The Origins of REDemption Part 11

When we closed last week’s part of the history, I had the first print issue of REDemption in my hands, courtesy of an artist named Chuck. (At this point in time, the story was known by the longer name The Redemption Project.) Unfortunately it was the only issue he would ever draw.

Looking back, I don’t think his departure was a bad thing…not that he was a bad artist or a jerk, but for other reasons. I’m not going to get into all of that here, other than to mention what I have said previously: he thought I should rearrange the story, which would have screwed up my vision.

Now that I think about it, he didn’t say this to me until AFTER he had resigned. So maybe it was just a friendly suggestion in the form of parting words. Who knows? He hasn’t worked on it since that issue, so I guess the importance of his intent is long gone.

This left me floating in limbo. I could not afford some of the rates that people were asking, but I knew it was asking a lot to expect people to draw all of this for free. I tried shopping around via message boards and Craigslist ads again. Eventually someone responded: a young woman whose name I have forgotten, so I will just call her Christine.

At first, Christine told me she was willing to work for a rate of $10 per page. This stunned me, and I asked how she could possibly get away with that. She said it was because she still lived at home and had no bills. I said, “Well, that works!”

I sent her a couple character biographies, and she sent me back samples that were amazing. Then I gave her the script for Part One. Again, incredible results. Finally I said, “Okay, if you are ready to come on board, then I will send you the outline of the entire comic.” She said okay.

And that was where it took a dive.

She wrote me back with a critique of the story, saying how this and that tangent had nothing to do with the main thrust of the plot (meaning the search for a cure to the zombie virus). I can’t remember every change she suggested for the story, but I do remember her closing the email by saying, “In the end, these are only just suggestions. It is your story, and I will draw it like you want.”

I wrote back, saying, “Yes, the story stands as is.” I may have even offered a brief explanation of how the comic was “Dungeons and Dragons meets a Romero movie,” and then explained how D&D campaigns are LOADED with side adventures that have nothing to do with the main story.

Well, she proved her previous statement (“I’ll draw it like you want”) was insincere because once I set that boundary of her being the artist and me being the writer, she never contacted me again. This bummed me out because of the quality of her work, but if the alternative was to compromise my vision, then it’s better we didn’t wind up working together.

A handful of other artists came and went. Some were such blips on the radar that they aren’t even worth mentioning by name. Let’s just say it was a tough search and leave it at that, mmm-kay?

At one point, I got so fed up with the search that I decided it was time for me to take on the artistic duties myself. After all, I was the one who drew that 24-page origin story “Of Forces Beyond” back in high school. Why not?

I asked around for the best books that might help someone learn how to draw. Chuck recommended a trio of books from DC Comics. There were also a handful of books recommended by Jason Brubaker, who is infamous in the webcomic world.

I bought all these up…and then I never got around to opening ANY of them. Life was just too hectic at the time. The freelance writing work was coming in at a fast pace, and those assignments had deadlines so I could not push them aside. Plus my day job did not pay very well, so I had to keep doing overtime. There was a brief point in time where I just gave up on it.

Actually, no…scratch that. I never gave up. However, I had to accept the fact that there were other things in my life that required more attention.

Sometimes we have to put our dreams to sleep, because even they need to rest.

