weight of decades of back story, and villains that stretch forever and bog everything down. They're usually a one off, contained narrative, you know stories will continue but you don't need to know anything to be able to enjoy what you're reading. They do the job, they tread familiar ground for established fans but are easy for new potential fans to get into. 

But what I like. I like that as a hero Black Lightning has a family. So many heroes are alone with so little to live for or a real thing to fight and protect. Superman focuses on Lois and the Daily Planet. Spider-man on Aunt May, Gwen or MJ, and the Daily Bugle. Batman is on his own and maybe Robin sometimes? Iron Man fights for Pepper, but so many heroes are single bachelors, or dating or married without families to care about.

 At his core, Jefferson Pierce is a family man. He has a loving mother, wife and daughter, a hard but caring sister, her kind of deadbeat husband. There are people who know who he is, what he's doing and they care just as much as he does. They understand he has a power that can be put to so much good and in this book they do as much as they can to help him and to not end up as targets of the wrath of the 100. 

I like that he's written not as a stereotype. He's a solid family man (currently, I guess a divorce happens after the second daughter is born, but he retains custody later on), educated an educator, and a successful athlete. He speaks proper English and not some insulting lesser English. He was and athlete and pushed himself because he knew no other way to deal with the electrical build up in his body. It's not explained in this book where his powers come from, according to wikipedia, in Year One he's a metahuman and he just does. In other continuities he has a device that creates the electrical energy. (I do judge a little because he's a black dude with electricity powers (were they just used as a way/excuse to 'light' dark skin in  shadows in comics?---nah)).  He proves himself to be a valuable and good person as a positive local role model as he, as Jefferson Pierce, works to fix the Metropolis Southside after it was attacked by The 100, a gang that had a crazy magic-villain leader. 

He comes into town as a positive role model, he's working to improve the lives of these people, partially because of person guilt of 'abandoning' the town but also because he wants better for his students than their high school prostitution or gang lifestyle. He wants to prove to them that they're worth the effort and the energy and that they can do something good with their lives.  

I like that when Clark Kent shows up to figure out who Black Lightning, and later one to help, that the book doesn't become about him showing up to save the day or being super integral to everything. The old-world magic in the 100 is too toxic for his kyrptonian body and his powers are diminished, so the book is really about improving a community from the inside. I like how the bigger story is an overarching positive way to fixing something broken, not just by bringing in new resources but working to strengthen it from inside and giving people the hope and belief that they can live better lives.

I did get a little lost while reading the book. Every issue in the 6 issue mini that make up the book is narrated by a different character, his wife, a clean cop he knows, Pierce himself and Clark Kent all lend their opinions and observations of the situation. Those get confusing because they're one overarching idea for the 22 pages of the issues, but the panels are interspersed with the current dialogue. As I was reading I just stumbled over the dialogue versus the 'voice over' because both were important, but they're both being read so I'd read from one VO sentence into a dialogue sentence and would just get turned around.  I don't know if it was me or the comic being a little ambition with having that much go on. I don't read heroes that often, but I can't think of too many modern comics that have that type of 'this is how I saw the situation' type of thing going on. It's better than older comics where there's a giant caption box explaining the art in the panel.

On Cully's Art.  

I was originally not into it. It might just have been the thing of settling into a design because art evolves every time you pick up a pencil. It shifts, improves, changes. Maybe I just got used to the style for the book. I love the designs of everyone. I love how Black Lightnings costume functions and how simple it is. His true Hero costume may be kevlar and other armor but it's a tee shirt, leather jacket, jeans and stylized fold-down boots. The bottom half of the costume feels very early comics and is on the skin -tight side, but the idea of the costume is good. It's realistic clothing, and I like that the mask is connected to a wig so his identity is really concealed. I also like how it's presented to him. He starts out running around in a hoodie and jeans. When he admits his nightlife to his family they present him with his new Hero Armor. They're in on it, they're supportive, it's great.

As a black comics reader, even though I might not identify with many presentation of black characters in media, I did like seeing a world populated with different types of black people. Each was a character, each had ones and desires. It may be the 'bad' side of town, or the 'black' side of town, but the motivations that many characters had for what they were doing were apparently, the negative roads the kids were heading down were a product of the only things they saw. But design wise, there's more than one type of black person, in hair style, in fashion style.  

It's just such a good book. Give it a read, I was excited to pick it up every time I had the chance. It touched on a not often explored part of the DCU, and it shows that Dc can be not horrible to black characters. It shows a world realistically populated with important male and female characters who do good for the story. I think that both Jen and Cully did wonderful jobs and I'd love to read more of their interpretation of this character. I'd also love to see more of the DC animations done of Black Lightning, I hope he gets his own show, it's be boss. The black DC characters I know of who are have been in cartoons are Cyborg (I only know him from Teen Titans), Static Shock, but Black Lightning as a DCAU show could be another positive black hero, but also an adult and not just another child doing things. 

