THOUGHTS ON COMICS: Ravine Volume One
Stjepan Sejic is among my favorite artists in comics, and certainly (along with Artgerm) the artist I’m always most excited to see creating a cover for one of mine. Now, in Ravine, we get the treat of a book fully created, drawn, and co-written by Sejic. This first volume, from page one to the conclusion (and hell, even the appendix), is as beautiful as the cover. The writing is smart, delicately plotted, and expert in the way it delves out kernels of a very expansive mythology. What interests me most, though, is the character-driven nature of the story. Sejic’s art captures an incredible range of emotion here, working along with his script (co-written by industry giant Ron Marz) to deliver a wholly original high fantasy work.
I can’t wait for Volume Two. And more Lynn. While the whole thing is an astonishing achievement, I’m still reeling from how much that character rocks. Ginger power!
COMMENTARY on WONDERLAND #13
Written by Raven Gregory & Pat Shand
Art by Antonio Bifulco
Colors by Leonardo Paciarotti
Letters by Jim Campbell
Published by Zenescope Entertainment
Raven was originally going to take back the reigns of the ongoing series here, but I came on and scripted two more issues under his guidance to close out the #11-14 arc. This first page is all Raven though, and I think it may be the first step in our attempt to add more physical mythology to the land of Wonderland itself. Also, this is the first and probably only time we’ll see the original Queen of Diamonds. Next time we’ll see her, much like Queen of Hearts, someone new will have filled the role.
One of the biggest things I was looking forward to with writing Wonderland was Jim’s insane lettering on this title. The Jabberwocky, Spades, and Hearts have some of the most creative lettering I’ve seen in comics, and Jim makes it sing.
As of now, I can honestly say, this is the page where I just buckled in as Raven took me on an insane person’s drive. To this day, I have no idea what the voices are that warn the Jabberwocky away from Lory. This is Raven playing his long game.
And here’s where I take the stage. The protagonist of this issue, Charlie, is looking very Morgan Freeman here… and let’s be real, from his dialogue, he’s intended to be read with Freeman’s voice. It’s been said that Morgan Freeman’s voice makes everything in this world a bit better, and I think that might be true of this issue as well.
It’s never revealed why Charlie calls his bus Bonnie, but a scene later in the book will spell it out to the attentive reader.
This may be one of the most text-heavy pages I’ve ever written. This issue has a slow and deliberate pace, and it’s tone is different than the rest of the series for a reason – Calie and Violet are a young mother and daughter, so they have a more hectic, youthful energy. This issue, however, reads almost like prose because of Charlie’s manner of speech and word choice. Very different, but I hope fans took to it. It’s not often you pick up a Wonderland book and read an issue about a 50+ year old man’s struggle at his job as the A-story, and that’s kind of the point. This arc, which I’m still amazed Raven let me steer, is all about breaking through the norm of what you expect in a Wonderland story and, in a larger sense, a comic book.
The red hair and hearts glasses may be Lory’s batshit-craziest transformation.
The mirror motif (rearview, windows, Lory’s entrance into Wonderland) continues. The bit at the end where Charlie speaks of the disappearances is the first time that we’ve tied the events of #11 and #12 into the overall arc. They were certainly standalone issues, but the shape of the arc is beginning to form right here.
Who doesn’t love a creepy little kid? (Me.)
I once read a quote by, of all people, Russell Brand – who is actually fucking brilliant, mind. The quote was: “We all have an essential self, but if you spend every day chopping up meat on a slab, and selling it by the pound, soon you’ll find you’ve become a butcher. And if you don’t want to become a butcher (and why would you?), you’re going to have to cut right through to the bare bones of your own character in the hope of finding out who you really are. Which bloody hurts.” Reading that made me reflect deeply on myself, my choices, and the things with which I build my life and my story. Charlie’s “essential self” here is that he is a bus driver – he’s okay with being defined by that, by being the shepherd that leads others to their destinations. We’re just not sure yet if that’s because of his own loss of direction or because of a genuine interest in other people. To me, and my interpretation is just that – an interpretation… I think it may be both.
Kid in panel two has a spinner on top of his hat. So nineties. What an absolute boss.
Charlie finds beauty in the small moments, because he needs to. He needs to dream about people when awake, because of the reveal of what he truly dreams about on the net page.
“All of my dreams are bad” might be the saddest sentence I’ve ever written. Charlie is a grown man, and a very mature one at that – but this sentiment seems almost childish in its phrasing.
In text shout out to Sheldon, Wonderland artist for the first two volumes.
And now, the mirror motif pays off. Charlie’s darkest impulses are reflected back at him. It’s absolutely an onslaught against him from Wonderland, as the Queen of Spades has chosen him to be one of her own, but none of these are lies. Charlie is horrified and begins to go into a state of shock here because he sees that, yes, his bitterness toward those who have wronged him has made him capable of sickening things.