Join me next week for Part 12. I cannot say for sure that will be the last installment, because I thought we’d be done by THIS point! However, there is one thing I know for sure: it will be a fun-filled, passionate read!

~~~~~Steve

 

 

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The Origins of REDemption Part 10

Ten weeks into the history of the comic. It has been a great trip down memory lane, even when it came to recalling the frustrating moments. When we last left off, I told you that I went straight from writing Part 4 into Part 5. I wanted to keep the ball rolling while the ideas were popping; no point in pausing the new material so I could go back and type up what I’d just written!

Part 5 is interesting in that the action is grandiose. The team takes over the National Institute of Health (NIH), and there is also a showdown between them, the army, AND the Unexpected Enemy. So much going on!

Writing this story in five parts made me think of the original five film PLANET OF THE APES series. If we follow that analogy, then I guess Part 5 is the equivalent of BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. However, I like to think the only comparison that can be made is that BATTLE ended the original APES movies, and Part 5 ends REDemption.

Why do I hope the comparison ends there?

Because BATTLE sucked, and REDemption: Part 5 does not!

It was a fun challenge for me to figure out how the team could take over the NIH campus. Certainly there was no way a full-on assault would work. Their takeover had to be slow and stealthy. With that in mind, I drew inspiration from two of my favorite video game titles: the SPLINTER CELL and HITMAN games. This worked in two ways: (1) It made their takeover more believable, and (2) it helped me to slowly escalate the drama until the climactic battle happened.

All while I was writing the story, I had kept in touch with Clarence about drawing. Every now and then he would send me a sketch. I figured it was okay if the work was sporadic because, after all, the story wasn’t even done yet. On top of that, the work he sent was amazing. It was like he had peered right inside my imagination and could see how I wanted the characters to look. I had faith he would be the one who brought the comic to life in a way that was closer to my vision than I had even thought possible.

However, what I did not know is how much of his own personal things Clarence was dealing with at the time. I mean, EVERYONE has “personal things,” but his turned out to be much heavier than most. At the time I was not very understanding or empathetic toward his plight. Once I got done writing the story, my mindset was, “You said you wanted to work on it, so…work on it. Show me something. Produce.” His responses became less and less, as there were frequent times when he went off the grid and never looked at Facebook messages or emails. By forcing the issue, I think I forced HIM out of being willing to work on the art.

I never apologized for that. He no longer lives in New York State, nor are we in contact in any way. As unlikely as it is that he would read this right now, I just want to announce it in public: Clarence, I am sorry for pushing the issue like I did and not being empathetic toward you.

At some point during the history, when I realized Clarence was not responding, I started seeking out comic book artists via message boards and Craigslist ads. There were a handful of people who said they were interested but then vanished on me. Eventually I got a response from a gentleman named Chuck, and we started talking more in depth about working together.

Meanwhile, I wrapped up the handwritten version of Part 5. Not one to rest, I jumped into typing up Part 4. However, I could do this only from home, so I had to devise an approach. It wasn’t hard to do: I set an alarm so I could get up before my wife and son. Then I would type up material from 20 pages per day. Since I typed only Monday through Friday morning, this meant I worked through 100 pages per week. Not a bad rate for a guy with a wife, two jobs, and four kids! The story was completely typed out by April 2012.

During this completion phase, Chuck sent me samples of his work. It was a little less detailed than what Clarence had done, but as far as I was concerned, I was happy that (1) he was putting his own spin on it, and (2) somebody was producing SOMETHING.

Chuck drew the opening sequence with the little girl on the hill, as well as the scene that followed after it (the one with Vietnamese scientists in a lab). He compiled all of this into an issue, and he sent me about 10-15 copies of it. I was pleased with it, with the exception of one moment that killed the suspense and the shock of a revelation that happens later in the story.

Unfortunately, this first issue was all Chuck ever got to draw. He wound up getting commissioned for a lot of other projects, and mine had to be cut out.

However, this was not necessarily a bad thing. I think if we had continued to work together, Chuck and I would have not wound up seeing eye to eye on the story anymore. I say this based on something he said to me shortly after he mailed out the copies of issue #1. I’m not going to reveal what it was here (because sharing the disagreement would be to reveal a major spoiler), but I will say that his words showed he disagreed with how the story began.

I thanked him for his input, and then stuck to my guns. I wrote this story with a specific outline in mind that builds toward a certain kind of crescendo. To remove one part of it would be like taking a card out from the bottom of a house of cards.

Despite this disagreement, it still took the wind out of my sails when Chuck had to resign. It meant starting up the search again.

And we will talk more about that next time!

 

~~~Steve

 

The Origins of REDemption Part 9

This has to be the slowest Thursday ever. As proof that it has knocked me for a loop, I am only just getting around to writing this blog post! Well, they always say “better late than never.” Now I am going to prove if “they” are right or not, my dear readers!

When we last visited the history of the comic, I had just whipped up an approach and outline to Part 4 of the story. (REMINDER: I modeled their search for the Immune Child after Captain Willard’s pursuit of Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW.)

However, there wasn’t enough time in my day to let me type up Part 3 while also writing Part 4. I had to choose, so I decided to focus on typing up the mammoth of Part 3, which (in handwritten form) had filled up FOUR 3-subject notebooks.

Needless to say, this was going to take some time. I didn’t want to lose touch with Part 4 completely, so I would take a couple minutes every day to just pore over the outline, making sure it was as tight as I could get it.

Somewhere along the way, I was talking with an old friend from high school about the comic via Facebook. I told her how the protagonists needed to go beyond the quarantine wall to look for a functional lab. She told me about the National Institute of Health (known as NIH going forward) and said that any research into searching for a zombie virus antidote would be bound to happen there.

I’d never heard of NIH before, so I looked it up. (Got to love Google!) While I was not able to get pictures of the interiors of the buildings, I DID manage to find a map of the entire grounds, with each building labeled. This got the old creative juices flowing.

At first I got hung up on the fact that I did not know what these buildings were set up like on the inside. Then one day I decided, “If people can suspend their disbelief and invest in a story with zombies and what not, then they can also accept the fact that I am going to manipulate the interior of every single NIH building.”

So that was what I did. I came up with a plan for how the team could invade the NIH, and I wrote up an outline for Part 5 with that as my starting point.

Needless to say, there is a LOT going on in Part 5. The team has to safely make it all the way east to the NIH. Not only is the Federal government still after them, but they also have to worry about other survivor groups. We are also introduced at long last to a full-blown view of the Unexpected Enemy. Last but not least, I created another major HUMAN antagonist in the form of an insane Army leader named General Phillips. Imagine if Thunderbolt Ross from THE INCREDIBLE HULK comics was completely insane, and you have General Phillips.

There were also some neat little twists that I threw in with FBI Agent Bill Davidson. I don’t want to say too much about what happens with him or we will wander into a spoiler mine field. Needless to say, he is not your typical one-dimensional, stone cold, humorless Agent Hotchner (Thomas Gibson’s character from CRIMINAL MINDS).

