Stripped at Edinburgh Book Fest: Paul Cornell welcomes us to Saucer Country
As regular readers will know we are very excited about Stripped, the major comics strand at this year’s prestigious Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. Over the next few weeks leading up to the world’s biggest literary festival we’re going to be whetting your appetite for some of the creators who will be appearing in Charlotte Square by running special posts. Several of the writers and artists attending the fest have already been guests here on the blog, talking us through their new works in our Director’s Commentary feature (where we give creators a guest spot to talk about their new work in their own words in any way they want).
To get you in the mood for August we asked if those guests would mind us re-posting their Commentary slots in the run up to the Festival, and to try and reach as wide a reading audience as possible the Stripped blog is also cross-posting them. Hopefully this will make some quality comics work highly visible to the huge reading audience that follows the festival and show off some of the best of recent comics work to a new audience as well, never a bad thing. So we are reposting Commentary blogs by guests who will be in Edinburgh in August and after those we have a few brand new guest Commentary posts tied to the Festival for you to look forward to. Today we present again Paul Cornell, Ryan Kelly and Giulia Brusco’s Commentary for Saucer Country; Paul will be at the Book Festival on Saturday August 24th (with Ben Aaronovitch) and Sunday 25th (with John Higgins). Stay tuned as we have a second guest Commentary from Paul tomorrow on his cracking new novel, London Falling.
One of the new series from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint we’ve been eagerly anticipating launches this very day – Saucer Country from the team of Ryan Kelly, Giulia Brusco and Paul Cornell. And I am delighted to say the three of them have very kindly taken the time to talk us through some of the new series, which you can pick up from stores today; first off here’s Paul to introduce the work:
(cover art for issue #1 of Saucer Country, published Vertigo/DC Comics)
Saucer Country, my new comic from Vertigo, is something I’ve been ‘working on’ since I was eight, reading ‘true UFO’ books that would scare me. I’ve been fascinated by the beautiful and many-dimensional world of UFO mythology ever since. I’ve always kept in touch with developments in it, the way the myth and the media feed each other, how the myth talks about America’s (and the world’s) unconscious concerns.
The title concerns Arcadia Alvarado, the Governor of New Mexico, who, on the eve of announcing her Presidential bid, is ‘abducted by aliens’. Those inverted commas are important to us, because she doesn’t know exactly what happened to her, and neither do we. This book is about unknown terrors and mythological grey areas, not nuts and bolts aliens with plans and guns and spaceships. We call it The West Wing meets The X-Files.
I’m fortunate to be joined in this task by two excellent editors, Will Dennis and Mark Doyle, and by the extremely talented art team of Ryan Kelly and colourist Giulia Brusco.
Saucer Country began as a series of conversations with former Vertigo editor Pornsak Pichetshote (he’s since moved to DC’s movie division on the West Coast). My initial pitches (under the titles Occupants, American Alien, Aliens in America and Resident Alien, the last of which we only decided against when another comic took it) were about the Governor of Alaska, and limited the title to a 24-issue run. It was very flattering to be told this could be an ongoing, and that opened up many more possibilities in terms of all the different kinds of UFO mythology we could cover. When Pornsak left, Will took over, and we’ve become the guys who, like me and Pornsak, share long phone conversations where we yell about UFOs.
One of the first things I had to do was demonstrate that I had plots that would keep the title going, so I quickly outlined how Arcadia’s search for the truth, and whether or not what had happened to her was a national security issue, could lead the small team of advisors she shares the story of her experience with into investigating all sorts of branches of UFO lore. The first issue had to sum up what the rest of the series would be like, with strong, weird, visual sequences, characters established and enigmas set up. The images Ryan and Giulia are about to show you are from Arcadia’s dreams, as her mind struggles to rationalise what happened to her on the night when the car she was driving (that also contained her loose cannon of an ex-husband, Michael) stopped in a secluded spot overlooking Santa Fe. My script mentions a museum, ‘all of time and space seen from the outside, looking like a piece of modern art’ (good luck with that!) and a weird-looking curator figure, who would show Arcadia a baby (being shown seemingly hybrid fetuses being a standard part of the ‘abduction’ narrative).
Take it away, Ryan…
It’s true that first issues are difficult. You have to cover a lot of ground in a lot of time. By the time I got to the “dream sequence” in the middle of the story it was an opportunity to revisit the strangeness of the first scene. For a few pages now, there was a lot of necessary set-up, talking heads and formal introduction of characters so it was great to swing the creative pendulum in another direction.
