Daubs of Paint

I had a crazy idea yesterday.

Finally reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and it’s blowing my mind. It’s expanding my perception of what the medium is capable of, much in the same way Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics did. Or, hell — in the same way Krazy Kat, Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes books or Warren Ellis’ recent run on Moon Knight has. I find myself engaged with storytelling that is taking advantage of its medium to tell its story.

It makes me want to do something crazy. It makes me want to turn my play Tracing Sonny into a comic book.

TRACING SONNY

Vanessa Hurd and Jacob Smith as Luci and Sonny in the original production.
Vanessa Hurd and Jacob Smith as Luci and Sonny in the original production.

Tracing Sonny is a romantic comedy about the baggage we carry with us from childhood, and how that baggage has the potential to dominate our personal relationships as adults. If you’re interested in taking a look at the play, you can find it on my writing samples page.

Sonny is a voice-over artist living in Los Angeles.  He has found his soul-mate in Luci, an effervescent animator.  They are madly in love, creating a life together;  they speak the same language.  But two things stand between Sonny and a happily-ever-after:  His parents.  We follow Sonny and Luci through vignettes that capture the arc of their relationship, and the problems caused by the unwanted, ingrained personality traits of his parents.

Here’s the thing that has me excited about this crazy idea: these ingrained personality traits; these “daubs of paint” on the canvas of Sonny’s life are represented onstage by actors who swing in when the parents take over in a scene.  Between the present time vignettes we discover the pain and heartache at the root of Mom and Dad’s doomed relationship.

I made a conscious effort to write a uniquely theatrical piece, a play that takes full advantage of the medium of live theater. I think the comic book form offers just as unique a milieu — if not more — to tell this story.

TRACING SONNY AS A COMIC BOOK

In the play, Sonny addresses the audience in a sort of “limbo space,” essentially, his mind. In the comic, this could be represented by unbound panels. No borders in limbo. The memories of his childhood could be rendered in a way completely different from how his adult years are rendered, and framed in a unique way. For instance, borders that suggests photographs pasted into an old photo album.

His parents can run their commentary in the “limbo space” just outside the panel borders that contain present-time action. When Sonny’s parents step in for him, the art can shift. Maybe Dad’s reality looks like old Dick Tracy comic strips. Maybe Mom’s looks like Cathy strips.

I’m just spitballing here. When I work with an artist — or artists — on bringing this to fruition, I’ll want to collaborate with him/her/them on the exact look of the thing. And that’s another exciting possibility! I could work with one artist who can shift styles, or a number of artists who each take on on aspect of Sonny’s story. One artist who does Dad’s panels, one artist who does Mom’s, etc.

STORYTELLING THAT RESONATES

The play premiered in 2009 in North Hollywood, and did pretty well. It resonated with people, which is all that mattered to me. My one regret with the show is that so few people got to see it. And it’s over. I can look at the photos, remember the performances, but like any other piece of theater, it’s all just ephemera. Memories.

A graphic retelling will last. I can always pick up a copy of the finished work, and it will be as fresh as the first time I read it. I had that experience recently with The Dark Knight Returns, a book I hadn’t read in close to thirty years when I picked it back up a couple of months ago. (Side note: Folks who bitch about the book probably haven’t read it in a while.)

I’m going to do this. I think I’ll enlist Pamela’s help to adapt it. She groks me, knows the play better than most, and she gets comic book storytelling. I’ll probably ask Phillip for some editorial help, because he’s actually done this sort of thing before, and he also understands me and this play.

As for the artist or artists, I don’t know yet. I have so many incredible artists in my life, but I feel way too humbled to approach any of them. Maybe I’ll post an ad on Craigslist. We’ll see.

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