Commentary Track – Chris Samnee Discusses Daredevil 1

Commentary Track, Chris Samnee, Daredevil 1

When Chris Samnee and Mark Waid closed their award-winning volume of Daredevil, they set themselves the herculean task of uncovering new ground for a new volume, living up to fan expectations, and ingratiating themselves to the newcomers that every #1 brings. More than up to the task, Waid and Samnee delivered a first issue that managed to tell us everything a new reader would need to know about the character within the context of a thrilling adventure. Much of why that works comes from Samnee’s clever implementation of visual exposition, which capitalizes on every piece of setting, lighting, blocking, and costuming as important storytelling details. Drew sat down with Chris and went through the issue page by page, so get your copy handy and join us on the Commentary Track.

Retcon Punch: To start off, can you tell us a bit about how you and Mark Waid break a story?

Chris Samnee: We usually talk on the phone before he writes anything. I get to toss out any ideas that I have, and then he throws them out the window (laughs).

RP: What do his scripts look like? For example, on this first page, did he ask for four panels, specifically?

Daredevil 1, Page 1CS: Oh, no. Mark doesn’t give me panel layouts — the layouts are all me. Sometimes he’ll say, like, “panel one, panel two, panel three,” but more often than not, it’s like “page 13 to 15 I need this,” and he’ll give me some descriptions. Sometimes it’ll just say “panel” with the description and never says what number it is.

For this one…uh, I can’t really remember off-hand. I do remember originally that Charlie was a man, but now it’s a gal. I’ve been watching Prime Suspect, and I really wanted Matt Murdock to have another mother figure, because he has none. I mean, there’s Maggie, his real mom, but we don’t really have any — it’s all father figures. Urich is a father figure. I really wanted him to have a strong female presence in the book, so that’s where Charlie became a woman. And she’s married to a gal, as well.

RP: When in the process did that change happen?

CS: Well, he was already working on the script — I think the script was halfway done — and I had started doing layouts. Or somewhere before I started layouts, I just sent him an email like “can we make Charlie a woman? Can we make her sort of Helen Mirren-ish?”

RP: “Can we make it more like Prime Suspect?”

CS: I mean, that’s kind of what we’re going for in this. It’s like a cop drama. For the first four or five pages I really wanted it to feel like it’s the wrong book. I wanted to get people off on the wrong foot so they could see that, you know, this is something different — this isn’t the Daredevil they got used to — but also sort of to get them in a different feeling, like “did I pick up the write book at all?”

Like, it’s completely flat. The highlights that are in here were done at the last minute. I wanted it completely flat, like a newspaper. Just to give it different look from the rest. As you slowly get going, with Matt Murdock’s glasses, you get a little bit of red, and then another page turn, the logo. Then you see his clothes, and then all the bright colors start to come in from one, two, three, and then — oh, there’s all the green — you get a really good look at what the book is really going to be, which is all four color craziness.

Daredevil 1, page 5RP: And you hold off on dropping the radar sense until this page, too.

CS: And that keeps the bright purple and pink out of it. There’s already a little bit of pink in here, but I wanted to try and keep it as drab as possible. That was my big note for Javier [Rodriguez], was to try and keep it as flat as possible. I was showing him Melissa Edwards and Dave Stewart — the stuff that he did on The Winter Men — is sort of what I had in mind for these first four pages. 

RP: I feel like Javier’s work on this title has been generally pretty subtle. Is that all his style, or do you have a lot of input as to how he’s approaching the the color work?

