Jason Rodriguez’s stint of guest blogging comes to an end today … thanks to Jason and all the creators he talked to for sharing their thoughts this week. Be sure to check out Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened when it comes out in June.
We’re wrapping this up. Yesterday was Phil Hester, today I have Stuart Moore and Michael Gaydos talking about their story, “Tic-Tac-Bang-Bang.” Stuart Moore’s recent credits include Earthlight for TokyoPop, Detective Comics for DC Comics, and The Punisher Christmas Special and New Avengers/Transformers for Marvel Comics. Michael Gaydos is the artist behind Marvel Comics Alias and The Pulse as well as Virgin Comics’ Snakewoman.
(Not only are we talking with them today, but we’re also giving away a page from their story – find out how you can win it here.)
The card that inspired their story was sent during October of 1909 to a Mr. Earl Shepperd of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. It reads:
Look under stamp.
I was in town to-day. Hope you were not in a fight last night.
Under the stamp, Arter wrote the letter X.
Jason: I was at Random House’s offices in November, talking to some of the guys there about how to market the book. Ali Kokmen, marketing manager of Del Rey Books, asked me if there were any stories that went somewhere completely crazy and unexpected. I responded, “Well, Stuart Moore’s story is about tic-tac-toe hustling brothers.”
Ali chuckled and asked, “How did he get there?”
Well, Stuart, how did you get there?
Stuart: It really just flashed into my mind all at once. The postcard you sent me had a cryptic P.S. reading “Look under stamp” — and where the stamp had peeled off, years ago, there was just a big “X” scrawled on the card. I tried to think of what that could possibly mean, and somehow the only thing that came to mind was that these two guys were playing tic-tac-toe by mail — which is ridiculous. From there, I came up with the idea of a pair of aging tic-tac-toe hustlers who just didn’t belong in the “modern” world anymore. One of them knows it and has gone straight, the other is still trying to pull the old scams.
Of course, that’s even more ridiculous; in order to work, the story had to be played completely straight with a strong focus on the characters. Michael Gaydos got it completely, as I knew he would, and gave it just the right mood and feel.
Jason: I agree – Michael nailed the necessary tone for this piece. You brought Michael onto this project pretty early. Looking back at my email stream, you first suggested Michael the day after you said you’d like to contribute to Postcards. So Michael was involved as you were planning out your story. Looking at a very early email, you even wrote:
“I’m leaning strongly toward #2 (the text is great and that mysterious “X” is the best…I already have an idea for it). But I want to get Michael’s opinion.”
How much input did Michael have into this story early on?
Stuart: I sent him the two possible cards, but he completely left it up to me. I think he was very busy at the time. It worked out beautifully, though: He trusted me to write the script and I trusted him to do the art.
Jason: Michael? Anything?
Michael: Stuart totally caught me off guard with the story. I had no idea what direction he was going to take with the postcard he chose. It was very clever and a lot of fun. He had a certain vision for the page layout, which made absolute sense. (Jason: Tic-Tac-Bang-Bang has a tic-tac-toe board layout.) I think in the script he apologized before he even made mention of it, but I really couldn’t see it being any other way. I decided to try something a bit different with the art. The tones, I thought, lent it to that time period. I was pleased with how it all turned out.
Jason: Early this week, Antony Johnston and I talked about how the people who sent these cards were real people with real stories. Antony said that he struggled with his story because of that fact.
At the same time, Antony’s postcard was filled with melancholy and was sent between two sisters. It was intimate. Your card is one of the few cards I have sent between two men and the card is so brunt and to the point that it almost feels, to me, that they’re just trying to get this correspondence thing over with before anyone finds out.
In your opinion, do differences in situation and the people involved sort of loosen up where we feel we can go with the story?
Stuart: I didn’t really think about that while constructing the story, but I suppose you’re right…some of the cards conjure up more emotional situations than others. I think, subconsciously, I was attracted to the LACK of emotionalism in this one, and intrigued by what kind of bond might exist between the two men.
This card in particular held a mystery — what did the X under the stamp mean? — that really hooked me. Once I came up with an (admittedly absurd) answer, the whole story fell into place.
But no, it never bothered me that they were real people. I guess I’m just a colder bastard than Antony.
Jason: I want to wrap this up by talking a bit about the “behind the stamp” thing. This isn’t the only card in my collection with those instructions. I have one card with a name scribbled behind the stamp, another with a number. It’s almost as if the “behind the stamp” thing was the sender’s attempt at privacy. And it makes you think – we have all this encryption on our emails these days, security envelopes, proxy web servers – we’re sort of taking our privacy for granted. A hundred years ago, people were sending postcards because they were cheap and they were exposing the content to everyone who touched that card. Their only way to have any privacy was to write something behind a stamp, and even then it was only a couple of characters.
Any thoughts on this?
Stuart: Actually, there was a pretty effective privacy encryption method back then: Put the letter in an envelope. But yes, that would cost more. I guess it was a tradeoff — if you go with the cheap method, you’re exposing your message to anyone who comes across the card.
I wasn’t aware that “behind the stamp” was a common thing; that’s really interesting. It almost seems like a game people worked up. If I had something I really wanted to keep secret, I wouldn’t have sent it in a postcard…I’d have sprung for a letter. But if I were trying to make a postcard more interesting for the recipient, that might be an interesting way to do it.
And just to examine what you said a little more: In a way, they had much more privacy back then. If a letter was tampered with, it was pretty obvious. Today, we have no way of knowing what paths our emails or phone calls are taking. The very missive where I answer this question might take a little detour through the NSA, or any of a number of other places. And I’m not confident that normal security measures would stop that.
And with that, my guest blogging stint has come to an end. Keep your eyes open for more Postcards features in the weeks to come. Go to the promote page and download desktops, banners, badges, and flyers. Enter a contest to win original art. But, most importantly, tell your retailer to order you up a copy.
Thanks for reading!
- Jason Rodriguez