8 Building a Skeleton

My mom, bless her heart, spent her adult life stashing away newspapers and periodicals that she thought might someday be of historical interest. Thanks to that, the basement of our family home in Birmingham was a treasure trove of artifacts like newspaper accounts of the 1963 church bombing and articles about how to register for the draft. Since Toland's experience in going for his draft physical was largely based on my own experience and since the bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church remains engraved in my memory, you can't really say that articles like these told me a lot that I didn't already know. But reading them helped take me back to the overall psychology of those times, with all its bleak sense of futility as well as the sense that genuinely noble actions were being taken by ordinary people every day.
LETTER TO CHOPETA (October 24, 1990)

… The scale of this project is intimidating, and I’m having to develop entirely new creative approaches in order to cope with its demands. The longest comic-book stories I’ve done in the past have run twelve or thirteen pages. Before I’ve been able to grab onto a burst of inspiration and scribble down a rough draft of the whole story in a single sitting. This time it’s taking me weeks – perhaps a couple of months – to coax onto paper even the roughest kind of plot breakdown. My proposal contained a few plot elements, but a huge amount of the book remains to be imagined. And while this imagining is going on, I have to absolutely forbid myself to evaluate what I’m doing or get involved in pulling together loose ends. My goal is to get a mass of raw material to work with; later on I’ll pick and choose and edit and shape.

Hashing out this early groundplan is especially important because comic books are much less susceptible to radical revision late in the game than are books made of text. One can move paragraphs or chapters of a regular novel back and forth and here and there fifty times without too much wasted time, thanks to word processors, but it’s a much more serious job to reorder or recompose [comic book] pages after they’ve been laid out and drawn. Even in my book certain narrative details and patches of dialogue will remain open to ninth-inning revision, but the skeletal structure of this book needs to be solidly conceived before I start doing serious drawing.

As a result, I’m forced to keep my pen capped for the present. Later on that will change, and my workdays will be long ones.