It was always supposed to be a four-issue story.
Back then, that’s where my brain went when talking about comic books. “What’s the 4-issue storyline?” You gotta be able to sell it to a publisher and since no one knows who the hell you are, well, at best you might be able to squeeze 4 issues out of them.
Well, actually that’s not true. There were many days when I would collaborate with a friend on what should end up as the 60-issue limited series for some comic storyline. Now, it should be pointed out that one should walk before they run, but where is the fun in all of that? It’s much better to create a world where you would need all that space to convey your true message to everyone who was reading.
It wasn’t until I got together with the Terminus guys and gals that more bite-sized ideas began to emerge. You know, 8-page stories. Maybe, if we were feeling a little bit crazy we could go to 10 pages.
There is truth in determining a four-issue storyline might be the key to actually getting something published by some company willing to take a risk on an unknown (this is pre-Kickstarter that we’re talking about). Egg and I began working on something that would eventually become In Our Dreams Awake (the first issue of which was just funded this year). However, in Egg’s early comic convention travels he came across an artist who he thought might be a good fit to work with me. I looked through his artwork and discovered a shot of a cowboy with a metallic arm, and I had my idea for a steampunk story.
And that original story, called Machine Heart, is literally still ready to be drawn up and become The Gilded Age Issues 5 through 8.
However, like many such things, nothing became of it, and it became another file on the computer, threatening to be lost to time.
And then, Terminus decided they wanted to do more than the occasional anthology we were putting out roughly once every year. So Robert Jeffrey, Tony Cade, Pete Mitchell, and me all came up with story ideas. I dug through my files and came across Machine Heart. That was going to be my pitch.
At the same time, I was reading Sandman for the first time. Enthralled with the series, I noticed, especially early on, Gaiman had a lot of self-contained issues. They told a story and then they were done. It also occurred to me that if it took us a year to put out each issue, it might be difficult to actually have a coherent story for someone (anyone) to actually read and follow. What if, instead, I did 4 self-contained stories which would feature different characters – yet still connect in some way.
Trying to find its own way in this world, the Branning Troupe, made up of actors and carnival folk, moves throughout Europe performing its acts night in and night out. For some, the Troupe offers a direction to their lives; others seek the adoration of the crowds. For all, it represents a fragile, simple refuge from a world which has cast them out. They are a new family.
And each member has their own desires and secrets…
I wrote the first story featuring the two leads from Machine Heart. The second issue would see that metal-armed cowboy come to life. The third was a bit more of a horror story. And the last trying my hand at mixing fantasy and oddities together.
Each issue would let me tell the types of stories I wanted to tell while building the world in a very organic (hopefully) way. It allowed me to learn at a slower pace. Worry about the 22 pages instead of all 88 pages. That freedom was great, and in retrospect, I think was the right approach to take as it was years (more than I would have expected) before all 4 issues were done and collected in a trade.
Probably the other big thing to come out of it was that I gained a level of confidence. So many times as writers we are not sure if the piece we’re creating is ever going to see the light of day, and my limited time in comics has only reinforced that thought process. So to have a completed piece was amazing and gave me hope to push on other projects down the road.
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
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