Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Face-Lift 466

Guess the Plot

Cargo Volante

1. Yet another plane comes to a deadly, explosive end when it skitters off the edge of a too-short runway in Brazil. Two hundred dead is bad enough, but when over half of the bodies are found in the cargo hold, the crash unlocks a secret slave trade that Hugo Volante, investigative reporter, will risk his life to expose.

2. After six months of unemployment, Sue has just started her new shipping and receiving job at Cargo Volante. Soon she learns that the company is bringing huge quantities of marijuana and cocaine into the U.S. Should Sue report this? Or should she just ask for an employee discount?

3. He's a hunky Brazilian soya farmer intent on expanding his farm into the Brazilian rainforest. She's a hard-headed, voluptuous American environmentalist out to stop deforestation. When they collide, it's so hot it could set the Amazon on fire.

4. On an abandoned cargo wharf, penniless, homeless, drunk Hiram falls in with a group of drug-addled anarchists. Together they turn the seedy wharf into a thriving venue for dance parties, with Hiram becoming a popular DJ and flying high in the city's social circles--until he starts to miss his old life of dumpster diving and bongs.

5. Cargo Volante was the code name for a spook research venture, a flying brick with no aerodynamics or fuel. Would this Area 51 project launch the U.S. into interstellar flight, or would the KGB's Cargo Snagglepuss program send it in another direction?

6. It was smuggling of the fowlest kind, and Dirk Destiny was determined to ferret out the depraved ring of black-marketers. But what he hadn't counted on was that the only way to succeed would be to don a tight fur suit and weasel his way in on all fours, hoping that he would be the perfect mole to infiltrate the vole-snatching ring in this spine-tingling tale of small animals gone awry.

Original Version

[It's actually a synopsis/cover page for a serial comic book proposal, which are a bit different from novel queries in that they don't expect you to have the entire thing written when you're pitching it.]

Hiram, a gay teenage delinquent on a prolonged whiskey bender, runs away from his mother's trailer on the Tulalip Indian Reservation out of frustration at the depressed economy and depressing people, and finds himself penniless, homeless, too sheltered and too drunk to consider anything besides crashing on the couch of the first person who offers. [If you're penniless, homeless and drunk, you're rarely in position to pick and choose from among several couch offers.] [Not clear what "too sheltered" means here.] That person turns out to be Sebastian, a quirky South American trust-fund brat turned starving artist squatting with a group of anarchists in a seedy abandoned container wharf on the Seattle waterfront. After several nights of heady conversations with his newfound friends and torrid sex with Sebastian, [Apparently comic books have changed a bit since the days of Archie and Jughead, Richie Rich and The Flash.] Hiram decides to move in with him - just temporarily, until he can get his feet on the ground, of course.

With the help of their circle of drug-addled, counterculture buddies, the unlikely pair turn the remote squat into a thriving venue for underground electronic dance music parties, and Hiram lives out his dream of becoming a popular house DJ and socialite in the big city. [A gay teenage delinquent who grew up on a reservation has a dream of being a big city socialite?] [Let's cut to the chase: what are Hiram's super powers?] It doesn't take him long to get over the culture shock and ditch mainstream day-job society for his chance at a wayward youth full of debauchery, dumpster-diving, bongos and bongs with the man and the scene he is falling deeply in love with. [How can he ditch mainstream day-job society? Is DJ at an underground dance club considered mainstream day-job society?] Hiram quits drinking, begins to take pride in his appearance, and finally starts to tear down the cynical, angry facade he has been hiding behind since childhood, feeling that only now has he found the 'tribe' to which he truly belongs. [This seems to keep going back and forth. He ditched the good life for a life of debauchery, dumpster diving and bongs, yet he also quits drinking etc.? Is the tribe to which he belongs the drug-addled counterculture buddies? If so, do they drink? Do they take pride in their appearances?]

But every party has to end sometime. The unlimited supply of pills and speed tempts Hiram with increasing frequency, he is plagued with guilt about leaving his disabled mother and codependent older sister back on the Rez, the fundamental differences between his world view and Sebastian's cause drama in their relationship, and the parties at the wharf have gained enough notoriety to attract unwanted attention. [Aquaman and Prince Namor want their cut of the profits.] Reckless and hedonistic abandon may have worked out for the best the first time around, but it's going to take maturity, self-sacrifice and cooperation to keep everything he's worked towards from falling apart.

