Inside Look: Beasts of Burden #1 - Part Two

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Evan Dorkin concludes his Inside Look on Beasts of Burden #1. Has your appetite for issue #2 been whetted yet? Go pick it up, it's on sale as of today.

Read Part One

Panel 1 – The reader knows something bad has probably happened to Pee-Wee, we know it, but you still have to play the game and not let the characters know it. Yet. They think he's just chasing weird frogs. Whitey's excited again. Red's not overly concerned, his dialogue furthers the feeling Pee-Wee's a goof-up who just needs watching after. Miranda is doing her job.
Panel 2 – We start seeing Jill's lovely depiction of the woods. She does amazing woodscapes, and I kept this in mind while writing the issue. Environment is part of your story, it provides mood, setting, opportunities for staging and action, etc. I'm amazed at how many people don't take advantage of using settings as an essential tool in telling their stories. Think of Lone Wolf and Cub, or Bone, or Tintin, and how important scenery and setting is to those series.

When you think of those comics, you can't help but think of the environments they take place in, it's part and parcel of the material. Then think about the anonymous backgrounds in so many other comics, where you have to work hard to even remember the environment the characters stood around in. I'm not saying what we're doing here is amazing, or equal to those other comics, I'm just saying to young writers out there – think backgrounds, think settings.
Panels 2-4 – just getting things done and trying not to be too boring while doing it – we see our heroes progress through the woods, some character and banter between everyone, bring in some dog stuff with the sniffing, a little detectiveness, with the mention of sulphur adding to the weirdness and mystery and the first hint something's really wrong, then –
Panel 5 – discovery beat, with a swell expression on Jack from Jill, low angle reversing to a POV/high angle for the reveal in --
Panel 6. Poor Pee-Wee. Sarah, my wife, made a joke about Pee-Wee wearing a red shirt (and Fluffy, for that matter) like the suckers on Star Trek wear. So, I'm thinking from now on we should have all our walk-on victims wear red collars. Might be too much of a tell, though. Anyway, the dialogue doesn't mention Pee-Wee by name or what may have happened, the image says it all. We get a reaction, some emotion, and the mention of Red leads to --
Panel 1 - Transition panel, bringing Red in, collapsing time, avoiding a lot of boring stuff we know obviously has/had to happen, moving things along. Jill changes the angle and attack on this panel, for the better, I had a “linking” image on the collar again, with Red's dialogue off panel – it wasn't smart or necessary and would have been stilted and wasteful of a panel.

Pulling back and including Red helped with collapsing information and gives us Red's reaction and a better emotional beat, which I stupidly didn't account for, deferring it, originally, to panel two, where it wouldn't register as well amidst the other dogs and elements. Sometimes you're too close and don't see the obvious, or miss the possible. It happens with every script, sometimes often. If you're lucky, you catch it, or your collaborator or editor catches it, and it gets punched up.
Panel 3 – Nice sense of urgency with Red's expression and his ears flapping like that, and the watercolor background suggesting trees but also seeming like it's swirling, unsettled, adding energy to the static panel. With a lesser artist this stuff would seem ridiculous, dogs talking, doing detective work, etc. Maybe it's still ridiculous, sure, but Jill really sells it. The hope is that readers get sucked in and forget how ridiculous it is and just go with it, they're dogs, okay, but after a while you buy into it and let it go. So when even more ridiculous stuff happens, it doesn't matter, it's just what happens in our world/comic.
Panel 5 – We break away to the farm, a breather panel, a transition panel, buying time for things to take place in the woods. Holstein, the worried cat, adds some emotion, and the blue skies and safety of home contrasts with the darker, threatening woods.
Cut the chatter, slow it down, let time pass, let the mood and the visuals carry it. The woods grow darker as time passes and we see the animals on the hunt for Pee-Wee. Three different sections of the wood, with three distinct elements – the fallen tree, the creek, the deer's head. It starts off beautiful, and then hopefully the deer's head creates a good ominous moment, a small jolt.

I love what Jill did for this page, when it was previewed online it got some really nice feedback. The branch-shaped panel gutters are a really nice touch, without being distracting.
We keep darkening the woods as we lead up to the reveal of the villain and some action. While getting there, we pace the search out a bit more, and Fluffy's dialogue gives us some back-story on the Orphan and a witch cat he knew. We (hopefully) get a sense of her personality and (more obviously) her ignorance regarding the paranormal. It also plays into a running bit we have in the series where the neighborhood animals swap urban legends about the supernatural, showing the gap of knowledge between the average animal, our heroes, and the “professionals”. We also let on that the witch cat is a sore subject for the Orphan, and it foreshadows events that take place later on in the mini-series.
Anyway, the important thing is Fluffy is toast. The Orphan is terrified, and the villian of the piece is intimated, if not revealed, we wait for a page or two to get to that.
The script called for some sound effects, which as you can see aren't here, and I'm glad for that. I think they would have detracted from the panel and been too obvious. I often overload sound effects and whatnot, as you can tell from my blathering here I tend to overdo everything. I'm always worried I haven't explained something well enough, to the artist or to the reader, and it causes me to second-guess myself a lot, and/or to add detail that might not be warranted or helpful.

