Progress update, Steranko, and the Soviet montage theory

Next time I will return to my extended look at character design and how I came to create our leading lady, Trixie Trouble.

For now, though, I wanted to give a short progress update, and explore one of the pages in progress.

After taking two weeks off for a trip abroad, I’m back at work on the line art for The Crimebusters #120. It’s taken me a couple of days to get back in the swing of things, but I just completed page 10 or 30, meaning I’m officially one third of the way through the line art.

You may note that I said 30 pages, as opposed to the 28 pages I referenced in previous posts. One thing that has slowed me down a little bit is the decision to add two pages to the story.

These pages were actually part of my original plot, but I later cut them because I felt they weren’t strictly necessary to advance the plot and I wanted to streamline the narrative as much as possible. However, upon reflection, I decided the pages were necessary for character reasons. Stories, after all, aren’t just about plot, they are about people, and these two pages I think will provide valuable character moments that will strengthen the story overall and make it a better read. Sometimes slowing down is better than speeding up.

This has meant a slow down in my process as well, though, as these pages, unlike the other 28, hadn’t been thumbnailed and laid out already. Still, that process has now been complete, and the linework for the first of the two new pages is done, so by the end of this week I think I will be back to the spot in the story I was at previously — only it will be page 12 now, instead of page 10.

For today’s preview, though, I wanted to backtrack a bit and give you a look at page 4 in progress. This is a page that I think will look significantly different once I get to the inking stage, as it takes place primarily at night and in the dark. So the blacks and shadings will add a lot of texture, as will sound effects. But here’s what it looks like at the moment:

The middle of the page, where Chuck sneaks out of his dorm room to investigate the crime scene, was a sequence I particularly enjoyed working on. This sequence is going to be wordless, though it will have some sound effects.

This sequence is heavily influenced by the work of the legendary Jim Steranko, who often used these sort of quick, small panels to create a narrative — or just set a scene — letting the art guide our mind into putting 2 and 2 together to get 4.

Originally, I planned a typical panel sequence here, but felt constrained, as in order to fit this much plot into such a small space felt like it would require a lot of exposition. Though original Crimebuster writer Charles Biro was far from shy about using dialogue data dumps, I wanted to avoid this when possible in favor of something more visual and dramatic — which is what Steranko is all about.

Here’s a look at his famous wordless love scene from Strange Tales:

Throughout The Crimebusters #120, I tried to utilize various storytelling techniques from masters like Steranko, both to keep the book fresh as well as to see which techniques work for me, and which don’t. This sort of wordless montage, which artists like Steranko borrowed from the film work of greats like Eisenstein, is something that I think is absolutely great in specific, small, and restrained uses. You can’t just do this for any sequence, but when you use it for the right sequence, it just all clicks. I will definitely be keeping this in my arsenal going forward!

Thanks for reading! Next time, I will be back for part 2 of my exploration of the character design process for Trixie Trouble.

Asking for Trouble (part 1)

The original impetus behind this project was my love of the Golden Age, public domain character Crimebuster, and a desire to continue his comic book adventures. It wasn’t far into the development process, though, that I realized I need to create a new partner for Chuck to work with, which is how I ended up creating the all-new character Trixie Trouble. 

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the character creation and development process from start to finish, so in this first installment, I’ll look at the reasons behind the creation of Trixie Trouble and how I slowly drilled down to the character I have now, and who will be making her debut in The Crimebusters #120. 

Though it ran for 117 issues over 14 years, there were surprisingly few recurring characters in the pages of Crimebusters series in Boy Comics. There was Crimebuster himself, and his sidekick Squeeks the monkey. There was also the district attorney Loover, Chuck’s mentor, and the villain Iron Jaw, Chuck’s arch enemy. 

And… that’s it, until Chuck went off to school in #107. At that point, writer Charles Biro introduced a whole new group of supporting characters in the form of other students at Curtiss Tech. Stu was Chuck’s new best friend and roommate, Jabbo was the new archenemy, an Iron Jaw toned down for the college set. And there was also a sporadic love interest name Annie, who appeared in a whopping three issues. That, however, also made her the only recurring female character in the entire series history. 

