What Can We Steal From Issue #1 of Bryan Johnson and Walter Flanagan’s Cryptozoic Man?

Title of Work and its Form: Issue 1 of Cryptozoic Man, comic book
Author: Story by Bryan Johnson (Twitter) and Walter Flanagan (Twitter).  Written by Johnson, pencils by Flanagan.  Inks by Chris Ivy.  Colors by Wayne Jansen (Twitter).  Letters by Marshall Dillon.
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found: The comic can be found at all fine comic book stores.  Why not consider making a trip to Oswego NY’s The Comic Shop?  If you don’t know where your local comic book shop is, you can find it here.  The fine folks at Dynamite Entertainment will be happy to sell you a copy, too.

Bonus: Mr. Johnson and Mr. Flanagan are stars of the AMC program Comic Book Men.  As of this writing, the show is available for streaming on Netflix.  The gentlemen are also responsible for the Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave podcast.  

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Mythology

Discussion:
Cryptozoic Man is an interesting comic book that had an interesting genesis.  Mr. Johnson and Mr. Flanagan pitched Dynamite with the concept…and you can see what that looked like.  Why?  Because it was included as a scene in Comic Book Men:

I usually write my own summaries, but I think that Dynamite says it best:

Alan Ostman, a middle-aged husband/father, sees his life quickly unravel when his daughter goes missing on a camping trip in the Pacific Northwest…Bigfoot country. After Gray aliens abduct him from a roadside bar, he learns that the fate of the world is dependent on trapping the world’s most legendary cryptids…not to mention defeating a psychopath in a pig-shaped leather bondage mask, Alan knows he has his work cut out for him.

Yes, Stan Lee may have been practicing a little hyperbole when he said that there’s never been a story like Cryptozoic Man, but he’s not too far off the mark.  The book is a mélange of references to monster movies, mythical creatures and science fiction literature.  In only the first few pages, I see the following:

  • The alien from Alien
  • Bigfoot/Sasquatch
  • The Loch Ness Monster and similar cryptids
  • Alien “grays”
  • The scary three-color things from War of the Worlds.

So the authors have made it clear that they are playing in the same sandbox as countless other writers.  People have told stories like these for thousands of years; they sit around a campfire and offer an explanation for that feeling of paralysis when you’re almost asleep.  Why, it’s an incubus (male) or succubus (female), of course, sitting on your chest and preparing to have sex with you.

IncubusHow do you explain when a person’s behavior changes once a month.  The person is a sane and reasonable human being…but will turn into an absolute monster every twenty-eight days, striking terror into the hearts of everyone around.

WerewolfYou know, like a werewolf.  (What else could you have been thinking?)

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Flanagan tap into our primal fears by borrowing all of these concepts.  None of us believe that we’re going to transform into a half-monster, but don’t we fear “changing” into something that we don’t want to be?  These stories are a part of us; Cryptozoic Man benefits because we can all relate on some level.

As I understand it, Cryptozoic Man is intended to be a short-run series.  Mr. Johnson and Mr. Flanagan, therefore, don’t have much time to waste.  The first page is illustrated in sepia tone.  Mr. Johnson offers a hint that the suburban paradise in the art is now gone:

“Thin veneer of pretense lends readily to delusion.  In the rippling currents of the rueful stream, regard exists…that somehow, an adulteress would be favored above the flotsam of humanity.”

Then you turn the page and BOOM.  A two-page spread in which the transformed Alan fights a number of scary, weird-looking monsters.  Turn the page again and Alan tells you about the daughter that motivates him to kill the pig man bad guy.  You have a responsibility to set everything up for your reader, no matter the length of the work.  If you’re writing War and Peace II: Good God Y’all, you can take your sweet time.  In a limited comic series, you better be snappy.

Think of it this way.  You get home and can’t wait to tell your significant other a funny story.  One of your coworkers, in their early morning funk, accidentally brought the wrong lunch bag to work.  Their child went to school with a yogurt and an orange and your coworker has a Lunchables and a Fruit Roll-Up.  This is not an earth-shaking anecdote.  This story should not take forever to tell.  How should your significant other begin their story?

“Forty years ago, food scientists at General Mills created a pectin-based fruit-flavored snack that they decided to package in a manner that they felt would appeal to childrezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…”  See?  You already fell asleep.

What about: “Guess what?  Vanessa brought her kid’s lunch to work by accident.  She had to eat a Fruit Roll-Up at her desk.”

See?  The amount of time you have to get to your point is directly related to the power of the idea and the length of the work.

What Should We Steal?

  • Contribute your own ideas to the mythologies that have always been a part of the human experience.  What new ground can you break while playing with the idea of the vampire or sea monster or ghost?
  • Match the pace at which you release exposition to the length of your work.  If you’re doing a five-minute comedy set, get to the point.  If you’re talking to the person sitting beside you on a flight from California to India…take your time.  You have eighteen hours.

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