How I Make Comics

I probably do comics wrong, but this is how I make me comics. I start with the idea or how many pages it will be. For "War Face" I knew before I started the script it was going to be an 8 page book, I figured the conflict would be between Davey and Sephy but it featured all four Cinema kids. I decided I wanted someone to get a minor injury but I knew I didn't have time to resolve that in 8 super tiny pages. I wanted this story to be understandable by anyone who who knew nothing about the Cinema world but i also wanted there to be character development. I know in Cinema-land that when Sephy first transfers into the same school as Alpha, Davey and Smyth that Davey was always apprehensive and aggressive to Sephy but changes. I decided to make this story part of his trusting her more and liking her as a person (there no Sephy/Davey romance). i figured on a gender based conflict where in the end it's not about being girly or not, it's really about being capable despite appearances.  With the story and bigger picture figured out i wrote my script :D

IMG_20130115_203201.jpg

I start with my script which is a series of really small thumbnails with the dialogue written next to  the thumbnail. Since this book is going to be physically small I had to remember from this stage not to have too many panels on a page and not too much dialogue in every panel. I differentiate characters based on their head shape or size in the thumbnail and the dialogue on the side is a great reminder of who is supposed to be in every panel.  There's rough posing for everyone so I know the staging I'm intending for the page from the get go generally. 

These are from Cinema cpt 1, I neer took a photo of my working thumbs for War Face

These are from Cinema cpt 1, I neer took a photo of my working thumbs for War Face

I redraw the thumbnails larger with dialogue in the panels, sometimes over lines and things if I've written it too big. I take this time to edit and change lines and improve on  poses in the panels. During this stage I decide on costumes, hair styles and details like that. I try to have certain types of things for every character in Cinema to wear that reflect on their personality and their familial wealth, more or less. Davey is the poorest of the four, he and his mother live in a small apartment and a lot of his clothes are from thrift stores and good will, so his stuff is usually slightly oversized or looks a little weird. Like his sweater/shirt, i don't know but i liked it for him. If this were in color the vertical hatching would be medium or light grey and the white part would be light grey or white; the shorts are dark blue, probably a bit faded. Alpha and Smyth are middle class, so their clothes are from Sears and JC Penny's and maybe nice things from Macy's. Alpha's shirt is actually a three color striped shirt of yellow, orange and brown, dark blue overalls. Smyth and his brother are wearing baseball tees, the team is something along the lines of the Orioles  but the colors are probably more like and darker blues. Smyth's tee is light blue and the under shirt is a darker blue and his jeans are a slightly faded medium blue. Sephy ( Miss Kennedy) is rich, her clothes are from Macy's, Bergdorfs, Nordstrom and high end boutiques. Her shirt is either black or dark blue and from some fancy fashion designer, and the skort is medium-light blue. 

Page layouts

Page layouts

With outfits and layouts decided I pencil and pretty much immediately ink the layout since i've figured out everything else. With this comic having 2 pages to a sheet I have the spread being the spread on the book so I have less work in matching pages with the sheet sides for later on.

beginning sketches and layouts

beginning sketches and layouts

I rough in bodies and dialogue bubbles now. I settle on what the script is and what everyone says then I work around that. I ink over my hand lettering and the bubbles, for this comic I used rapidograph pens, I wish I had used a thicker pen but I still like how these look. I had to take my time so I wouldn't have pen flicks on the page. I wish I had put in rough rules to follow, my letters are level, they're not always the same height that's my fault entirely.

With the dialogue said and done I revise my pencils and put vague sketches of the background in. I change poses as necessary to make things more expressive.

refined but still lose. Dialogue is now inked, faces are sometimes still lose because I'm not sure on the expressions I want

refined but still lose. Dialogue is now inked, faces are sometimes still lose because I'm not sure on the expressions I want

beginning inks, key figures and if I know what shading I want that goes in now. 

beginning inks, key figures and if I know what shading I want that goes in now. 

I ink the book, generally principle figured and details. I fret about ruining the book and this is a good time to get burnt out on working on one thing for a week. I start hating the book even though I think it looks good, it becomes a chore and my enthusiasm drops. This can be seen in the art work which sucks but sometimes I have to work through not wanting to work because I still want to see it finished. 

With all of the figures inked now it's time for shading if this is a black and white line art book, like this one. With my other books, this is when markers are pulled out and figures are colored and backgrounds are addressed, being sketched in and inked at the same time more or less. I'm really bored at this stage and look forward to working on something else. This is why it was really nice to do three books at once, they were each at different stages, or had different 'rules' for what they were to look like so it was nice to switch from one to the next even if they were both being colored.

The final version of what the page looks like before scanning

The final version of what the page looks like before scanning

Somehow the book is done! Yeah! Now to kill an eraser on it cleaning up pencils. If the book is colored with markers this happens before the coloring stage, but with War Face being all black and white I could put off cleaning it up until now. This is also the stage when I go back over things I skipped and didn't realize I skipped coloring/inking.

Scan and re-prettify everything, the end of this fucking tunnel is nigh and shit.

Open InDesign and hate everything forever as I try to figure out which way everything needs to go. I have my dummy book but still, getting it in the right order and printing it correctly is still a dick. And test prints will happen and happen and happen as I make sure it's all going the right direction. 

Oh shit, I have it together? Fuck yes! Now to print however many I'm going to print the first time, which is dependent on costs.

Oh lookie, a sheaf of books, time to fold and staple then cut the pages apart. During the InDesign layout stage making sure that there was enough dead-air above the pages is important so I'm not cutting off any art. It was also important in the initial layout stage so that I wouldn't have to worry about it now.

The final books after they'd been cut and stapled

The final books after they'd been cut and stapled

Oh, i now have a stack of books all pretty to give away. Sweet! Time to start leaving them places and giving them to friends and maybe mailing them to family. Hmm..this book is clean, they get copies, I guess.

Finally, I can watch a DVD without the guilt I should be working on something. Two days later I'm feeling bored and guilty, I should be working on another book... Let's do the journal comic for a week now...