When I began developing the story that would eventually, after years of work, morph into The Crimebusters #120, I felt the biggest problem was actually Squeeks. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Squeeks. But there were three big issues with Squeeks:

1.  First and most obviously, Squeeks is a monkey, which means he doesn’t talk. This means when Chuck is working out cases, he can monologue at Squeeks, but he can’t have a conversation, which severely limits the writing options. I felt Chuck needed someone not just to talk to, but someone who would be able to challenge him (more on this in the next installment), and that’s not Squeeks.

2. Secondly, as a monkey, and Chuck’s pet, Squeeks is inherently subordinate to Crimebuster. I felt that what Chuck needed, though, was a true equal and partner rather than a sidekick. Squeeks is always going to be a sidekick — a great one, but a sidekick nonetheless. 

3. Finally, my choice to pick up the original continuity presented a problem, because Squeeks was essentially written out of the series when Chuck went to Curtiss Tech. He does appear in a couple Curtiss Tech stories, but for the most part, he’s absent, which makes sense: the school isn’t likely to let a student keep a pet monkey in the dorm. If I wanted to use Squeeks, I’d have to really come up with a weird rationale to have him around. 

Once I ruled out Squeeks, it was also pretty easy to rule out Stu. Stu doesn’t have the same problems as Squeeks; Stu is an equal to Chuck, he can talk, and he’s at Curtiss Tech. But he has a different problem Squeeks does not have: Stu is boring as hell. I do have plans for Stu that I think will prove interesting, but he just didn’t fit.

With all those factors in mind, I settled on the idea of creating a female counterpart to Chuck. I felt this worked thematically very well. By the end of his series, Chuck was firmly operating in the classic teen detective genre, and that is filled with great female characters like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Veronica Mars, and many more. It also filled a major gap in the storytelling. Annie, god bless her, was about as nondescript as possible in her handful of appearances. Boy Comics, after all, was aimed at boys, and didn’t really consider girls much. 

That doesn’t appeal to me, though. I wanted a strong female character, a detective who could match Chuck as an equal partner. Someone who could stand on equal footing as a main character in her own right. My story, I realized, would need to be as much about her as about Chuck.

And once I realized this, the parameters for actually creating Trixie became clearer. With Chuck, after all, I had a known quantity. After reading 117 issues worth of Crimebuster stories, I had a good idea of his personality, strengths, and weakness. For narrative and dramatic reasons, I needed to create a character who offered something different — who had different strengths, different weaknesses, different quirks. Someone who could challenge Chuck, and vice versa. 

But she couldn’t just exist as a compliment or foil to Chuck — she had to be interesting enough in her own right to pique curiosity, command attention and carry the narrative. She had to feel like she had her own 14-year backstory of adventures and experiences. 

In classic comic book terms, this had to feel like Power Man and Iron Fist teaming up for the fist time: two leading characters who just happen to work even better together. 

The process of designing that personality, and the process of designing Trixie’s look, are things I will explore in the next installment.

Return of the splash page!

First, a quick update. I am now done with the line work through page 6, and am beginning page 7 today. The line work is taking me a little longer than expected, but at the present rate I should be done with it around February 7, so we’re still more or less on target with my original estimates.

Today, I wanted to share a first look at some of the internal art, beginning with a the splash page — which is still very much in progress. 

Take a look!

First, the in progress parts. This has the line work, but I haven’t yet added in the inking and effects. For example, Death Mask’s black cloak will be getting a lot of inking, there will be a darker background behind Death Mask, and Death Mask’s crystal ball will actually look like a crystal ball instead of just a circle — I’m going to be adding some texture elements and effects to it that should hopefully make it look like a glass globe. 

Another thing still in progress here are the fonts. I like the font for the speech inside the scroll. But the other fonts, particularly the dialogue font, need to be changed. And there need to be some alterations to the word balloons, as they shouldn’t touch the edges of the panels like they do now. 

Overall, though, I am pretty happy with how this page is looking!

I did want to discuss the layout of the page in a little more detail, though, as the design for it intentionally harkens back to the Golden Age of comics. Nowadays, opening splash pages (when they are used) are part of the narrative. But for many years, splash pages had a slightly different purpose, dictated in the large part by the fact that most comics in the Golden Age were anthologies. 

