Saturday, December 27, 2008

Out of the Vault - D'Arc Tangent

Cover of D'Arc Tangent #1So since I've been reading Girl Genius lately, I decided to devote this week's Vault visit to an earlier Foglio work, the one-shot D'Arc Tangent.

D'Arc Tangent #1 was published in 1982 by ffantasy ffactory, a company formed by Phil Foglio and Freff (hence the doubled 'f's in the name). Following the example of Elfquest, it was an independent comic, black-and-white on magazine-size newsprint with a quarterly release schedule (in theory, anyway).

Foglio by that time had already made a name for himself among sf fandom as a fan artist, and among gamer geeks (like me) for a strip in Dragon Magazine called What's New with Phil & Dixie (available on the web here). Connor Freff Cochran had also published as both a writer and illustrator (you can see sample pages from issue 2 on Freff's site).

Between the two of them (with the help of SF author Melissa Ann Singer as publisher), they concocted an ambitious tale of star-spanning romance. In the first issue, we were introduced to a huge interstellar empire, a mysterious would-be conqueror, an enormous city built on an ancient artifact that dwarfs Ringworld, a grieving alien widow, and a medieval French nobleman whose personality is imprinted upon a robot, which in turn begins to develop an emotional bond with the widow.

The story was planned to run 16 issues.

It lasted one.

It wasn't a problem with either the art or the story; though neither were perfect, they were solid, with the promise of great improvement over the full run of the tale. It wasn't necessarily a problem of low sales or of the implosion of the black-and-white market that doomed so many other small-press B&W books in those days.

Screaming Won't Make the Work Get Done FasterNope, Foglio and Freff simply split up due to creative differences.

What creative differences, you might ask? Well, here's a clue. When the editorial page in the first issue features one creator screaming at the other to finish the damn book already, you can assume that there's friction in the partnership.

Looking at a sample of the book in question might help explain a bit more. Here's a portion of a typical page below. It appears that penciling duties were split between the two. Foglio obviously drew the shorter Frenchman, as well as the unmasked robot, while Freff appears to have penciled the taller Frenchman and the alien babe Avari T. But from the editorial cartoon, it seems that Freff was doing all the inking, and just look at the inks on this page: lots of cross-hatching, multiple flavors of zip, and a hell of a lot of black. Now multiply that through the entire book, and you can see why they had trouble making a deadline.

Holy Crap, That's a Lot of Black!

All that work was not wasted, however. The next year, Foglio drew a rather long science-fiction tale featuring Buck Godot, Zap Gun for Hire (released in 1986 through Starblaze Books), and the character of the Pistol Packin' Polaris Packrat featured a very familiar profile.

D'Arc Tangent as a Robot, and...D'Arc Tangent as a Space Rat


tagryn said...

Thanks, good summary, and neat to know about Freff's samples from issue #2 on his website.

Anonymous said...

Phil's cartoon in issue #1 was a clear expression of how he felt; but it bore no connection to reality.

When we started the D'ARC TANGENT project, the idea was that it would be a 50/50 effort down the line -- Phil and I were supposed to write, pencil, and ink it in equal shares. But as the first issue progressed that turned out to be a lovely fantasy instead of a realistic distribution of labor. Phil is a very talented cartoonist, but his pencils were wildly inconsistent from one panel to the next, which necessitated a lot of repair. The team also discovered that he simply couldn't ink my pencils at all, and that most of his dialog wasn't "real" enough for the serious SF story we were trying to tell. At other times he was simply lazy -- there's a two-page alien cityscape spread in the book where his entire contribution was to toss in five seconds of pencil squiggles and then tell me "You do that, you're good with that scratch-ass kind of detail."

Regarding the zipatone, that was all Phil, and his style was to put zips on everything. As editor, Melissa would go over each page and require us to remove at least half of what he'd done, and often more.

Final scorecard, based on what made it to the finished page: Phil wrote maybe 20% of the book; he penciled around 10% of it (Lucie Chin actually penciled more than Phil did, but he refused to let her have a penciling credit); he inked none of it; and the zips were all his, though severely edited. I did everything else. Which certainly did take a long time...none of which Phil believed was necessary, hence his cartoon. He would have been perfectly happy if we'd just published his pencils and stopped right there: never mind that they looked like crap.

Tensions were obviously high when we started on issue #2. To mollify Phil, Melissa decided to try a different process for the pencils, where she would work exclusively with him until she felt his half of the work was up to snuff and the pages could be passed on to me to do my half. This didn't go any better. In fact, it was taking even longer, because Phil was having to rework some pages six or seven times, to the point where what he had penciled was so heavy with graphite it literally could not be inked -- not without taking several hours to carefully erase the pages back to the point where what he'd drawn was still visible, but enough graphite was cleared away so the paper could take the ink. Melissa finally gave up on this approach because Phil was becoming actively pissed off about having to redo so many things.

The next approach we tried work splendidly in terms of speed and turning out great-looking pages, but it basically meant pretty much ignoring Phil's pencils. He'd draw his part of a page once and hand it over. Melissa and Lucie and I would look it, decide what worked and what fell short -- then Lucie and I would pencil what should have been there, retaining as much of Phil's work as possible, and I'd ink it.

The pages looked great, but by now Phil's ego was taking a huge drubbing, especially when we'd do interviews and public appearances and people would tell him this was the best work of his that they had ever seen. He would take public credit cheerfully enough in the moment, but afterward he would become even more difficult to deal with.

But what really ended things was when the rest of the team found out that Phil had offered to sell the book to Richard and Wendy Pini at WaRP Graphics, and come do it for them as a solo act. At the next group meeting we asked him if what we had heard was true. He said it was, that he had talked to a lawyer and he owned everything, and that if we thought otherwise we "could all go piss up a rope." Then he left the room, whistling.

Probably needless to say he had not actually talked to an attorney, and when it finally did get settled in court (six years later!) Phil didn't own anything other than his share.

I've spent the years that court settlement trying to get a movie version off the ground. Came close in the mid-'90s with the company that eventually became DreamWorks Animation. Still retain the rights and the passion, and the technology is better than ever, so we'll see -- D'ARC is far from dead.

-- Connor Freff Cochran (

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

Thank you for telling your side. I'd look forward to seeing where the story went.

Anonymous said...

Email me and I'll send you some odds and ends.

-- Connor

DoggingYou said...

I remember D'arc Tangent from 1982 and REALLY, REALLY had this as one of my top of the list of faves of indie comics. I was so into it and immensely pissed off when I learned that was going to be the first and last issue. I'm still fiending for it. Great concept and great art, I don't care about the damn creative squabbles, get it together and put it behind you. I still think DT should be pursued. Very intriguing.

Anonymous said...

Years late, just found this online... but D'Arc Tangent #1 is one of my most prized possessions. LOVED LOVED LOVED your work on it, as well as the storyline, and was sorry to see it not continue. I would have loved to see the story evolve and learn what happened to Avari T and her disturbing new bond.

DoggingYou said...

Hey, Anonymous, I had this comic book and I bought it in San Francisco on 23rd and Mission St, it was Gary's Comics. The comic shop is no longer there. I remember purchasing D'arc Tangent in 1982.

Prof. Godel Fishbreath, Otter said...

AT the time I felt that the best result of this 'divorce' (and it looked as messy and as nasty as that) would be for both sides to draw their version of the comic. Phil could run Freff's character down, and all it would do is look juvenile.
But from what I heard from both in a dealers room, Phil was stonewalling Freff from continuing.