Notes On Uber 0

Spoilers, obv.

Even putting aside the theme and structure, this one was an odd one for me and especially odd to write these notes on. I wrote it towards the end of 2008, as the second superhero comic I ever hammered out. Caanan’s work dates from a similar period (he had to go off and work on another book before returning to Uber). Issue 1 and 2 were written in the next couple of years, and everything from 3 onwards was written from the start of 2012.

Clearly, I did a bunch of work on the issue at the lettering stage, but it’s still over the what I had created end. That means I’m more sympathetic to those who found the book problematic in execution than you’d think. That it seemed to work for a lot of people as intended is a good sign. I know even if the specific execution bugged someone, if they find the ideas enough to intrigue, we only get stronger as we progress.

(Reviews have been interesting. I’ve seen some be hard on Caanan for things which are, without a doubt, my fault. Once again I think of the Gillen McKelvie Paradigm’s critique of people misattributing praise and blame in comic crit.)

(I’ve also been interested in seeing who hasn’t reviewed it. Which is the majority of the bigger parts of the comic press. Interesting.)

I’m not going to go too far into historical references as there’s so many in here. I’ll talk about unusual stuff, but I’m not going to go too deep into “Dresden” or whatever. If you don’t know, google.

Anyway, notes!

Page 1
One of the stranger things about coming back to it is being relatively unfresh with the source material, and where I got bits and pieces. The general is Guderian, major German general. As far as I could work out, this was where he was at this point, no longer being in German high command. I think I got most of my notes on Guderian from Panzer Leader.

Sankt is a fictional invention, and one of the more important ones. You’ll see more of him as we progress.

Was it really raining in Munich at this time? I can’t remember. It wouldn’t surprise me. I mapped the rain in the (later) Okinawa arc pretty religiously.

The precision time and date thing is very much one of Uber’s quirks. There was a time I was playing with doing the whole 30-50 thing as a faux-documentary.

Page 2
Early reveal of the Ubers, with the Battleships at the back. The whole issue is structured around delaying their engagement. “Battleship” is key.

Here’s a map I drew on my fridge when working out the structure of the issue, and moving bits around.

As you can see, there’s primarily four narrative threads in the issue that dance around each other. Basically, the Sankt and the Ubers, our Soviet ground level characters, our German ground level characters and The Scientists At The Camp.

Page 3
Much of the issue is about Berlin in 1945, because the setting is important. This scene had a particularly heavy rewrite.

Page 4
I actually use Scheiße in a later issue, but there’s enough to alienate in this issue. I lost a lot of unexplained German phrases when I redrafted. It’s confusing enough anyway.

The woman’s line is me paraphrasing a particularly dark joke in Berlin in the period. Basically, better a Russian on your belly than a bomb on your head.

Page 5
First rape scene I’ve ever written. I suspect the panel description is one of my most carefully constructed ever, because I (obviously) didn’t want even the slightest hint of titillation to it.

As much as anything, I worried about this scene. I decided it would be more immoral not to include it than include it.

Page 6-7
I like Caanan’s pacing here and focus on the physicality of the violence. He’s an interesting guy, Caanan.

Page 8
I changed Freya’s name at the dialogue pass. Just seemed to work.

Not that it’s her real name, of course.

Page 9
Marek is the name of a Polish friend of mine from school.

The scene is starting to hint around the methodology behind Uber production, which is key – eventually, this is a story about economics and R&D as much as the frontlines.

Clearly, all Freya’s lines read different when you know the end of the issue. More than anyone else, I think Freya is explicitly broaching the themes and questions of the series.

Page 10
More detail from Beevor. People queuing through bread in artillery fire, and then going back to their positions afterwards.

Page 11
This isn’t the last we see of this pair of younger soldiers.

Page 12
The rapist’s line came from something in Beevor where he describes the anecdote of a Soviet soldier actually being horrified at the idea that they’d kill the women after raping them. That’s what the Germans would have done.

The mattress anecdote is the sort of thing which I read, and immediately knew I had to use.

Page 13
When I first got the lettering proof back for Uber, I was having dinner with some friends. I was flicking through it on my tablet, and hit Maria’s line here and sort of blanched. We are totally not writing Young Avengers here.

Maria is great. She’s one of my favourite designs of Caanan. I was first introduced to the soviet women soldiers all the way back in Battle as a kid, which always stuck with me.

Page 14
Katyusha is the soviet rocket-launchers. Clearly says a lot about her reputation that it’s her nickname.

Page 15
I have to presume I found a note in a book that Wenck looked young.

(The age of officers is one of the interesting things. Have you ever read ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE? Goldman talks about how A BRIDGE TOO FAR got hammered in reviews for casting a too young actor as a general, when in fact that’s exactly how old the guy was.)

Page 16
Werner off panel for all of this sequence. I like Caanan’s storytelling with Wenck’s glances implying how big he is.

Page 17
Introduction of our first Battleship. Also the first flashback sequence. We’re more explicit about the backstories of each of the Battleships as we progress, but I wanted to really cut it to the basics.

I’ll throw you a bone: that’s Kursk.

Page 18
And we do a flash-forward, then hard-cut back. Once again, keeping the Uber’s in shadow.

