Last autumn I did a shoot at the University of Surrey, in Guildford, as Amazi-girl from Dumbing of Age! After wearing her at LFCC I was keen to get a shoot on a university campus (even if our UK campuses are slightly different to the US ones)
Danny is an excellent example of a character whose difficulties in life are presented as consistently comedic. Several of these unhappy panels are punchlines to a strip, and the fandom make fun of his hopelessness constantly. Not a lot has gone well for Danny but he’s Danny, so the universe laughs.
His whole view of whether he’s successful in life is constructed around getting a girlfriend, which seems to be his parents’ standard. This means that a) he doesn’t seem to believe he has any intrinsic worth, and b) he’s willing to put up with anything to keep a girlfriend, including following her to college, keeping it a secret from everyone, or voluntarily okaying being verbally abused.
Aaand now it’s no longer funny.
Danny has few people to turn to. He goes to Dotty about his attraction to Ethan because the alternative is Joe, who flees at the first sight of ~~feeelings~~, or Amber, who isn’t stable enough to give him any kind of support, needing too much of it herself. If his relationship gets any more unhealthy, he’s not got a lot of places to go, and besides that, he’d probably put up with it. Even today, he turned a conversation about him and respecting himself into one about Amber’s issues.
So Danny and Amber/Amazi-Girl got the hell out of Dodge, right? And finally, they get far enough away that they can actually talk about what happened back there. And there’s three very important things I gotta talk about and address. Seriously, these are three Big Things:
1) Danny knows who Amazi-Girl is
2) Danny has to apologize for screwing shit up
3) For the first time, Amber can explain to another human being how she is specifically broken and how Amazi-Girl works.
There’s some other “beats” or “moments” I also thought were important, and I’ll get to them as we go along, but those three are the most important to me.
And I’m like, super excited to dig into this. I’ve been building up to it for three years. It’s meaty! Like, a writing buffet! And so I plunge in. This was my original first strip of this scene:
And, y'know, it’s all right. I leap right into #1 and #2. It’s okayish. It gets two of the three things. I move on.
And then I realize, man, I don’t like this take at all. I don’t. Another thing I wanted to do was get Amber out of the costume and reveal her civvies underneath. Why? Because she’s actually been wearing Amazi-Girl colors all day. She’s wearing a yellow hoodie with a blue (well, teal) hood and brown pants. Draw an A on her chest and she’s there. Even as she was having her episode in the cafeteria and ran into Sal, her hair was curling up like Amazi-Girl. The walls between her and her alter-ego were crumbling. And so I wanted to further visually hint at the blurring between the two when she takes off the costume and she’s “the same as always underneath.” It’s yellow and blue all the way down.
But this wasn’t getting there the way I wanted, and Amber is just a little too self-assured. She’s angry, and I want her to be more shell-shocked, more blue-screen-of-death. I start over from the beginning.
There’s your blue-screen of death. It sets the right tone. I keep this one. I move on.
Another moment I wanted to establish was that Danny wants to get Amber help, and he starts asking about who they can talk to. And so here we go. It gets to #1 of the Big Three: Danny knows who Amazi-Girl is, and he works from there.
But I realize we already know Amber doesn’t want anyone to know. She already yelled at Ethan that exact same thing earlier, so it’s a retread. And it’s too much #1 and it carves a path that can’t get to #2 or #3. I ditch this one and start from the end of the previous one again.
Here we get #1 and #2: Danny knows who Amazi-Girl is and he has to apologize now that he realizes how he screwed things up. I even redrew that flashback scene in panel two from that angle so I could fit it all into one panel and bring home that the bridge meant something to their relationship. It’s where stuff started going bad, and it’s kind of a symbol of Danny breaking things. It’s why this scene is happening here. But I began hating this one, too. It’s not working. I abandon it.
Here I’m just scrambling. I don’t know how to tackle things, and so I kick the can down the road. The cops drive by and they start running. But I lose the visual of the costume reveal and I don’t like the punchline – it’s not a great time to crack a joke about bangin’. What the hell, me.
Finally, it’s been days, and I’ve been drawing this scene over and over nonstop. There are some takes that are lost completely because I just erased them and started over without saving them because they were rubbish. But one day after a really really really long shower, finally I figure out a way to get all three of the Big Three addressed in a single strip:
1: Danny addresses that he knows Amazi-Girl is Amber. 2: He admits wrongdoing. And 3: Amazi-Girl begins to talk to Danny and us about how this was a psychological necessity. Well, not in that order. But by God, I did it. I like this one. I move on.
So, bam. I find a way for Amber to talk about being Amazi-Girl and what it means to her, all while hammering home the blurred lines of her psyche by having her costume fall off her civvies, revealing it’s not all that different inside there. And she might only look like a different person in the dark, she lampshades. While Danny pleads to help her get help, Amber puts on her glasses and Batmans out of there. I did it! I win webcomics!
FIVE REJECTED STRIPS. fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive
This basically never happens. Like, seriously, never on this scale. But it was a tough scene, I guess, and it was very important to me to get it right.
Hope you enjoyed me rooting through my brain in public!