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Monday, May 17, 2004

The Living Planet, Part 2. 

Continuing from Part 1...

ACT I BEFORE - FROM THE NOTES OF LARRY YOUNG


Introduce JUSTICE HALL, swinging in towards a scene of urban devastation. As he swings towards the carnage on his Batrope, he does a little pondering about who he is and why he does what he does. On page five, he's stopped by a kid who waves him down from on top of the building he's perched on. Sensing that there's a crime in progress that he's being alerted to, Hall swoops down.

"What is it? Have you been mugged? Where are your parents? This isn't a cat in a tree thing, is it? I don't do cats-in-trees."

No, it's just a fanboy, who wants his autograph. He pulls out a spiral-ring notebook from his knapsack and wants Hall's autograph. He's about fifteen. Old enough to be out by himself at ten o'clock at night, but young enough to not realize being out by yourself at that time is kinda silly.

Hall tells him, "Go home. You're asking for trouble."

This kid will be our audience stand-in. If The Grand represents DC, then Justice Hall represents Marvel. Two sides of an equation trying to do the same thing by competing means. Schaff, in his rampaging yet mindless power, represents self-publishers... wielding the power of the comic book form but only haphazardly and without conscious direction. It's an accident if something bad happens and it's an accident if something good happens. Kastra, the alien girl, represents the independent publishers, who may have the pluck and the wherewithal to hang with the big guys but have to survive on being quicker and more clever because the punches they throw don't bring down the house. Finesse beats power any day, anyway...

So our fifteen year old kid is our audience substitute. He'll be along for the ride... not exactly a B-story, but a throughline to the end of the act... Justice Hall initally tells him to piss off, but then relents, as there really is a human face under the mask. He's taken with the boy's naivete and relents. Signs a page in the kid's makeshift scrapbook (maybe a newspaper clipping about one of Justice Hall's exploits) and tells him to get off the streets. It's a good country... a damn fine country... but on a school night it's better to be home with the lights off.

Kastra arrives on the scene with her people's spaceship, which acts as a group quinjet a nd shuttles the four around the world, and, apparently, deep space, as well. She lands the honkin' thing outside of the carnage Schaff is creating and gets out with a flourish.

This kid then meets Kastra, who's quite flattered by the attention, and flirts with the kid mercilessly. He's got an 8 x 10 of her in his book, protected by a plastic sleeve. The intimation here is the kid spends some time alone with his scrapbook in general and Kastra's photo in particular.

After the out-of-control Schaff is made docile once more, and the two-year old he's been swinging around (representing the hope for the comic book fans of the future, natch), the kid even gets Schaff's autograph: "GEED!"

Just then, The Grand flies down, having missed all the brouhaha, and informs them that they've got to stop a crashing alien ship. There is some back and forth with the kid, as he tries to get The Grand's autograph. Even Justice Hall is a little put off when our Superman-analogue blows the kid off. Kastra, Hall, even the nearly-mindless Schaff all gave the kid the time of day... the intimation here is that The Grand is doing good works for a deifferent reason than the others. There is no altruism in him, apparently... if there is, it's a selfish altruism... not good for goodness' sake, but good because of desired effect is reached. What is the desired effect or outcome for The Grand? We do not yet know... all we know is what the kid knows, that the powerful Superman analogue is blowing him off and is not giving him his autograph. It's a small, simple thing, but telling to the audience that this guy isn't Superman. He's not crass, per se, he's just not all things to all people.

As far as the kid is concerned, though, the guy he idolizes the most might just as well have punched him in the stomach.

This act, remember, all takes place at night, with the inside front cover of the book being a solid black, and the main action of the first act all taking place in a dark, moody, atmospheric Gotham-City-of-sorts.

This is taken through to the second act, which takes place in the spaceship, and is all sort of neutrally lit. A transition between the black of the first act and the bright, washed-out day in the desert of the third act, which finishes with the all-white inside back cover. Black to white, ink to no ink, something, to nothing. Man, that's a bleak view of the comic book industry, isn't it?

"We've got things to do," The Grand says, blowing the kid off brusquely.

No autograph for him, and no joy for your regular comics fan as the stand-in for Marvel Comics blithely ignores the stand-in for the comic book reaading audience and flies off, literally abandoning his audience. The four of them head off into deep space...


ACT I AFTER - STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH


Q: Okay, first off, I'd just like to say... Brandon McKinney's art was pretty much pitch-perfect for the project. He made the Grand look like a world-class asshole from Panel One, and that's not easy. How'd you two hook up for this project?

Larry: Brandon and I have known each other for a while, and I set him up with Warren Ellis for SWITCHBLADE HONEY. I feared that Warren would be swamped with work and I didn't want Brandon to be waiting for script, so I pitched him the idea to work on PLANET while we waited for Warren. But W was right there with his script and so PLANET waited while B finished up that.

Q: How long ago was that?

Larry: Spring of 2001, I think.

Q: So you've been sitting on this script for a while. How many little tweaks and alterations did it undergo between the original outline and the finished product? Aside from drastic reduction in length.

