I’m going to take some time every once in a while to talk about Those Who Taught Me. Near the top of that list is director Alfred Hitchcock, whose work as a filmmaker is legendary and well-deserved–but that reputation’s not what influenced me, not directly. His best films, from NORTH BY NORTHWEST to PSYCHO to REBECCA, are stunning achievements storytelling–but the films themselves weren’t a primary influence, either. Hitch’s true impact on me as a comics storyteller came in the form of HITCHCOCK by François Truffaut , a book-length interview first published in the 1960s. In HITCHCOCK, Truffaut (the acclaimed director of THE 400 BLOWS and JULES AND JIM) gives his interview subject an opportunity to explain in detail, film by film, shot by shot, how he did what he did–and the result is a textbook on how to tell a compelling story with crystal clarity. As Hitch reminds us time and again (and demonstrates through repeated example), showy technique is great…when it’s in service to the story. Likewise, colorful characters and shocking images…when they are in service to the story. As a writer or as a sequential artist, you have to be merciless about the moments you string together. They may be beautiful, they may be funny, but if they don’t help Tell The Story, they’re a waste.
How to link theme to plot, how to solve story problems, how to be direct without being simplistic–HITCHCOCK is, by far, one of the most valuable books I have ever read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to any storyteller (or aspiring storyteller) in any medium. That book is pure craft and, I promise you, even if you’ve been writing or drawing for years, there’s still something in it for you. (Hell, just his reminder that “coincidence is acceptable in a story only when it works against the protagonist” is worth the price of admission.)
On a related note, if you’re not up to plowing through a 350-page interview on my say-so but you enjoy a good story, follow the link below. In the 1950s and ’60s, Hitchcock produced a weekly television anthology series called ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. I’ve been rewatching them as they come out on DVD (three seasons so far), and while I would love to say that they hold up, the majority of them are tough watching by today’s standards–laconic, with “twist endings” telegraphed practically from the opening credits. However–there is a gem in the mix. The first-season episode “You Gotta Have Luck,” starring John Cassavetes, is one of the best and most clever half-hours of TV I have ever seen. It does something I love and does it brilliantly–it keeps you baffled as to where it’s going, and yet (you realize at the end) had you paid close attention, all the clues were right there in front of your eyes. Enjoy.