WHO THE HELL IS JENNIFER STRONGARM?
I don't know what kicked it off or resurrected it but an old Facebook image popped up this week. It's a drawing Shanae did in 2011 depicting the player characters in our tabletop roleplaying game, at the time referred to as "Bloodstone Investigations." This image planted the first seed in my mind that the story we were telling had life outside of the gaming dungeon we played in. I looked at it and said, "I'm high on the idea of someone taking characters from my mind and illustrating them in the real world. You know, with my concepts and Shanae's drawing skills, we could make a pretty kick-ass comic book!" A year-and-a-half later we got to work on what you would now know as Shivertown, our ongoing detective comedy following the father-daughter team of Jeph and Lisa Blackstone.
Looking at that image I reminisced a lot. I thought about what it was like to play those characters, sitting around a table with my best friends. I thought about the hijinx, the laughs, the tears.
Then I thought about Jennifer Strongarm.
Readers of our comic look at that image and recognize most everybody who hangs out at Gary Hell's bar. But there are two characters in that image readers would see as complete strangers. Today I want to focus on one: Jennifer Strongarm. Strongarm is the character furthest to the left, giving bunny ears to "The Man in Sunglasses," as we refer to him in the comic. In early posts on this blog I've discussed translating our roleplaying game into a comic book (click here for one such post) but it bears repeating: a lot of stuff didn't make it to the comic book. Jennifer Strongarm was a major player in the game, one of the main characters without a doubt. What readers never got to see, though, is that in the original drafts of Shivertown (back when it was called "Blackstone" or even "Bloodstone") we had every intention of including her. I spent this week combing through scripts to find evidence of this.
I'd like to give you a peek today at an alternate universe Jeph and Lisa who were introduced to an ex-military mercenary named Jennifer Strongarm in the third issue. This is the scene in which she first appeared. I've left one page before and after the deleted scene intact, to give you some perspective on where this scene took place in the story.
1- Int- Jeph’s Car- Day
Looking at everyone again?
I feel like I was pretty patient through the whole Angelist story.
I know it means a lot to you.
Even though I’ve heard it… how old am I?
2- On Lisa.
Well that long.
But now… you’re just driving around the town I live in and pointing things out.
That seems silly, and you’re wasting gas during trying environmental times.
3- On Jeph.
Well, I think you need to take a second look.
Knowing the city a dick operates out of is more important than…
4- Close-up on Shoebox, looking out the window.
5- Lisa’s POV at Jeph.
His right hand is gesturing slightly to Shoebox, politely.
Thank you, Shoebox.
6- Shoebox close-up.
1- Ext- The Airport- Day
The station wagon is pulling up to that loading zone you’re only supposed to be in temporarily.
2- Ext- The Airport- Day
From behind, looking over the car.
Everyone is in various states of getting out of the car. Jeph is already around the front of the car. People are bustling around, and a black security guard is gesturing to the car. Jeph speaks without a thought, going about his business.
Sir, you can’t park here.
This is a loading zone.
I dare you.
3- Close-up security guard.
He’s squinting at Jeph. Will he react badly?
4- Same as 4. He’s recognized Jeph.
I’m sorry, Mr. Bloodstone. I didn’t recognize you.
5- Wide and slightly elevated looking down at the crew walking in.
Jeph is already in the sliding doors, unphased. Lisa is behind him on his right. Shoebox is a bit behind them with his hands in his coat pockets. Bruce has stopped at the guard. He’s patting his arm. The guard is looking at Bruce’s hand.
It’s not a problem today.
Next time, though, we’ll see.
6- Close-up guard.
I’m gonna break that hand off.
1- Int- Airport- Day
Wide in baggage pickup.
Lisa and Jeph are walking alongside each other. Shoebox is right behind them. Bruce is jogging to catch up behind him.
Can you smoke in airports?
Dad, it’s California.
You can’t smoke anywhere.
Yeah, just checking.
2- Medium of Lisa and Jeph.
In the background Bruce has passed Shoebox and is trying to walk at Jeph’s side, but Shoebox has a hand on his shoulder holding him back.
So who is this we’re picking up?
Our new hire.
That reminds me.
3- Medium of Jeph.
He’s flicking a quarter over his shoulder to Bruce.