One of Antonio’s best pages, I think. Charlie’s agony here is hard to look at.
And the elusive Lory bird…
Back to Wonderland. We reveal the new Queen of Diamonds, and she will be very, very significant in another series.
Two effects I love here; the playing cards floating through the background really make this page standout. I’m also glad we physically get to see Lory transform here, so we show how easily this character shifts from body to body.
Annnnnd of course, everyone is playing everyone. The card symbolism, along with the dueling soldier toys, is indicative of how the Queens, Lory, and the Jabberwocky (whom I pseudo-affectionately call “Jabby” in scripts sometimes, likely to Raven’s dismay) are all keeping their hands in the game for Wonderland very close to the chest.
Thanks for reading. This issue came out two weeks ago, so if you’re reading this without having read the issue, I think we may have to see other people.
- Pat Shand, 8/27
In two days, UNLEASHED PART FIVE will be released.
While the series goes for six issues, the final issue is an epic epilogue that ties up character arcs and sets things in motion for what’s next for these character. Part Five is the devastating climax.
The Being. Sela. Van Helsing. Roman. Masumi. Elijah. Belinda. Samira. The Maker. The Innocent. Shang. Ilys.
We’ve been following their tales for a while now… and by the end of this issue, we’ll be saying goodbye to more than one of them. Death and betrayal abound as the Being’s true plan comes to light. Sela reckons with the daughter that had been stolen from her. Belinda discovers the truth of her resurrection. Van Helsing, Roman, and Elijah are faced with choices that will change their paths forever. Masumi buckles as the weight of her loss crushes down on her. The Maker and the Innocent stand to watch a battle that they cannot fight.
After this… nothing will ever be the same.
Written by me, art by Miguel Mendonça.
COMMENTARY on DEMONS: THE UNSEEN #3
DEMONS: THE UNSEEN #3
Written by Pat Shand
Art by Matias Bergara
Colors by Ben Sawyer
Letters by Jim Campbell
Edited by Hannah Gorfinkel
Published by Zenescope Entertainment
Matias Bergara, the artist for this issue, picked up the ball in a major way, making the book look consistent with what came before but also entirely his own. He’s strutting his stuff with some wonderful character/emotion work here, and the action he shows later in the issue is perfect as well. Colorist Ben Sawyer also helps make sure the book looks consistent in the art department. Overall, the art on this book leaves me a very happy writer.
I have had this conversation before, almost word for word. It was painful to write, because really both of my big UNLEASHED tie-in series, VAMPIRES: THE ETERNAL and DEMONS: THE UNSEEN, are about failing relationships. VAMPIRES was different in that it was about the lead character, Samira, returning to her lover, Blaine, after having gone through a spiritual awakening. She realizes he doesn’t fit in her life anymore, and she ends it in a way that you’ll have to read about when that book comes out in trade. Here, in DEMONS, Masumi and Gerard are two people who obviously don’t belong together. She’s damaged and she’s got a mission, and he’s intent on protecting her from the thing that makes her special. They don’t work, and they’re destroying each other. And yet, they’re so in love that they could never rip away from one another. This is equal parts me writing the “Can someone whose passion and whose reason for being IS their work ever truly give themselves to another person?” (which is something I’ve struggled with as a writer and as a human) and part allegory. Allegory for what though… I’ll let you decide.
I’m loving the panelization here. Matias has his panels rip across the page, which works as this is the thing that is tearing Masumi and Gerard apart.
I think having a character say “I love you” has to be so earned. It can come off as very trite, and very melodramatic. I know it’s such an every day thing, but I don’t think it’s something that should be used as a crutch in relationship drama. Here, when Masumi tells Gerard “I love you,” it’s two things. It’s a goodbye, and it’s a promise that she’ll return.
Jim Campbell’s lettering in this last panel is an example of why I’d be pleased if he is the only letter I work with for the rest of my career. He’s just… well, the shit.
Writing these commentaries helps me see plot/style things I do a lot. I’m fond of the quick cutting back between two action scenes to either juxtapose what’s happening between two different characters, or build tension as two different goings-on are about to merge. I just did that in the script I finished last week, WONDERLAND: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS #4, so I think that’ll be the last time I do it. Gotta keep things fresh.
I think one of my favorite things about Masumi is how unapologetic she is about thinking her mother is a piece of shit. It’s a bit of a cliché in genre fiction to have the warrior so reverent to his or her parents and/or master that even speaking of them badly means your life, and Masumi loves to subvert that. Her mother is both her parents and her master, and yet Masumi doesn’t respect her. She believes that her mother’s choices have damned her to this life, and yet – here she is, doing the exact same things her mother did.
There is a lot of body horror in DEMONS. The character being possessed by the seven deadly sins here has been drawn by Jason as an attractive, friendly woman – and Matias twisted that and turns her into this nightmarish, twisted creature. I remember getting this page, and asking to go more horrific, and Matias knocked it out of the park.