Eventually I finished typing up Part 3, and I dove right into writing Part 4. By this point the outline was incredibly well-crafted, so it was just a matter of taking each bullet point and fleshing it out into a full-blown story. Some bullet points took longer than others to bring to fruition, but in the end I think every last one of them was expanded to the necessary length.

My previous pattern had been to write a section out by hand and then type it up. However, that was only because I found myself temporarily stumped with how the action should flow in Parts 2, 3, and 4. I did not have that problem moving from Part 4 to Part 5; both outlines were written one after the other. Therefore I decided to move forward with writing the last segment of the tale. As always, the story flowed out of me almost faster than I could write it down; it’s like the words were all just sitting there in my brain, waiting to be discovered. Whenever a story writes itself, I take that as a good sign.

Now you may have noticed that, all while I am talking about the process of me writing it, I have done very little talking about any artists stepping up to draw it. In fact, the only artist I have mentioned is my former coworker Clarence.

For those of you who may be wondering what was happening on the visual side, fear not! I will address this in next week’s post because guess what? Just because I am closing in on the end of the writing process doesn’t mean the history is done being told!

 

~~~Steve

The Origins of REDemption Part 8

When we last left off, I had finished writing the massive Part 3. At the end of it, the quarantine wall had been destroyed, and the Immune Child (who is now 18) took off on the team. Naturally, their next step was to relocate him.

The team relocates to a secret, backup base of operations: a mall, which of course is a nod to the influence of DAWN OF THE DEAD. Why do they do this? Well, you don’t blow up a wall that was built by the Federal Government and NOT expect to be declared public enemy #1. They need to go hide out while things get crazy for a little while. Eventually they start heading out in reconnaissance teams of two, with the aim of doing two things: (1) determining how much of a presence the Feds have on the West Coast still, and (2) trying to gather intel as to the Immune Child’s location.

I sent the outline to Clarence (my artistic friend and former coworker). He wrote back and said something to the effect of, “Wow, you have a lot of interesting developments here! After Part 3, I wasn’t sure how you would keep the momentum going, but this is excellent!”

I already knew that, of course, but it was nice to hear him confirm it.

I had my basic summary: the team needed to find the Immune Child. Once again, this meant they would run into random adventures that were not necessarily related to the main mission. Rather than worry about it (like I did when I panicked over how to write Part 3), I let it simmer on the back burner of my mind while I set about typing up Part 3.

I can’t quite remember when or how the inspiration came for this part of the story. I do remember that I was either thinking about or watching the movie APOCALYPSE NOW. After doing some reading about the movie, I found it was a “Vietnamization” of Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS.

I’d already seen APOCALYPSE dozens of times, but I had never read the book. I went on Amazon and bought a used copy. It arrived a week later, and I dove right into it. I kept a notebook by my side while I read, notating what kind of experiences narrator Charles Marlow had on his way north as he looked for mysterious ivory trader Kurtz.

While the story was well-written, I did not find much that I could use as a model for my story. Maybe it was due to the setting or the action, but I decided it was a dead end to try to update the story for REDemption. Then it dawned on me: I should model Part 4 after APOCALYPSE instead.

Now you may wonder: why was it easy for you to adapt APOCALYPSE to REDemption, but not HEART…when HEART was the source material for the movie??? It does seem maddening, doesn’t it? However, I think the explanation is quite simple: in APOCALYPSE NOW, the story is set during the Vietnam War, which of course was a crazy and chaotic time. It was much easier to relate that kind of setting to my comic, since the West Coast in REDemption is a lawless no man’s land where death could come at any moment. Also, not for nothing, but the experiences Willard has often have a bizarre, surreal, dream-like quality to them.

In short, APOCALYPSE NOW fit the mood of REDemption better. Therefore, what I did was pop the movie into my DVD player, sat down in a chair with a notebook again, and notated the various experiences good old Captain Willard had.

Eventually I realized Part 4 would be difficult like Part 3, but in a different way: I would have to keep track of two stories. One would be the team looking for the Immune Child. The other would be a DIFFERENT portion of the team heading East beyond the destroyed quarantine wall to find a lab where they could test the Immune Child’s blood (if they found him alive, of course).

Actually, did I say I had to tell two different stories? No, I wound up having to tell THREE because in the meantime, the Federal Government also becomes aware of long stretches of the country that are decimated by our as-of-yet unseen friend, the Unexpected Enemy. For this part of the story, I introduced an FBI agent named Bill Davidson, who investigates one area of such destruction and tries to figure out what is going on. Then I had to come up with a way to have all these various segments converge on one another.

Thanks to the influence of a horror author named Michael Slade (which is actually the pen name for a writing team whose members have changed over the years), I think I pulled this off quite nicely. For those of you who don’t know his work, I suggest you read pretty much any title by him/them, and you will see what I mean. My recommendation is that you start right at the beginning with the first novel, HEADHUNTER. Every single novel contains multiple plot lines that don’t seem to make any sense together, until you reach the end and Slade unites them in a way that is so smooth, you wonder why you couldn’t see the connections all along.

Once I had an outline for the various adventures the team would get in while looking for the Immune Child, I ripped through Part 4 at my usual speed.

So you may wonder: what happened when you were done with the handwritten version of Part 4?

Well, for that answer…tune in next week!

 

