Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

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February 22, 2017

Going off Script

When Alex makes changes to my script for Spill Zone, it’s usually to add pages. Sometimes he feels my pacing is too fast. Sometimes there’s something he wants to explore in greater visual detail. Usually these extended explorations take place in the Zone.

This week’s pages, with Addison venturing into the hospital where her parents worked—her first trip inside a building in the Zone—is where Alex has added the most to the script. I can’t remember exactly, but this version is at least six pages longer, taking him a whole extra week to bring it to life. But he found labyrinthine corridors and twisted logic of the hospital too much fun to limit himself to what I’d written.

In the end, we didn’t stick to the script at all. The process got freeform, with him drawing first and me writing after, both of us pushing panels and images around the way the Zone does walls and corridors and rooms.

I love how these pages feel less controlled than the rest of the book, and how it’s a bit fuzzy how much time is passing. The reader becomes like Addison, wandering the halls uncertain and confused. A little nervous too.

Because bad things are coming. Addison’s parents are in here somewhere . . .

But wait, there’s news! I’ll be joining the Fierce Reads Tour, which takes place from May 9-16, with four other YA authors. You can find the details by clicking here.

I’ll also be doing some solo touring soon, but those appearances aren’t scheduled yet. Check my next post here or my personal blog for news.

Hope to see you on the road!

And see you right here next Wednesday.

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February 14, 2017

Someone Else’s Story

Whenever things get too exciting in the Zone, we cut away to Corporal Wiley!

Wiley is the most organic character in Spill Zone, in that he emerged from the story itself. At first he was just a random guy in charge of a checkpoint, a local National Guardsmen. But he kept popping up in various scenes, demonstrating Addison’s connections to the community.

And now in this week’s pages, he shows up at Addison’s house of his own volition, with his own agenda.

My favorite characters are the ones who get invented on the fly and wind up sticking around. Zane, from my Uglies series, was promoted from wisecracking gang leader to romantic interest over the course of a few dozen pages. (That’s right, Zane-lovers, he wasn’t in the outline!) Just like in real life, certain people come along at the right moment, and get dragged into someone else’s story.

Though really, I wrote this scene just to see Wiley and Vespertine together.

Theirs is a love made in heaven.

Sorry there’s only four pages this week. Rest assured, we’ll be back with a full six pages next Wednesday, and back in the Zone with Addison.

A warning: the end is moderately nigh. We only have eleven more installments before Book 1 is done. And just so you know, the print edition comes out the day before the last pages drop—May 2, 2017. (AKA the Tuesday before Free Comic Books Day.)

You can pre-order it now. Electronic editions also arrive May 2, but you can’t pre-order them, because . . . technology.

See you next Wednesday.

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February 8, 2017

Never, Ever Go Inside

I spent four years in Poughkeepsie, the town at the center of the Zone, and Vassar College, my alma mater, makes an appearance in this week’s pages.

Before illustrating this book, Alex took a research visit to Poughkeepsie. His depiction of Vassar is wonderfully accurate, as are all of his images of that town. Mind you, we didn’t play Zombies Versus Humans when I was there—zombies weren’t quite such a cultural force back then. We played Assassin with waterguns, and we liked it, dammit.

But when I got the sketches, I did realize something uncanny—page 141 is the exact view from the exit I always took out of my old dorm, which is where I was imagining this scene happening.

But I didn’t tell Alex where to take his reference photos, it just worked out that way. Spooky, huh?

In fact, I might have known that meat puppet in panel 3.

But my hands-down favorite illustration this week is the splash page of the Hospital, in all its twister-full-of-straight-jackets glory. In the physical version of Spill Zone, this image will be one of those two-page spreads that you have to turn sideways to see. Alas, that trick doesn’t work with most desktop computers, so we shrunk it down to one page. Our apologies.

If you want to see it in it’s full form, you’ll have to, you know, buy the actual book.

See you next Wednesday. It only gets weirder from here on in.

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January 31, 2017

Portal Fantasies

At last, Addison is headed back into the Zone—this time without Vespertine to protect her. A million dollars is at stake, along with her life!

But here’s an odd thing I just realized:

Spill Zone is a portal fantasy. There’s boring normal life on this side of the fence, and a strange and exciting world on the other. And when I first conceived of SZ, I assumed it would be like most portal fantasies—the majority of the action would take place in that mysterious other world, not our own.

