By Josh Hechinger
Welcome once more to From Strip to Script, where I reverse-engineer a script from a finished page of someone else's comic.
I've never quiiiite gotten the hang of writing double-page spreads. I don't hate them as a reader, but as a writer, they're just not a tool I particularly enjoy using. I've seen some great ones (the reveal of the Derelict in Alien: The Illustrated Story is the all-time champion, for me), I recognize the value of them as a storytelling tool…but my own instincts are go "single page splash on a page-turn" if I need to burn a page for dramatic oomph.
On the other hand, maybe the problem is that my default thinking is that double-page spreads are…well, spreads. One dominant image, maybe some contextual or reactionary panels around the edges. But that's not everything you can do with two pages side-by-side, obviously…you can also give them over to dense layouts; you could do those seven-or-eight panel pages I love so much, without…possibly…the artist wanting to murder you over how much you're cramming onto the page.
So, to that end, I wanted to feel out a two-pager that wasn't super-spready, nor ultra-dense (think Miller or Bendis). To that end, I ended up tackling this double-pager from She-Hulk Issue #2*, by the team of Clayton Cowles (letters), Javier Pulido (artist), Charles Soule (script), and Muntsa Vicente (colorist).
*Harvey Dent much? Yeesh.
PAGES THIRTEEN/FOURTEEN (EIGHT PANELS)
P1. SHE-HULK strides through the shattered door as HELLCAT lands. Two HOMELESS PEOPLE huddle next to the ruined door, cursing SHE-HULK out.
– HOMELESS GUY %$&!
– SHE-HULK Come on!
P2. The warehouse isn't empty, but neither is it obviously an AIM lab. Just the usual storage containers, crates, etc…and one fuel drum with a thin yellow slit in the side, at about eye level. HELLCAT scratches her head, puzzled.
– HELLCAT I could've sworn…
– HELLCAT Dammit. That guy was…lying to me. Damn S.H.I.E.L.D. guys. The worst. They'll say…anything to get in your…
P3. Inside the drum, we see the yellow slit at eye level? Yeah, that's a peep hole; the fuel tank is a secret lab with Kirbytech all over the walls. Two AIM beekeeper guys are huddled around the peep hole, watching SHE-HULK and HELLCAT.
– AIM GUY 1 That's She-Hulk…and…dammit, I always forget her name. She's not around as much.
– AIM GUY 2 Hellcat. No powers, really.
P4. AIM GUY 1 backs away from the peep hole, palms out, clearly wanting nothing to do with the business going on out there. AIM GUY 2 looms over his shoulder, eyes narrowing through the beekeeper mesh.
– AIM GUY 1 We should just lay low. They don't know we're here. They'll get bored and leave in a little while. I think Hellcat's drunk, too.
– AIM GUY 2 Maybe. But.
– AIM GUY 1 Oh, no, man. That's She-Hulk. Don't be an idiot.
– AIM GUY 2 Look, I hear you, but what if, you know? There's a chance, and if I can take her out—even just one of 'em—word would get back to the higher-ups.
– AIM GUY 2 You don't have kids, Eddie. You can sit back. But I need to think about them.
– AIM GUY 2 I'm going to go for it.
P5. SHE-HULK is admonishing an exasperated HELLCAT.
– SHE-HULK You know I'm going to have to pay for that door! I don't know how much warehouse doors cost, but I bet it's not cheap!
– HELLCAT I'm sorry. No, actually I'm not. Don't put this on me. I'm not the one who got all punchy. I went in through the window!
– AIM GUY 2 (off) Now now, ladies…
P6. SHE-HULK screws her eyes shut; a "now there's THIS bullshit" kind of reaction. HELLCAT perks up.
– AIM GUY 2 (off) …if you want to fight, fight me!
– SHE-HULK Ugh.
– HELLCAT All right!
P7. HELLCAT crouches for a pounce as AIM GUY 2, in a small mecha-suit, stomps forward and prepares to blast HELLCAT right in the face with the mecha's arm cannon. SHE-HULK is rushing in to grab HELLCAT.
– SFX ZZZHAM!
– SHE-HULK Oh n–
P8. SHE-HULK throws HELLCAT to the side, while taking a laser blast right to the solar plexus.
– SFX SHHHHZZZZKK
– SHE-HULK Patsy, look out!
So, What'd We Learn?
– Wellll…to be honest, I'm not super into the layout on these pages. Maybe I'm just basic, but I don't dig how the overall reading order is kind of built like a table? Horizontal on top of two vertical stacks, like?. By which I mean panels 1 and 2 are a horizontal read, but then panels 3-6 and then 7-8 are two sections that are meant to be read in the zig-zag that comic pages usually use (left to right, down to left, left to right again, etc.)
– I really don't want to get into backseat comicking/"well, I would have done this" with these columns though. Reverse-engineering is one thing, "fixing" pages is…ehhhh. Not really my business. And especially in this case…
Like, if I dropped the double-page spread aspect, and P1, and made P2 the first panel on Page Thirteen, and left Page Fourteen as "oh hey, mech suit/Shulkie takes the hit"…that's not a better double-page sequence, that's just how I'd write those same action beats, and we already established up above that I'm scared of double-pagers. There's nothing anyone's learning from doing that except "oh hey, Josh writes like Josh".
– That said, for a double-page sequence that does work with my delicate sensibilities, from this same issue:
We're still working with long panels on top of short panels, but look at the difference here: the staircase and the dialogue guide the eyeflow inside the big, transpage panel of P1 and drops us off at the end of the panel, with a visual cue (the blue door), that starts off the next sequence, where our eyes would naturally drop down and to the left. From there, our eyes are kept to low zig-zags, so the overall feeling is of two different kinds of mostly horizontal momentum. It's great.
– Back to the original page: the yellow slit being on the far right, and the reverse view through it being on the far left of the next panel…visual flow isn't all just which panels are where, it's also the content of the panels. That's a really solid bit of visual flow.
– Oh god, what's worse than explaining jokes? But I do want to call out some of the comedic timing on this page. "Cutting" from the "empty" warehouse to the AIM goons arguing in a can puts both pairs in the scene on evenly hapless footing. Keeping the AIM dude's Killa Kan (Warhammer 40k joke, sorry) off panel for two whole panels, including during his "dramatic" entry line, is also a nice way to subvert how these things usually go.
(Also, it makes it a bit of a surprise that he's right on top of them by the end of it. Nothing like being too busy arguing to notice the medium-sized-mecha stomping up on you…)
Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. He enjoys toys, learning, and B-list characters. He takes comfort in not being an O.C.D control freak who uses learning to hurt people.