The main thread connecting these stories is my reaction to living in Los Angeles in the late seventies and early eighties. I went to art school, freelanced illustration (mostly for movie poster art - the endless "comps" done to weed through scores of ideas before the final poster image is decided upon, in those days finished by the top illustrators in town [not me!]. I also found work as a storyboard artist in the movie business.
It's a great job, drawing up in sequence the shots the director wants to use for his "coverage." You're the one person the director always wants to see, because you're making visible his ideas, just the way he wants them - when so many others are saying "no" - the location doesn't match, that shot will take days to set up, we haven't the money.
You're the good guy.
But seeing first hand the logistical battles fought for the barest few feet of film, one appreciates why movies cost so much money to make and how hard it is to just get something comprehensible that cuts together.
Sometimes an actor simply cannot deliver a line. Then it must be cut.
Turns out once you're into it, a whole lot of seemingly crucial exposition can be cut. Many things can be implied by performance, the vitality of a captured moment. More now than in the past, I'd say; audiences are very sophisticated in nonverbal cues, these days.
I learned inside lore. The last shot of the day is the "martini." Why? Because afterwards you can kick back and have a martini (actually, tons of equipment must be stored, costumes collected for cleaning, makeup removed - but that's still what they called it. On After Midnight, the camera crew each time set up a glowing backlit sign with a martini glass on it: "This Is The Martini."). It was a daily celebration.
Gaffer? In charge of lighting. Best Boy? Gaffer's assistant, an electrician. Production Designer? A gold-plated way of saying Art Director, in charge of everything built and painted and bought that gets photographed. That's what I did on After Midnight, for the last time, ever, which perhaps is telling.
I'm happier writing and drawing in a room somewhere.
Charles Rosen once described being a Production Designer meant you were in charge of "everything out of frame and out of focus."
After Midnight was written and directed by the Wheat Brothers, Ken and Jim, who were mentors of mine. The "Rye Brothers" in Fragile Creature resemble them. The film suffered almost as many disasters as Rulers of the Omniverse. They had to fire the lead the first day of filming. Great actor; he starred in an early Spielberg film, had a midsize role in Die Hard - but he spaced out and couldn't remember his lines (drugs were suspected by the fretful producers).
Sometimes you must face that you aren't going to be rescued. You grit your teeth and cut off your boulder-pinned arm with your pocketknife.
It saw a minimal release and is mainly a footnote in Marg Helgenberger's career. She played a stalked-by-a-madman answering-service operator, a profession erased by technology in, oh, five years after the film. Like adding-machine repairman.
But my experience on it, and on Strange Brew (which my friend Steve Dejarnatt was to direct, until creative differences caused him to be fired), led to my writing and drawing Fragile Creature.
That's Steve being hit by Crainiac's carriage in the story. He once got a piece of junk mail which misspelled his name "Datasnout," which tickled him so much that when he incorporated, which Hollywood people do once their income reaches a certain point, he registered that name. Datasnout, Inc.
I don't seem to be saying much about the stories, here.
One can see a little experimentation going on in them. Pen inking, for one... but I couldn't maintain a consistent clear-line style. "Little Pushes" pulls off a repeated image in different contexts that I still think is a neat narrative trick. "Gray Embrace" is a typical Concrete reverie, but mainly nonverbal and played out further than I ever have since. "Brighter" was a restless afterthought to my early gig drawing Marvel's Dazzler. "Fire at Twilight" ties in with Fragile Creature. "Byrdland's Secret" is a meditation on the artful clutter of Harlan Ellison's you-must-see-before-you-die home in the hills north of L.A. Comics people will recognize the molecule-thinly shrouded comics creator in "The Artistic Impulse," who rocketed to fame in the early days of the independent publishers.
I've been thinking about moving Concrete out of Los Angeles for some time now - I haven't lived there since 1986, and my annual visits aren't enough to maintain a feel for it. Reconsidering these stories, and feeling their distance, confirms that this is what I should do.
Friday Harbor, WA