Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

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.


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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Scott Westerfeld
1 month ago

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

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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


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.



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.



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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