CS: When I first came in, I was just going to be a fill-in guy on issue 12, so the original plan was just “artistic consistency,” so he just colored me the same way that he was coloring Paolo [Rivera], which was sort of airbrush-y and modeled. That works really well for Paolo, but it sort of makes my stuff look muddy. I use a lot of thick lines and a lot of black, so the modeling doesn’t really work — flat colors work better for me. When I went from fill-in guy to regular artist on the book, I asked [Stephen] Wacker and Javier if we could sort of switch up the coloring to make something that works better for the two of us, and make it our own book. I didn’t want to be a half-assed Paolo, I wanted to be me, and I wanted to make this book my own. It was just a few emails back and forth, and I just showed him Dave Stewart’s stuff on Catwoman, that he did with Darwyn Cooke, and Mike Allred, and Cameron Stewart. I was really into all that stuff, and I was like “let’s make it as flat as possible.” 23 — no, 16 was the first one that looked just like me…I think. Maybe it was 23, I don’t know. I’m terrible with numbers. Somewhere around there he switched up his whole coloring style, and it went from looking pretty good to looking amazing. [It was issue 16]

RP: One of the things that we mentioned in our discussion is that Matt has kind of a Sherlock-y quality in this opening sequence.

CS: Yeah, Mark had just finished watching Sherlock, and was like “we’ve got to do more Sherlock stuff.” He sort of made Matt more of a jerk than he’s been in the past, but he’s just so confident he can’t help himself. Mark has sort of retroactively made even little bitty Matt a little jerk. Like, even at eight years old he was sort of jerk-y. He’s really proud of himself — he couldn’t help it. 

RP: I think that confidence has been a really defining characteristic of your run.

CS: Yeah, he’s his own worst enemy.

RP: You were talking about how you asked for the colors kind of open up as you get outside —

CS: Right, I wanted to see the slow burn.

RP: The whole scene opens up there. Was that a choice of yours, or was that in the script explicitly?

CS: Well, originally in the script it was “intercutting between Daredevil and the cops. Daredevil leaves at the end of one page, and then the next page is just flashback.” I really wanted it to feel cinematic, like we’re following him. I wanted more intercutting. I put the camera behind him, or way down low for the logo — just getting really artsy-fartsy with it.

With the new number one, I was trying all kinds of new tricks. This is me going whole-hog, trying out different things that I hadn’t done before. I’m breaking all my own rules. There’s panels on top of panels. I don’t stack — I’m very 1960’s comics. I like grids, I like white panel borders. I’m going against everything.

RP: It’s a whole new world for Matt.

CS: It is! It’s a whole new world for Matt, and there’s a lot of new things I’m trying, too.

RP: It’s cool that you’re getting out of your comfort zone with the layouts.

CS: Well, I tried the circle — that wasn’t in the script. Mark was just like “here we go again. It’s Daredevil’s origin” — I think in the script, it was just two sentences: “Daredevil’s origins. You know the beats, you’re not new.” We’ve already done this over and over again. There was no dialogue at all when I got the script for this. I knew what I wanted to put on there, I asked Mark if he was cool if I did circles, and then he did all of the dialogue after the fact.

RP: It’s interesting that all of this experimentation contrasts with the classic one-and-done “there’s a child in danger” thrust of the story.

CS: It’s like an episode of Luther.

RP: They’re all BBC crime shows!

CS: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s the moral: we’re just way into BBC.

RP: It seems like this whole opening sequence is about pulling the camera back further and further until we find ourselves back in New York on page 6.

CS: This is our fond farewell to New York. All of this is in San Francisco, then there’s the origin page, and then “ah, how great New York was!” It’s the way things used to smell and taste — this was supposed to be our sense map.

RP: Do you have any trepidation about moving the series to San Francisco?

CS: No, it’s a nice change of pace. I mean, it’s a little harder because San Francisco is more of a real place. I mean, New York is New York, but that’s not what I’m drawing — I’m drawing fake Hell’s Kitchen, the Hell’s Kitchen of 30 years ago. Which is all just imaginary and in my head. It’s dark and scary, and not what it is now — it’s gentrified and clean and fine. So I’m using a bit more reference and trying a little more to hit what the real tone of San Francisco is, but that’s the only big difference for me.

RP: And there’s a lot of specificity in the chase scene.

Daredevil 1 chase sceneCS: Yep. This is a real landmark. We actually have some palm trees. But yeah, this is a real location. There’s not a whole lot in this issue, but issue 2 has more of it, where we’re talking about specific places — there’s the opera house in issue 2. I think when Mark was still working on it, we didn’t know if Kirsten was actually in New York still, and doing this through Google maps, or if she was in San Francisco. I think we finally landed on San Francisco, but I can’t remember.

