GUIDEBOOK: HIGH CRIMES #1
Because a year ago today I met Ibrahim for the first time and pitched him the idea, so, in my head, this is HIGH CRIMES’ birthday.
Because I want to document this before it all fades away from memory. Because I’m vain enough to think someone cares. Because I’m stuck on something else and need to keep typing. Because it’s there.
Here we go with my random commentary/thoughts on how Chapter 1 — the hardest issue (until the next issue) — all came together.
The cover was the second to last thing to come together on the book (the lettering being the last) after we kicked a half dozen ideas around and none of them were any good in the end, Ibrahim decided to go back to scratch. He sent me several iterations one night via text message while I was on a cross-country train trip from Oregon to Nebraska and I got this one as we were on a smoke stop, across the tracks from a prison in Eugene. The tibetan flag really makes it.
INTERSTITIAL No. 1
I had these in mind in one form or another and decided around the 11th hour to treat them as hard abrasive cuts and make a whole page of it. Wish I’d gone with a different font.
Back before I thought I could ever make a comic out of this, I tried to write it in prose form. So the opening was already cemented in my head. Start on Everest, skip the “what will it be like” and just get to our two major touchpoints: the mountain and dead bodies. I initially wanted this all to be weirder, almost ‘astronaut on a strange planet’ close-ups and trick shots hiding the fact that Haskell’s on Everest, but then I realized that anyone buying it would know it revolves around Everest, so that relieved me of that burden.
The panel of Haskell cutting off Mars’ hand was when I knew this book was going to be great. Compared to what my script for this page looks like — 8 panels of all these actions one at a time — Ibrahim came up with the perfect shorthand.
We still haven’t seen the actual summit of Everest, so we did, in fact, save something for later.
This is Ibrahim again. I’d written in the white panel to come first, to mirror Haskell, but Ibrahim inserted the panel of Zan’s ponytail, which is the reason this page works. Also, I changed Zan’s first line at the last minute, because that line popped in my head as I was driving around, stressing about the book and as our main character, she needed to sort of come in with a rush.
This is a bit of a historical, Freak Street nod topped with artistic liberties. While I cannot definitively prove there are opium dens in Kathmandu, you cannot definitively prove there aren’t any. Also, a major bit of story got tweaked on this page and you’ll never know what it was, but it was for the better.
INTERSTITIAL No. 2
Here it comes again! I’m replacing that damn font for the trade! Also, it’s hard to script for stuff like this, especially when you didn’t actually plan for it, so this was a happy accident that it worked out.
"Fun" Fact: English Air is what sherpas gigglingly called the oxygen tanks that foreign climbers started to rely on, so I named Daniel’s bar that.
I love writing Sophie, I wish Sophie wanted to go to Everest too, there’s an entirely different book there. If there’s ever a spin-off, it’ll be all about how Sophie got to Kathmandu. I’ve got a couple adversarial friendships, so a lot of this dialogue’s tone was easy to manifest and fun to write.
Lotta hand action going on.
How do you explain something only two people know about without having them explain it to one another? Thanks to the lower level of tech in Kathmandu, an answering machine seemed the most elegant way to bring all this stuff together while actually moving stuff forward.
Ibrahim’s just-on-the-verge-of-fisheye-lens shot of the office is tremendous, the way it swallows the whole page, there’s all sorts of unintentional metaphor going on in there.
13 pages is NOT a lot of room, especially for a first issue. I could have written 4 or 5 more pages in the bar. There was a lot of story to shove in there, but I didn’t want to lose actual characters, so I got them drunk and sort of let a few things bounce around as they will do when drunk.
Establishing the Haskell-Zan dynamic. Still keeping the severed hands stuff a bit of a blind spot for the page turn (I know, it’s digital, but it took me forever to really figure out page turns, and I’m still figuring them out, and eventually there’ll be a physical page to turn, etc etc).
There was a lot of mutual obsession with the traffic problem in Kathmandu between Ibrahim and I, sending each other youtube videos of the shoving match that is a Kathmandu rush hour, so that starts showing up in that great third panel.
The hands sort of became a thing I had to keep coming around. Because not a lot in the way of action happens, the hands and their graverobbing had to take center stage. If you can’t excite them, creep them out.
I didn’t realize til looking it back over, but my favorite part is that they never directly talk about what they’re doing, conversation goes everywhere but the bag of severed hands. Typical.
We introduce Tenzing. Named for the famous Tenzing Norgay as he’s sort of a guide too. Even though Mars showed up on the first page, this is the first time we really see him, even though we don’t really see him til next issue. How many hints is enough? How oblique is too oblique? I still don’t know.
I originally designated the Farm being somewhere in Wyoming or Montana, and then I moved it to the even more nebulous “desolate Midwest” but all that mattered was it was America.
And here’s the Major, the Strange Agents and our first kill. I wanted to do a crime story, but I also wanted to have big insane action scenes, so this is where the reel changes and the action movie shows up.
This and the previous page introduces everyone and — finally — explains who Mars is. So we end with one mystery resolved and a whole raft of new ones showing up. This page got tweaked a lot in the lettering stage, because I wrote 1 & 2 as one whole issue and had to give things a bit more of a sudden drop to keep people coming back. Like I said, still learning.
IMAGES: Very first (undated) page of my High Crimes notebook, breaking down issue 1’s beats page by page. Ibrahim’s initial character sketches, less than a week after we met. Ibrahim’s logo concepts. First pencilled page ever. Initial cover revamp concept. Final cover.