As a result, the splash page essentially served as an internal “cover” for each feature in the book. Take Action Comics for example: while Superman was on the cover of every issue after a certain point, there were still other ongoing features within the book, like Zatara. Since these second fiddles didn’t get a cover spot to hype the character and tease the story, the splash page would serve this function. And since these features were often limited for space, with just a few pages to tell a complete story, often these would be half splashes, like I am using here. 

These splashes would also often be symbolic, showing thematic elements from the story rather than narrative ones. So frequently, the scene shown on the splash didn’t literally occur in the story, but instead would give readers a feel for the tone of the story. 

For my purposes, in addition to those general Golden Age guidelines, I also wanted to continue the tradition from Boy Comics of having an introductory speech from the writer laying out the moral of the tale. This is something Crimebuster’s creator, Charles Biro, did in every issue of the series, and I wanted to carry on this tradition, in part because I think it helps set the tone for the story. As the whole concept of the teen detective has a bit of a retro feel to it, I think having a classic Golden Age style splash page is an important and useful way to get readers into the mood of the story before being hit with plot and the exposition that necessarily comes with mysteries. 

So there it is! To close, here’s a look at a classic Golden Age splash page from Boy Comics starring Crimebuster. See you next week!

Welcome to The Crimebusters!

Hello, and welcome to the production blog for The Crimebusters. Over the course of the next few months, I will be sharing inside details and stories from the creation of The Crimebusters, a new ongoing comic book series in the classic teen detective tradition, featuring the Golden Age hero Crimebuster and his new partner, Trixie Trouble.

First, a little about myself. My name is Scott Harris. I’m a professional writer and an amateur artist with a lifelong love of comic books. Though I have always wanted to create my own comic, it wasn’t until I discovered the Golden Age adventures of Crimebuster that my passion for comic book storytelling came into focus around a specific goal: continuing his saga, and expanding it with the creation of new characters, stories, and ideas. 

One reason I felt so strongly about the character of Crimebuster is my childhood love of teen detective stories. My personal favorites were The Three Investigators and Trixie Belden, but I would read anything featuring teen detectives, from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Encyclopedia Brown and Harriet the Spy. Its from this tradition that I came to create Trixie Trouble, a girl reporter with a nose for mystery and a taste for adventure who is more than a match for Crimebuster. 

Over the course of his original 14-year run in the pages of Boy Comics, Crimebuster faced plenty of dangerous foes and solved dozens of deadly mysteries. But perhaps his most unusual adventure came right at the end of the series. In issue #107, Crimebuster left the world of crimefighting behind in order to get his college degree under his real name Chuck Chandler, and thus become eligible to join the police force as an official detective. For the next dozen issues, writer Charles Biro detailed the college adventures of of Chuck and his roommate Stu Stuart, from stopping a ring of gold thieves, to surviving a plane crash in the Amazon jungle. 

Midway through Chuck’s sophomore year, though, the story suddenly ended when Boy Comics was cancelled with #119, cover dated February, 1956.

The Crimebusters #120 picks up where Chuck’s original series left off: it’s the fall of 1956, and Chuck and Stu are returning to Curtiss Tech for their junior year after an eventful summer break. Too eventful, it turns out, as one of the college’s most respected professors suddenly turns up dead. So was it suicide, as the cops claim? Or did he bring back more than just relics from his summer trip to Peru — like an ancient curse? It’s up to Chuck and Trixie to find out… if they can survive long enough!

The Crimebusters #120 is just the first in an ongoing series, but in the Golden Age tradition, I plan to tell a complete story in every issue. Those stories will eventually weave together to form a larger narrative though, with the broader saga of Chuck and Trixie’s college adventures set to run through #150. 

That’s my hope, anyway. And it’s a long way off, as for now, I’m working hard to put out my first comic book, learning the ins and outs of the creative process, not to mention the publishing side as well. 

And over the next few months, I plan to share what I am doing — and learning — as I go, from the initial concept work up through the planned Kickstarter launch and eventual publication. 

So I hope you will join me as I tackle this passion project. I love Crimebuster, I love Trixie Trouble, and most of all, I love comics, and I’m beyond excited to finally make a comic book — and make my dream come true. 

— Scott Harris

p.s. Don’t worry, fans of the original series:  Squeeks is still around!