Last Chance – dead or alive, some backstory
I didn’t set out to do another comic book while I was still working away on my last one but that is exactly what happened. I devised On the Verge (OTV) so that I could tell pretty much any kind of story that I wanted to… but then I got an idea that wasn’t going to work in that world. So suddenly, I had this little idea for “what I wanted to do next” while I was in the middle of working on something and that meant that I spent about three years developing a new story as I tried to focus my attention on completing the stuff that I already had under way.
My wife is a huge Bon Jovi fan and we’ve been to at least one concert on each of his tours since we met. So back in November 2013, we’re at his concert in Toronto and he’s playing “Wanted Dead or Alive” and it struck me that this would be a great title for a comic book. And then as I listed to the lyrics, I thought that the story that they told would make for a pretty interesting character for a book. The concert ended, we headed back to the car and I made some notes on my phone.
The seed was planted.
One of the first steps in starting the visuals – character turn arounds to really establish just what the characters look like from all angles.
And it grew…
At that point, I was up to my eyeballs in OTV, just trying to get chapters 4 and 5 finished off before getting started on the next couple of chapters. I was basically halfway through the story and so any new idea was years away from being realized. I knew that but this new idea really intrigued me and wouldn’t go away. The thing is, I was excited with the work that I was doing at that point and had lots of stuff to keep me interested, so I wasn’t keen to just drop it and do something different.
But this “Wanted Dead or Alive” thing just wouldn’t go away. I kept noodling it over and made notes and agreed with myself that that I’d definitely wanted to make this story at some point in the future but I had to finish my OTV story first.
More notes… lots of notes… and I started to kick around the idea of making this a Western (which I found pretty interesting and not really too expected for me). It was definitely something different and I really like that. Now the thing is, having so much time to let an idea gestate meant that I had time to really think it over. And the more I thought it over, the more I really started to wonder if there was any way to do something new and interesting in a Western.
It was around this point where I thought I might be able to mix it up and do something futuristic… and that slowly evolved to making it a “Space Western” (set in the future). I figured that would give me a little bit of room to play with stuff and not do the obvious “Western” story. I know that the “Space Western” has been done before – Star Wars and Firefly* and on and on and one – but I felt like I could create a different world for the story to take place in and that would give me room to do something different.
[*I’m a huge fan of Firefly and that pretty much describes the “type” and “feel” of story I was developing at this point. But I wanted to draw weird aliens along with people and not tie my characters down to a ship. I wanted just a man alone on a motorcycle.]
Speaking of which…
I think one of the initial things that drew me to this idea was the main character that instantly appeared in my mind. One of my first notes about the lead character is that “they’re basically The Rock, sitting on a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket, looking badass.” And that pretty much sums up the character that is now Veronika Chance.
How did I get from The Rock to Chance? Keep reading.
Above, initial concept sketch for Veronika Chance.
It’s about the process…
I decided pretty much at the very start that I wanted to write a nice tight story. I thought something maybe 32 pages long or so and that was it. The main goal here was to tell a tighter story. OTV has been this slow moving epic where things have built over time and I wasn’t concerned with something “major” happening in each chapter. I didn’t care how long the story was either. I just wanted to tell the story that was in my head. So my thought was to do something less epic/slow burn and more simple and tight. One of the big things that I learned through my six or so years working on The Arrow of Time is that I can comfortably finish about 100 pages a year. So the thought was that if I stuck to a shorter, tighter story, is that I could actually finish things in a reasonable time frame, while I’m still full of energy and enthusiasm for the story and then be able to move on to something else.
Around this point in the process, I started working on ANDREW JACKSON IN SPACE and the big thing about those comics is that (A) I was working from a final script with a beginning, middle and end, (which was awesome) and (B) there was lots of fun stuff and action to draw. All of this contributed to the type of story that I began to develop because I wanted a simple beginning/middle/end and lots of fun action to draw. The other thing that’s worth pointing out here, is that OTV was created and written as the type of comic I’d love to read. Last Chance has been created as the type of story I’d love to draw. That doesn’t mean that the story is secondary at all, but it means that I’m trying to put together a story where cool shit happens.
Ok, so it’s worth point out that the story grew from that original 32 pages to 96 – and the scripts are pretty much done at this point with only edits left to do. But as I just said, I started to come up with cool stuff to draw and the story grew in the telling – and that’s all part of the process of developing the story. Over the past three years or so, I’ve slowly chipped away at things: first starting with a simple outline, then breaking that down into plot synopsis for each part, fleshing that out into pages that described the action on each page, before moving on to actually scripting the story. From here, I think it should be a simple task doing thumbnails, pencils and then finally the inking and digital clean-up. After I finish designing all the characters and stuff…
Now the great part about this process was that I was able to get the story in front of a few trusted people really quickly to read it over and see what their reaction would be (something I didn’t have with OTV which I always wished I had).
And then the feedback…
To be honest, I was super happy with my story until I realized that I was basically writing a very typical (and stereotypical) revenge story *spoiler warning* where a woman gets killed and a man goes on a rage filled revenge quest (there’s more to the story than that, I promise!). It’s not exactly original and luckily, I got told this right away. So without having to completely start over, it was suggested (and discussed at length) to gender switch some of the characters. So out went “The Rock” and in came this new character – a kick ass female named Veronika Chance.
More concept work. One of the things I always try to figure out is how a character moves around. How do they stand and shift their weight. So these are all about trying to inject some personality into Chance.
And then the story grew…
My simple story about a guy out for revenge suddenly took on all new layers as I sorted out just what happened during the story now that I’d swapped genders and he became a she. The basic idea that was there in the beginning can still be found in the final story but everything took on a new meaning with a female lead. I didn’t start out to write a story about a woman, let alone a take no shit woman, but now that I am, I’ve realized that this frames the story in completely new ways. At the end of the day, it’s all been for the better and I think you guys are really going to enjoy where this story goes.
So what’s next?
So I’m now working away on things and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks starting to put some of my visual ideas down onto paper. After a couple of years of development and research and gathering reference material, I have an absolute TON of material to sift through. The big thing for me has been to sort through it all and really start to define just who Veronika Chance is, what she looks like and really establish the world that she inhabits.
I’ve learned a ton through the process of working on On the Verge – the Arrow of Time and I’m trying to apply some of that learning as I start this new project. So right now I’m spending a lot of time really figuring out all the nitty gritty stuff: doing character design and turn arounds, designing the environments that the characters will inhabit, etc. I did virtually none of this when I started OTV, but I’ve found it really helpful with the Andrew Jackson books that I’ve done, so I’m applying it here.
More concept art. Did I mention that Chance is a bad ass chick on a motorcycle?
Anyway, I’m going to start posting work-in-progress for Last Chance here on the blog. I’ve also created a Last Chance page on the site and I’ll be posting stuff there as I go too. The plan over the next couple of weeks is to keep going and get more new stuff done, so please be sure to check back for more! And just like with OTV, I want to post everything here online for you to read – for free. So if you start following along now, please know that you’ll be able to read the full thing here at some point down the road.
Early work trying to figure out just what Chance’s cycle looks like. My initial thought is that it would fly (thinking something like Star Wars), but then I eventually settled on making it this strange uni-cycle type bike. It turns out, these are actually a thing! Who knew…
I’m excited to finally get working on this new project and I can’t wait to share more with you guys. I’d love to hear what you think and thanks for making the jump with me to my next project! There’s so much more to do and I’ll start posting work as I go. Stay tuned for more.