Welcome! I hope you’ve been a regular reader of the Agreement, or have decided to become one. I’ve added the next page and it kicks off the action and super soldiering. It also features perhaps the best line of dialog I have ever written. When I wrote the scene, I had no expectations as to where the action would go and decided to let the story tell itself.

That’s probably the best way to write.  When you’ve figured a few things out about your characters and can hear their voices as you write, the words happen without too much thought or doubt. When I write, I tend to overthink everything, especially what the audience will think. When I have those moments where I only care about what the characters think, then it becomes a joy. The next few pages came to me quickly and gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.  I wrote a full script before deciding I’d try to draw the book myself. So let’s get back to the earlier days of the Agreement, before I knew what I wanted to do.

I wrote last week about the story being set in the 80s, and how what you’re reading was exposition, at least just supposed to be exposition for the bigger story. I had all my characters picked out for my epic, but none worked out for the WWII backstory. Then I got an email from an old friend. It read “How’s Nazi Smasher doing?”

Nazi Smasher was another joke character, quickly drawn in the back of a notebook while hanging out with my friend Paul. I forget all the details, but I know the character was a mash up of Captain Marvel and Captain Nazi, and someone who wore poofy calvary pants. Nazi Smasher was forgotten until that email. It struck me that the world would be a different place if someone like a Captain America, or Nazi Smasher had taken over the world. So now the story had some depth and I could look at a few scenes as a compelling story about how good intentions led to the rise of an organization that controls the world.

Nazi Smasher would become Smasher, and later, Slugger. He went from a confident Superman stand-in to a shy kid, just old enough to be drafted, with no idea exactly how powerful he was. To reach his potential, Slugger needed a teacher and a friend to guide him. Enter Cap’n Gown.

If you work in higher education, you hear cap and gown quite a bit. Technically it’s regalia, but everyone calls it cap and gown. Growing up in a family that enjoyed wordplay and puns, I heard cap and gown and thought of Cap’n Gown, part Captain America, part Reed Richards, and part Captain Kirk. The Star-Spangled Super Genius would be the leader of America’s super soldiers. Apparently, it takes a while for people to get the joke. My brother, a man who lives for wordplay, needed a year for it to hit him. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but oh well. Cap’n Gown is firmly entrenched in the story. I decided the good Cap’n was, at the age of 3, the youngest person to ever graduate the fictional University of Upton. Imagine Upton as the best Ivy league school, perpetually set in the turn of the century, obsessed with badminton, and with a code of personal ethics that demanded you do what is best for your fellow man. If you want to get rich, go to Harvard. If you want to do good, hope Upton will accept you. So Cap’n Gown grew up in this environment until he resigned his faculty position at 17 to see the world. And by world, I mean adventures, fighting railroad hobos, and falling in love with Rita, a madam with a heart of silver. But all isn’t as it seems with the good Cap’n Gown, and his story will unfold with each week.

The final member of the team was created for this story. Lt. John Maxwell is a rich kid who joins the service and is the perfect spy. He has the super ability to fit in. Of course, that doesn’t mean things will always go smoothly. Maxwell was insulated from the world, and as a result, doesn’t know “regular” people. So, not only is he in a war, he’s often among the common people.

So I had my cast. I knew what themes I wanted to cover, and which character arc would allow me to do it. I needed an outline. When I write, I start with the general and get specific. I wrote a page describing the story. Next was a scene by scene breakdown, I think this was about 5 – 10 pages. The breakdown lets me plot all the events and arcs. I figure out the beginning, middle, and end. I can add all the ups and downs, twist and turns, and work my way to the climax. When I do this, I solve a lot of problems with the story before I start to write the script. When I do write the script, I’m building from a foundation, not from the ground up. I’m able to work on characters and motivations. I will rewrite events, and as I draw, rewrite to suite the visuals. You certainly get a better perspective working on multiple drafts. The script I’m drawing from is version 2.5 and a full rewrite is still underway. Since I’m on page 6 of issue 2, I still have time to tighten up my dark point and big battle, as well as the climatic scene.

Next week, the action hits high gear. I discuss my art process and why I’m choosing to do everything by hand instead of on the computer.


Letters to Upton