Part 5 - 'Nuff Said!

Fifth in a short series
© 2022 Glen Cadigan
Originally posted on on December 12, 2022.

Go Joe! Cover by Ed Hannigan & Klaus Janson.

This is something that I absolutely, completely forgot about until I was reminded of it recently, and it's an example of how young and hungry I was back in my young and hungry days. But first, to set the stage:

Back in 1984 there was an issue of G.I. Joe that everyone still remembers fondly today. It was No. 21, the silent issue, and it featured their most popular character, Snake-Eyes, in a story completely without words. It was a hit -- it went through three printings in an era when comics didn't even get two -- and someone at Marvel remembered it years later (2001) and decided to have a month where every Marvel comic would be told without words. Every single Marvel issue that month would be silent. The line-wide event was called "'Nuff Said" after the famous Stan Lee expression, and IMHO, results were mixed.

To me, it felt like most issues had a production error and were printed without the lettering attached. The one I thought worked the best was Peter Parker, in which Spider-Man fought mimes! (A natural, right?)

As a reader, I found myself mentally filling in the dialogue as I was going along, and then thinking that I should write it down. So I wrote scripts for each issue I read, knowing that if I didn't, I'd later forget what I had in mind. Strike while the iron is hot, right?

Then, years later, I took it a step further and elected to scan and letter the comics myself. By that point, the technology existed for me to finish the job.

Art by Frank Quitely, words by me. X-Men TM and © Marvel Characters, Inc.

For those who don't know, the way writing in comics works is that sometimes the job is broken down into two parts -- plot and script -- and it's not always the same person who does both. I was looking for any advantage I could get in those days as I was hoping to eventually do what so many comic book writers had done before me, and that was to migrate from the fan press to the big leagues. So for me, Marvel had devoted an entire month in which they had provided me with tryout pages. (If you're old enough to remember The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book, there was a section in there which did exactly the same thing.)

So I rolled up my digital sleeves and got to work. I downloaded software that allowed me to letter the pages, but it was only a trial version and I couldn't save anything. I got around that by taking screenshots of my work and then pasting them into another program altogether. Then I used rudimentary HTML to put together a page that would link all of the images together, allowing a prospective reader to follow along just by clicking arrows. From there, the plan was to burn the finished products to CDs and take them with me to San Diego for my first ever Comic-Con to hand out to any editors I might meet (presumably, ones who were familiar with my work for TwoMorrows).

That was the plan, anyway. Upon arriving at my first ever Comic-Con, however, I immediately realized what a bad idea that was. There's tons of free stuff handed out at the convention, and you can see it littering the floor. Anything anyone puts into your hand is most likely to not make it any further than that point because who wants to carry all of that junk around? What I really needed was one-on-one time with someone who was in a position to give me a chance, and I didn't even get that because I didn't run into anyone who could do anything for me. I wasn't hanging out in bars after each day's events -- I was staying at a friend's house, miles away, to save money, because have you ever tried getting a hotel room for the con? It's practically impossible!

Art by Chris Batista, words by me. Iron Man TM and © Marvel Characters, Inc.

I didn't know that going in, though. I can still recall the night before I left, staying up late, running a printing press in my bedroom. I had a stack of burnable CDs, a package of printable labels, and a bunch of flimsy plastic wrappers to put the CDs in when they were done. I remember burning discs on one computer while I was printing labels on another, then attaching the labels after they'd dried, all the while running back and forth between the two. I had a CD carrying case with a strap that I wore on the plane and I put the CDs in it, each in their own flimsy plastic wrapper.

Like I said, I got to the con and realized immediately that it was a horrible, horrible idea. I put it aside (well, I had some on my person, just in case) and instead enjoyed the experience. The only professional advancement that occurred for me at that con was when I interviewed Mike McKone for The Titans Companion 2 because he had a booth and I introduced myself. (The interview wasn't something planned in advance -- I had to buy a lot of Titans trade paperbacks at the Mile High Comics booth to skim through so I could come up with the questions, which I did back at my friend's house. The whole experience felt like cramming for an exam!)

After the con was over, I was bold and wrote an email to Marvel's then Editor-In-Chief, Joe Quesada, with something like "Comic-Con Follow-Up" in the title. (A blatant lie, since we'd never met!) This was back when Joe was still interacting with fans online, and his email address was a very poorly kept secret, dating back to the days before he was E-I-C. (And no, I didn't get it at TwoMorrows. I had nothing to do with Joe at TwoMorrows. Joe's email address was a secret as poorly kept as Green Arrow's secret identity.) I did get a response, but it was disappointing. He said -- and I'm going by memory here -- that he would never hire a writer like that because it was basically tracing.

Proof that I do know when to leave the art alone: a Punisher splash page by Steve Dillon. I did add the title and "Stan Lee Presents," though. Punisher TM and © Marvel Characters, Inc.

I resisted the impulse to write back and argue the point, my main thesis being that I guess that made inking tracing because the penciler had already drawn the comic. (It's not, and neither is scripting over another writer's plot. Scripting is its own discipline; in fact, back in the '60s, Stan Lee used Fantastic Four pages with the lettering removed as a new writer test. Roy Thomas and Denny O'Neil took that test, and it worked out all right for them.) But Joe clearly didn't see it that way, and I realized it would've been a losing argument, so I didn't bother. The writing was on the wall; there was no point of entry here.

When I went looking for those discs recently, I found them, and after all this time they were still in the same case. Here's what they looked like:

Still in the original wrapper! Email removed to protect the young and hungry.

All modesty aside, I think the design I picked (they came with the software) looked pretty good!

Below (and above) you'll find some samples of my "tracing." One of the things that sticks out the most in my memory is a sequence from Elektra when she confronts another assassin. According to the plot printed in the back of the issue (if I remember right, some of them had their plots attached, which kind of defeated the point of a silent issue if you had to read the plot to fully understand the story), the other character was a bit of a motormouth, so I had her opponent say, "We're gonna settle this like two chicks should -- mano a mano!" Every once in a while, that still pops up in my head and makes me smile.

I also enjoyed using an interior monologue for the Punisher. I think getting inside his head is the way to go, not to keep him an arm's length character. Both approaches work, but Frank Miller was onto something when he used it for Daredevil during his run on the book, and it's one of the reasons why it still resonates today: you can feel the character's pain.

Looking back on the experiment over fifteen years later, I still believe it was a good idea, and in different hands, it might've worked. Unfortunately, it was a miss. And apologies for the lettering -- I wasn't trying to get hired as a letterer. All it had to be was functional, and I think I cleared that bar.

The Rules of The Road

Here's what you need to know:

1) These samples represent a variety of styles. Some are caption heavy, and two even have thought balloons. There's more than one way to write a comic book, and that's what I wanted to show.

2) My goal wasn't to overpower the style of the writer, or the artist. My goal was to play it where it laid, although you can't help but put pieces of yourself into everything that you write.

Click to see sample pages from each issue!