RP: She is.

Daredevil 1, Robot-folksCS: The design of these guys will come back. All of the high-tech robot-folks tie back to a villain that you’ll see later on.

RP: What about the little girl design?

CS: That’s my oldest daughter.

RP: With the big pink boots and the —

CS: I didn’t pick the colors, but that was what she was wearing the day that I started inking, so that’s just what I put her in. Javier picked the colors for it.

RP: For these action sequences, what is Mark giving you? Are you getting a description of the scene as a whole, the beats that need to happen, panel-by-panel descriptions?

Daredevil 1, More chasingCS: It’s different for each short scene. Sometimes it’s a whole scene in a paragraph, sometimes he’ll set out the beats, and sometimes I’ll just squeeze stuff in. Like, we’re seeing the city throughout this first scene, but I also wanted you to see Daredevil if you’ve never read him before, so I’m trying to pull out all of his tricks. So we have the telescoping baton — which wasn’t in the script, but I want you to see all of the tricks that he can use. So, the baton as a hook, it extends, he can use it as a grapple — I’m trying to do all of his tricks and get them out there ahead of time so that new readers can see all of the things he can do. We get radar sense halfway through the issue.

RP: This sequence is sound-effect heavy. Is that all to normalize the tik-tik-tiks of the girl?

CS: Well, we try to make it as much from Matt’s point-of-view as possible, so I try to do as many sound effects as I can to begin with. But yeah, I did start sticking more of them in there — otherwise the tik-tiking would be too on-the-nose. You’re going to wonder what’s going on with that. “Why is that so important?”

There’s always some sort of sound happening, but you don’t have to do a sound effect for every single thing. There could be a grab sound effect — “CHWING!” — but we don’t want to use every single one. But yeah, those are there to make this one not look so big. And then the tik-tiks slowly start to get bigger and bigger until you go “uh oh!”

RP: If I can get a little process-y, I’m curious what radar sense sequences look like when you send them off to Javier.

Daredevil 1, Radar SenseCS: They look the opposite of this. Well, no, I usually invert it in Photoshop, so it looks a lot like this, and then he goes through and puts a layer on top of it, so you don’t see any black. It’s like an opaque layer of paint. I wanted a radio signal, so that’s where the circles came from.

RP: It’s a great bottom-drops-out moment, but it’s almost violating to see a person in radar sense.

CS: Mark — in one of the first issues he did with Paolo — said that Daredevil couldn’t see somebody’s face. Like, he can’t pick them out from one another. It’s all of the other senses that he has to put together to figure out who a person is. So I’ve been trying to sort of mush up the faces even more, so you can’t make out anything but a nose. All of my people are sort of…blob-y. I’m tying to think of a good word, but that’s all I got.

Daredevil 1 stretchSorry there’s not more to these. Some of these are just like meat and potatoes, you know, it’s a chase scene.

RP: I mean, the competence with which you guys execute meat and potatoes is what makes Daredevil as good as it is.

CS: Well, I just try to make it flow from one panel to the next. You make sure you have the baton up high on this one so it stretches down on the telephone cord, then swinging back around. I just want your eye to move around on the page.

Daredevil 1, Pulling a Spider-ManI think this was originally several different panels, but I just squeezed them all into one. We hadn’t had any shots in a while of multiple Daredevil actions in one panel, bouncing around. I figured for the first issue we should probably squeeze one in.

And I wanted him to try a new trick — he just pulled a Spider-Man. In my layouts, I was like “and I learned this one from a friend!”

RP: Between these two pages, you see a pretty wide range of pacing. How much are you considering pacing as you make your choices, and how much of it is simply that you need this many panels to tell the story?

CS: Well, a lot of it is how much I want to slow it down or speed it up. I wanted to slow this action down so you’d start getting frantic. It’s intercutting really fast, it’s got a rhythm to it. As we slow things down and he listens, then you get a wide panel, so your eye slowly goes across it. This is a real hospital, by the way.

