Yesterday we ran a piece where novelist David Liss was interviewed by fellow writer Troy Brownfield about the series Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives from Dynamite. Now Liss is back with a writer's commentary for the recently released fourth and penultimate issue of the series.
Page 1. When I first started writing comics for Marvel, one of the first bits of advice my most excellent editor, Bill Rosemann, gave me was to swing for the fences. I always interpreted that as meaning that I should take full advantage of the medium and tell the best story I could. I think in those days I was still learning the craft and trying to script like writers I admire, but somewhere along the way I decided that I should start indulging my most twisted story-telling impulses. I like to think that a human fetal shoved inside a butchered cow qualifies.
Page 2. There's a bit of an inside joke on this page between me and maybe six other people on the planet. When I was writing my novel, The Twelfth Enchantment, I did a lot of research on the history of magical practices in Europe. I read not only a lot of secondary sources but primary treatises on magic as well, including several by Agrippa. I figured I should get some mileage out of it.
Page 3. Three issues go by quickly, and I haven't yet had the chance to talk about the larger power structure in this town. I figured it was time to introduce the mayor. Bombastus doesn't operate in a vacuum after all, and a baron, no matter how rich, isn't a feudal lord in the late 19th century.
Pages 4-5 One of the real pleasures in this kind of a story for me, as a reader, is the lack of trust between characters, and the mystery of never knowing which side anyone is on. From the beginning, I knew I wanted there to be a lack of trust between Udo and Moriarty. It's been building for a while, and now Udo's suspicions are paid off. The irony, of course, is that Udo is only top of the situation because of the training he's received from Moriarty.
Page 7. This exchange with Udo and Moriarty is understated, I hope not too understated. It's the first time Moriarty discovers that Udo has worked his way into the baron's household. That look on Moriarty's face is supposed to be a little unreadable. Is he worried or impressed?
Page 8. I had a lot of fun with the pages where I worked in Bombastus's experimentation. I wanted him to be the best sort of villain – the kind completely obvious to his own villainy. He doesn't enjoy being evil – he doesn't know that he is. The boy here is also a way of illustrating just how unusual Udo is. He's no longer a child, like this one, who can be led to his own destruction. He's seen to much for that now.
Pages 11-13 These pages are Udo's big jump into adulthood. He has to do some hard things, like fight off much older and larger opponents, and to make some hard moral choices about what goals he wants to pursue.
Page 14. Not that it matters. Now we begin to wonder what sick experiments the baron is going to perform on Udo.
Page 15. More plot movement here. The people Moriarty has been depending on are jumping ship. Things are beginning to unravel. I wanted the issue to start to take on that urgent feeling of everything falling apart – something I think works nicely in a penultimate issue.
Pages 16-17 I wanted the feeling of things spiraling out of control to really pick up here. Moriarty seems to be in too deep, and his cover is dragging him down. Meanwhile, he knows Udo is in trouble. We understand that he's going to have to make some tough decisions. More importantly, they are decisions that are going to reveal, at last, who this guy is. His own moral positions have been uncertain since the beginning of the story, and I wanted make the reader really question just how bad, or good, Moriarty might actually be.
Page 18. This accelerates again. Karl, his henchman, is gone, which means Moriarty is going to have to deal with everything himself.
Page 19. I love this kind of cliffhanger. What will the character do? It's so much better than the cliffhanger that asks if the protagonist will survive. If he's got his name on the cover of the issue, then he probably will. Cliffhangers that leave you wondering what happens next, however, I think are the best way to leave a story with a lot of energy going into then nest issue.
Page 20. Udo does not have his name on the cover, and we've already seen, many times, that Bombastus is sick enough to do almost anything. Hopefully this too will get the reader wondering.
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