I'm learning a lot about my writing while working on this series, thinking about the visuals from different angles, and trying to write less in my panel descriptions to allow Jill room to breathe and interpret. In the first script I often wrote about character expressions and emotions, which was unnecessary for the most part, and stultifying for Jill.

The reason is I'm used to drawing my own comics and visualized things a certain way, and I worried that if I left anything out it would not get into the comic. Jill is a better artist than I am, and she's a professional, and she had already worked with me on four short stories. She didn't need hand-holding or that kind of direction, she told me the script and the dialogue gives her a sense of the emotional content and the character's expressions. So, I try to not supply that material unless it's something oddball or super-specific I feel we need. Jill changes my layout suggestions, breaks panels down, changes some things around, but she tells the story we're trying to put across, that's the important thing.

I try not to let my ego get in the way of changes, especially as they're almost always for the better. I wish I could stick every panel and page and bit of dialogue, but no one really does. Luckily, other people have good ideas, too, editors and collaborators and spouses and friends, so be open to that, and just do the best you can whether it's a solo comic or one made with other people.
Anyway, that's more than anyone probably wanted to slog through. I'm going to include two script pages for anyone who likes to see that sort of thing (originally pages 9 and 10, these because pages 10 and 11), you can see where Jill added a panel to page 11 which I think added a lot to the sequence, panel 4. With a great Orphan stiffening ”take”. You can also see where I overdid the panel descriptions, with, for one, the Orphan's reaction in the last panel. As if Jill couldn't figure that out for herself. I'm still learning.
Thanks for reading, hope something here might be of interest to anyone who is interested in typing for the funnybooks, and thanks to those out there who picked up the first issue of Beasts of Burden


As a bonus, Dorkin gives you a peek at the script for pages 9 and 10 of Beasts of Burden #1.

Page Nine is a silent sequence of three stacked, equal-sized panels, each showing a different animal team making their way through the woods in search of Pee-Wee. The search parties are no longer on a lark, they’re worried and very serious about their task. The woods are also becoming more serious-looking as we move through them, a bit darker, a bit more primal.
First up: Rex, The Orphan and Fluffy, moving past a dead old tree, fallen in a dense area. The Orphan and Fluffy are up on the large trunk, peering off into the distance as Rex moves through the underbrush.   
On Red, Pugs and Whitey. They’re crossing a fairly wide, shallow creek rife with stones and rocks, carefully stepping on a natural path of raised stones. Red is in the lead, intently surveying the area. Whitey follows him across, while Pugs, having a bit of a hard time negotiating the rocks, brings up the rear (as usual). The trees on either side of the stream form a canopy above it. Perhaps there’s a small waterfall in the stream somewhere in the BG.
On Miranda and Jack in a small clearing in the woods. Miranda is standing over the severed head of a young deer, sniffing/examining it. The antlers are still on top of the mangled head, one snapped in half, the other with several tines missing or broken. There isn’t a lot of the actual head left (it’s been spit out a large demon frog’s mouth after it couldn’t choke down the antlers) but show enough of the face and upper neck so we can identify it by more than just the antlers. The sticky substance we saw earlier is evident here in greater abundance, dripping from the antlers and pooled beneath the head. There’s also more blood spilled than at Pee-Wee’s “crime scene”. We can see no tracks or signs of a fight. There are a few flies buzzing the head, if the angle allows them to register. Jack stands away from Miranda and the deer remains, looking sick and upset.
Cut back to Rex’s group, some time later. The animals are moving deeper through the woods, slightly uphill, walking an old and overgrown rough path. The woods are becoming increasingly dense with bushes, and twisted, gnarled old trees with contorted, interlacing roots extending over the ground. It’s creepier here than in previous shots, darker, more foreboding. Rex is in the lead, searching the woods intently. He’s far enough away from The Orphan and Fluffy so that they can have a private conversation.
1) FLUFFY: Holstein told me you and your friends met a witch cat. Did you really?
2) ORPHAN: Um…yeah.
3) FLUFFY: He said she died.
4) ORPHAN: Yeah.
Closer on the two cats. The Orphan doesn’t look comfortable talking about Dymphna, looking away from Fluffy and towards the woods.
5) FLUFFY: I heard witch cats drink blood.
6) ORPHAN: Yeah, well, I really wouldn’t know.
7) FLUFFY: What was she like? Did she do magic?
In tight on The Orphan, angled so we can’t see the Fluffy behind him. He’s sullen, very uncomfortable.
8) ORPHAN: Look, Fluff, let’s talk about something else, okay?
9) ORPHAN: Fluff?
Same angle, maybe pull back a bit as the Orphan turns around to face her. She’s gone.
10) ORPHAN: Fluffy --?
11) ORPHAN: Hey, Fluff, where’d you –
Another angle. In the immediate FG is a large, shadowy, dark shape, the lower portion/leg of our soon-to-be revealed villain, which happens to be a giant demonic bullfrog. Red drops of blood fall to the ground from the frog’s unseen mouth. A few other drops have already fallen. Several tufts of fluffy cat fur slowly drift in the air around the shape. In the BG is The Orphan, looking towards the unseen creature in horror, his mouth open but unable to utter a sound.  
SFX (small, Fluffy’s bones) – SNAP KRIK KRRUNCH

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