108. DICK HAMMER: THE DAILIES, July 4, 2006

My wife and I watched a film noir last night, called “Somewhere in the Night,” about a man with amnesia trying to find his past, and getting mixed up with thugs, a private detective, and a dame. I hadn’t heard of it before. I thought it was really good, and it got my imagination racing. All these fantastic elements, and great mystery. Kept you wondering. So I of course began thinking, How would I have done this story differently? Which translates to mean: How can I take this story, literally steal it, but make it my own, so it’s an homage instead of an outright theft?

This is a technique I took to heart, learning from the Coen Brothers, with their fantastic film, “Miller’s Crossing,” which is literally just a blatant rip-off, story element for story element, of the fantastic book, “The Glass Key,” by Dashiell Hammett.

The newspaper strip format has never appealed to me, because first off, all you can really do with it is “a gag a day,” and honestly, how long can you keep that up before you and everyone who reads it has had enough. It seems so limiting, and personally everything in newspapers now feels fairly flaccid to me. I’ve enjoyed newspaper strips in the past (I loved Peanuts and Garfield as a kid, and Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County maybe in high school), but it’s been some time since I’ve had any interest in reading them, and on the few occasions I’ve tried, I’ve wondered why I bothered, because I didn’t enjoy anything I’d read.

There have been a few comic strips I continue to thoroughly enjoy, but they aren’t in papers anymore, and haven’t lasted historically for some reason, and they are the action serials. I of course in my pessimism toward humanity assume the reason they haven’t lasted is that they were replaced by blockbuster films and video games, and that people just generally want the quick, vapid, easy laugh from their comic strips now, and anything more than that is more commitment than they care to put in. I love the Chester Gould Dick Tracy comic strip in particular, because they were brutal and crime-ridden, and that’s the subject matter I enjoy most. And I thought, if I were to delve into the comic strip format, that is the one I would explore. And of course, it’s once again the least likely to generate any interest, since it’s a long-dead genre.

But I like playing with genres and formats, and I realized that this format would work nicely as a web comic, as well. I liked the idea of combating the challenges you face with a three or four panel story advancement per installment.

With all that in mind, I’ve wanted to get started on a Dick Hammer: The Dailies, for some time. I thought the daily comic strip format would be great for Dick Hammer. With Dick Hammer, that would mean one gag per strip, but also keep a continuous crime-mystery going. But all this time that I knew I someday wanted to do this, I had to wait on a good story to form itself in my head. One that would adopt itself to this limiting format. But one that would be epic enough that it could sustain itself for many installments.

I knew it would be a nice way to keep, even if only somewhat, my work in the public’s eye, while the time passed before I finished the project, as well. I always looked at it as a book in the end, but one that could be publicly posted along the way.

After watching “Somewhere in the Night,” I went to bed, thinking about how I could try and translate this story into Dick’s Dailies. My brain was racing. Finally I got out of bed, went into another room, turned on the lights, got a pencil and paper, and wrote out all the characters I would need involved, and how they’re involved and interrelated within the story. I think I’ve got the basic premise mapped out, and I’m excited to start scripting things, so I can start drawing.

The story is pretty complicated, though, and it will take some time to iron everything out. When I say I have the basic premise, what I mean is, I know this has to happen, and this, for the story to advance. But it doesn’t always make sense why those people would do this, so I need to brainstorm, and come up with the reasons to justify their actions. This is the way I write mysteries. I come up with these crazy things that I know I want to have for the actions, but then it takes me some time to come up with the reasons, so that the story makes sense, and is cohesive. That’s what takes the time.

The next morning, I told my wife the basic story idea. It took a long time, because there are so many odd weavings and intricacies, and I had to explain and re-explain a number of sequences, and how they fit into the big picture. Because it was such a long explanation, we wound up coming and fading from the discussion, as our day went by and we had to do other things. Finally she said, Just how long is this going to be? But that’s the beauty. If it’s a web comic, I’ll just do a few panels a week, and I’ll just go until it’s finished. That way it’s a relatively small commitment, but it keeps my chops up. I’m advancing a story in public, so people know I’m still working, but it’s little enough work per week that I can continue to work on other projects. So it won’t matter how long it is. But it’s going to be pretty long. And if I only do a few panels a week, it will take forever. Can’t wait.

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