[Origin of the title - It's like Disco Volante, which is Italian for 'Flying Saucer' but more commonly used as a pun about discotheque music, but in a cargo wharf, so, cargo! If anyone has any better suggestions, I'm all ears. I haven't drawn the logo yet.] [You removed the "disco" from disco volante and replaced it with "cargo." If anything needed replacing, it was the "volante," since the wharf was converted to a disco. I'd certainly go with Disco Volante as the title over Cargo Volante. And I'd seriously consider adding some flying saucers to the plot.]


The plot sounds more like literary fiction than a comic book series. I suppose if I'm gonna read something depressing it might as well have pictures.

It's not clear what happens after the dance club becomes successful. Does Hiram ditch the club for high society, and then go back to Sebastian? If so, when he goes back I would expect him to find the wharf a thriving venue, not the seedy dump it was when he first got there. So how is going back to life with Sebastian connected with dumpster diving?

Do they charge money to attend the parties? Is it a business? Where do they get the money for equipment and music and decor etc.? Does the starving artist dip into his trust fund for speakers?

Even if there are no super villains, there should be a villain of some sort. Who's the bad guy who threatens to mess everything up for our "hero"?


Fabian Trunz said...

just sort of glancing over the post titles and can't seem to find Face-Lift 466. There clearly must be something wrong with my perception; I'll get a new prescription for my glasses now, bye!

mitchv said...

author here! I didn't even realize how ambiguous the query makes the plot sound was until I read your comments, thanks. to explain further, when Hiram moves in with Sebastian, he has never done the whole drugs/dumpster diving/squatting thing, this is the 'new lifestyle' that he comes to. his upbringing was low income trailer park with uncaring parents, a delinquent in that he spent his time basically doing whatever he wanted and skipping school, but he has never been itinerant and doesn't have any street smarts. when he first moves in, he wants to attempt to live a respectable life in the city, get a 'real job' and such, but he ends up liking the whole squatter thing better. the DJ/afterparty club thing doesn't happen until after that, which is really unclear now that i look at it. they don't have their own sound system, they just have the venue to host after-hours events and raves that local sound crews would bring their gear to. the whole 'socialite' popularity thing all happens within that whole urban counterculture rave scene - he's still hanging out with the same people and still with Sebastian, he just goes from being a clueless teenage runaway to the star dj with all the connections, etarded raver girls on both arms, basically a 'nightlife icon' even though he's still living in a crate dumpster diving and smoking weed all day. thanks for all your advice! I didn't realize how much I really need to fine tune and rework this.

mitchv said...

oops, and one more thing - it is literary fiction/romance, but just in serial comic form, which is admittedly a genre that tends to work a lot better in graphic novel format (though there are exceptions - Love and Rockets, Hopeless Savages and American Splendor come to mind). so i'm not sure that i necessarily need a villain, but at the same time, if this is probably going to be unsuccessful as a long run comic, that's always better to know earlier than later. this is honestly my first time really trying to write a coherent story, just a lowly illustrator with lots of big ideas, so i need all the help i can get :)

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm confused. This sounds set in the early 70s, but if he has dreams of being a 'socialite' (by which I think you probably mean 'one of the in crowd') you need to clarify this ambition and give us a clue how life doing electronics parties. Maybe mention how the pov character is hooked on MTV Raps or whatever show epitomizes his longings.

Evil Editor said...

A villainous person isn't necessarily essential. You'll need conflict, which can come from people or nature or personal demons, which may be embodied in his guilt and temptation (though I would expect concrete demons to be more easily illustrated in a comic book than abstract ones). What you need are obstacles standing in the way of success.

PJD said...

Seems to me that Sebastian may be the villain.

You'll have a hard time convincing me that Hiram pulls himself together without the positive influence of some sort of angel (not in the "touched by an angel" sense but in the more general mentor/white knight sense). Sebastian does not seem like an angel; he seems like a user, someone who picks Hiram up from the street and is just as happy to see him melt back into the underground when his usefulness has run its course.

I also have a hard time with the last sentence about "everything he's worked towards". Maybe I'm too far removed from the gay wharf drug music counterculture set, but it seems to me that what he's worked towards is a life of carefree debauchery and drug-addled hedonism. Now it will take maturity to keep all that from falling apart?

