March 31, 2010

Script Frenzy Begins Tomorrow

Script Frenzy begins tomorrow and I find myself approaching it with a damp and odiferous mixture of the sweat of excitement and the sweat of terror. The concept is to write a 100 page script (movie, play, TV, or, in my case, graphic novel) in 30 days. For my entry, I am going to be adapting a story I wrote in 1999 called “The Bats of Billfordstown” (hereafter referred to with the MC sounding acronym TBOB) – a fictionalized quirk of a ramble concerning the relationships between fathers and sons, life and death, sibling rivalry, what it means to be a man, and, of course, a bat.

While I was pretty happy with TBOB as a story, there remained an element that I felt was lacking. I am turning it into a Graphic Novel because I think it is the medium that will best convey the themes. When I write, I see the characters going through their circumvolutions in my head, and try as I might, I can’t convey everything through words. Why a Graphic Novel and not a film or play, then? I think a Graphic Novel fosters a more personal experience between the audience and the work, and I think the themes I am working with in TBOB demands that intimacy.

OK, I’ve seemingly hung myself out on a rather pretentious sounding limb here, haven’t I? It behooves me, therefore, to explain myself further lest you dismiss me as another intellectual elitist and turn from me forever.

Scott McCloud, in his fantastic book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, does a far better job than I ever could (see – no pretensions here!) of explaining how comics foster this intimate and personal relationship between the audience and the work. He does so by examining the concept of Closure. For McCloud, Closure is a mental process in which individuals observe parts, but perceive the whole – a process where an individual completes that which is incomplete “based on past experience”. To illustrate this concept, McCloud writes:

I’ve never been to Morocco, but I take it on faith that there is a Morocco! I’ve never seen the earth from space firsthand, yet I trust the earth is round. I’ve never been in the house across the street, yet I assume it has an interior, that it isn’t just some big movie set!”

According to McCloud (and I fully agree with him), comics depend on closure in order to make sense. In effect, without this type of individual participation, comics could not be a narrative form. Through active participation on the part of the reader, time and motion occur – without the individual act of closure, comics would just be a group of pictures.

McCloud explains further that it is in the space between the pictures or panels in comic books (referred to as “The Gutter”) that this bonding between the work and its audience occurs. As he says:

Here in the limbo of the gutter, human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea. Nothing is seen between the two panels, but experience tells you something must be there. Comics panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged staccato rhythm of unconnected moments. But closure allows us to connect these moments and mentally construct a continuous, unified reality … Every act committed to paper by the comics artist is aided and abetted by a silent accomplice. An equal partner in crime known as the reader.

McCloud then provides these two panels and makes the following (I think) profound observation

I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I’m not the one who let it drop or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why. That, Dear Reader, was YOUR SPECIAL CRIME, each of you committing it in your own style. All of you participated in the murder. All of you held the axe and chose your spot.

And then he says the line which I am using as my motto during Script Frenzy: “To kill a man between panels is to condemn him to a thousand deaths.”

Good stuff, that. If you have any interest in this sort of thing, I cannot recommend Scott McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, enough.

Anyway, it is this idea that makes me feel that TBOB is best suited for Graphic Novel-hood. Closure is an individual act. When an individual participates to make meaning, that meaning becomes important to that individual. The themes of TBOB, I think, require that kind of work on the part of the audience.

Oh poop, I sounded pretentious again.

Anyway – Script Frenzy – starting tomorrow.

Inhale/Exhale – repeat.

Now write.

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