After all, the Narnia books are mostly set in Narnia, not England. We don’t spend too much time in Milo’s bedroom before going through the Phantom Tollbooth. Nor do we want Claire in the Outlander books hanging out in modern day when she could be shagging her 18th-century Scotsman! That’s how these things work. We prefer Alice on the other side of the looking glass.

But of Spill Zone’s 139 pages so far, only 33 have taken place in the Zone. That wasn’t what I had intended at all.

So what happened?

After Addison’s first trip through the fence, I found myself wanting to get to know her sister, her art dealer, her patron, and her pal in the National Guard. Then a North Korean kid from a different Zone caught my authorial eye, as did the FBI agents following him.

Turns out, I was more interested in how the Zone was viewed from the outside, and how it had changed the world around it, than in what was going on inside.

So maybe SZ wasn’t so much inspired by other portal fantasies as by all the comics I’ve loved whose storytelling was . . . discursive. Like Naomi Urasawa’s Monster, in which random side characters sometimes get a whole volume to themselves. Or Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Bitch Planet, with a narrative that sprawls across a huge cast of characters.

There’s something wonderful about not knowing who the camera will follow next. What if this minor sidekick is really the hero?

But rest assured, Addison is the hero of this tale. And once she gets back to the Zone, she’s going to be in there for a while, kicking ass and stealing dust.

In fact, she’ll be back on the scary side of the fence next Wednesday. See you then.

(Also, if you have a comics store, you only have till this Monday, Feb 6, to order the Spill Night Free Comic Book for FCBD!)

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Joe in Australia
3 weeks ago

Nooo! She needs Vespertine with her! Especially this time! Oh, I hope Lexa sneaked her into the backpack or something :-(

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January 25, 2017

More Is Better

A few years ago, I wrote a pep talk for National Novel Writing Month, giving young writers some advice on how to keep going when their novels run out of steam. The basic message was, Your World Needs to Be More Complex. (Read it here.)

By complex, I meant full of differences and diversity. Tangled with detail and specificities.

One example I gave: If your story is about earth being invaded by aliens, don’t just show me the bad invader aliens. Let’s see some aliens who feel bad for us and are trying to help. And maybe other aliens who eat the bad aliens, and use humans for bait. And maybe even some aliens who don’t care about humans at all, and are just here to study zebus.

In other words, never have just one kind of anything.

As I point out in the essay, the history of humans learning stuff is that everything usually turns out more complicated than we thought it was. From atoms being sub-divisible to there being 3000 kinds of pears, nothing is ever as simple as our first assumptions. Books that don’t match that ever-expanding complexity tend to fall flat.

Following my own advice, I’ve made sure that in the world of Spill Zone, there was more than one spill. Not three thousand, quite, but at least two of them. And the other one took place in a very different country, North Korea, which means that it’s a very different spill. The contrasts in how that other spill affects the landscape and people around it—the politics of that other Zone, in effect—gives me another set of angles to address my themes of loss and otherworldy weirdness and art.

It also gave me an interesting character in Jae, who we meet this week for the first time. Like Addison, he’s the only survivor of his town, but he’s very unlike her for reasons of background and circumstance. And now that I’ve got him in New York, you can be sure he’ll be bringing his alien perspective to bear on everyone we’ve already met and everything we’ve already seen.

Indeed, having another version of Addison in the story changes the way we see Addison herself.

Please join us next Wednesday, and every Wednesday, as the world of Spill Zone grows more varied, various, and diverse.

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January 18, 2017

Thoughts to Speech

This is end of chapter two. Only one more chapter remains in book one of Spill Zone!

And yes, our story ends as it began—with Addison heading into the Zone, this time for the big money.

One. Million. Dollars.

SPOILER ALERT
READ THE NEW PAGES BEFORE THIS POST
SERIOUSLY

My favorite bit in this passage is when Lexa speaks aloud for the first time. One cool thing about keeping a character silent for 119 pages: when you do let them talk, you get an easy “whoa” out of it.

But I will admit one thing. As I saw Alex sketching out this scene, I was thinking, “Damn. This is one of those tricks that probably would’ve worked better on a TV show. Like, with actual sound is coming out of the speakers!”