Also the first appearance of the cold-academic-style captions. This is a key series motif. A heavy caption linked to a single image is what I think of as tableau storytelling, based around creating an evocative enough image for the reader’s imagination to explore. I did it a bunch in JIM. Here, the austerity of the captions works for a different effect.

Or that’s the idea anyway.

Page 19
Quote, quote, quotity quote.

X-men readers will recognise the Machievelli quote, which was of similar import over there. In terms of its meditation on power and fear, I suspect Uncanny is actually the closest neighbour to Uber in my Biblography.

Page 20
Introduction of the set-up of Battleships plus Siegmund.

The characters names are from the Ring Cycle. That all the Battleships share a first-initial is a nod towards certain naval naming traditions.

The manouvering is probably the biggest leap of faith in the issue here, I think.

Page 21
And a more detailed introduction to Siegfried, including his flashback. Not smart. A sadist. Inappropriate boyish enthusiasm.

The two soldiers here are the younger ones who were trying to escape earlier.

Page 22-23
A little of an actual explanation of what they’re actually doing. Also, more soft nods towards Freya.

24-25
The Zootowers are one of the things which fascinated me from my research. I use them as a repeated setting in the Berlin scenes for the rest of the series.

And we introduce Klaudia, complete with backstory hints. You’ll note that she’s the only female Uber in uniform, which is something we only really talk about explicitly down the line, but is of note.

I really like how Caanan is really selling her enormity here. That’s something he continues and even increases to work as he continues.

Page 26-27
Panzerjagd is one of the things I’d written a story about before even thinking about Uber. It was for a war comic anthology which I don’t believe ever got drawn.

Giving a technical and sort of impressive name for giving kids a couple of panzerfaust always struck me as particularly horrible. As I think Beevor noted in Berlin, at least the Kamikaze didn’t have to pedal to their deaths.

FUCKING COCKINGHITLERSHIT is a very me swear word.

Page 28
Man, I was totally over-densing this page. Sorry, Caanan.

(I stripped it of a lot of dialogue, as it just wasn’t working as I wrote it.)

Page 29
Note use of Codename vs real Name. Also first proper appearance of the “Distortion Halo” which is our signature effect.

Seeing me name a street reminds me of crouching in my front room, poring over maps of Berlin.

Page 30
Where I shut the fuck up.

Page 31
I’m doing some odd things with language in Uber. Whoever the scene’s perspective is from is the natural language you get, and if they speak in another language, you get <> around it. So here, with our German POV, we see him come out speaking Russian and get broken German in response.

Page 32-33
And the effect of the Distortion Halo. I was thinking about surrealist presentations of war, and war’s tendency towards surrealism.

This is fucking horrible.

The whole issue’s structure are all these threads dovetailing together, and then wiping out almost all the characters we’ve introduced to make sure everyone understands what sort of story we’re dealing with here. I’m not sure I was thinking of it at the time, but with five year’s hindsight, I can see a heavy Alan Moore influence (re: the squid attack in Watchmen wiping out the whole supporting cast)

Page 34
For me, the most horrible thing about Uber is the idea that WW2 didn’t end here. The people who died in the last few hours of the war always stuck with me. Looked at coldly, it makes no fucking difference, but it’s so incredibly perverse.

Page 35
Ah, Siegfried, you are a fucking prick.

Page 36-37
And the proper introduction to the tableau approach. This is very much where my head was circa 2008 in terms of storytelling methods.

Page 38-39-40
And flash-forward linked to current happening.

Don’t think I do this again in future issues. It just about works, but it’s not ideal. If I did do it, I’d probably think more about page architecture, and turning the whole page into two sub-units.

Page 41
So, after appearing to wiping out any character who had the chance of being even slightly sympathetic and crushing the hint of hope beneath a jackboot, we return to the Camp…

Page 42-43
Apple-struddle is probably too much, but it seemed right.

Freya first states the excuse and then the critique of almost everyone’s actions. If you haven’t realised by now, in the same way hypothetical JIM students should be underling the words CHANGE and FOREVER, anyone doing a close reading of Uber should be interested in MONSTER and NECESSARY.

To state the obvious, Freya is a major character in the series.

Page 44
Yeah, Freya works primarily in an ironic mode.

(I’ll write more about Uber and women another time, I think.)

Thanks for reading.

Congratulations on the early success of Uber – I’m looking forward to the upcoming enhanced edition that was recently announced as well.

Seeing the preparation you put in to the story, and the care you took to try to ensure accuracy where warranted, impresses me to no end. I believe it would have been much easier for you to just make everything up as you went along, but I feel that choosing to pursue this more difficult route will pay off for the series in the long run. There is certainly a sense of depth, I imagine this sense is more prevalent for those of us with some sense of the history being re-imagined, but hopefully it will still be felt by those who simply enjoy the story as presented on the surface level.

I’ve seen a few reviews here and there that claim it is almost impossible to follow – however, I think a careful reading, or perhaps a re-read, can bring things into a sharper focus. I would hope there is no back pedaling on this; as a comic for adults, I expect to be challenged, and I would not want to see that changed.

Thanks for writing.

It’s certainly not one you can rush through. It’s also one which I think rewards a re-reading.

(I find myself thinking about when I watched Generation Kill, and had to rewatch the first episode to understand who everyone was.)

I think we improve in these areas as we progress too. It helps when – say – a character is Churchill.