Guerrilla Comix --
David Farber's book Chicago '68
is the cornerstone of my research materials (almost literally, as I now have enough to build a Roman style arch). There are dozens of great books and movies out there, some of them entertaining, others more informative. But Farber does the best job, I think, of presenting good information while keeping his own biases to himself.
When I read in Farber's book that "Davis had opened [Mobe's new Chicago office] February 1, on the third floor of the Old Colony office building in the heart of the Loop, at 407 South Dearborn
," (pg.82) I grabbed my camera and took a field trip.
The Old Colony building is just a little west of Chicago's historic Printer's Row district, where 19th century industrial lofts have been converted into office space and swanky condos. I got some great exterior shots of the grand old building. But I knew the scene I was writing would take place, at least in part, inside the building itself.
Also, this was the point when my research was starting to segue from the library to the field - from the cerebral to the visceral. I was tired of just reading about these places where all this events took place. I knew exactly where Rennie and Tom's office was in the late-Victorian skyscraper before me (or exactly which floor, at any rate). So, looking to draw some real experience from this trip, I unassumingly, and with an air of "belonging there" and "knowing exactly where I was going" (which I did, in fact), I walked through the revolving doors (and under some scaffolding they'd erected for repairs) into the lobby of the Old Colony Building, doing my best to psychically channel Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden as I went.
It was definitely while I was walking up the stairs when I got my first few mental flashes of what the scene would look like. (It seemed to me that Tom and Rennie wouldn't use the elevator just to get to the third floor.) Marrying knowledge with experience on these little "walkabouts" is a fantastic way to turn your mind into a crucible of ideas. It's an ecstatic, almost spiritual experience. You've only got to hope nobody gets suspicious of you taking all the pictures, which, in this age of fear and terror, is a genuine risk to consider.
The scene was finally solidified in my head when I came to the 3rd floor hallway. I think I even felt the nudge of the FBI Guy walk past as I started down the narrow corridor. I remember thinking, "how many times did Rennie and Tom come and go through this hall while preparing for the '68 convention?" How many countless times did they walk this very same length of floor, just as I was then, while I was preparing to write this scene?
Farber said Rennie was known to frequently smoke Pall Mall cigarettes. Did I smell them a little, while I scribbled down some notes on my clipboard?
I shook a few door knobs, but, alas, could not gain access to any of the 3rd floor offices. Just as well. I'd taken enough risks for one day. And I don't think they would have been much use anyway. Modern furnishings (or even bare walls) do a lot to change the look and feel of a space.
On a practical level, going out and shooting guerrilla-style photography has given Jenny lots of reference to work with, which is important for a period piece like this. You might have fun comparing the completed artwork to the pics I shot. I always get a kick out of it whenever the pages come in.