Paul had a 4-page scene in which Arcadia falls asleep and has a vision. Actually, I didn’t really know what was going on, but I understood that Paul was playing with elements that illustrate her past encounter and how it manifests itself in her mind – her memories – and how those take the form of visual cues in the real world. I’ve also looked into alien abductions enough to know about relapsed memories, nightmares, and accounts of our visitors implanting messages in our minds to be understood at another time. So I just tried my best to capture that and keep it creepy and unnerving with my line work.
In the first page, Arcadia enters her room and hits the shower after a long stressful day. Paul asked to have the shadows in her room take the shape of the alien humanoids in a very subtle way. That was tricky, but if you look, they are there. I’m always in the danger of making these things look corny and obvious instead foreboding and creepy. At first the room was empty, but I actually went back later and drew a creepy cat, because the creepy cat shows up later. It didn’t look right that a creepy cat show up out of nowhere.
In the shower, Arcadia is startled by forms that trigger her memories. I guess this is fairly common with abductees. They end up being towel rods hanging on the wall. Thank goodness I found the right towel rods on Google Image Search. That last panel was difficult. In the Pencils, I showed MUCH more of the room, but it didn’t look scary at all. So, I zoomed in, as if the camera is on her back, and eliminated all the details in the room, and it became much scarier. I suppose it lent itself to that feeling of claustrophobia.
I really struggled with the second page of this scene. I liked the layout but I didn’t succeed with her body language. I did a loose layout and then a penciled version. My editor had me go back and try again with a wardrobe change and just check the body language. My objective with the 3rd panel was to make it the strongest of the page. I needed to make her look anxious, tense and confused all at once. I tried to make the shadows in the room look like they were stifling her or stabbing at her. When things get weird, I let the shadows get weird.
I remember asking Paul a lot more questions for the 3rd page of this scene. I liked to think I had a good handle on the book so far, but there were some things happening on this page that I thought might be reappearing again some other time, so I asked for some clarification on what Arcadia was seeing here. This is another very rare case where I had to redo a page. The layout was okay, but our editor, Will, felt the page should be more fluid-looking like a dream. So I re-visited the page and drew the panel borders like they were liquid or tears in skin. I’m glad we changed it, it looks much better now. My favorite part is panel three in which I put Arcadia’s anguished face in the grooves of the object from panel 2.
And then…Creepy cat! Page 4 of this scene gave me an opportunity to try some irregular panel borders that I just couldn’t make work in the regular “talking” pages. At this point, I felt this issue was missing some excitement and drama, at least in the art. So, I tried to use as many diagonal lines as I could and put as much expression in Arcadia’s face as I possible. Heck, the cat-swatting panel is the only action scene in the whole issue, so I had to spend some time getting it right! In my thumbnail drawing for this page, I had Arcadia turned away from “us” in the final panel. But when it came down to it, it just deflated all the momentum from the page so I made her facing us, so we can see the horror in her face.
And now here’s Giulia, talking about the colouring process…
Saucer Country would be a dream gig for any colourist. Not only does it mean the chance to work with talents such as Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly, but it also offers a plot rich in both atmospheres and drama. The multilayered narrative I’ve discovered in the first three issues (that’s how much I’ve read so far…) fired my imagination straight away.
There is a first level of reality in which plot and subplots develop, characters move, action takes place. To depict this reality, I am using a full colour palette with earthly tones and deep blue skies that I hope convey the beauty and warmth of the New Mexico landscape and its very diversified society. I use a limited palette for the flashbacks. And then there are the characters’ personal experiences, scenes that are real to some of them, hallucinations to others. The colors will render those aspects by becoming more primary or vivid, at times tending to surrealism. One of the most interesting sequences I’ve encountered so far is the nightmare sequence. Because we dream in black and white, I only used different percentages of K tones to colour it, but then I added a vivid green to give emphasis to the subject of the nightmare, hoping it works in a disquieting way. The first page shows Arcadia in her bedroom, sleeping and… having a dream? Re-living a false memory? Hallucinating? Or is it perhaps all real?…
Since Ryan and I have just started, much has yet to be strategized. Much will be changed along the way, as our understanding of the story deepens. So far I am enjoying it, the plot, the art, and the fact that I can count on Paul, Ryan and Will (Dennis) for precious advice and suggestions. I predict that my journey through Saucer Country will be one of true discovery and fun!
I’m really lucky to be working with those two, and I hope the images we’ve shown you, with Ryan’s initial thumbnails, then his pencils, then his inks, then the colours, give you an insight into our process. Saucer Country #1 is out on 14th March, both in comic shops and digitally. We hope you enjoy it. Cheers.
FPI would like to thank Giulia, Paul and Ryan for taking the time to share some insights into the new comic with us. You can pick up issue one of Saucer Country from today and I should also point you to the cool-looking new webcomic Ryan has started recently with Kat Vapid, Cocotte, only a few pages in so the perfect time to jump on board.