RP: That’s also a cool little reveal. We’re not privy to Daredevil’s thought process as he does this.

CS: Isn’t that smart? Mark is friggin’ smart. He knew this before he wrote the issue, how to use the elevator. I talked to him — I was at the bank, and I’d just pulled into the parking lot — and he started talking about the sense map, and he knew this thing he could do with the elevator. And then all of the rest of it was just mashing it all together until it became a script.

RP: “I’ve got two good ideas.”

CS: It’s weird the way his brain works. He came up with “try the red one,” in issue 25, like, he knew the line, but he didn’t know what it was for. “Try the red one.” That’s all that he knew. Like, how do you even do that? How do you reverse-engineer something like that? It’s so bizarre.

Daredevil 1, Picking Up SteamDaredevil wasn’t originally in this panel. I asked for him after the fact. In the script, I think, the bad guy was in the hospital, chasing Daredevil through the hallways, but I couldn’t find a way to get him into the hospital. So, I reverse-engineered it to make him — I had to slow him down so he couldn’t follow Daredevil to the hospital, so that’s why I put this in [indicates the “pulled a Spider-Man” panel] to slow him down. Made it so Daredevil was already in the hospital. Made one panel where you could see this guy was almost to it, with the little red cross. You could see he’s almost to the hospital, but Daredevil’s already inside. He’s outside in the panel here, turn the page, and you can still see he’s flying around the building. He’s on the other side of a window, so Daredevil can’t see him, but I had to figure out a way that Daredevil could still stop the guy. In my layout, I wrote like, Daredevil can hear the vibration of the motor of the thing outside, and Mark was like “Oh, there you go! You figured it out!”

In the original layout, it was just a really typical Daredevil jumping out a window and punching a guy in the face, and I just wasn’t happy with it. I nearly finished inking it, but I just wasn’t happy with it. It was the day before my deadline and I went back and did this one just to try and switch it up a little bit. I wanted to try something different, like if you were Daredevil and were looking through his eyes and he could see — like, what would he see? 

I just wanted to try something different. I’ve been trying to get out of my comfort zone, and this is me trying something new. It’s full bleed — I don’t do full bleed very often. This felt like it earned it, we earned a full bleed shot.

And then we’re back into the first shot of the new office. This is going to be a recurring gag.

Daredevil 1, Foggy Tease

RP: And then just ending with this tease about — 

CS: WHAT HAPPENED TO FOGGY? (Laughs) You see there’s like a little Foggy teddy-bear, with a little bow-tie? Somebody gave that to him. There’s all kinds of stuff I squeezed in. This is the first time that they — in the old comic, in the ‘60s — when they first got their law practice, this a riff on an old Bill Everett panel. This is when they first graduated school. This was in an old issue I did when I started — issue 16 or something — I just ended up redrawing it. I’m trying to capture as many modern moments and old moments — this is when Foggy first lost his hair, when he first started wearing a hat. And Mark wrote “we need some old stuff, some new stuff, a few portraits of Foggy getting ill. So you can see, sort of, the history if you haven’t read the book previous. You can see he was in the hospital — there’s a little “get well soon” balloon. If you look super close, you can sort of put the puzzle pieces together and kind of figure it out. But then, all of the sudden, there’s an even bigger mystery in the last panel.

RP: And then all of that color drops away, too.

CS: Yeah, and then we’re right back to the beginning where it’s really muted. We’ve gone full circle, and it’s like “wait — is this the right book?” again.

One comment on “Commentary Track – Chris Samnee Discusses Daredevil 1

  1. I am so very jealous you got to talk with Samnee about his craft. Great article. The amount he does remember about the issue is impressive considering how many issues past it he probably is now.

    It is great that he is trying to push his tory telling and I had no idea that he was pulling so much of the narrative weight. Seems like Waid and him have a pretty good system that gives Samnee a ton of input. Who would have thought that Paolo who was fantastic, leaving would end up giving us such a great team.

    It was really interesting to read about his transition of coloring style and when he felt like it really reflected him.

    So cool!!

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