And that’s partly true. Here in a comic, Lexa’s first utterance is rendered with the subtle difference between a thought bubble and a speech bubble. It would’ve been way more mind-blowing to hear the actor’s voice for the first time. Especially after, say, ten episodes of her being silent.

In fact, I was a little worried that some readers might miss that she was talking aloud at all. That’s why I had Addison do a double-take—to make sure everyone got it. (Of course, after all those years of talking to herself, Addie really would do a double take.)

But looking back on it now, I like this version better than the one in my imaginary TV show. Being in a comic allowed me to really set up this moment, thanks to all those thoughts passing between Lexa and Vespertine. With all that previous dialog, Lexa’s words come out of a context, rather than just popping out of nowhere.

I mean, characters thinking aloud to each other in film and TV is pretty dorky.

The weird and various affordances of speech bubbles, thought bubbles, and narration boxes are one of the things I love about comics. That’s why Spill Zone has so much interplay among them designed into it, right from the start.

Moments like this are just the payoff.

See you next Wednesday (and every Wednesday between now and May 2) for chapter three!

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kyle puttkammer
1 month ago

Hooked me right away! I LOVE this concept. Great art for the characters too. Can't wait to share this series with friends.

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January 11, 2017

Background Events

As promised, Corporal Wiley has returned!

Spill Zone is my first original graphic novel. As I’ve said in previous posts, part of the fun of writing it has been exploring the commonalities and differences between comics and prose. My favorite moments are when I can pretend to direct a film, while at the same time keeping the affordances of a novel in hand.

For example, take the first two pages of this passage. Corporal Wiley and his National Guard pals are hanging out at the diner, talking shit, and the “camera” holds the exact same shot for four panels. But, way off in the background, there’s a little drama playing out in miniature—Marty waiting by his truck for Addison, who arrives in art collector Tan’ea Vandersloot’s limo.

This deep background is hard to see, and maybe goes noticed until it explodes into the foreground (in the last panel of that second page, p111). A reversal in focus like this would be weird in a prose novel. Text has trouble asserting things like, “There’s this event happening in the background, but you don’t really see it yet.”

Film also has a problem with this sort of trick, because there’s a risk of the action going completely unnoticed. You can’t rewind a film the way you can a book to go back and see what you missed. (At least, not without completely disrupting the narrative.)

But comics can do both. We can show something in the deep background, with the certainty that a reader who’s missed it can scan the page again, rewinding time at their pleasure.

As a boring-old-prose-novels writer, I use Spill Zone as an opportunity to deploy these tricks whenever possible. It’s like I’m a skier who’s borrowed a friend’s snowboard, so I want to spend all my time in the half pipe. I can slalom anytime.

Also, those cupcakes look yummy.

See you Wednesday for the next installment!

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image of commenter, Scott Westerfeld
Scott Westerfeld
1 month ago

You are too kind, Ed. I'm really looking forward to FCBD!

image of commenter, Ed Sherman
Ed Sherman
2 months ago

This comic is awesome! I can't wait to offer it for sale in my graphic novel store. I am going to order many extra copies of the FCBD issue to give out to customers all through the year. There is no doubt in my mind that this will equate to many sales of this fine book.

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January 4, 2017

Deadlines

Welcome back from the holidays. We have another six pages for you!

There was a slight pagination problem in the last two entries, with two pages winding up in the wrong week. So if you’ve been reading along, check back to make sure you’ve seen everything.

I don’t have anything wise to write this week. I was sick from the day before Xmas till the day after New Year’s Eve, so my holidays were un-salubrious. I also had a huge deadline for my Zeroes books, which I write with Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. But book three is finished at last!

The Zeroes trilogy is about six teens in California with “social superpowers.” In other words, their powers only work in and through crowds. Alone, they ain’t jack, but in a multitude, they’re awesome. (Find out more here.) But most important to me, the trilogy is DONE AT LAST.

Next week, I shall return, fully recovered from deadlines and illness and with deeper, better thoughts about Spill Zone.

Join me then . . . for the return of Corporal Wiley!

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December 21, 2016

Free Comic Book Day!

Free Comic Book Day!

Big news this week: Free Comic Book Day will include a prequel to Spill Zone called . . . Spill Night!

