Posted by Ron Edwards
I spent quite a bit of 2019 with this guy, and this is the start of a series of posts all about it. Briefly: he’s called Intruder, his given name is Jay LeBeau, he is a joint creation by me and artist Scott LeMien, and we did a twelve-page comics story strictly for fun. The first two posts here will present the beginning of the process and the end, and then I’ll natter on through a bunch more about hows and whys and whatnots. For something done on a non-commercial whim, it prompts a remarkable number of thoughts through several different media.
So – on to the beginning. Scott provided some artwork for my game Trollbabe over a decade ago, and in later years we hitched up on Facebook, as you do. He posted cool comics pages and sketches, and one thing leading to another, about a year ago, we decided to do a little some comics. I was determined about the arrangement: just for fun, specifically our fun. I’m extremely done with comics as a business enterprise of any kind.
For those of you having little shit-fits already about ownership and IP and what-about-the-movie-money, and all such tediousness, it’s easy: he can do whatever he wants with it and I can do whatever I want with it. You know who you are – now go away.
I began with asking him to play my little game Supervillain You, which I love very much and am heartbroken that no one seems to want it, or if they even look at it, never to mention it again. It’s been through a few revisions, some very recent, so at least for purposes of understanding this post, here it is: Supervillain You.
I can’t say for sure whether Scott approached “SVY” with either seriousness or creative commitment; I get the impression that he was a little surprised by the fact that he came up with something at all, and also by my determination to stick with it as a creative act. Some of my latest rewrite is aimed at getting the reader to understand what this activity even is, which probably wasn’t immediately obvious when he played it. Regardless, his result intruder01 was strong: the character is a master of surveillance and information flow, a bit of a social organizer and thought-leader, somewhat mind-controllish, but rather than being into control, he’s determined to battle the individuals and organizations which channel information into narratives for purposes of profit and power. Very much into “information wants to be free,” essentially an anarchist, at a pretty powerful scale. Crucially, too, he is himself in a constant battle for control as his powers are partly derived from some kind of artificial-intelligence symbiote, which has ideas of its own. In fact, he’d be dead without it, as he suffers from fatal cancer and it’s partly replaced his own body.
Appropriately from an artist and very much as I desired, some of his resulting work was visual, with this inspiration from Steve Ditko and this sketch.
It should be pretty clear. Given the name “Intruder,” you have an “I” rather than Ditko’s “H,” and there are lots of indications about technology as well as the implication of at least some physical action, not merely thinky-brainy-computer stuff.
The game is supposed to result in names, places, characters, and some story-stuff worthy of either back-story or actual plot, and I realized Scott hadn’t gone that far, so I insisted on a conference mainly to walk him through finishing it. Part of that includes the “you” part, in that the character is supposed at least to start autobiographically for the person playing the game. It can soften up in that regard as you go along. So part of this conversation was a little interrogative, encouraging Scott to dig, even to admit, where and how Intruder might “be” or “speak to” him as a creator.
The result was … really strong, even to the point where Scott may have tried to wiggle out of it once or twice during the later work. He immediately produced what the comics people call the “crucible of crazy,” which is free-associative panels and sketches that may or may turn into story, but basically get all your notions skitchy-scratched down onto paper, with the necessary proviso that none of it has to be actually used as presented at the moment. I’m not going to provide them here in full, as much of the information is personal for Scott. But upon seeing the three crazy pages of teeny panels and free-associative, revealing text, I knew right then that we’d succeeded, that Intruder was a character with emotions and weight – and stories that could be told, both backstory and as yet unknown.
Here are a couple of important concepts that jumped out at me, which you may say I appropriated as the writer, turned into forms that spoke to me, and began to express as plot notes.
- The content indicated an extreme rejection of libertarianism, specifically the latter-day form, which is a mash-up of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and transnational media-political conglomerates. This is no small thing in terms of comics, as Ditko was famously an advocate of Objectivism, so to draw on him visually at the same time as rejecting these ideas is not only ambitious, it’s almost blasphemous in terms of comics fandom.
- It also tied the character’s younger embrace of these ideas to his cultural programming through 1980s teen-comedy cinema and his modest ambitions to be successful, normal, and happy. Given that the character was born in the mid-80s and thus encountered all of this as Reaganite holy-mythology, i.e., “reality,” and given that I am familiar with many a twenty-year-old bright-eyed little libertarian, this insight that he derived it from these stories, not merely intellectually, is critical.
- Critically, the character is not a resentful “I was abused as a kid and I have cancer so you all must suffer” asshole, but instead, a guy who overcame his harsh background and really had given his all in the name of the monomyth, only to realize how bad it was – he’s not driven by resentment and acting-out, but by cold, knowledgeable rage.
So many things! For example, the “I” itself is now recognizable as a defiant re-claiming of the central concept in Ayn Rand’s Anthem, i.e., reclaimed from her abuse of it; it’s about individuality without using it as a mask for profiteering. Scott was very clear about this, and chose the “I” as meaning “ideal” and “insurgent” from the character’s point of view. Intruder is what his enemies call him (that’s part of the game, actually; you don’t name yourself as you please).
I realized we were talking about serious cultural and political statements, framed almost as a cry of agony, a stark rebellion against Happy-Reagan prosperity theology, presented in the most appropriate comics form imaginable: a Ditko-style anti-establishment anti-hero, or at least understandable semi-villain. This is right out of Daniel Boorstin’s 1961 book The Image: A guide to pseudo-events in America – Intruder is a champion for battling pseudo-events right on the front lines, which makes him, basically, what is now called a terrorist or worse. On my end, I determined to turn the Ditko style up to 11, including infographics, rants, and basically underground comix sensibility, rather than “clean” cinematic-style storyboarding. All of this takes on remarkable power when you consider the full case of Julian Assange; Intruder would consider WikiLeaks a wuss endeavor for trusting that getting the information out to the press would accomplish anything, as the press is itself fully compromised.
I set to work and turned the ideas and notes into a character. I transliterated Scott’s name into an equivalent, changed-up some biographical details and specs, and decided upon a location. I chose which form of cancer we were talking about, which suggested to me one of my favorite comics visual concepts, facial disfigurement. Through back-and-forth, the fifteen-angle facial study (the images above are three of those) emerged, and I instantly made it my computer screen background. Scott had also suggested that Intruder had some interesting helpers or lieutenants, who were at risk through the extremity and unpredictability of his powers, so I made them up too. I chose a bunch of visual references and put it all together, adding Scott’s responding riffs to arrive at this Intruder concept document, including the art direction.
The time for scripting had arrived, but instead of forcing you to relive the next few months with me, my next post will provide the entirely-finished result.