By Josh Hechinger
Welcome to From Strip to Script, where I take a page of finished comic art and try to derive a script from it, to see what I can learn from the exercise.
Halloween's this week, right? Last I checked? Personally, I tend not to go in for the spooky stuff so much, especially in my advanced age (true story: I pre-ordered Alien: Isolation because I love that movie, and ended up trading it in before the Xenomorph even really showed up because I just couldn't deal with the creeping dread and tension), and especially not in comics. I've heard people say horror is hard to do in the medium, due to the lack of things like spooky music and sound cues, precision control of the jump scare, blah blah blah…for my money, horror always sticks with me more in comics because the reader-controlled pace of the thing means you're occasionally paralyzed into letting things linger.
You can put the book down, sure, but to advance the story, you're compelled to keep going. You are forcing yourself to experience it, in a way that's meta-textually giving me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it (at time of writing, it's a little past midnight, this room is the only one with lights on in my apartment, and my back is to the darkened doorway, none of which is helping, especially now that I've typed it all out what was I thinking aaaaa).
In keeping with the spirit of the season, but owing to my delicate sensibilities, let's look at a horror comic that's a little…horror/comic? As in comedy? Sorry. Anyway, let's look the fairly recent-ish, surprisingly gory (yes, I know, the Predator skins people and takes their noggins, but still), and surprisingly delightful (in a messed up way) Archie vs. Predator issue 1, by Alex de Campi (script), Rich Koslowski (inks), Jason Millet (colors), Fernando Ruiz (colors), and John Workman (letters).
PAGE FOURTEEN (FOUR Panels)
P1. We're looking over the PREDATOR'S shoulder from the jungle as he watches BETTY and VERONICA go at it; BETTY'S purse goes flying, VERONICA is using her's like a flail. ARCHIE'S trying to get up in the background, flop-sweating.
BETTY What did you just call me?!
VERONICA Anything else I could have forgiven.
P2. PREDATOR-VISION (you know, the distorted rainbow thermal way he sees things): BETTY tries to shove VERONICA away and fed off a vicious clawing. For the PREDATOR emoji captions,
VERONICA But not Cheryl!
PREDATOR (emoji) (heart-eye smiley) (check mark) (check mark) (OK sign) (100 score)
PREDATOR (emoji) (bullseye) (bullseye) (rocket ship)
P3. Still in PREDATOR-VISION as ARCHIE moves to try and break up the fight. The PREDATOR'S HUD displays BETTY and VERONICA'S names with little heart-monitor spikes…either his, or he's picking up the pronunciation from ARCHIE.
P4. ARCHIE trips forward on BETTY'S purse, towards the fight. Some of the other kids are starting to gather as well (most notably, that dirtbag REGGIE is filming the fight on his phone).
So, What'd We Learn?
– So, if I had to break out the fancy words, I'd say that Archie and Predator are "wildly disparate in tone and content"; that's the gag, of course, the point of the exercise, but that doesn't make it any easier to serve both masters. Here, I think there's two key factors that makes this successful
– First: know your subjects. It can't just be going chapter and verse on trivia (although I marked out for Dutch's unit making a cameo at a burger shack on an earlier page in the issue, and Shane Black's guy reading a Not-Quite-Sgt. Rock comic (long story)), it has to feel familiar. A Betty/Veronica squabble and Archie being a klutz are Archie 101, and a "Predator stalks and analyzes the cast via its thermal vision" before any actual alien hunter ultra-violence happens to people's domes and hides is why the movie's called "Predator".
– Second: in a comic whose twin tones are already straining each other due to contradiction…well, you can afford to go have a little bit of each bleed over into each other. To wit, the Predator's analysis taking the form of emoji reactions to Riverdale's Finest, and the fact that Betty and Veronica are straight up fighting for serious.
– I wasn't wholly sure how this would work on the website, but I think if it were me writing an actual script for an actual artist, I'd just straight up screencap and paste the emoji for the Predator's captions right into the script. It'd kick up the file size some, but it'd beat typing out what I think the emoji look like.
– I'm sure I've said in past pieces that it's important to characters little bits of business to do in addition to the action that best serves the narrative beat you need to hit, especially background characters, but Exhibit A is that scumbag Reggie Mantle filming the fight with his phone and grinning like a wolf. Just really enriches the world of the comic and the rich tapestry of deceptively simple teen archetypes within, y'know.