Created by the usual SZ team—me, Alex Puvilland, and Hilary Swift—Spill Night takes us back to the origin of the Spill. Yes, the very night that it all went down in Po’town. Which means that it follows not Addison (who was out of town, you may recall) but her little sister Lexa and a certain doll whose name started with V.

fcbd2017-spillzone-frontcover

 

Perhaps some of you are asking, “What’s Free Comic Book Day?” Well, you can click here to find out, or just head to your local comic shop the first Saturday in May to get free stuff. (That’s May 6, 2017, aka four days after Spill Zone comes out in print. Good timing, eh?)

Here’s a full list of the comics coming out that day.

If you’re excited about Spill Night and want to make sure you get a copy, go mention it to your local shop. They’ll be putting in their orders soon. (Comics store owners: you have till Monday, Feb 6 to order!)

In other news, you may have noticed that Spill Zone has a new and slightly different cover. (Check out this page to see it.) We have returned the lurid green and blue for more of a watermelon color. The jacket will be printed on delicious foil, and we found that the green plus shiny was too much. But it’s pretty great now, I think.

cover-final

 

The only other piece of news is that we’ll be taking off next week for the holidays. So see you in two weeks, also known as Jan 4, 2017.

See you next year!

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December 14, 2016

Dolls Are Scary

I think we can all admit that dolls are scary.

Too-realistic dolls fall into the “uncanny valley,” creeping us out by being too close to actual people. But even rag dolls like Vespertine can be uncanny, because us human beings are social creatures. Our brains are always searching for faces, whether in spilled coffee, castles, or kayaks. And when one of those faces turns out to be a couple of buttons and a squiggle of yarn, it’s weird.

This is perhaps why fear of dolls is one of the most common phobias, called pediophobia. (Just so you know, fear of children is pedophobia and fear of feet is podophobia. When phobia doctors talk about all three at once it’s probably hilarious.) My wife, in fact, suffers from a pretty severe case. Like, she can’t sleep in a doll-infested guest room without throwing a blanket over the uncanny objects. But the purpose of Vespertine in Spill Zone is not to terrorize her. It was to allow Lexa to be silent to the world, but not silent to the reader.

That’s one of my favorite affordances of comics—that we get to read thoughts without hokey voiceovers or clumsy italics. We can be in Addison’s point of view, narration-wise, while still “hearing” Lexa’s and Vespertine’s conversations. Lexa simply thinking to herself would be boring, but an imaginary friend turns those thoughts into a dialog.

Of course, it’s possible that Vespertine isn’t just an imaginary friend. She seems to have her own distinct personality. After all, perhaps the weirdest thing about dolls is that kids seem to like them, while we adults have generally decided that they’re scary.

What do the kids know that we’ve forgotten?

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December 7, 2016

Outsider Art

Addison is an outsider artist. Entirely self-trained, she found her subject by surviving a disaster, not through teachers, theories, or predecessors. Indeed, her kind of art has no school to learn from, because the Spill Zone is its own world—and its own harsh teacher as well.

There’s something romantic about artists producing outside the influences of theories and fashions. A sense that somehow their art is purer, more original, less tainted by the world of commerce. More innocent.

But there’s one big downside to innocence: you’re more likely to be exploited. Addison realizes this in Tan’ea Vandersloot’s fancy limo, drinking champagne, on her way to New York City—the world capital of art. Her dealer has been ripping her off, giving her a third of what he owes her. On top of which, Marty has failed at his one real job: keeping her safe from the rest of the world.

Innocence never lasts.

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image of commenter, Eli
Eli
3 months ago

I love it. The description oh my. ???????????? awe I love you Scott. I also love broadcasting live to other strangers. That reminds me of Extras:) I'm so extra lol

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November 30, 2016

The Devil in the Details

“They wanted Lexa, like they wanted everyone who escaped that night. For testing.
“Especially the little kids who got out on the school bus.
“You probably heard about them.”

With this bit of backstory, I wanted to make Lexa’s escape part of the larger mythology of the Spill. Whenever tragic events happen, there are always details that stick in our minds—the dog that warned its owners of the earthquake, the passenger who missed the flight that crashed. Any details that don’t quite add up, of course, are the stickiest. Incomplete information turns into mysteries, which lead to conspiracy theories, fake news, and urban legends.

Like Nine-eleven truthers in our reality, Addison’s world is full of people who see the Spill as a coverup rather than an enigma. Who pick apart every particular of the story, glomming onto inconsistencies and perplexities. Who try to expose the devil in the details, because they assume that’s where the truth must lie.