Larry: Two major rebuilds. The first proposal would have been at least 288 pages long, and that didn't fit my "compression" idea... I don' really revisit and rewrite that much. Just tweak dialogue to fit space issues at the lettering stage. By the time I sit down to write, I've pretty much figured out the tale I want to tell.

Q: You didn't actually hack out 288 pages, did you?

Larry: No, that wouldn't be efficient.

Q: Make for a hell of a director's cut, though. Okay, I know you've stressed that none of the characters are one-to-one stand-ins for different aspects of the industry, but I have to wonder about the swap of Justice Hall and the Grand, and whom they represent. After the color sequence is done, their personalities seem to have solidified into pretty specific caricatures. So come on... level. Which is it for them, DC or Marvel?

Larry: Well, I think it's clear that they represent the Big Two, yeah?

Q: It's pretty clear, yeah.

Larry: So does it matter which is which? I swapped 'em around because that's what happens with Marvel and DC. Two horses, nose-to-nose.

Q: But if it's a cautionary tale, a warning of potential things to come, I'm curious on your exact take on what role each of the Big Two will take in it... if we don't change course.

Larry: Well, it's an allegory. There is no exact take.

Q: That's why I'm asking for yours.

Larry: I don't want to say what I think, because then that ruins the fun for the reader. It's like asking Dickens who he's riffing on in BLEAK HOUSE, man.

Q: Fair enough. Schaff's shown with tremendous power, wielded uncontrollably, sometimes doing as much harm as good. Do you think self-publishers still have that much influence in the field?

Larry: Yeah, I think self-publishers have the potential to wield that much power. But an interesting take is that Schaff represents the distribution aspect of the industry, as well.

Q: Specifically Diamond, or distribution overall?

Larry: Distribution, overall. Diamond, Cold Cut, FMI, the book trade... a many-limbed juggernaut. See? Allegory is fun, if you get into it.

Q: The interesting thing is, I went into reading PLANET cold. I didn't read your Cliff's Notes on it until afterwards, so I could take it in fresh. To me, Schaff came off as fanboys as much as the kid with the autograph book did. So much power to change things, with almost zero guidance on "doing the right thing."

Larry: "Just wanting you to care," "remembering when good people did good things"? Yeah, I can see that.

Q: Kastra giving the young autograph hound a kiss on the cheek and making his day... tell me that that is not a Larry Young moment in a nutshell. Convince me.

Larry: What's a "Larry Young moment"?

Q: Self-insertion. Which sounds kinda sexy.

Larry: The entire book is my take on things, so every main character says or does something I see that should be done or said, in comics. I think Justice Hall is probably closest to my personal worldview.

Q: Oh, I just meant a bit of self-insertion in that that's what you try to do with the fan base. Flirt, talk, get them intimately involved. So to speak.

Larry: I think every company has someone whose job that is. It's the nature of PR and marketing. But that's flattering that you think I'm the personification of good marketing.

Q: Well, some would say that DC and specifically Marvel do a pretty horrible job of relating to the fan base. Of course, that's precisely what the Grand does. So... you and Justice Hall? Elaborate.

Larry: He has a firm idea of what's acceptable and what's unacceptable, doesn't take any shit, is no-nonsense, is prepared for all the angles... has a strategy when things go wrong, and still has time to give a kid personal attention even while he's saying he doesn't have time. The "I don't do cats in trees" page is the one I bought from Brandon.

Q: And maybe the one guy who can stand up to the Grand?

Larry: Like I said these aren't one-to-one correlations. I have aspects of The Grand in my view of comics, too. People are complex cats, man.

Q: And decades of company history even more so. I'm with you. An interesting change from outline to TPB you have is the fanboy's reaction to the Grand blowing him off. In the TPB, the kid feels down, but Kastra cheers him right up again. In the original outline, you detail it as the kid feeling as if he "might as well have been punched in the stomach." What prompted the change?

Larry: A maturation of my view of the ephemeral nature of an audience.

Q: Since 2001 and the writing of the final script? What changed that?

Larry: I just realized that as our business grew, we'd have diehards and casual readers and new converts. I saw how Marvel fans, for example, keep reading Spidey no matter what Marvel does... but it's not the same audience; there's a turnover. So Marvel and DC, and us, even, do what's best for our companies, and not necessarily what’s best for an individual fan.

Q: So you don't see the audience for superheroes as largely static, like a lot of critics do.

Larry: If I did, I wouldn't have published PLANET OF THE CAPES and HENCH and the three FOOT SOLDIERS volumes. The middle chapter of ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE: SPACE 1959 is a rumination on the superhero.

Q: Well there's a pretty big sentiment rolling around that the only people buying Spider-Man, et al, these days are 35-year-old fanboys who've been buying the title all their lives. You think superheroes still have legs, then?

Larry: I wouldn't dismiss a good story just because of its format or subject matter. Super heroes, westerns, romance books, hot rod stories... if it's a good tale, well told, then I think there's an audience.

(Stay tuned for more.)

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