I've read this several times, and to me it seems as if you're trying for the story of a truly good kid gone astray, and he rescues himself right on the precipice of oblivion. But it's unclear to me and reads more like the story of a kid out looking for drugs and drink and sex, and who finds it in spades. Either way, it seems jumbled and too indecisive. Seems like it lacks direction.

It may all work really well in the story, but the query does not illustrate that (no pun intended).

Unknown said...

I've got a friend who's trying to break into the serial comic/graphic novel scene, so I had an immediate sense of where you're hoping to go with this. (Yes, EE, it reads like literary fiction... While we've still got trusty ol' Marvel and DC, contemporary adult comics are becoming a serious visual/literary art.)

That said, I fully agree with a large part of EE's critique: it's difficult to tell from your synopsis how Hiram gets from point A to point B (and how frequently, if at all, he oscillates between points). The sentence containing "mainstream day-job society" and "dumpster diving" is completely unintelligible when followed by his decision to quit drinking. What exactly is happening here? (I hope you respond with a clarification so we can respond more fully to the scope of your story.)

For now, my suggestion is to break everything down into very simple sentences arranged in chronological order. Focus on physical actions and events. You've no doubt done this in some form while blocking out pages/panels (or will need to do this), so it should be well-worth the effort. What's making your synopsis so difficult to wade through is your attempt, with each sentence, to explain both Hiram's physical actions and emotional state. Give us a few sentences of characterisation and motivation at the very start (for instance, it might be useful to know from the beginning that Hiram has DJ and socialite aspirations). Then, to clarify the thrust of your plot, give us the sequence of events without the clutter of Hiram's thoughts.

My feeling is that your synopsis needs to be particularly transparent and straightforward, even more so than it would have to be for a purely literary work. Because a lot of the characterisation and emotion of the work will stem from your illustration style (which you will no doubt provide extensive example of), the main purpose of your synopsis should be to provide the bare bones of the story as concretely and clearly as possible.

Hope that helps...

Ali said...

Sounds like an interesting project, oolong. I'm not very familiar with the genre, so I can't comment much. I think you allude to the antagonist when you say the club receives "unwanted attention." Maybe what you need is to get more specific there.

Unknown said...

Whoops. Just realised that you filled us in further while I was typing my comment.

Okay. Socialite is the wrong word for what you're describing because, as EE has pointed out, there's a big-city glamour connotation (I personally think Manhattan upper-crust when I hear the word). I would suggest letting the situation speak for itself because trying to find a one-word label for his life as a DJ may be more trouble than it's worth.

Your plot is slowly coming into focus, but I still need a clearer sense of direction regarding his initial ambitions and his eventual conflict. Why does a kid who skips school suddenly decide he wants a respectable job? This sounds more like the move of a kid who finds his childhood resources lacking because he has exhausted them. What are you terming "respectable"? Is the ultimate trajectory of the story aimed away from drugs/drink/debauchery? Does it eventually make negative or positive judgments on Hiram's life with Sebastian? Is the story's tension to be found in the conflict between Hiram's projected life and his actualised one? Or is the tension elsewhere? If the former, that conflict needs to be made more readily apparent.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Oolong:

Wow, Love & Rockets takes me back! Big comics fan here - from the literary to the superhero. I was once in negotiations with Comico for a limited-series deal right before they went bankrupt. Ah, those were the days!

Anyway, it's been forever since I've pitched a comics idea, but when I was pitching, I submitted more of a proposal: Hook, synopsis, and sample script pages (including minimal art direction, narrative and dialog). Not really much different than what you submit for a novel.

With the caveat that things may well have changed since I was sitting at autograph tables watching a young Jim Lee sketch X-Men for long lines of adoring fans and Chris Claremont sign con books while the crowds ignored nameless me squashed between, I think that what you've got is too much a hybrid between query letter and synopsis to work as either.

Give us the quick, half-page query/hook.

Then give us the story arc in your synopsis. Better yet, if this is a limited-series proposal and not a graphic novel, and you have an end in sight, give us the overall arc in a couple of succinct paragraphs, then detail the arc in each issue, using a paragraph or two. No, the publisher doesn't expect you to have a finished product, but they do expect you to have a solid outline for where the story is going and want to be sure you know how to pace a serialized story to fit prescribed folio pages. And in the synopsis, don't forget the ending.