Addison herself is a more practical sort, focused on the day-to-day business of making ends meet. She wants to be left alone to do her art, but her little sister is one of those mysteries within a mystery: the kids on the driverless school bus. That puts Addison’s desire for privacy at odds with the rest of the world’s hunger for information, secrets, even misinformation. Of course, her art has the same inherent contradiction—it pushes her out into the public, when secrecy is essential to her process.

In a way, Addison’s art is just another layer of commerce that surrounds the Spill. Alex has elegantly backgrounded others in this scene: Nano Burgers, the lurid Spill Zone Cafe, geiger counters for sale. And there’s that other, more tragic layer, the ever-present pictures of missing persons taped to store windows. Reminders that the Zone is full of not just unknowns, but unfinished business, uncompleted lives.

With a gentle shove from a well meaning patron, Addison might find these perplexities and oppositions starting to collapse.

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November 23, 2016

Sense of Place

Hi, I am Alex Puvilland, the artist who illustrated Spill Zone. I will post on the blog from time to time to talk about the book from the point of view of the illustrator.

In early December 2014, I went on a field trip to Poughkeepsie and New Paltz in upstate New York to research locations for Spill Zone.

In this day and age, anyone anywhere can go onto Google Earth and explore almost every place in the United States; you don’t have to go any further than your computer to find great photos of whatever reference you need. But if you work on a story taking place in a real city, nothing beats actually being there in person.

Walking around the streets exposes you to new possibilities. You notice what’s characteristic or different about your surroundings. You hunt for that little special detail that will evoke everything. You breathe in the mood of the place. You’re suddenly in the steps of your character as he or she will evolve in that same setting. When it will be time for you to draw out the scene, you will remember if it was cold, windy, if the street was narrow, steep, if the place was dark, bright, gloomy, happy, etc. . .

I think having very specific surroundings to a story gives so much to the narrative and the characters. Without relying on dialogue, it gives you another way to show who these people are and describe what their life is like. I love it when a movie, book or comic gives the time and space to immerse yourself in a tangible specific reality.

Comics are a great medium for doing just that. You can include a lot of information in a single panel without encumbering the plot. You can suggest so much with so little if you do it right.

One of the absolute masters of evocation, in my opinion, is Jacques Tardi, a famous French comic book artist who always brings an almost documentary approach to the stories he tells.

Check out the generic sounding title ‘The Bloody Streets of Paris‘ , one of my favorite books of his, which is a crime story set against the backdrop of German occupation of France in the 40s.

Poughkeepsie and its vicinity showed itself to the perfect setting for Spill Zone. Wandering its streets in 2014, I had no problems picturing Addie being chased by weird creatures downtown, or riding her motorcycle forlornly through the woods nearby.  I’m hoping I was able to portray faithfully in Spill Zone the Poughkeepsie I saw then.

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November 16, 2016

Russell’s Bottom

As a kid, I often visited my cousins in Texas. They lived in a small town called Salado, which didn’t have a lot for teenagers to do. But it did have Russell’s Bottom, a low-lying scrubland with dirt roads and poisonous snakes.

In Salado back then, every urban legend—Hook Man, The Devil in the Dance Hall, The Dead Boyfriend—took place around Russell’s Bottom. The Bottom had a “goat man” who could run as fast as cars, which I later found out was actually a Maryland legend. The Bottom also supposedly had its own panther, which had escaped from a traveling circus in the 1920s. (Whether this was a breeding population of panthers or one ancient creature, I was never quite sure.)

In other words, Russell’s Bottom was a gravity sink of fear, a way of drawing all the far-flung terrors of the world into the local and immediate space. The Bottom was a geographical “friend of a friend” that made scary stories personal.

It was also a great way for my older cousins to scare me.

In Addison’s reality, the Spill Zone serves that same function, especially in Po’Town. For all its real horrors, the Zone is also full of legends and rumors. The nearby forests are home to strange creatures, even when they aren’t. Like Salado, my Po’town even has its own reputed panther.

I wanted the Zone’s former residents, like Addison, to own those legends. To use them to scare outsiders the way my older cousins did me. It’s a kind of power, living close to something uncanny and dreadful. Addison is an artist, after all, and art is all about the power of story to bend reality around itself, even when that reality is already bent.