~~~Steve

The Origins of REDemption Part 7

When last we left, I had finally broke through my writer’s block and had my ideas on how to write Part 3: every four years, the team would get into a new side adventure (for four total), and then two years later they would try to blow up the quarantine wall. By this time, the Immune Child would be eighteen years old.

First I set about writing an outline for Part 3. This gave a brief overview of what each side adventure would be.

It is par for the course that in post-apocalyptic stories, there will be some kind of religious fanatic clan that believes the ravaging of humanity was a curse from God for all the deviousness and mischief we engage in. Meeting a group like that became adventure 1.

At some point while I was trying to think of adventure 2, I had an image in my head of people docilely staggering into the arms of zombies while under the influence of some kind of drug. After all, people in OUR world use drugs to escape their problems, so I figured it was believable that people in the REDemption universe would do the same. I came up with an idea of how they would get this drug, and the rest of the adventure wrote itself.

At some point I wanted the team to rest, so I had them camp out at an old laboratory with a family called the McKinleys. At this point the Immune Child was old enough to start paying attention to girls, so I gave him a pleasant young lady to fawn over named Tara McKinley.

There were other side adventures, some of which required a lot of research. For example, at one point the team is held prisoner in a massive jail. I have no idea how jails are laid out, so I had to go to our good friend Google and type in “prison blueprints” and “jail blueprints.”

Aside from the four main side adventures, I also had the team run into other random enemies (and friends too, of course, but let’s face it: there’s no dramatic impact of meeting people who are nice to you!). In one of these, the team is accosted by a gang that uses a mix of tools and firearms to attack. I have to admit here: this scene was inspired by THE BOOK OF ELI (starring Denzel Washington), although in that fight his enemies don’t have guns. However, one of them does have a chainsaw.

At the same time I wrote the outline for Part 3, I also typed up Part 2. I worked on the outline when I was on break or lunch at work, and I typed when I was home. This allowed me to maximize my time and work at a faster pace. Usually I wait until a story is finished to type it up, but I knew that would be way too daunting of a task if I postponed it with this one.

Part 3 grew…and grew…and grew. I believe the handwritten version came out to well over 1,000 pages. (It’s in a desk drawer at home; I can always look to confirm later.) By the time I got to the end of it, the Immune Child had indeed taken off on the team. I like to think I gave him a good reason for taking off, but that judgment call is out of my hands now. It is suspended in limbo at the moment, but someday it will be in the hands of the readers.

The end of Part 3 gave me an immediate setup for Part 4: the team would have to relocate the Immune Child. However, they would have to be discreet/covert about it. After all, if they went to the trouble to blow up the quarantine wall (which of course was put there by the Federal government), then someone would be coming to look for answers. This provided an awesome dynamic: their need to relocate their savior while also avoiding their enemies.

The team flees from their usual base of operations to a backup hideout, which was a shopping mall. (I don’t think I need to point out that this was a clear reference to DAWN OF THE DEAD, but I will anyway.) Meanwhile in other parts of the country, people have started to get tired of the government’s semi-fascist ways, and they start to revolt. Suicide squads attack the Canadian and Mexican borders, where the Army and Marines are stationed to keep any infected from getting into our country. The squads drive explosive-filled jeeps at the stations and destroy them, which results in the infected getting over the border. If an area becomes too overrun by infected people, then the military bombs them…which, of course, causes even more chaos.

The government was clearly evil, but at this point I wanted to pull what I call my “Tarantino move.” Quentin Tarantino has a way of showing us the more likeable sides of his villains, like at the start of PULP FICTION when Vincent and Jules talk about TV shows and so on. The way I did that was by introducing an FBI agent named Bill Davidson, who is brought in to investigate some damage caused by the Unexpected Enemy. Being a Federal government agent, he is also expected to be an enemy of Molly and company. At first he is, but over time that changes.

I wasn’t sure how to have the team relocate the Immune Child, so for a while my progress on the outline halted. Never one to give myself too much downtime, I started to type up the massive text of Part 3. In the meantime, I kept thinking about how to describe their search for the savior.

I am proud to say that, unlike the struggle I had with Part 3, it didn’t take me too long before I found the inspiration for Part 4.

More on that in the next segment!

