New Barney Banks story sketches, beginnings, notes

Ok I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and show the development of my next project as fully as I can- sketches, notes, etc.

Sadly, I've got about a 5-year head start. I remember setting up a new studio around the time I started Hutch Owen as a daily strip. New shelves, new systems, new teaching folders, etc. There was also a blank plastic binder I had been carting around from place to place. I kept this on the shelf, empty, until one evening alone, I scrawled hundreds of little notes for it. The idea would be that this would be my next story. It would incorporate a larger arc and more dark subject matter than I was capable of doing in comic strips. I was consumed by these ideas:
--A campground, with lots of men. Yeah, it would be male-centric, this book. The campground would be a sort of place where guys go to convalesce. Or bide time. Run by a woman, Mathilde, basically inspired by the Scott Walker interpretation of the Jacques Brel song. ("Fellas, don't leave me tonight, tonight I'm going back to fight, wretched Mathilde's in sight...")

--Other ideas: Fen, from the Sands would be in it, as a sort of magician/guru. The guy who has pierced the veil, and maybe delivers supplies. Aleki and Banks, from Banks/Eubanks, and others. It would be about men: men evolving, men devolving, men wanting women, men misunderstanding other men. Stuff like that. I dubbed it "Sick Men."

So, this notebook became a series of index cards with Barney Banks on the front. I soon realized the only character I was certain of was Barney Banks, and maybe this Mathilde character- more about her later maybe.

My wife Leela wonders why the characters in my books are so asexual, and why they don't "get any." I argue it's because my skills as a cartoonist better serve the goofy, and not the erotic; the angry and vehement, but not moments of adoration or love. Hmmm. But also because I think the issues between men and women are horribly complicated and difficult. Like Spike Lee avoiding drug use in Do the Right Thing, I thought dealing with men/women would just be opening too many other doors.

But I started letting Banks' eye wander. I've used him as a character to explore where I fear I could have wound up: old, alone, full of vague big ideas and no history of having achieved anything. No one to love him because he is too full of his own self-image to allow anyone near. Despised but determined but not capable.

I started to collect notes about the kind of "some" a guy like that would try to "get" and daydreamed in the context of this campground what he would do, how he would behave, etc. I started adding to the stack of cards, and slowly the book seemed like it needed to be about him, trying to attract a young woman, possibly as a surrogate for his lost youth, or even possibly for having lost touch with his own daughter (still playing with that one). Really just to get a smile would change this guy's life (Chris Rock on Stevie Wonder: "Can the brother get a peek!? Just one peek!"

A few images sit with me that kick-started this:
-- Banks hearing from outside a tent, the object of his adoration in the throws of (*ahem*) with another guy. He is compelled to listen and interpret. (This comes from a moment in my history I'd rather not go into...)
-- Banks trying to get near her but there are dozens of guys around her already

And an idea:
-- Banks WANTS SOMETHING TO HAPPEN. He'd LOVE to find a dead body or something. His life is awaiting a kick-start, but he's too fearful to do it himself. He almost calls into being this dead body. ("It's like Stand by Me!")

Of course, no good book only about one character. It needs to go deep into all players. This woman- where, who what? The other ideas, Fen, Mathilde, Aleki- are they still there? And more importantly, is Banks his own worst enemy, or are there other characters impeding him?

This is where we reconvene. After either weeks or months or years of thinking, (frankly I think the best thoughts has been in the past few weeks) I've come to the point where I am convinced of the following:

-- Banks is epileptic. I am epileptic and have recently wanted to explore it. It's horrible, and underrepresented in comix (despite David B's great book, and subtle clues from inside Julie Doucet's work.) It could become an even further way he is outside society. This feels right.
-- He adores a girl who works/lives at the campground. She's got braids cause I like drawing braids. Her story will reveal itself, but I think she is wounded and stuck, like Barney. But this alone doesn't mean they are meant for each other.
-- Banks doesn't fit in in the younger culture of the campers. Though they think his epilepsy is cool.
-- Formally, this must adapt to quick, improvisational ideas, and allow me to have ideas and draw them quickly. I'm about to have a baby (Hi, Lightning Bug!) and I know I will have little time to make this happen. So the format has to be flexible, as does the plot so that I can throw in new ideas now and then. This being one of the joys I came to experience while doing comic strips.

So that's about it. And I still didn't know where to start it.

Next posting, where some more inspiration lies, and an idea of how to start it.


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