Here, putz, go play some pinball.
We’re meeting somebody.
4- Medium of Bruce.
He catches it and smiles.
5- Wide from the side of everyone walking.
Bruce is getting left behind again.
Wait, I wanna come with you guys!
6- Wide of the gang standing around in a semi circle.
They are in a foyer at the bottom of some escalators. Obviously the Boise Airport for reference. Shoebox is glancing at his watch.
I don’t get it. Where is she?
Well, we are about twenty minutes-
What took you so long?
1- Full page spread introducing Jennifer Strongarm.
I gave her a brief description before. Latina. This is the shortest her hair will be the entire time we know her, because she’s just gotten out of the military. Under each arm are giant duffel bags, bulging with heavy contents (guns and weaponry). She’s wearing a black tank-top, and her chest is small. Her pants are baggy and military-grade. She has a dog-tag around her neck.
I assume you’re Jeph Bloodstone.
1-Int- Airport- Day
Wide of everyone. I’d say it’s Strongarm’s POV coming down the escalator.
The semi-circle has shifted to open up for Strongarm. Bruce’s mouth is agape with intimidation. Lisa’s proud to be looking at such a strong, independent woman. She’s also proud of her dad for even hiring a woman. I feel like Shoebox is just always smirking, but it’s true. He’s just along for the ride, taking it all in. This is sort of like retirement for him. He’s getting a real kick out of it. And while no one else seems to notice it, he’s seeing a new side of Jeph since his terminal diagnosis. He’s reaching out, laying roots, and sort of starting a family. It’s endearing.
This is your team?
They’re working on it.
2- Wide of group walking.
Jeph is in the center next to Strongarm. Lisa is one step back on his other side. Shoebox is a ways behind on one side, and once again Bruce is clumsily trying to catch up.
This is my daughter, Lisa.
She’s gonna be your boss someday.
Today… she’s a little green.
Don’t worry about it, sir.
We’ll get her caught up.
3- Wide again.
Shoebox has caught up and is walking alongside Lisa. He has his arm around her. Bruce is still struggling behind, his fingers holding on to his backpack.
How do you plan to pay all of us, Dad?
Can you afford that?
I got a plan.
4- Wide of everyone finally walking side-by-side.
Well, you know what?
I’m proud of you, Dad.
The Jeph Bloodstone I grew up with would never go out of his way to hire a woman.
I think this shows real change.
Well, she’s a dyke.
So it doesn’t count.
5- Wide of just Lisa, face very close to the camera.
The group has moved on and she’s just stopped dead, in shock.
I’m starting to wonder if I can go anywhere with you.
1- Ext- Gary Hell’s Bar- Day
The station wagon pulls up. Yay!
Bruce’s guitar is on the ground outside the door. The neck is severed from the body, but the strings are still attached.
2- Everyone is walking into the bar, with Bruce kneeling down in the foreground.
3- Lisa kneels down beside him.
4- He holds up his broken guitar. Someone stomped a hole in the body. He only looks mildly upset.
Someone smashed my guitar.
I just don’t think you’ll need it anymore, buddy.
5- They walk into the bar.
Everyone is gathered around the bar. Shots are being poured. Gary takes immediate notice of Bruce and Lisa (one because he’s under age, the other because she’s a cutie).
The gang is smiling. There’s a relaxing, “Well that was a full day’s work” vibe to them (I guess it’s just three people).
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that! I really love that scene and it was hard to let it go. There's some great dialogue and a lot of good gags, but without Strongarm none of it was propelling any of those relationships so I didn't try to wedge it in anywhere else. Not to mention that it's all very airplane-specific.
I'm not writing Strongarm off. She's in the outline... eventually. Her context to the story has just changed significantly. She existed in a version of the story in which it was much more plainly stated what Jeph's intentions were: to build a team. He's still doing that, but I like to think he's being more sly and manipulative in the series that was actually published. Her path will cross Blackstone Investigations, it's just less direct than this.
As for that other character you don't recognize, her name is Regina "Wiz" McGee. I have a lot of deleted scenes for her too, but (spoiler alert) I was able to recycle them back into the story proper. You'll get to see all those scenes when we get to Volume 2. Since we're still five issues away from finishing Volume 1 I'd say you've got a bit of a wait, but you'll get there.