See you next Wednesday for more pages.

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November 9, 2016

End of Part 1

This is the end of Part 1 of Spill Zone. But that doesn’t mean we’re pausing!

We’ll have the first pages of Part 2 next Wednesday, and six more new pages every Wednesday between now and May 2, 2017. (Except maybe around the holidays. It’s possible we got the math wrong, and will double up or skip a week. Counting is hard, okay?)

Thanks for all your eyeballs and engagement. About seven thousand of you have read Spill Zone so far. I’d like to give special thanks to those of you who’ve shared it on social media, forwarded it to your friends, and generally spread the word. If you’re enjoying the story, please take a moment to tell others about it. These days, broadcasting what you love is one of the best ways to support artists and help more cool stuff get made.

Also, don’t forget the comments section! Theories? Conjectures? Doll phobias? Tell us how you feel.

See you next Wednesday, when Part 2 of Spill Zone begins.

Comments

image of commenter, Owen
Owen
3 months ago

So Addie knows that Lexa's doll is named Vespertine. Which means either the doll was named that before the spill when Lexa could still talk or that Lexa wrote it down for Addie at sometime since then. If it means the former, that makes me wonder if Vespertine has been able to communicate with Lexa since before the spill and that's how Lexa came up with the name. This is a generalization, of course, but 'Vespertine' doesn't seem like the most common doll name and that doll is (or looks like) a Raggedy Ann doll. So why would Lexa have named her Vespertine instead of Anne or Annie or something similar unless Vespertine told Lexa her name. Which makes me think that Vespertine is a separate entity entirely that is either associated with whatever caused the Spill or in direct opposition to it and is now working with Lexa to fix things (the "Friend of a Friend" comment lends to this idea). Clearly a lot of overthinking here on my part, but also clearly a lot more going on with Vespertine than meets than eye. Fascinating story so far! Can't wait to find out what happens.

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November 2, 2016

The Hospital

The area of my fictional Zone is based mostly on the small city of Poughkeepsie, NY, about two hours upstate from New York City. I went to college there, and it’s where I developed my love of exploring abandoned and ruined places.

The city has been around since the 1600s, and has had a lot of economic ups and downs. It’s been an ice town, a whale rendering town, and the headquarters of IBM. Needless to say, none of these industries is currently flourishing, and as a result Po’town has its fair share of crumbling edifices.

The most amazing ruin in the place is the Hudson State River Hospital. It was founded in 1871—as the Hudson River Hospital for the Insane. Large hospitals for the mentally ill are a thing of the past, of course, and HSRH was in decline for a long time before it closed in 2003. As a bonus, it was struck by lightning in 2007.

Its main building, however, remains a crumbling jewel of High Victorian Gothic architecture. And it’s now-decrepit grounds were designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmsted, creators of NYC’s Central Park. It was gorgeous in life and remains so in ruination. It’s also as creepy in real life as anything in the Zone, so I’ve used it as an important setting for Addison’s adventures.

If you want to see inside the ruined hospital, lots of urban spelunkers have posted images. But be warned, they will give you nightmares.

See you next Wednesday.

Comments

image of commenter, Bieeanda
Bieeanda
4 months ago

Oh, man. Those photos remind me of watching Session Nine. That is... not a film I like to be reminded of. :)

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October 26, 2016

Collector

Spill Zone has lots of horror, adventure, and chase scenes, but it’s also about being an artist.

Addison is a photographer, and she supports herself and her little sister with pictures taken in the Zone. Given that her art is illegal to make, she’s the ultimate outlaw artist.

Even outlaw artists, of course, have collectors, and they matter. The history of art is full of patrons who changed the arcs of individual careers, of artistic movements, even of art history itself. So this story wouldn’t be complete without getting to know Addison’s best customer, Tan’ea Vandersloot. It was great for me to see Alex draw a giant room full of Addison’s work, a gallery more carefully framed, mounted, and curated than Addie probably would manage herself.

To go a little further into Tan’ea’s head, we even made a website for Vandersloot Gallery. It’s kind of fanciful, given the Tan’ea couldn’t really put Addison’s work online. But check it out. It shows how even something as mysterious and sublime as the Spill Zone can be coopted and commercialized by the language of art criticism.

Of course, the more important work of this scene is to introduce a new collector, a man clearly wants more than just photographs of the Zone. But that’s a mystery for later in the story.

