Lonnie Nadler: This page was all Jenna. I think she even drew this one before we really had a script. There are a lot of “zoom out of eyeballs” sequences in comics these days, but what I think Jenna captured here perfectly is just how telling someone’s eye movements can be of their inner state. It establishes a mood of anxiety right away, which sets the tone for the rest of the scene.
Jenna Cha: It’s a pain in the ass, but I really like drawing window-reflection stuff. I’ve only done it a couple of times in other work, but the process of figuring it out is pretty fun. It’s also a needless for-the-sake-of-it challenge that I give myself if I have the time. In this page, the window reflection has the function of both setting an odd, confusing vibe as well as containing a bit of symbolism. I won’t say any more than that. Also, I’m realizing right now, this very moment, that there’s a good chance I had the opening credits of Vertigo in mind when drawing the sequence.
LN: This was a tough sequence to orchestrate and again I have to give kudos to Jenna for doing some complicated “camera” work and still making the page so readable. The series in general is very inspired by mid-century cinema, and we are both big Hitchcock fans so the book has a lot of these unbroken movements that kind of emulate his cinematography, but hopefully in a way that works for the comics medium. Again, the goal was to continue setting the tone, but now also setting up the scene because everything on this page continues to gestate and eventually comes back around by the end of the scene on page 7. It’s also worth noting that these two first pages are kept text-less and that was also very intentional. We had a sound effect for the baby in panel 5 but took it out just before the book went to the printer. In general, I don’t love sound effects in comics, and I think including it would have cheapened the mood that Jenna’s art sets so well.
JC: Drawing unbroken movements and “shots” is also a pain in the ass because you have to keep track of continuity with where people and objects are, but again, it’s also pretty fun, especially when the whole sequence has a very specific point A to point B. Generally speaking, I find Alfred Hitchcock a really solid go-to for understanding how to block a scene, where the process of “camera” movement in conjunction to the shifting of angles and people/objects has to come together in an intentional mapped-out flow. While not nearly as complicated as a cinematic sequence in a Hitchcock film, this page is a good example of how satisfying it is to put a comic page together like a puzzle.
LN: As Daniel’s attention is pulled away from the window, the immediate world overtakes his inner world of thoughts (which we are not privy to). We wanted this to feel jarring, and to try to capture how people can sometimes feel terribly alone and alienated even when they are surrounded by friends. I don’t really want to explain the page much more than that.
JC: Shoutout [to] Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. His letters are always incredible in everything he does, but this whole next sequence just turned out so beautiful given how much chaotic shit we loaded into the script.
LN: Ahh, page 4. This is where we get to the “Why is there so much text on the page?” questions from people who seem to dislike reading, or not understand that this choice of overloading a page with speech balloons is a deliberate one. Balloons are tools that are not simply there to offer dialogue, they are very much a part of the page, of the art, of the design. As for why we did this, I’d prefer for readers to come to their own conclusions on that front. Comics theory aside, Jenna and I had a lot of fun writing this dialogue together. I find when I write on my own, my dialogue tends to be very dour and overly abstruse, but when I co-write I can’t help but try to make my collaborator laugh. We really tried to capture how teenage boys actually interact, drawing both from stories like Stephen King’s The Body and from personal experience as a former teenage shithead.
JC: It was fun to discover that “the clam” was a term used in the 1940s.
LN: This page marks a pretty major turn in the scene. Again, I don’t really want to give away the exact reasons why because it ruins some of the mystery surrounding The Sickness. I realize I keep saying, “I don’t want to explain this,” in an article that’s meant to serve as creator commentary, but sometimes I think the work just has to speak for itself. I do, however, promise that there is a reason all of this is happening to Daniel in this moment. What I would like to point out is panel 3. It’s one of my favorite panels in the issue. Placing the balloon behind the grotesque goo and behind the window was Hassan’s idea, and it works perfectly to communicate the separation between these two worlds. It’s a prime example of what I was talking about before, regarding the physical balloons on the page serving as a part of the art, as opposed to simply covering it or serving as a simple vessel for dialogue.
JC: Like Lonnie said, writing the dialogue for these boys is always a hoot. I know something works when Lonnie can’t help but chuckle every time we go over certain scenes with their silly boyish banter. While the dialogue is silly, it’s intentionally contrasted with the nasty visuals that Daniel is experiencing. Having to organize the sequence of dialogue and balloons alongside the sequence of hallucinations counts as another interesting challenge one can give themselves, like an extra step up from the usual comic language of text and imagery. I’d like to give big credit to myself for “a disappointment to the Andy Hardy school for gifted pussies.”
LN: Now that Daniel’s hallucinations have climaxed, now that he’s seen The Man, and now that more characters have entered the scene, he’s had enough. His anxiety has reached its peak and he no longer cares to heed social norms because his inner world has consumed his outer world. I think that last panel is so perfectly creepy in the way Jenna rendered it. Generally speaking, I always find images of figures at a distance a lot more unsettling than seeing horror up close. This sense of being watched, of being pursued, and being powerless to it frightens me more than the threat of immediate physical danger for some reason. There’s a scene in The Innocents that does this so well, and it haunts me to this day.
JC: The way Sissy Spacek poses with her hands stiffly craned up at the end of Carrie always creeps me out, so I think I took that pose for the last panel of this page. A lot of my nightmares always involve looking straight on at a terrifying person who is at a slight distance and they slowly (or quickly) get closer to me; more than just being stalked, I think I mostly hate the idea of being immobilized, having no control or agency over myself (figuratively and literally). Something I wish I did with this setting was add more of a drug store environment to the background; drug stores back then typically doubled as sit-down soda fountain hangout spots, and in contrast, a 1940s lunch counter in a small town like Stillwater would’ve probably been much smaller, without booths, and probably no waitresses walking around.
LN: And finally it all comes full circle in a page that is, hopefully, both grounded and absurd in a way that captures what it’s like to feel alienated and scared when nobody else around you shares those emotions. I’m a big proponent of transitioning between scenes in comics, and it’s doubly important to us in this book since we are switching between multiple timelines. So this final panel is a kind of matching panel transition to the beginning of the next page, where the image of a woman with her arms up is completely recontextualized. To be completely honest, this page probably has more horror in it than I would like, but it was part of the original pitch for the book and you have to “sell” the scares. I know a lot of people like their horror to hit the ground running, but I much prefer stories where there is almost no outright horror until like halfway through. This probably stems from the fact that my favorite horror movies are The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, and those are stories that really take their time, but audience patience is rewarded, and the scares are so much more impactful because by the time they happen, you care deeply about the protagonists who’ve you’ve come to understand as a result of spending more time with them before the proverbial shit hits the fan.
JC: The Man is seldom around, so it’s always a treat to draw him. I think effective horror movies have restraint, meaning zero jumpscares and typical bombast; one silent scary image is enough to ruin my life, so as you can imagine I’m very prone to being creeped out by 2D art alone. There’s something about Uzumaki or Pim and Francie or Blood on the Tracks or Beautiful Darkness or Panther that really gets to me, and I think it’s the silence. It’s the process of your whole being slowly but surely surrendering to a story, unconsciously falling into the flow of it as it goes along, until something in the art makes your brain become defensive, and you’re suddenly aware of the relationship you have with this horrifying thing you’re holding as tangible, in your life. When I read those books listed, I wanted to physically throw them down at some point while reading them, as if my body was rejecting the fact that I let myself get sucked into them. I hope to achieve something similar when drawing horror in comics—putting my whole being into the art where my hand simply does what needs to be done, unconscious or no, and when it’s externalized into the tangible world, I sit back and take a look at it and feel weird.