A standard rescue line launcher is brought into play atop the adjoining parking structure, although it turns out to be ineffective. But the Chief has noticed someone in unusual garb has suddenly become visible within the building!

As you can probably tell, this page was a lot of fun from my end. Max came up with this new workflow that really helps both of us, and which we’ve been using for the past three pages or so. I’ve detailed it somewhat in the blog below the jump. But for this upper section, let’s talk line launchers!

TL;dr — just plugging the “launchable anchor” being developed by my late father’s company.

The type of rescue line launcher used in the comic actually exists, and can be used to fire line-carrying grapnels, weighted beanbags, and floatation devices among other rescue and access equipment. However, it almost always depends on either someone being on the receiving end, or at least a structural element to hook on to. As some may remember, I’ve actually improvised such a thing myself, and it worked amazingly well.

What does not exist, however, is that common trope seen in countless movies, TV shows, and comic books — the line-launching anchor harpoon. You know, the line-carrying arrow, crossbow bolt, etc. that hits a wall or ceiling and allows the hero to instantly zipline to safety or swing across city streets.

Apparently the Philae lander just discovered how difficult that is in real life, and that was probably intended for point-blank range, like a concrete nailgun.

Hell, the first episode of this season’s White Collar had Neal Caffery fire a line-carrying crossbow bolt two city blocks and it apparently still retained enough force to embed itself in concrete, allowing him to somehow zipline to a building in the middle without any need to even tighten the slack out of the cable.

Now, in my pyro work, I’ve done a certain amount of line rocket work. Essentially we stretch a thin steel cable for up to a hundred yards, on which we hang a small Estes-style rocket shaped like an RPG. It weighs maybe half a pound, and we use the lightest, thinnest cable possible, so it is almost invisible. We still have to use a ratcheting mechanism to get it tight enough to keep the rocket from dragging on the ground as it approaches the middle of the cable. I won’t go into the vector forces involved, but they are considerable. 

Well, a better example might be the time I tried to rig an actual zipline from a tree in my yard, over the pool, to a cinderblock wall. I drilled a hole in the wall with a hammerdrill, installed an anchor bolt, ran the heavy steel cable from the bolt to the tree (about 50 feet) and cranked that cable taut with a ratcheting mechanism intended for barbed-wire fences. Hung the zipline pulley mechanism, and invited Max (whom I believe was 16 at the time) to try it out.

He climbed up on the rock we were using for a stepladder, started to zipline toward the pool — and the entire cinderbock yanked right out of the wall. Max crashed down on concrete rim of the pool and the fun was over for that day. (Those of you contacting Child Services should know that the statute of limitations has already run out on that particular instance of Bad Parenting.)

So, no. Despite the fact that it’s been seen so often in movies and TV that everyone believes it exists, the launchable anchor that can actually embed itself in concrete, stone, or steel effectively enough to do anything useful doesn’t actually exist. Daredevil’s cane? Sure, that’s a grappling hook. But Oliver Queen’s zipline arrows? They don’t exist.


But as it turns out, one of the organizations most frustrated by the lack of such a thing in real life is the U.S. Military. They want launchable anchors, too, and not just so they can swing across buildings and go “WOOHOO” (although that’s probably a factor.)

So they are trying to make it happen. My late father helped start a tech company that does all sorts of contract work for NASA and the U.S. Government, and they just were awarded an Army contract to try to develop an actual, real-life “launchable anchor.”

You can read about it here.

Since my father’s passing, I sit on the board of this company. This means that twice a year I have a conference with a bunch of people who are so brilliant they treat math as a language and routinely use words like “cosine.” My job is to listen with my eyes glazing over and then pipe up with: “Sounds good to me!” I should really just be fetching them coffee.

But anyway, with any luck, we’ll get real launchable anchors sometime soon. And when we do, I vote Angelina Jolie be the first to demonstrate. Preferably in that dress she wore in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

More below!



Layers Of Responsibility


Max and I are still refining our workflow on these pages, and one of the latest developments is that now, instead of sending me a flat piece of art, he sends me the whole Photoshop file, with all the myriad layers he has used to create the various elements on the page. They are in what he calls “rough color” form, which a lot of artists might consider “finished” but for Max, that’s just where he starts.

It used to be that if I wanted to put someone in front of a flame, I had to drop the flame on the art, and then carefully cut away the flame where the person was, so the flame would appear to be behind him. Now all I have to do is find the layer where the person is and drop the flame behind him. It means that if Max decides to change or move the character slightly, the flame element is still intact.

It makes for huge files, but that’s what Gdrive is for. And for this page, I went out and shot even more effects, just so I could get some licks of flame into the smoke billows (as seen in the fourth panel.)

So for those interested, here’s what the process looks like from my end. Max has already done a ton of work, roughing, laying out, drawing, layering, adding rough color, etc. He sends me the file. And I bring up my continuously growing library of effects images to start browsing. What I like is that I can go through the images (usually hi-rez video plates) to find just the right frame for that shot. Billow of flame and dark smoke? Check. But since it’s my own footage, I can trace that billow upward as it coils and fades until it is just a lick of fire among the smoke; and grab that exact frame and use it. Just enough to signify heat without distracting from the hero. Yeah. I have a good time. And then I send the whole pile back to Max and he just ups the awesome by approximately 574%.

I should have dropped him on the concrete more often.

— Bob out