Comments

image of commenter, Bieeanda
Bieeanda
4 months ago

Unfamiliar threats from within and without. This doesn't bode well for Addison's relationship with the Zone, no matter how well she knows it. And... Jesus. With the comic for context, there is something really chilling about those photos on the Vandersloot gallery site.

image of commenter, ellana
ellana
4 months ago

To* My phone is French ans loves correcting my English Holy **** x)

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ellana
4 months ago

Mysterious but promising! I am a french reader who really loved All you books so no doubt this one will be as amazing ! Thanks for the pleasure tout access it :)

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October 19, 2016

Almost Wordless

Today is a bonus posting: thirteen pages of Spill Zone! We decided that cutting this chase scene in half would just be annoying. Besides, there aren’t many words in this passage, and it felt odd to give you six pages of pictures.

Or maybe that’s just me being a prose novelist. In my usual work, I never get to write a scene with no words. Sure, I’ve written passages where the characters communicate silently, but all those meaningful glances still have to be described. My quiet scenes usually wind up wordier than those with dialog.

The bottom line is, in my prose novels words are all I have.

In comics, of course, extended scenes with little or no text are common. I’ve seen everything from a ten-page fight scene to a twenty-page kiss. (Spoiler: that last one was in a manga.) And films are often best when they eschew words. One of my favorite cinematic stretches is in Jules Dassin’s Rififi, a 27-minute bank heist with no dialog at all. (Seriously, go watch it now.)

So when I started exploring this new medium, one of my goals was to write occasional stretches of wordlessness. This chase scene was the obvious place to start. Alex’s “Wolf Thing”—as our script calls it—really needs no verbiage to make it horrifying. And people don’t tend to talk much while being pursued by a mutant creature.

Mind you, the thirteen pages we’ve posted today aren’t entirely text-free. But I did manage to use only ninety-six words in forty-six panels. For a guy who usually takes 85,000 words to tell a story, that’s positively taciturn. And I think it’s about the right amount for this scene.

The weirdest part of writing these pages was the sense that I wasn’t really writing. That I was cheating, somehow, just telling someone else what to do. And once I saw Alex’s beautiful work on these pages, my own lack of visible input was jarring. Baked into most novelists’ brains is a how-many-words-did-you-write-today calculator, which lets us know if we had a bad or good day. After twenty or so novels, that’s a hard metric to ignore.

So for those of you counting, the section of my script that described this passage is exactly 1138 words. They’re in there somewhere. You just can’t see them.

But we hope to see you next Wednesday.

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October 12, 2016

Text and Image

Spill Zone is my first graphic novel. Usually I write books for teenagers, and one of the coolest parts of writing SZ has been exploring the differences between the comics and prose. This stretch of pages nicely demonstrates of one of comics’ particular strengths—combining the techniques of the novel with those of film.

In this passage, my fantastic artist Alex Puvilland goes fully cinematic. Magnificent vistas of the Zone share the page with close-ups of meat puppets, possessed rats, and the Zone’s weird “standing waves.” And all of it glows with Hilary Sycamore’s rich, surrealist colors. On the visual level, it’s very much a movie.

But at the same time, the narration remains inside Addison’s head. She addresses the reader in that intimate way that novels do so well, but that films only manage with clunky voice-overs.

I’m saying something pretty obvious, of course—that the combination of text and pictures is what makes comics awesome. How they can coexist as a one-two punch, reinforcing each other, or in counterpoint, with the narration undercutting the images. With this section of Spill Zone, I wanted to do both. The words and art are synched up, describing the same things, but Addison’s list of rules is almost casual compared to the nightmarish imagery. She’s either habituated to the phantasmagoric sights of the Zone, or she’s putting up a darn good front. This singular ability, to contrast objective reality with subjective narration, is comics’ superpower.

Of course, images and text can handle more than just objective and subjective. They can juxtapose past and present, fantasy and reality, grimdark and flippant, the cosmic and the minute—pretty much anything the creators want to play with! For a prose novelist like me, it’s like gaining a second channel into the reader’s brain.

Anyway, thanks for coming back for part two. Almost two hundred pages of Spill Zone remain. See you next Wednesday!

