Thursday, 27 December 2012

"The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond" Update - December 2012


Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

DAVE SIM:
(from the Kickstarter Update #132, 13 December 2012)
...What I've done so far is to strip all of the HISTORY OF PHOTOREALISM IN COMICS pages out of individual issues of glamourpuss (#1 to 26), building a rough approximation of "the graphic narrative thus far". Then I went through making the most obvious corrections, reading it critically and making notes of trains of thought I pick up on later in the story and putting in new page numbers. Also looking to natural breaks in the narrative, dividing it into separate sections. Originally, three sections, each of which I've been carrying around in its own Silver Age comic bag to make sure all the pages stay in order and that I only have one part of the book out of the bag at any given time. The plan is to do that at the beginning of every month after I've done the IDW covers. The experience here in month #2 has been that doing it that way, I'm getting more "finicky" about what I want to correct because all the obvious things have been corrected. So that leaves the ones that I stared at the first time through and decided "Oh, hell: skip it." No, let's not skip it, let's fix it. Good example: capital "i's" in the Kubert lettering font. A natural typo because it's, you know, ALL caps for the most part. Only the capital "i" actually looks different -- serif instead of non-serif. So I circled any captital "i" in the middle of a word (and I'm still finding those). But then there would be a capital "i" at the beginning of a sentence. Hmm. Well, that SHOULD be a capital "i", right? But it looked funny. The only place a capital "i" looked right was as the personal pronoun. But I decided to leave it. But the second time through, I went, well, no, it LOOKS wrong and it's very subtle so the odds are it's going to dislocate you the reader unconsciously. Was that true? Yeah, I decided it was true. So this month going through I circled all of those. But there are a number of things like that where I have the advantage of 30 days to mull it over unconsciously and to have it "front and centre" when I go back to it.

I'm also doing "bridging" pages -- new transitions where I thought the original transition was too quick for what I was trying to say. "It needs a 'beat' here". So I'd do a sketch of it and tag it "new page" and put it in sequence. Reading THOSE this second month, I seriously missed the tone of the sequence so I have to rewrite them in month #3. Always working to smooth the whole thing out.

So, by the middle of month #1 (November), I had four basic sections:
1. ALEX RAYMOND & THE INVENTION OF THE PHOTOREALISTIC COMIC STRIP
2. STAN DRAKE, MARGARET MITCHELL & THE HEART OF JULIET JONES
3. GREAT EXPRESSIONS & "CRUSHER" TWICKAM: PRELUDE TO A CAR ACCIDENT
4. THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND

The idea being that I then had the structure and all I needed to do was to get all my "ducks in a row" and drop them into one of the four sections. For instance, section 1. ends with a missing bridge: the second and third photorealistic strips (BIG BEN BOLT and TWIN EARTHS). I originally credited HEART OF JULIET JONES with being the second photorealistic strip. Oops. Having gotten all that done, then I just started writing out everything I knew about the book, 12 hours a day, six days a week. Pretty much without a break. This part. Then this part. Then this part. Just whatever came back to me. After a couple of weeks of that...

[which included my trip to Texas over American Thanksgiving where my host, the surgeon, owned all of the issues of glamourpuss but hadn't read any of them, got swept up in THE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND by way of medical misinformation in "Alex Raymond's Last Ride". Oh. Never occurred to me. The two "narratives of record" are riddled with mistakes: why would I think they got the medical stuff right? Got him to spell everything SLOWLY. He showed me citations on the Internet and in his textbooks. The guests are all arriving for Thanksgiving and we're hunched over his laptop looking at newspaper articles about the accident which he's having no luck copying, so I'm transcribing them by hand. Um, "T", maybe you should get showered and changed? Naw, they're more like family than friends.

The trip really did help because there was nothing there to distract me from writing the book while he and his wife were at work. And I got to watch the Texas Longhorns (HOOK 'EM HORNS!!) lose to TCU 20-13 AT the U of T stadium with "T" and brother "T" and "B" -- and WTF text messages from his lovely wife "M" watching on television at home. American college football on Thanksgiving -- how cool is that?]

...I thought, "I have to start dividing this up into the 4 sections" more than anything because just writing everything out was getting relentless and mind-numbing. But, as I started doing that -- reading over my notes, again and again -- I realized that there were more distinct sections than I had originally thought. THAT was interesting. What am I seeing here? The first four sections remained but then segued into (tentatively!):
5. AFTERMATH
6. THE HEART OF MARGARET MITCHELL
7. THE CHARIOT
8. Um -- I don't want to alarm anyone, so let's call this one UNTITLED for the moment
9. EPILOGUE or "HOW THEY ALL ENDED UP"

Not since I had the strange sense that the Glimmer Twins, Prince Mick and Prince Keef, were about to take over CHURCH & STATE have I had the impression that I was possibly losing control over my own book with part 6 there. Starting with new research materials from Eddie Khanna that APPEARED to confirm my suspicions about the relationship -- or, rather, "relationship" -- between Margaret Mitchell and Ward Greene. Condense, condense, condense. What is this SAYING? Okay, got it under control (sort of). Reading it and getting the gist. Yes, but what is this SAYING? "And the moral of the story is...?" What? Got most of the ball. Close enough for government work. Opposite field single I might be able to stretch into a double. We'll fix it in post-op. To mix several metaphors. More Margaret Mitchell stuff from Eddie. This is getting closer to it. This is what my internal compass has been pointing at. But how do you condense this without writing another 100 pages? Graphic Novel Skill Sets 101. DAAaarrr.

MORE Margaret Mitchell stuff from Eddie. MARGARET MITCHELL REPORTER. Her pre-GONE WITH THE WIND Atlanta journalism. Rodolph (original spelling) Valentino, some laugh-out-loud funny pieces (I mean, eighty years later), like getting dropped out of an office window in a bosuns chair so she'd know how the Stone Mountain sculpture was going to be accomplished. All 4 foot 11 of her. I'm not going to get anything SPECIFIC out of this, I knew, but there comes a point where you have to read that sort of stuff. 330 pages, big type, lots of space between the lines. Took about six hours. Yes, THE HEART OF MARGARET MITCHELL is definitely worth a section of the book. But it has to be CONDENSED.

Okay, that brings you up-to-date on my progress on THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND (since you're helping pay for it!). Now I'm going back to the house to read the book she wrote in high school that seems to be a linchpin I've been looking for (and which Eddie was pretty excited about when he read it: at first he wasn't going to send it to me, just the annotations accompanying it. Having read the annotations, I sent him a postcard saying I think I need to read the whole thing.) (Which arrived the day after he had read it and decided the same thing.)

Remember! $1, $5 or $10 donation buttons at CerebusDownloads.com. We'll see how long we can keep this going. It really is down to all of you.

1 comment:

Brett said...

Dave's work on this story is pure genius. I can't wait to see it excised from glamourpuss... I normally skipped the glamourpuss schtick anyway (okay, so I read them anyway, but I would always skim past them on the first reading. Can I also remark that I love Zootanapuss? There, I'm done with my parentheticals). Anyway, his history of photorealism is top notch and I recommend it to any cerebus fan. Put this on your 'watch' list for sure!