Monday, March 26, 2012
Bold Venture Bulletins # 7
Ever wonder why certain pulp heroes never had their own radio programs?
Pulp fans routinely gather at pulp-themed conventions and speculate on such matters. Why wasn’t there a Doc Savage movie serial, and who could have played him? What would a Spider radio show have been like? If only there had been an Avenger comic strip.
Chances are you never considered The Domino Lady for a radio series. Her profile has been raised considerably in the past seven years, so I took the liberty of answering the question, “What would a Domino Lady show have been like?”
In late April 2012, the AudioComics Company (http://audiocomicscompany.com) will debut a series of pulp-themed audio dramas. Leading the charge is The Domino Lady, the original femme fatale from Saucy Romantic Adventures. She appeared in six stories, originally published in 1936, and then quietly disappeared. For nearly seven decades, only pulp magazine collectors remembered her.
The Domino Lady has a special place in my heart. I became aware of her through the pulp fanzines. The late Kristen Ladnier’s enthusiasm for the character led me to consider publishing a book compiling her half-dozen adventures.
When I first announced the project, everyone asked, “Why the Domino Lady?” She was a third-tier character that interested no one. She had become a joke, depicted in fanzine illustrations more appropriate for a Tijuana Bible.
Reading the original stories, bylined “Lars Anderson”, revealed a different character – Ellen Patrick, her true identity, was young and beautiful, sassy and sophisticated. Her adventures were crafted to titillate as much as thrill, but she was a cosmopolitan woman.
I chose to rescue her from the pornographic quagmire to which her reputation had sunk. To that end, I commissioned the legendary Jim Steranko to create a new cover and “title page dramatizations” for each story.
“We’ll present the Domino Lady,” Steranko assured me, “with the same beauty and grace with which she was created.”
Compliments of the Domino Lady (Bold Venture Press) was unveiled to the reading public on Christmas Eve 2004. That’s right about the time people started receiving their copies. What timing -- And what as pulpy present!
She was given a new lease on pop-culture life. Fans changed their assessment of the character. The book inspired New Pulp maverick Ron Fortier to assemble new stories for Domino Lady: Sex As A Weapon (Moonstone Books, 2009). Those who thumbed their nose at the character were probably begging to contribute.
Since I started the dominoes a-falling, I wanted to contribute to the anthology. My plot involved skullduggery at the 1935 California Pacific Exposition, a sprawling fairground of culture, history, oddities and amusements. I hadn’t given myself enough time to properly research (or describe) the Expo. I panicked and the writing stalled.
I bluffed my way through “writer’s block” by turning the story into a “vintage” radio drama, complete with music and sound effects cues. This approach gave the story a unique quality, distinguishing it from the other contributions, and did an end-run around the Dreaded Deadline Doom.
And that was that ... the story was exclusive to the hardcover edition. Most reviewers consult the paperback, never mentioning my script. That’s show business.
I began corresponding with Lance Roger Axt, one of the creative madmen associated with AudioComics Company in November 2010. They had sent out a press release promoting Starstruck, an audio adaptation of the graphic novel by Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta. Pulp-themed audio dramas were mentioned among their future projects.
In response to Lance’s interest in the Domino Lady, I forwarded the script from Sex As A Weapon. It met with their interest and approval. Suddenly, Ellen Patrick was now a pioneer in this new endeavor!
In early 2011, I met Lance Roger Axt and Bill Dufris, the men behind the AudioComics Company, at a convention in Long Island City, NY. They were directing a performance of Starstruck that weekend, and promoting AudioComics. I dragged along C.J. Henderson, whose “Return of the Originals” story Battle For L.A. (Moonstone Books, 2011) had piqued their interest. Huddled within close range of the breakfast buffet, we hashed out ideas regarding Battle For L.A. and Domino Lady, and talked shop.
Since then, I’ve been introduced (via telephone) to Karen Stilwell, the lovely actress bringing Ellen Patrick to life, and I’ve heard an actual cast rehearsal. The drama had played out across the landscape of my imagination thousands of times, complete with music and sound effects. It was strange to listen passively to something I had been so actively involved in creating, but satisfying to hear the actors’ interpretations of my dialogue and narration.
A week ago, I completed the second of three scripts. The newest storyline is replete with delightful ambiances and staccato bursts of gunfire and mayhem. The original Domino Lady stories were more sedate – though their scope increased with each installment – but my second script ramps up the action.
More importantly, the remaining installments take greater advantage of the power of the imagination. Part one of All’s Fair In War features a “general carnival ambiance”. Otherwise, most of the scenes boil down to people having indoor conversation or confrontation. The second script makes better use of the California Pacific Exposition and its colorful adult playground.
While ambiance and music is important, eventually audio drama is about people overcoming (or creating) conflict. As in every conversation, there is usually a dominant speaker and a more submissive participant. One character imparts information, or gives direction, while the other character replies or acts. Often, the characters may switch roles more than once in a scene.
Writing audio dialogue is akin to writing a song – you ain’t got a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.
Also, how to impart exposition without the characters simply orating on their history? In prose, the third-person narrator can disperse information freely. For audio, I ration information like tiny crumbs – Sprinkle a few here and there, then dispense more when appropriate.
Hardboiled author Carroll John Daly claimed he began a new paragraph whenever too many black lines ran together. Likewise, reading aloud to the household pets, I know it’s time for another character to speak up if I begin rushing through dialogue.
Audio drama is not a visual medium, so it may not be appropriate for car chases and full-scale gunfights. Undaunted, I forged ahead and The Domino Lady’s second episode features a shoot-out reminiscent of The Untouchables television series. These are pulp fiction characters, after all, so we need to have a large dollop of Thunder in the blood and thunder.
The goal is determine which information must be “spelled out” and which action can be hinted at through sound. When two characters are approaching a flight of stairs, I want to keep the story moving. “Ah, the staircase is right here,” and “Yes, let’s begin walking up the stairs,” just isn’t going to cut it.
So, if one character pulls a gun, he might yell, “Freeze!” while the other character implores, “Don’t shoot!” The seasoned pulp reader – whom I suppose is an educated, intelligent fellow or lady – assumes that the first speaker is pointing a gun.
Since I think visually, as I’m writing the script, I’m imagining actors in costume and decorated sets. Then I rewrite to make certain the scenes aren’t “too visual”, so that audiences will interpret the scene correctly. It can be a very schizophrenic process.
I proposed a Domino Lady one-shot comic to Moonstone publisher Joe Gentile, placing the Domino Lady at the California Pacific Exposition. Not a mere adaptation, but a brand new story to cross-promote the AudioComics drama. This would provide a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of the visual elements of the Expo, which can only be hinted at in audio drama.
Many of the Exposition’s buildings were declared historical monuments, and are standing in San Diego’s Balboa Park in the present day. Should make it easy for an illustrator to reference.
Now the challenge with a comic book is to avoid the pitfalls of audio drama – one medium deals almost entirely with dialogue. Too little description results in a sound effects smorgasbord. Comic Books, on the other hand, thrive on eye-popping visuals. Too many panels of people conversing and sipping martinis, unless they happen to be beautiful nude women, is a commercial kiss of death.
Hopefully, the comic proposal takes flight – the result would be a comic and audio drama that compliment and cross-promote each other. Then again, I never imagined that my innocent “vintage radio drama” would go this far.
Who knows what the future holds for the lovely Domino Lady?
Rich Harvey is a New Jersey-based writer and graphic designer.