Comments

image of commenter, Sam P.
Sam P.
4 months ago

Hooked so far! Will definitely be purchasing a copy for my library when it comes out!

image of commenter, Anonymous
Anonymous
5 months ago

This is fantastic. Any chance you could add an RSS feed? Thanks!

image of commenter, Alanna R.
Alanna R.
5 months ago

I feel like this would be so cool as a story-based video game, sort of along the lines of Life is Strange. Not usually a fan of comics or graphic novels, but this one has me interested!

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October 4, 2016

The Beginning

Since this is the first installment, let me tell you a little about how Spill Zone came to be.

In 2004, a Ukrainian photojournalist named Elena Filatova (aka KiddofSpeed) blogged an account of her illicit motorcycle journeys through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the area blighted by history’s worst nuclear accident. Her photos and writing were elegiac and apocalyptic, evoking the otherworldliness of the forsaken city of Pripyat. But once the posts went viral, certain discrepancies were noted, and Filatova admitted that her accounts were “more poetry than reality.”

In short, she might have taken a tour bus. You see, it’s pretty easy to get into the Exclusion Zone these days.

But the poetic version stuck with me—a woman on a motorcycle, a camera, an empty and dangerous world.

I’ve always been a sucker for tales about exploring broken, abandoned terrain. As a kid I was an “urban explorer,” though we didn’t have that term back then. I spelunked the buildings at my upstate New York college, and I’ve explored abandoned sites in and around NYC since. There’s nothing quite like the silent loneliness of a place that has been abandoned, restricted, and left to ruin. In these spaces, the usual rules don’t apply. It feels as if the laws of physics don’t either.

So what if they really were a slice of another world?

That’s what Spill Zone is about. The ways that disasters, canny or uncanny, change the spaces that they take place in. And the ways that we survivors become explorers of those ruined spaces, picking them apart with memories, stories, and art.

My heroine, Addison Merritt, isn’t just taking strange photographs. She’s rebuilding after the fall.

Working with me to make the world inside the Spill Zone alien and unsettling are artist Alex Puvilland (Templar, Prince of Persia) and colorist Hilary Sycamore (Battling Boy, The Shade). They’ve created a world that’s both alien and beautiful, and characters and settings that look like they belong in the hardscrabble upstate Zone towns that some downstaters still call “Tawana Brawley country.”

They’ve captured the feeling I first got from a line in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (S1E12), when Buffy sees a room of people killed by vampires: “When I walked in there, it . . . it wasn’t our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun.”

We’ll be updating every Wednesday with six or so pages, and the finished book will be for sale in May 2017. I hope you come back for the rest.

Comments

image of commenter, Ioana
Ioana
3 months ago

Roadside picnic was on my mind too, and the movie The Stalker that Tarkovski made using that short story. Good job ????????????

image of commenter, Forest Rhodes
Forest Rhodes
4 months ago

Is this comic influenced by the short story Roadside Picnic? It was written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in 1971.

image of commenter, Poe Ducker
Poe Ducker
4 months ago

Back in the 50s, there was the Kyshtym disaster https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyshtym_disaster in which tons of radioactive waste in a storage tank exploded & contaminated the Eastern Urals in Russia. The USSR hushed up the accident & evacuated the area contaminated by radiation. The disaster gave rise to the Soviet SF movie STALKER https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalker_(1979_film).

image of commenter, Steffen
Steffen
5 months ago

It was great reading about KiddofSpeed's exploits back in the day. Your story reminds me about the decline of Detroit.

image of commenter, John Gillespie
John Gillespie
5 months ago

Found this on Boing Boing and really enjoyed the first install! Terrific!

image of commenter, daveSMASH
daveSMASH
5 months ago

Heard about this from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction. Can't believe I missed it's announcement. Between the concept itself and that feeling Willow had in that episode of Buffy, I'm very excited.

image of commenter, Ruth Blailock
Ruth Blailock
5 months ago

Must...read...moooore!!!

image of commenter, Charles Potomac
Charles Potomac
5 months ago

Look forward to the next update! Pre-orering the book on Amazon, Great work. Really enjoyed what I read!

image of commenter, Larry MacDougall
Larry MacDougall
5 months ago

Only 6 pages in but it looks great so far. Will come back later for a proper read. Thanks !

image of commenter, Greg
Greg
5 months ago

Wow! What a great start to the story! Found this on Boing Boing, looking forward to the next installment.

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