Once again, Jason Rodriguez joins us to talk to the creators of the upcoming Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened anthology.
Yesterday, we talked to Antony Johnston about his story for Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened. Today, I’m going to be posting a conversation I had with Matt Dembicki and Jason Copland about their subtly disturbing story, “Send Louis His Underwear.”
Matt Dembicki is a friend of mine from the DC area. He has an incredible Young Adult book, Mr. Big, which he originally self-published with his wife and co-author, Carol. I’ve worked with his collaborator, Jason Copland, when I was editing Western Tales of Terror. Jason’s currently working on a mini-series with Michael May titled Robots vs. Monsters (I’m editing that one, too) and his work can be seen in A. David Lewis’ Empty Chamber as well.
The postcard they used for their story was mailed January 6, 1911, from Sister Mary of McVey Town, Pennsylvania, to Mrs. Cora Mundorff of Newton Hamilton, Pennsylvania. It reads:
I will send a card to tell you Louis is better. He doesn’t have Typhoid Pneumonia. The Dr. says he won’t have either unless he takes more cold. He looks lots better today. All the rest are well. Laura was up on Wed all day and is up today. I just got home from Perry Co yesterday.
If you get a chance soon or come down send Louis his underwear that he has in his trunk down. Must close. Ans soon. Goodbye from Sister Mary.
Jason: Almost everyone went somewhere I never expected them to go with the postcards I gave them. You, however, went to a place darker than I imagined the book ever going using one of the more lighthearted cards, in my opinion.
When you were planning this story out, did you have several possibilities and figure that this is the one that’s going to get my attention? How, exactly, did you pull your story out of this card?
Matt: The first thing I had to figure out was how to write something intriguing that would have to fit into four pages, which isn’t an easy task. I thought that making the story sparse in text and dialogue might actually help in developing it. From that point, I mulled what type of story would best be told in this manner. I’ve always enjoyed drama/horror films where things look fairly normal but them something strange happens. You don’t know exactly what’s going on, but you know it isn’t good. Kind of like Jimmy Stewart’s character felt in Hitchcock’s Rear Window—he thinks he’s witnessed a murder, at least all the signs are there, and indeed someone was killed. I wanted to convey that sense of mystery and dread in the story I wrote.
From that point, I did some research on the Pennsylvania towns noted in the original postcard. They were rural farming towns nestled in some foothills. I wondered how isolated some of these folks felt during the winter. And what would happen if someone cracked? What if someone was murdered out on the farm in winter?
The idea of a cabin-fever-like murder mystery seemed like an interesting idea. But I didn’t want it to be too dark, so I kind of played a little with the whole underwear quote on the postcard. I think it breaks up the tension a little, you might smirk at it, but in a way, it’s a bit more disturbing. Here’s this calm-looking fellow who appears to have committed a heinous crime and he’s writing about getting underwear sent back to him. You’re not sure if he’s just lost it or if he’s mocking the person he’s writing to.
I tried to nourish that sense of uncertainty in almost every panel in the story. Artist Jason Copland really captured that feeling throughout the story. He did a great job of sequential storytelling.
Jason: I’m definitely going to have to get Jason involved in this little conversation because he did a tremendous job with this story. Your script was a four page layout-less script (Marvel Style, if you will) with a lot of detail built into it. I have an email sitting in my stream, sent by Jason Copland, that says, and I quote, “Holy shit, how many panels should I use for page 3!!!!!”
Eventually Jason ended up breaking the story down into a 4×4 grid and adding an extra page. Some things came out of the script, some things were added. As he was sending updates to us and laying out his plan, you were noticeably quite. As someone who often illustrates his own work, do you find that the artist knows what the artist needs to put down and it’s best to let them get there however they see fit?
And, for Jason, who likely has no idea what this is (it’s for Blog@Newsarama), do you want to take us through a couple of the choices you made adapting Matt’s script into a sequential story?
Matt: That’s the way I usually do my writing when I work with others. I think it allows the artist to have some buy-in into the project, adding his or her own imprint into it, instead of just being told what to draw, how to draw it, where to draw it. I thought it would be especially useful using that style with this story because it was supposed to give Jason the flexibility to cram panels into four pages. Once he started doing thumbnails, I expected he might drop or combine certain elements. But as it turned out, it’s harder to do when you’re trying to compress a tight story into a four pages. Luckily, we were given another page, which gave Jason some breathing room. Not much more, but enough to pull off the kind of story we were aiming for.
Jason Copland: Well, at first, I was a little overwhelmed with the amount of sequential information that Matt had packed into each of the four pages. There was a lot of stuff happening in a very small number of pages and I was concerned that if I started to omit or edit actions from the script, it would ruin the tension that Matt had so carefully created.
I started off listing all the moments of each page that I felt needed to be illustrated and discovered that a few pages were going to need 13-16 panels to properly hit all those beats! Many of those panels were going to be repeating panels with slight changes, which meant they needed to be the same shape and scale. This pretty much lead me to the conclusion that a 4×4 panel grid would be the easiest way to organize all this information. After that, it became a matter of deciding which panels, on pages with less than 16 panels, got an extra frame to help control the story’s pacing and tension.
The addition of another page was done mainly because there just wasn’t enough space left on the fourth page to properly bring the story to a (visually) fulfilling conclusion. I felt that the last shot needed to be large enough to help alleviate the claustrophobic tone that the restrictive grid system of the previous pages imposed. So, I thought, what’s larger than a full splash page?