 

~~~~~Steve

The Origins of REDemption Part 6

When last we left, I had decided to forge ahead with the story without Nick. My friend and former Vanderheyden Hall coworker Clarence was an amazing artist, so I had asked if he wanted to draw it. He asked for details of the story, and I gave him the outline for parts 1 and 2. To my joy, he got back to me and said he was VERY interested.

I got to work and tore through Part 2. The only section where I had trouble was the opening. Once I figured my way around that, the rest of the story wrote itself.

That is…until I got to Part 3.

I knew the Immune Child would be born by the end of Part 2. That was going to be the closer. This meant that Part 3 would be when Molly and her team start searching the West Coast for a geneticist and a lab where they can test the child’s blood. Keep in mind I also saw far ahead in the story, to a point where the Immune Child has grown up and become a jerk; he takes off on Molly and company.

In other words, he had to be OLD ENOUGH to take off. And at the beginning of Part 3, he was just a baby. That’s a hell of a lot of time to kill!

Before I even got to Part 3, I had a vague idea that Molly and her team would get in various “side adventures” during their search. After all, there’s no way you can go up and down a post-apocalyptic wasteland without running into adversaries that are NOT tied to your main mission. (This was reflective of yet another influence of Dungeons and Dragons: when running a campaign, there is something called a “random encounter” table, where the person running the game [known as the Dungeon Master] rolls dice to determine if the party runs into enemies while traveling to the next destination on their quest.)

However, what I hadn’t thought about was just how many side adventures to put them through. If the baby is a newborn at the start of Part 3, and I planned on the Immune Child taking off when he was 16-18 years old…well, shit, that’s a hell of a long time, which could result in a hell of a lot of side adventures! That’s anywhere from 5,840 to 6,570 days! And in a crazy world like the one I had invented, they could potentially get in a new adventure every single day!

Unless I wanted the comic book to be a half a million pages long, I needed to get a grip on how I was going to approach Part 3. I decided to put the project on hold until I figured this out.

Weeks went by. I grew more and more frustrated as time went on. Eventually I started reaching out to friends, even ones who I knew didn’t have a creative bone in their bodies, just to share the problem with them and see if one of them might accidentally say something that caused a breakthrough. I also figured that maybe the more I talked about it, the more I would think about it, and an idea would suddenly come.

Well, it did, but not during one of the times when I was carrying on endlessly about it.

I remember it so well. I was heading into my martial arts class when the whole thing blossomed in my mind like an atomic cloud. One minute there was nothing there. The next minute, the ideas were coming so fast and furious that they were searing my brain.

Every 4 years.

I could come up with 4 medium-sized side adventures that happened every 4 years. By that point, the Immune Child would be 16 years old. Then I could have one final event happen when he was 18. That would be Molly’s team attempting to blow up the quarantine wall. (Why 18? Because in our modern society, that is the age when people are legally recognized as “adults.”)

I want you also to notice the significance, dear readers, of what I laid out here. There were 4 side adventures, which we can also call “events,” while the team traveled the wastelands. Then the wall destruction mission was a fifth event.

Five major events.

The story was split into five parts.

See what I did there? 😉

Suddenly I had my outline for Part 3. Ideas for the 4 side adventures were pretty easy to whip up. When I got home that night, I set about writing a more detailed outline of Part 3. I knew that the Immune Child was going to be grown (and a jerk) by the end of this section, so that also helped me create an outline for Part 4. At this point my memory is a bit foggy, but I believe I was also able to roll right into the outline for Part 5 as well.

One other thing to keep in mind: the other piece of the story I was juggling involved that Unexpected Enemy. At this point I still had that antagonist making an appearance in Part 3. Over time, this would change, but I will get to that later.

I shared the new Part 3 outline with Clarence. It made his excitement for the story grow by leaps and bounds. His reaction convinced me of what I already knew: that I was really on to something special with this story.

Only time will tell if you agree. 🙂 Stay tuned for Part 7!

 

~~~~~Steve

 

The Origins of REDemption Part 5

In the last segment, we learned how I decided to restructure the story from 3 parts to 5. I showed my ideas to my friend Nick, and he did not agree with me on several points.

In my version of the story, Molly helps to raise the Immune Child, but she treats him more like a possession than a human being with feelings ‘n’ stuff. Over time this changes, and she starts to unlock the part of herself that can actually feel again.  In other words, she is REDEEMED. (I put caps there to stress that this was the first appearance of the theme of redemption.)

I showed it to Nick. He said, “I don’t think Molly and the kid should ever meet.”

I said, “But…she’s there when they deliver the kid against her wishes.”

“Okay,” he replied. “Let me rephrase. She shouldn’t be in his life anymore when he gets old enough to remember her.”

At this point I’m thinking: All right, maybe he just doesn’t see the big picture yet. Let him read on.

Next part of the story: as I mentioned in the last post, Molly and her team face an Unexpected Enemy. In the original version, the Unexpected Enemy comes along when Molly’s team runs a mission where they try to destroy the quarantine wall. I imagined a scenario where the wall was blown up, and the Unexpected Enemy died in the blast.

However, as I said before, this structure was cramming far too much stuff into Part 2. Therefore, I dragged out the Unexpected Enemy story arc, and it wound up lasting until Part 5. In fact, it took that long to get a clear look at this other foe. Regarding this change, Nick had no input either way.

Moving along. We get to the point where the Immune Child grows up and becomes a jerk. For reasons I would rather not disclose here (because that would be a MAJOR spoiler),  he takes off on the group. They have to pause everything they are doing so they can hunt him down again. The search takes a while.

Now here is where I was stumped. If the Immune Child refused to be a part of the group, then how would they convince him to come back into the fold?

I ran it by Nick. His solution?

They don’t convince him of a damn thing. Instead, they KILL him. Then they take the blood out of his body and resume searching for a lab where they can test it.

