Notes from the creators of SHOOTERS
Because of the long "burn" on Shooters, the project saw a few editorial changes during its creation. The book's first editor, and the person who initiated the project, Joan Hilty, left the company and Shooters was passed on to Sarah Litt, who completed the editorial chores.
(Ironically, shortly before the book was completed and moved on into the production phase, Sarah, too, left Vertigo for warmer climes at DC's fledlging digital empire; final oversight of the book was left to Will Dennis.)
The following is from Sarah:
This book was a long time coming. And I'd venture to say that it almost didn't happen. But knowing what went into it, it was one of those things that I really wanted to push for.
Shooters is a very special book. I know everyone says that about their projects, but this one, in particular, will always stand out amongst the books I have worked on. It's the one I think of when people ask me about my job.
Here's the thing. I come from a family of pacifists. We don't do "war". I hate war-related films. So when I started at Vertigo in 2008, and Joan Hilty handed me the script, I was predisposed to not be a fan. I might have said as much (of course, I could have been talking to myself). The thing is, that didn't happen. This is the most human book I have ever read. And the people behind it, well, that's what makes it so amazing.
Please keep in mind, I have only met Eric once, briefly. And I have never met Brandon. But through this book, we share something. The relationship became more than that of writer-editor. We all became friends. And something more. Something better.
This book is special. It's about relationships. And from it, very special relationships were formed. It is the reason I went into my field, and I consider myself lucky to have worked on this one.
In just a few hours, the first signing event for Shooters begins. Steve Lieber and Brandon Jerwa will be joining me at my wife's comic shop in Lacey, WA (Olympic Cards & Comics) for a "Launch Party," to celebrate the book's arrival.
There's a startling number of copies already "pre-sold," and I expect the day will be filled with new readers, well-wishers, and hand cramps a-plenty from all the sketching and signing. There will even be cake.
But it's early, I haven't slept well in days, it's a quiet moment before the day begins, and I can't help but reflect on what all this feels like, what it means, what it's like to finally be in this moment.
It's a decidedly odd feeling. We've literally spent years waiting for this moment, which is atypical of how the comics projects I've worked on have played out.
One of the reasons I stepped away from writing prose was simply time. Time is the enemy to me; I've spent most of my career feeling like I'm fighting the clock, that I'm too late to the party, that I'm not going to have ample time to tell the stories still locked in my head.
When you write a novel, the pattern seems to be all about time. You spend a year (or more) writing a novel. You spend a year getting it sold. It spends a year hitting the marketplace. That book is who you were three years ago.
It becomes a challenge to talk about that work, because it's some distance behind you, and the writer's job, in my opinion, is to speak honestly about "This is who I am right now, and this is what the world looks like from where I'm standing."
With comics, I'm often having a dialogue about the work with readers mere weeks after I've completed it. It's one of the most rewarding things to me about such writing.
So, this is a strange day for me. I'm not "okay" with my brother-in-law being dead, but I deal with it much more successfully than I have in the past. Shooters is, in part, why. The book was painful to write, every minute of it, but it was also cathartic. It also leaves me feeling much more exposed than any other work I've done, and that's...harrowing.
All the discussions of Dave in the blast of news articles about Shooters have had an impact on my wife, as well, so my excitement and pleasure and anticipation for the day is tinged, ever so slightly, with a bittersweet flavor. She's a tough, determined woman. Days like this make me wish she was not afforded so many opportunities to prove it.
That said, I could not ask for better comrades on this journey—friends; family; amazingly talented creators who signed on for something a lot tougher than they had any right to expect; acquaintances with no dog in this fight whatsoever, who have given their time and support to spread the word about Shooters' existence.
I owe you all a great debt, and I thank you for it.
8:10 am in a quiet hotel room
One of the first "hooks" I had into the story we were telling in Shooters was the challenge coin.
I hadn't really been aware of them in all but the most general way until 2005. After a memorial service for my brother-in-law, Dave, one of the men who served with him in Special Forces handed my wife and I a small, burnished metal disk, surprisingly heavy and decorated with Dave's unit insignia and markings.
They're fascinating artifacts, and the more I dug around, the more fascinated I became.
Most, if not all, American military units have challenge coins, and commanders often give them out as rewards to their troops. In general, the tradition holds that, when a challenge is given — when one soldier presents his coin — all others nearby must produce their coins. The troops who can't are the ones who have to buy the drinks.
It's a charming ritual, but some of the legends behind it are even more charming.
One story holds that, during World War I, a wealthy lieutenant (a pilot) commissioned several solid bronze medallions, when he gave to the other members of his squadron as mementos.
