With my third book in the can and me landing a spot in the small press area of the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con, I was looking over the material for Book Four to see if I could put together a short book to sell at Comic-Con based on my cancer storyline from last year. What I found was a mess and explains why I was having so much trouble writing the last few months.
Basically, I wrote myself into a paper bag from which I couldn't get out.
The original story of Harold getting cancer had splintered off into several different storylines that were heading nowhere. A cat scan with career-related issues. A nosy reporter with a desire to tell the greatest story ever. A best friend who doesn't understand what's going on in her friend's head. It just went on and on. It didn't help that I introduced an all-new storyline where Eebo had been orphaned. Not very smart when you've got several unresolved strings going already. Too much was going on at once and there wasn't much point other than to keep it going.
So I ended it by 'canceling' the comic strip. Not the most elegant way of doing it, but it did give me an opportunity to stop, pull back, and take a look at what happened. I was a bit surprised that readers didn't complain too loudly when I ended it and most offered words of support for my next project - helps that I explained I was feeling very uninspired by what I was writing and needed to end it. The feeling I was getting was that the strip was becoming more and more of a disaster the more I wrote to keep the various storylines going. It was the wrong road to go down and one thing I have learned over he years is it's better to start all over than it is to keep trying to fix something that's broken.
Looking over the material, I found I had major issues with the original storyline. Because everything was so new and I was trying to absorb a lot of life experiences at once, I wasn't able to gain any perspective on it and the story just kept snowballing in unexpected ways that were very difficult to manage. I think the major problem I ran into was how to deal with an imaginary undead character coming down with cancer and why that would be a problem for it. Logically speaking, it isn't possible and doesn't work. Then again, this is a comic strip and, well, screw logic.
The way the original story plays out, it brings SuperCaz back from her premature retirement to announce 'Evil is everywhere' then jumps straight into Harold announcing he has cancer, then losing direction as it becomes more and more apparent that Harold will be having nothing more than blood tests, X-rays, and CT scans, just as I was in real life. Story problems I ran across:
1. I had originally wanted SuperCaz to be done with because she was too much like an overblown version of Iris. I didn't need two characters like that. Thus, I wanted Cassidy to remain the red-headed girl Otis falls for much like Charlie Brown does - by reintroducing SuperCaz, I screwed that up and ended up introducing a half-baked storyline where she becomes a reporter on the trail of the cat scan. Not something I wanted or needed in the comic strip.
2. I hadn't resolved how Xana was going to 'see' Harold since Otis is the only one who can see him. She wears a helmet at first, then I inexplicably dropped the concept. If I had been paying attention, there was a much simpler way of dealing with it since her family supposedly has been spending generations on studying cases like Harold's. What I've come up with is a more elegant solution and makes a lot more sense in the context of the rest of the strip.
3. I should never have had Harold revert to eating human flesh. It was a dumb idea and yielded some really bland zombie strips. I should have gone back to my original strips of Harold and used those as a basis for a story where he becomes a vegetarian zombie who switched away from eating flesh to avoid getting cancer, yet gets it anyway, and allows me to talk about how a character who would have never thought he would get cancer, gets cancer.
4. When I introduced Iris into the original storyline, she made it sound like Otis had been missing for several days. I didn't like that and didn't resolve it very well (or not at all). Iris is Otis' best friend and she should be better informed about what's going on in his life so she can give her love and support.
5. Cairo the Cat Scan is a fun character to write. However, what I do with him in the original storyline detracts from Harold's experience and it ended up becoming a major storyline that was heading nowhere fast and down a track that would have been near impossible from which to come back.
So, consider this rewrite a step backward in an attempt at stepping forward. It'll take a few months to play out, but I think it will be worth it.
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