This blog digs into the history of how Envoy 82 was created. This is a MASSIVE SPOILER blog post, and if you have not read the series, please do so first. It is free and quite fun, grab it here:
I began Envoy 82 well into DarkBrain’s run, so I had a few years of producing comics under my belt. I had hired in great talent while making those comics and I wanted to implement what I had learned so far. Nathan Reese had been editing many of my series and his insights were quite powerful. One of the biggies was to start with the ending, then work backward and ensure that everything in the story drove to the ending.
How to Write a Story(??)
I was producing stories that started with a specific genre, then adapting them to a DarkBrain style and concept. For example, I challenged myself to make a “Zombie story” and that led to Zeopatra or a “Vampire story” that led to Columbia’s Underbelly… hopefully unique and interesting and different than other work. Also, earlier I had started a sci-fi series Biowars that scripted out a few issues, had one produced, but then was shelved. I pondered that one of the reasons it didn’t work was that I had not plotlined it out well enough.
Today I see it even more clearly. Over the years I had started a couple of “How to Write a Story” blogs and I now realize I missed something really important – that title should be “How to Write a Story?” with a big fat question mark. (Maybe TWO question marks). Because I’m actually not a writer at all, I’m a plotliner. I had to learn to lean into that, even though I was already doing that in practice as my general strategy was to plotline out a story, then hire writers to make it real.
(inserting a bunch of blank lines – last chance, BIG spoilers ahead)
1. The Premise and The Ending
With Envoy 82 I started with the premise and the end as:
Pick up a sci-fi story -after- humanity wins the war on Earth (so, say, at the end of Independence Day). Then say we study the alien ships and learn that the attack was only a scouting attack and that a much larger armada would likely come for us. Then, we decide the best way to survive is to take the fight to the aliens and we construct a ship to carry an envoy there. Once we get there, the mission is to bomb their homeworld into oblivion as a pre-emptive attack. It is a one-way mission; we would need all our resources just to get there and never have had enough for a return trip in the first place.
Then working backward a bit, say that to get a mission of that magnitude done, those in power decided they could not reveal the end goal and get enough of the right people to join the mission to ensure it works. So, they call it a peace mission and recruit who they need to make it work. Thus, a large portion of the crew would not be vested in the overall plan. Their contribution to humanity was decided for them.
To keep people on task for the extended trip, support services would be necessary to keep the ruse going until arrival, so “councilors” would be part of the crew to directly attend to basic human sexual and companionship needs. This also satisfied the “DarkBrain” objective of writing stories that could have X-rated aspects while still being a “good story.”
So the main storyline would be about how to corral people, deal with mission-compromising issues, and get them to the final destination while keeping them in the dark. As such, say some people had to be dealt with (aka, murdered) and the reason would have to be hidden. This gives the opportunity for a crime story aspect and plenty of crew interaction to maybe allow us to keep the reader also led to the end unaware of the purpose.
I also named the story “Envoy 82” as a reference to the Enola Gay (the bomber that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima), which had its “Victor number” changed to 82 to disguise its purpose. With some work refining the ideas, I had a basic plotline that I felt very good about, this could be a fun story to tell.
2. Character Creation
So, once the overall premise, ending, and basic plotlines are in play, the next step is to create the characters who will tell the story. If I were doing the project today, I would create each character, get some concept art done, and establish their personalities before writing begins.
Back when Envoy 82 was done I engaged Crystal Storm in the project off of a pretty rough plotline. I knew that was all she needed to make this real. Also, I knew her process was pretty different than mine – she liked to have more flexibility in working the characters. The good news was she liked the premise and project, so we got cooking. We worked together to bounce ideas, create characters, and then flesh out the plotline to be the story it is now.
3. The Writing Process
For the writing of the scripts, Crystal and I had a rhythm as she would write them as “normal novel-like” stories, and I would adapt them into comic format. I would also tackle the sex scenes to keep Crystal focused on the character development and dialog.
I don’t want to dig into this process in this blog, mainly because I see Crystal as the writer and me as assist. To learn how to write, she is the best source 😉
One fun tidbit: the work ended before the epilogue and Sue Soares (our editor) felt it was too sharp a ending. Like ending the movie the second the reveal is made. She challenged me to write an epilogue, so I took that to heart and did so. I choose to add my wish for peace after such a conflict and to bring in the message of learning to work with others. I think it worked, but then again, the true answer to that question is not from me, it’s from the readers.
Art for the series is the next step. I like to find artists after the story is written whenever possible. This way characters are fully realized in dialog and tone and the artist can then do the hard work of showing the reader visually. In comic work, much of the story itself is displayed, not told. In a few panels of art, what could have been dozens of pages of prose must be communicated.
This is a dance, of course, and some comics will have tons of text and some will not. When I worked on The Vat with Ernie Chan, I learned how much of the story is in the art details, and it opened my eyes considerably.
To tell this story, I tapped Nic Giacondino. His art has a bold style that is energetic, interesting, fun but can still hit the dramatic requirements of this kind of piece. It was not an art style DarkBrain was showing off either, so this opportunity to do something truly unique was upon us.
As another challenge, I wanted to showcase a piece with different body types. Beth Zar critiqued much of my other work for having characters that fit a specific profile. Also, at the time of Envoy 82s creation, DarkBrain had moved solidly into X-rated territory and the story had to meet that mark in every issue. I took this vision to Nic and he was able to own it. I could not be happier with the result.
I think I have yabbered on enough and hopefully explained the guts of how I see the Envoy 82 project. It was an absolute blast to work on and I am very proud of the end result. I wish I had funds to add voice and music and make it an animated comic, but that was never on the table for this series at the time it was made.