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"Concourse" Postmortem « John W. Allie

"Concourse" Postmortem

I don’t like the word postmortem as used in reference to creative works. I prefer to think of a finished artwork is a living thing, and the implication of a “postmortem” is in opposition to that. Things are different for Sunrise Issue 7. The end of “Concourse” feels like a death, and not a particularly tragic one at that. This issue was a bad experience for me, one in which my careful planning system failed me and a perfectly good concept was driven into the ground by poor execution. Now that the issue is finally finished it’s time to take a look back and figure out how it went wrong. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the “Concourse” postmortem.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with “Concourse” as a concept. The idea of a story set in an airport had been on my back burner for a long time, and I had it written down to be used for Issue 8. Issue 7 was originally going to be “The Bargain,” a story about Blanchard being kidnapped by spies. I built the storyline around a key moment: Dr. Kuruschov’s death during a rescue attempt. I had long wanted to kill off a character based on a theory that it would strengthen the main cast. (I based this hypothesis on the example of Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose premature death became an important touchstone throughout the series.) However, the issue was extremely dark for a Sunrise story, and as I worked on it I quickly became disenchanted with it. By the time I got to the fifth page, I’d begun to hate the issue so much that it bothered me even when I wasn’t working on it. I was dreading Kuruschov’s death, the point around which the entire story revolved. Finally I realized that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have it in me to kill Kuruschov. Luckily the issue had not yet begun syndication, so I scrapped it–at the cost of a full three weeks of archived content. Issue 7 was due to begin very soon, and I had nothing to work with. That’s how the trouble began.

Tasha Yar lies dead on Planet Soundstage, murdered by a combination of Metamucil and black printer's ink.

With “The Bargain” scrapped, I turned to “Concourse,” which was next in line to be executed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready yet. I’d intended to let it continue developing in the back of my mind while I worked on “The Bargain” over the course of the next few months, but suddenly it was due right away and I hadn’t really had time to think it through at all. I knew it was going to take place in an airport, and I already had some idea that it could have Lila Astor in it, but that was it. That’s not enough for a story, so I had to do some brainstorming to see what I could come up with on short notice. This is really what killed the issue: insufficient time spent on story development.

Excerpt from "The Bargain"

I’ll elaborate. My usual method in writing Sunrise is to write down a bunch of ideas and then see if I can get them to work together. Sometimes I use mostly ideas I had already, and brainstorm new ideas as needed to flesh out the story. That’s how I developed Issue 4, for example: I started with the idea of the girl on the abandoned airship, and then came up with the idea of the spies to explain why she was there. For “Concourse” I had an even taller challenge: take what was already a fairly experimental issue, and on short notice come up with a story capable of supporting it. When I began brainstorming the issue I had a number of different ideas. One early draft involved Aaron Blanchard:
Aaron has split away from Frances due to disputes over her perception that he has been doing some amount of looting. (He has.) His desire for adventure has overtaken his meager ethics, and he has been doing some amount of unethical artifact trading. He also holds a grudge against Blanchard stemming from Blanchard’s close relationship with Albee following his mother’s death.
So, as you can see here, the idea was to have Aaron be the main star of this story. He and Blanchard would have had some good character development, and it would have been a nice followup to the young man we saw back in Issue 2. Once I came up with the painting theft subplot, I even had the idea to either have Aaron himself be the thief(!) or to have him to use his looting skills to steal the painting back. My first big mistake, I think, was in abandoning this idea. I can’t remember why I decided that an Aaron-related plot was not feasible, but in retrospect this was a far better plot than the one I finally used–in fact, I think this could have been one of the better issues if I’d followed it. Instead for some reason I ditched it, and traded it in for people who talk too much and unrealistically competent amateur detective work.

Aaron Blanchard
The next big problem was in the way the issue was put together. My idea was to have this be mainly a character-development piece, building on the relationships between Raven and Lila, and Robinson and Albee.  The stolen painting and ensuing Atwright/Hamete detective work were supposed to be a marginal subplot, something to hold together an otherwise disparate issue and charge it with something moderately exciting to offset the talky parts. Since it was supposed to be marginal, I didn’t bother developing that part of the story much. This led to the detective subplot being rather cliched and predictable. I realized this at the outset, but I decided it didn’t matter because the detective work was supposed to be marginal anyway. In retrospect, just because something is marginal doesn’t mean it should be poorly developed, but in “Concourse” I had an even bigger problem, because the subplot took over the issue. The planned character development, while present, does not hold the issue very well. There’s simply not enough of it there–the Albee/Robinson storyline ends barely halfway through the issue, and fills a grand total of three pages (two full and two halves). The Raven/Lila storyline is somewhat better, getting more page time and having more development, but still it can hardly be said to support the issue by itself. The character development, which was meant to be the point of the issue, was not interesting enough, and the cliched detective plot became the focus of the issue. That is where “Concourse” really went wrong: the focus was reversed, and the issue didn’t hold up that way.

Subplots meets subplot

However, I am happy to say that the issue is somewhat better than it could have been. My original concept for the ending was that they would retrieve the suitcase and find–the painting! Safe and sound! Hooray! Luckily, as I approached the ending I began to see what a mire of cliches the issue was becoming, and I realized that I still had time to work in a twist that, while still predictable, was a little less trite. Making the painting ultimately elude the characters’ best efforts I think was the right decision. This is, partly, an issue about loss, as Raven realizes that his relationship with Lila is over, and Atwright and Hamete’s failure to recover the painting reflects that nicely. This should also be nice in future character development for both of them–working together and failing can have different effects than working together and succeeding.

The one and only plot twist

So, is Issue 7 the worst issue of Sunrise yet? Probably. This is not to say that I hate it, but it fell far short of my expectations. I’d been looking forward to the “airport issue” for a long time, and “Concourse” is not what it was supposed to be. There are some nice character moments, though (I particularly like this page) and I think for the most part those sections work pretty well on their own, just not in the context of the rest of the issue. It was a mixed bag. I always want every issue to be the best, but occasionally they’re bound to be simply mediocre. Was Issue 7 a dismal failure? No, I don’t think so.

I will now put “Concourse” to rest and move on to Issue 8, which is looking to be pretty good already. I hope to see you on board.


Posted on June 29th, 2010. Filed under Comics, Process, Sunrise, Writing. Tagged as: , , , , , , ,

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