Character sketches (the written kind - or, if you're proposing to draw the books, too, the graphic kind) may also be appropriate.

In the query/cover letter, don't forget to let the publisher know how many issues you think the story will run and mention if you are planning on drawing the book.

And listen well to EE and the minions regarding how you're describing this guy's life and motivations so that you're striking the right chord.

Good luck!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Also, loving GTPs 1, 2 and 3!

mitchv said...

Regina and others: Thanks so much for all your feedback. It has been really insightful and helped me come at this from different perspectives. It's so easy to forget how little a reader actually knows about what's going on from a couple of sentences when you have the whole backstory in your head already :P To answer some of your questions:
Hiram's motivation early on is principally to get away from the Rez and the people he associates with his past - he's frustrated, at a breaking point, wants to explore the world, but doesn't really know what he wants to do careerwise or anything, just that he needs to get away. Before he meets Sebastian, he is an alcoholic, he associates drinking with the other problems of his childhood and makes the decision to quit early on as an attempt to distance himself from his past, but ends up just replacing booze with other drugs. I want to show both sides of the partying lifestyle - the appeal it has to young people struggling to find their own identity, lots of friends, fun, not having to answer to anybody but yourself. but, as time goes on, the dark side of the lifestyle starts to wear on his health, and he struggles to maintain control of his substance use. this is what i would think of as the main conflict / antagonizing force of the story: the slow progression of recreational drug use to drug addiction and abuse, and the idea that he has spent his whole life running away from his problems and that even though he thinks he's making a positive change in his life, he's still doing the same thing. in many ways Hiram's lack of foresight, immaturity and addictive personality make him his own worst enemy. Sebastian acts at times as a supportive ally and at other times only makes things worse, and he is dealing with his own drug problems as well. i don't know if it's necessarily realistic to put a 'moral' of either "partying and drugs ruin Hiram but he pulls his life together" or "drugs and partying open Hiram's mind to cause positive change in his life", if i had to boil it down it would be more like "Hiram enjoys partying and drugs at first but as time passes he realizes that he has not solved any of his problems, just ignored them, and has to make the 'grown-up' decision of dealing with them instead of sitting around getting high all day and partying all night". the 'unwanted attention' is from the police and city government, who at the end of the story end up shutting down the venue and evicting all the squatters, leaving Hiram and Sebastian without the home they have gotten used to, but still have each other.

mitchv said...

Phoenix: Thanks very much! You're right about all of that - the entire submissions packet is going to end up containing the synopsis I'm happy with, 5-10 pages of sequential art, and maybe some character bios and more concept art (i'm not quite sure yet). I also have descriptions of each standalone arc/subplot for each issue, I just didn't include them in this one where I tried to make an overall look. it's a long way off from being pitched yet, so I'm definitely going to finish up the scripts and get to the point where I'm really confident about every plot point before I try to write a new synopsis. :)

Chris Eldin said...

I read this twice and don't have much to offer since I'm not familiar with the genre. But, the opening sentence didn't sit well with me-I guess I'm sensitive about steretyping characters. I didn't like the drunken Indian picture. Sorry. I just wanted to point it out.

Good luck with your query.

Xenith said...

Phoenix: I was going to say Jim Lee wasn't even known when I did the convention thing, but it was indeed a copy of his Xmen #1 that I picked up from a dealer's table for Claremont to sign :)

Have things changed since then. My local library had a book about writing comics (by Marvel I think) which we borrowed and read carefully, and occasionally an editor or writer would do a little spiel about the creation process in a column in the back of the comic, and that was all we had to 'learn' on. None of this online information stuff. If you wanted to communicate with other fans/creators/find out what was available, you put pen to paper, stuck it in a mail box and waited. None of this putting together comics in your own house either. Dot matrix printers (if you were lucky) weren't really suited to publishing. And we had to make our paper by cutting down the trees....

I say this because occasionally I toy with the idea of writing them (scripts interest me, and as do visual effects that you just can't do with prose) but you think I have any idea of where to start now? Or who? Or what? Or how? And too much information now, rather than not enough :)