I said, “Wait a minute. Killing him makes no sense. If he is alive, then he can keep reproducing the blood that could save humanity. If he’s dead, then the only supply they have is the blood in his body when he dies. And how would they preserve it? Eventually it would degrade.”

I waited, but Nick was at work and couldn’t reply. However, I did have one more thing to add: “Also, the idea of the Immune Child coming back into the fold to help the mission is another example of the theme of REDEMPTION. He goes off like a selfish brat, but then he comes back for the greater good. Do you see what I’m getting at?”

Eventually Nick wrote back. All he said was, “Yeah I get it. I just want to make sure the story is right.”

Huh? Wha?

I didn’t understand what he meant. Make sure the story is right? Well, since we are the ones creating it, aren’t WE the ones who determine that?

By this point, I had also reached out and was talking to an artist friend of mine named Clarence. He had drawn some basic sketches of a couple characters, and I was excited to have him on board. I talked to him about what Nick said. Clarence had the same judgment of it that I did: Nick shot my ideas down, but offered no alternatives up to replace them. When *I* came up with a new idea, he would shoot THAT down…and again, make no suggestions for replacement.

Finally, I had to make a call. It was tough, but I had to decide to continue on without him. The bulk of it had been my idea anyway, so I didn’t think (and still don’t) that I could get in any kind of plagiaristic trouble. As for acknowledging the ideas he gave, I can do that for sure. Without Nick, I don’t know that I would have thought of the quarantine wall, nor would there have been the concept of the Immune Child growing up to be a prick. So he deserves credit for that.

With Nick out of the fold, I realized two exciting things: not only could I write the story however it made sense to me, but I could RENAME it!!!!

So, INFECTDEAD went out the window. But what to replace it with? At first I had no idea. Since “redemption” was a major theme in the story, I considered calling it REDEMPTION. However, at the time there was a video game out called RED DEAD REDEMPTION. The timing seemed too close to me, and I did not want to be harassed with the question, “So is this an extension of that open-world Western video game???”

More thinking. I wanted REDEMPTION in the title. Then I thought: how about REDEMPTION AMONG THE DEAD? It could be abbreviated RAD!!! How cool would that be?

Actually, not very cool. Now instead of having just one word in common with that video game, the title had TWO words in common! Back to the drawing board.

I thought back on the 5-act structure and how that came from Shakespeare, so for a while I jokingly called it SHAKESPEARE WITH ZOMBIES. However, that was just a place holder until I found a real title. With no clear answer in mind, I decided to abandon the title search and just did what was most important: I got back to writing the story.

However, after Part 2, that didn’t prove to be so easy either. Stay tuned for Part 6!

The Origins of REDemption Part 4

In our last segment, I discussed a couple things: (1) how I outlined the story in 3 parts, mimicking the 3-act structure of a movie or stage play, (2) how Part One set up not only the zombie rules, but also the way that each part of the story would be structured (flashforward-flashback-present), and (3) how I came up with the immune child idea, and Nick suggested the kid grow up to be a jerk.

I tore through the writing of Part One. Since I had the original comic book “Of Forces Beyond” as a template, the only real struggle was stretching their story out to make their location of the lab a little more believable. At this point in the writing, I imagined the main character Vincent as a white male. However, later on when I reflected more about the fact that the Vietnam part of the story is most closely analogous to the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD era, I decided Vincent should be black, just like Ben was in NOTLD.

When Part One was done, I immediately jumped into writing Part Two. Here is where I ran into some difficulty on the opening scene. It was flashforward time again, and I wanted it to be about the arrival of the immune child.

Now here is where the difficulty came in: I had an idea for a main character named Molly, a butt-kicking zombie-killing strong female who was modeled after the likes of Trinity from THE MATRIX, Aeon Flux, and others. She would be the badass leading the survivor group in charge of the immune child. Molly is a stone-cold killer; she can see the world in very black and white terms. She is worried that the child is infected, so she thinks it should be killed at birth.

In the original scene, Molly delivers the unborn child. But then it dawned on me how that made no sense. If she thought the baby would be born a zombie, then why wouldn’t she just kill mother and child while the baby is still in the womb? Back to the drawing board!

At some point I devised a man named Doc, Mollly’s second in command. He thinks they should deliver the child when it’s time. Molly tells him that he better not do it or there will be severe consequences. Doc sneaks off anyway and delivers the child, and he is human. This was the scene that stuck, and I’m pretty damn proud of it.

Then it was flashback time. At this point, I needed to describe how the zombie virus got spread to the rest of the world. (Without wanting to give any spoilers, I will say that it did NOT spread everywhere else after the Vietnam War.) I came up with an idea that could almost be a stand-alone comic itself, where a boat with some Chinese fishermen crashes on an island during a storm, and they find the island is not quite deserted. This segment here is another area of the story that makes me proud because it seems to not fit in, but if you take in the bigger picture, you realize its logic.

At the conclusion of the Chinese fishermen story arc, I went through a “Cliff’s Notes” section that describes the virus going worldwide, until it reaches the United States where they manage to stop it with brute force. Then comes the building of the quarantine wall. Then we get to the “present” section of Part 2, where we are to meet Molly and her band of survivors.