According to the "legend," one pilot — who had never owned anything so opulent — carried his coin in a pouch around his neck. After being shot down and captured by the Germans, they confiscated his belongings, but overlooked the pouch around his neck (as it was an uncommon method for carrying personal items).
During a subsequent escape and flight across No Man's Land, the unlucky aviator was captured by the French, who believed he was a German saboteur in civilian disguise.
Fortunately, he produced the coin, another French soldier recognized it, and returned the downed aviator to his unit (after which, it became tradition to carry the coin at all times).
The story is probably untrue or vastly exaggerated, like all good war stories, but it the version of the tale I choose to believe.
The coin I carry (albeit infrequently; my preference is to buy the drinks if a serviceman raises his challenge) is from Dave's Special Forces Unit: 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, Alpha Company.
Not coincidentally, the same unit that Terry Glass is a part of at the beginning of Shooters. Dave's coin means a lot to me--a connection to him now that he's gone and a tangible reminder of one of the things, other than his own family, that meant the most to him. So, it seemed fitting, during the course of the story, to use the coin as a talisman of sorts for Terry.
When it's introduced, it means a tie to a thing he loves: the Army, and his place in it.
And when we see it again, it underscores just what he's lost and is desperate to find again.
If you’re a fan, a friend, a family member, or a crazed lunatic who hangs on my every internet word…well, you’ve probably noticed that I can be a bit neurotic about pretty much anything that’s important to me.
If you don’t know me from Adam, let me just start by saying that I can be a bit neurotic about pretty much anything that’s important to me.
Shooters is important to me.
For many years, I lived my life ruled by the unique strain of uncontrollable paranoia that is the natural predator of a mammal that navigates the dark, crooked current between the oceans of Art and Commerce. I used to feel The Fear so deep within myself, I would forget to concentrate on swimming and breathing; inevitably, I’d struggle so spectacularly that others would be forced to intervene in the hopes of merely rescuing me from myself.
Eric Trautmann has probably thrown me more life preservers than anyone else, save my constantly-forgiving wife and blessedly supportive mother, father, and mother-in-law. Truth be told, I could probably name an even dozen of my fellow Swimming Creatives who have helped me fight off The Fear more than once…
…but Eric’s been there every time, without question and without judgment. It is by Eric’s good grace, generosity, and belief in me as a writer, that I am the co-writer of SHOOTERS. Regardless of the sales figures, critical reception, or anything else that might determine whether or not this book is a ‘success’, working on SHOOTERS has been the single most valuable, and rewarding, experience of my near-decade in comics.
Six months ago, I was sitting in Algiers, Algeria with Steve Lieber. We were there to represent American comics, and the circumstances under which we were expected to discharge our duties could best be described as "sub-optimal." Let’s just say that I’ll never complain about poor organization at an American comics convention ever again.
(Yes, I will. Let’s just pretend I won’t for now, okay?)
Faced with a lack of access to the normal channels of delivering the message, Steve staked out a seat in the open-tent dining area with his sketchbook and artistic toolkit. He didn’t have to seek out the curious enthusiasts within the vastly-diverse international crowd; they came to him, drawn to this unassuming giant of a man as he simply did what he loved best.
Over the next few days, Steve must have drawn a hundred sketches, looked at a pile of portfolios, and offered honest, constructive feedback to those who asked for it. He demonstrated techniques that may be commonplace to his peers, but were received as sorcery by aspiring artists who watched him wield his toothbrush and eraser like a magic wand. He was patient, he was kind, and he accomplished so much by simply communicating a love and respect of the medium that was the true bottom line of commonality for every attendee at that festival.
I suppose Eric taught me the benefit of not caring about The Fear when it comes to working in the comic industry. It’s nothing but your own twisted reflection in a pane of poison glass, masked by the handsome, exciting window dressing of an art form. The people passing by only see you peering out from behind the glass; if you can look past the fearsome image that you’re projecting to yourself, you might catch a glimpse of the very thing those people are admiring.
Meanwhile, the prevailing lesson from Steve was the importance of caring very deeply about the only thing that matters in this job. Love comics, and love people who love comics, simply because they do. The rest is external, and should be regarded as such. You will be called upon to be a businessman - often in unpleasant, precarious circumstances - but if you keep that love of what you do within your reach, you will survive.
I have survived, thankfully. Believe me when I tell you that I couldn’t have done so without the good people in my life, both professionally and personally. Eric and Steve have permanent spots at the top of the list, whether they like it or not.
Shooters is intensely personal, painfully honest, and for my money, the best work that Steve, Eric and I have ever put down on a printed page. I want it to sell millions of copies, be a critical darling, and prove its place as The Greatest Comic Book of All Damn Time. That’s not The Fear talking, though. I’m pretty sure that’s The Hope, and that’s good enough for me.
March 19th, 2012