Behind the Scenes of the Montoya Journal with Eric Trautmann

Montoya Journal

One of the most interesting parts of the Crime Bible mini-series didn’t even take place in the pages of the comic. Crime Bible author Greg Rucka and his Checkmate co-writer Eric Trautmann conspired to blur the lines of fiction and reality when they created a Renee Montoya journal that somehow found its way into the hands of several comic news sites, reviewers, comics shops, and a pair of copies even arrived at the doorstep of our humble website.

In anticipation of the release of the Crime Bible hardcover, Eric Trautmann kindly let us pull back the curtain a bit to reveal the machinations of the wizard behind it.

How did the idea for the Montoya journal originate, and how did you come on board in helping develop it?

Greg had made mention of how he wanted the Crime Bible to be sort of a Necronomicon of sorts for the DCU; that somehow conflated with a “leave behind” I’d developed in my Microsoft days, when my team pitched the PERFECT DARK property to film studios. We left behind this cool “dossier” which — using in-universe ephemera, like personnel files, doctored photographs, even an actual pistol target “Joanna” had shot — told a story of sorts, setting up the property.

Using the same methodology — using the Journal and various pieces of ephemera to tell a narrative in “snapshot” form — seemed logical for Renee, given her character and skills, and the story being told.

So, I sort of presented the idea to Greg, who readily agreed to my crack-brained schemes, little realizing the full and terrifying scope of it all. Moo hoo ha ha.

At the same time, I’d presented him the idea of doing the “book code” on the frontspieces of each issue, and using the Journal and the inevitable publicity around it, to point fans toward that code seemed … nicely symmetrical. (I also enjoyed sneaking in a reference to the issue of Checkmate we were working on at the time, which was, as far as I’m concerned, as good as signing our names to it.)

There’s a sort of mini-story that the reader can take away from the journal and artifacts about Renee’s globe-trotting investigations. How did this story develop, and how much was it guided by the sorts of objects you wanted to include in the journal package?

Greg really defined the narrative; I had a couple of ideas for the ephemera, but it was largely shaped by the story he was telling. Looking at what he did, it was easy for me to cook up, say, a plane ticket, or a doctored photo of “Renee,” or what have you. In a lot of ways, I fear my process for developing the notebook (and that was all done digitally—the notepaper, the handwriting, the doodles, the bloodstains, all of it) was a sort of arcane magick that really seemed to alarm/puzzle him initially. When artifacts starting spitting off the printer, I got to see him have an “a-ha!” moment.

It’s a weird way of telling stories, I grant you.

Do you have an interest in ephemera? I’ve always enjoyed looking at old cultural artifacts myself, but the thought of those artifacts having somehow come into the real world from a fictional dimension seems even more appealing.

Do I have an interest in ephemera? Does it show?

Yeah, I love cultural artifacts, though I tend to approach them from a graphic design standpoint (which, naturally, informs the creation of material like the Journal).

Can you let us in on how some of these objects were created? The boarding pass and the toe tag seem especially authentic.

It’s kind of like the magician revealing his secrets. It’s much less cool when you know how it’s done. So: if you don’t want to know, stop reading now.

The boarding pass was designed in Adobe Illustrator CS, and then we printed it on Greg’s office inkjet printer on pieces we’d trimmed down from, if I recall correctly, cardstock or pieces of file folders we’d trimmed to fit in the print feed tray. We manually refed the pages, so we could do the “double sided” printing, and then did the “perforation” with a rotary perforation blade that Jen Van Meter literally had lying around.

Pretty much everything in the piece was designed in Photoshop CS and Illustrator CS, manually printed, and cut and assembled by hand.

In addition to the journal, you also worked on making the textures for and typesetting the “pages” from the Crime Bible that opened each chapter. Can you share your process on these pages?

It’s fairly boring and technical, really. They’re all created in, as above, Photoshop and Illustrator. The paper texture starts as a simple gradient, and then I just used a bunch of custom brushes I found, and others I made, to basically paint aging and blood and whatnot onto the image.

It’s then typeset in Illustrator, and I assemble it all with Steve Lieber’s fabulous art.

Some of the funnier bits, though, involve Greg mentioning in an offhand way that it’d be creepy if the “pages” were human skin. So, I actually scanned part of my arm, and used that to develop a “pore” brush; some of the pattern in the background of those pages is my own flesh.

Around each of those pages was a code that eventually revealed a lost book of the Crime Bible. How did you guys go about encoding this cipher?

Oh, it was a massive pain in the butt–my own big idea kicking me in the tail.

I had cooked up the idea of using a fairly traditional book code, one which would be tailored to the text included in the frontspieces. Then I explained how it would work to Greg, who had some difficulty visualizing what I was blathering on about.

So, I borrowed his laptop for a few minutes, whipped up a sample “bible” page to show him what I was talking about, and he grokked it–and apparently was so taken with my really crappy rough version of the bible page he immediately called the series editor, Michael Siglain, and asked him “Hey, how about having Trautmann do the frontspieces?”

Siglain apparently liked ‘em well enough that they tapped me to handle doing the frontspieces—when all I was trying to do was develop the code for ‘em. Heh.

So, Greg then drafted the “hidden” chapter of the Crime Bible, after which I started encoding, word by word, by hand, and realized he’d used words in the hidden verses that didn’t appear in the five frontspieces to the series. So, we had to go back and figure out exactly which words we’d missed, add them to the various bible pages, and re-encode. I’m frankly stunned it worked, because it sort of all had to be done at a single sitting, because of either of us lost our place, it could’ve completely bollixed the whole thing up.

Do you think the viral marketing you’ve been involved with so far, like the Montoya journal and the Gideon-II site, will be more prevalent in the comic industry in the future? What’s the advantage of this sort of advertising?

I have no idea. It’s an awful lot of hands-on work, so it’s not something every creator is going to have access to, and frankly the publishers don’t seem to really care all that much. I’d like to see more of it; I think Warren Ellis’ DOKTOR SLEEPLESS is doing some stuff like this, but it’s all internet based.

The advantage is quite obvious, to me: fan involvement. The folks who invested the time in, for example, hunting down the Journals or decoding the book code are going to be emotionally invested in the universe, and — provided you don’t fail to pay off — they’ll tell all their friends how cool it is. It’s participation in the DCU that plays directly to the kind of universal language of old-school comics—appealing to the same kinds of folks who tracked all of those parenthetical editors’ notes in old comics. To my mind, those are just non-technological hyper-links connecting the continuity, so giving people a tangible, hold-it-in-their-hands avatar of the setting is even more exciting than an editor’s note.

But, hey, I’m biased.

Also? It’s bloody CHEAP, comparatively. If a creator is willing to spend the time and initial cash outlay, it’s a damn sight cheaper than an ad in Wizard, and puts the whole thing at their fingertips, in terms of control. This was just a small team of people who believed in the book, doing it under the radar.

What can we look forward to seeing you work on next?

Nothing I can discuss as of this writing, alas, except a story I co-wrote with Brandon Jerwa for the second volume of Image’s POPGUN anthology series. It’s a supernatural/horror/action piece called “Wide Awake,” illustrated by David Messina.

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