Here’s when Masumi puts it together – we, the readers, found out last issue, but the fact that the Seven Deadly Sins are the ones attacking here has been kept from Masumi. The fact that there is an Eight sin called Despondency, and that is the demon bound to her sword… that was a bit of improv here. I thought of that last minute and threw it in, because I thought it was pretty poetic with what Masumi is about to face. It also added a personal thing between Masumi and the Sins, and having that relationship between hero and villain revealed at the last moment adds a layer of meaning that makes me look way cleverer than I am.
Another bit of subversion Masumi does here – I don’t much like meaningless death, but I don’t get supernatural heroes who don’t kill their supernatural villains. I wanted to give Masumi a real battle here, facing a demon she couldn’t kill, because of the fact that it’s bound to a host. A host that the readers have been following since even before they met Masumi in this series, so hopefully are a little emotionally invested in. The relationship between Kaitlyn (the host of the Sins) and her husband grew organically to reflect Masumi/Gerard, which was never my intention until I found it happening before me. So much of this series came about naturally through living with the characters.
Bhagavad Gita and Oppenheimer reference with “Now I am become Legion.”
Writing Legion was difficult. I essentially had to create a Big Bad that is almost as powerful as the Being… but that could be defeated because it thinks it knows Masumi’s way. The art here, the way Matias and Ben show the blurs of Legions motions, and the reactions of the characters to its presence, goes a long way to quickly and visually establish how Legion is not your every day villain.
This was one of the hardest pages I ever had to write. I remember when I first got the lettering proof, I was visiting my parents. I was on my laptop, seated across from my mother, and I was already emotional because, having written the thing and approved the art, I knew where it was going of course. But when I scrolled to this page, I literally screamed aloud. There were probably whimpers through reading the rest of this. Much with the tears, too. It was a thing. I think it may be the most shocking thing I’ve ever done. I normally like to give major characters who we kill very graceful deaths, but I think having Legion just kill Gerard horribly, blowing him to bloody chunks, is more realistic and better demonstrates why he never should have been there in the first place. And, from Masumi’s point of view, why she should have never let him into her life.
Every panel here, from Gerard’s gory death, to Masum’s face in shadow, to the shovel Gerard used when he first met Masumi clanging to the floor… perfect. Matias and Ben brought this to life (and, you know… the other thing) in a gorgeously horrific way.
Another shocking thing to read after having distance from writing the issue, is how quickly Masumi abandons her code and kills Kaitlyn. In truth, Kaitlyn was dead from the moment the Sins entered her body – how do you come back from that? But to have Masumi kill her as a reaction to Gerard’s death was hard for me to choose to do, because I love Masumi and I think she’s a good person at heart… but Kaitlyn’s death is a tragedy, and now she’s as involved in it as Legion. We follow through on the promise of #1, that Masumi is a “bringer of death.”
All of the UNLEASHED tie-ins (with the exception of HUNTERS: THE SHADOWLANDS, which is a prequel) happen between UNLEASHED #1 and UNLEASHED #2. In #2, Masumi joins with Sela and co. AFTER the events of this series, but that comic came out three months before this one, so Masumi’s despondency (see there?) had to be kept in mystery.
This silent page, especially the blue coloring in the final two panels, makes me almost regret taking Gerard away from Masumi. Her reaching to touch his spot in the bed just had to be dialogue free. And just to show how brilliant Matias is, he spaced the panels out so it takes the eye longer to move from panel to panel, so readers don’t just see a lack of dialogue and skim the page.
I love the Being for his mercy kill here. It’s violent and it’s wrong, but it shows the dark brand of compassion that we can only get away with when writing this character. It gives Kaitlyn’s husband the escape that Masumi is not allowed to give herself. Giving into the perfect despair.
The Being playing Masumi and Legion against each other adds to the intrigue of the Being. At this point, we still don’t know what the hell is plan is. This page is a bit monologuey, but I’d do it all again just for that “Look at me. Talking to ghosts.” bit. It’s horribly sad, but at least Kaitlyn and her husband’s spirits are together here.
I almost wanted to end the story on Page 20, just for that last panel of the Being… but I needed to check back up on Masumi here, and I think adding the Samantha bit follows through on the fact that this is, in fact, a tie-in series. It gives the book a firm “before/during the first half of UNLEASHED #2” timing, and readers have been asking for timing clarification for the UNLEASHED series a bunch.
I originally wanted these pages blank, but I was re-reading the script and wishing that I could give Masumi and Gerard their happy ending. Then when I saw that Gerard had said that very thing, “At risk of being corny, that sounds like a happy ending,” I instantly saw the harsh dichotomy between what he and Masumi hoped for, and what ended up happening.
And this, this sad story ends. It’s depressing and it’s harsh and it’s maybe even a little mean, but I’m also thinking it may be the comic I’m most proud of. I love these characters enough to mourn for them every time I read this and, to me, that means something. I hope it means something to you as well.