This was the most fun for me, creating Molly’s team. I wanted to model it after a traveling band of Dungeons and Dragons characters. In D&D, there are several different races (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) and character classes (knight, cleric, mage, thief, ranger). I modeled Molly’s team after this, except instead of different “races” or “species,” I had different ethnicities.

Molly was a white female skilled at hand-to-hand combat (equivalent of a knight). Doc was, of course, a doctor, envisioned as a white male (equivalent of a cleric). Jackson was a mechanic (equivalent of thief class), and he was also Chinese. Ted (a giant muscular black man like Roadblock from GI JOE) was a computer wizard; he does not have any direct correlation to any D&D character class. Then there was Sonya, a Hispanic female sharpshooter (equivalent to a ranger).

I did not realize what I was accomplishing when I created these characters until much later, when a friend pointed out, “The best thing about this story is that each character has their own personality, even the ones with minor roles.” This is the greatest compliment I have received on the story, and it means I have really grown as a writer because in the past when I tried to write a story that focused on a group of people, the main critique I got was that they all sounded like the same person, but in four different bodies.

Part Two wound up growing to three times the size of Part One. However, long before that, I realized that my three-act outline might not work out so great. With the way it was laid out, Part Two would be JAM PACKED and bloated beyond belief in comparison to Part One.

What was originally in Part Two? Well, aside from the baby being born, the Chinese fishermen, and introducing Molly’s team, we had (1) the team facing an unexpected enemy (who I will not describe here, because that would be WAY too much of a spoiler), (2) Molly’s team searching for a geneticist and a lab to prove the baby was immune, and (3) when they failed to find a lab on the West Coast, Molly’s team realizing they had to destroy the quarantine wall. Last but not least, the destruction of the quarantine wall also coincided with their standoff battle with the Unexpected Enemy.

By the time I got to Molly’s survival group, I was already a good 100 pages into Part Two. Judging by the pace I was going, I knew Part Two would be way too unruly if I crammed all that stuff into it.

Then it dawned on me: Shakespeare wrote all of his plays in FIVE acts, as opposed to the standard three, so why not follow in his footsteps?

I immediately set about restructuring the outline, placing certain events in different sections so that the pacing would justify the new five-act structure. When I stepped back from the new outline for a few days and came back to it, I was amazed about how well it worked. (Little trivia fact for you here: I was never much a fan of Nick’s INFECTDEAD title, so when I revised the outline to five parts, for a while I jokingly called it SHAKESPEARE WITH ZOMBIES.)

I was excited to share this new outline with Nick. Unfortunately, he was not to share this excitement.

That’s all for now. Next week: Part Five!

The Origins of REDemption Part 3

When we last left off, I was talking with my friend Nick about creating a zombie story told in 3 parts, due to my fanatical love of trilogies. I had to go to bed, but I told him I’d work on the outline the next day…and I was true to my word.

I conceived all of part 1 as a kind of “prologue.” It would show how the zombie virus started, how it spreads, how someone turns into a zombie, and how to kill a zombie.

My goal was to carefully hammer out the “rules” because one thing I hate about movies is when they play fast and loose with their own systems. Sometimes you’ll watch a zombie movie, and it takes people 3 days to change into zombies after they are bitten. However, there are times where, when it serves some dramatic purpose, another person turns into a zombie in MINUTES!!! I wanted to avoid that by laying out all the rules before I wrote even a single scene. Some back and forth with Nick accomplished that in no time.

With the rules written and an outline from start to finish conceived, I started writing. My pace was fairly standard at first: 3-6 pages per day. At this point I was still using the initial 24 pages from “Of Forces Beyond” as a template to guide me. However, some things needed some MAJOR expanding. For example, in the 24-page comic they decide they need to find the place where the virus originated, and in the next scene they’re there.

Well, wait a minute. You are in the middle of a jungle in Vietnam. How are you going to find a lab? Wouldn’t that require some investigating of some sort? Of course it would! So their search for the lab had to be expanded.

Also, in writing the outline, I came up with a unique way of telling each part:

*The beginning of each part was a flash forward. It was set in a time that actually fell sometime AFTER the “present” for that section of the story. EXAMPLE: In part 1, there is the little girl on the hillside in the 90’s, but the bulk of part 1 takes place during the Vietnam War.

*The next section would be a flashBACK, to a time that happened shortly before the beginning of that section. EXAMPLE: In part 1, there was a scene with some Vietnamese scientists and takes place just before we join Vincent and his comrades. (NOTE: Anyone reading the comic knows the scientist scene is nowhere to be found. More on that later.)

*Then we get to the “present” for that section of the story.

As I wrote part 1, I started to pick up steam, writing more furiously and producing more pages per day than I had for any story in years. I remember writing like a madman on Thanksgiving Day, and my ex-wife asking me if I was going to spend any time with the family.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I was like a man possessed. This story was in my head, just waiting for me to write it down on paper. I wasn’t so much writing it as discovering it.

At some point (maybe it was while I created the outline), I came up with an idea that sometime in the future there would be a child born that seemed to be immune to the virus. By this point the quarantine wall would have been built, and the West Coast would turn into a lawless no man’s land. Non-infected humans have banded together in the form of survivor groups. Each group looks out for themselves, as is par for the course in zombie fiction.

However, now the group into which this child is born has a chance to change all of that. If this child really is immune, then they could maybe bring an end to all of this madness.

But how?

In a world gone to hell, how are they supposed to find a geneticist who could help them test the blood? And how can they find a functional lab to do the testing? Even if they do find the lab, how can they mass produce the antidote? Then of course there is the problem of distribution. As anyone who has read the front page summary on this site knows, it is the quest for all these answers that drives the bulk of the story.

I ran the immune child by Nick, and he was pretty excited.

During that first conversation I had with him about it, he said, “I got an idea. How about the kid grows up to be a jerk?”

This was a stroke of genius to me. How many stories can you name where the person who is supposed to be a savior is an unlikeable asshole? I can’t think of many…or ANY. The question was: exactly how would he be a jerk? I notated the idea so I could come back to it later.

Oh, and I wanted to say that at this point, the story had a different title, suggested by Nick: INFECTDEAD. Since I had no title of my own to suggest, that was what I gave it.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for part 4!!!

 

The Origins of REDemption Part 2

Originally I did not think I was going to continue this topic with this week’s post, but then I figured, “Meh, why not?” I already have the train started on this particular track. Might as well get it to its destination, right? 🙂

So when we left off, I had gotten as far as my senior year of high school when I drew a 24-page comic book called “Of Forces Beyond,” about a group of 4 US soldiers in Vietnam who discover some of their enemies aren’t quite human. One of the soldiers dies, but then revives and attacks them. Eventually they find out about the zombie virus. They figure out how to kill them, but they don’t know what to do if they are infected.

In my opinion, that is where the story got interesting because here you are in the middle of a story that is part horror, part war…but now you also have part MYSTERY, because the soldiers need to investigate and figure out what to do.

So I drew that comic, and after that I lost interest in drawing. I can’t explain why. Guess it was just a phase I went through. I continued to write other kinds of stories in other formats (novels, screen and stage plays, short stories). Any time I saw a new Romero film or some other post-apocalyptic tale that rocked my world (28 DAYS LATER), I would always think, “Man, I’d love to write a zombie story, but I have no idea where to go with it!”

I think most people will agree: as far as foes go, zombies themselves are kind of boring. They don’t talk, so they don’t have personalities like Hannibal Lecter or Dracula. Also, they are slow as hell. These two facts stumped me for years. Decades, in fact.

Then in 2010 I started seeing commercials on AMC for a new TV show (based on a comic book) called THE WALKING DEAD. Frank Darabont was the main developer of the show. I’d heard Frank’s name for years. I was a huge fan of his work on films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, THE BLOB remake, and of course THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. (Side note: By the way, that movie had no impact on what I called MY tale!)

I watched the commercial to see what it was going to be about, and it looked like pretty standard zombie fare. Still, there was a lot of buzz and excitement. Plus what can I say? I am a sucker for anything zombie; I have no taste, so I will watch it all just to see if I am pleasantly surprised.

October 31, 2010 came. I tuned in to the show. The opening scene where Rick Grimes is shot and in the hospital, only to wake up and find the zombie virus has ravaged the world, reminded me of 28 DAYS LATER. I wonder which came first: that scene in the comics, or 28 DAYS LATER’s version. Was it considered an homage to the movie? Or was the movie an homage to the opening of the comics? I have never taken the time to research the release dates on that.

Anyway, the action was your usual zombie stuff. The way to kill them was also typical. And yet the show drew me in. Why? Because of Lincoln Grimes. Because of Morgan Jones. Because of Shane Walsh. And of course, because of the amazing jobs the actors did portraying them. I don’t think it registered with me then, but I realize now that what draws people repeatedly to zombies stories are the HUMAN CHARACTERS IN THEM, and how they react and interact once the zombies have decimated civilization.

Once the episode was over, I posted a comment on Facebook that said, “Just watched WALKING DEAD and loved it. I have always wanted to write a zombie story myself, but I never have because I don’t know where to go with it. Seems like it’s all been done.”

Minutes later, a friend of mine named Nick replied. He said he’d always had similar ambitions. I moved the conversation to private messages, asking him if he could draw it since I already had the writing covered. To my dismay he said, “No, I can’t draw.” Still, I was excited about the idea of creating something as a writing team.

I moved the conversation from Facebook messenger to telephone. Nick and I discussed our ideas, with me going into detail about “Of Forces Beyond” and using that as a starting point, and him telling me how he’d had this idea of the virus being quarantined with a wall that ran up and down the entire West Coast. (PLEASE NOTE: This discussion was had in November 2010…six years before Trump started talking about his Mexico wall. How about that for visionary?!?!)

I hammered out some more ideas with Nick, like writing the story in 3 parts (since I am a huge trilogies fan). At that point, I don’t think I developed the “immune child” idea, although I know I mentioned it to him not long after that.

We talked for a little while longer, and then I had to get to bed. However, I promised him that I would start working on an outline ASAP.

And I did. 🙂

STAY TUNED FOR PART 3 NEXT WEEK!

 

~~~~~Steve G.