Six Comics You May Not Be Reading, But Should

I realized that I haven’t really written about current comics that I actually read, and since we all love lists, I thought I’d mention a couple I’m currently enjoying. The only rule that I provided myself is that I wouldn’t choose any Marvel or DC comic (though I read a fair amount of both). Those two tend to get more than enough love. I also won’t bother with mentioning The Walking Dead as you’d need to be living under a rock to both not know it exists and not have checked it out as of yet.

Otherwise, everything else is fair game.

 

Saga (Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples) – Image Comics

vaughan

This is probably a cheat to the above “rules” as I’m thinking quite a few people who read comics know about this book. It was Y the Last Man that hooked me onto Vaughn’s writing, but it was Runaways that made me a fan of his for life. As soon as I heard word he was doing a comic for Image, I added it to my pull list without even worrying about what it was about or whether I would like it or not. Not that I needed to worry, since the Romeo and Juliet story set against a space conflict where the entire thing is narrated by their child at some point in the distant future had me at… well, it had me as soon as I read that first issue.

The kicker is how much Staples art is both beautiful and bizarre all at the same time. Each new alien that we meet, whether it is the Prince’s with TV’s for heads or the spider-like Stalk or Lying Cat, the characters are so vivid, even the most crazy of the crazy works.

They just completed their 18th issue, but the first two trades are out and well worth picking up.

 

Manhattan Projects (Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra) – Image Comics

relativity-chainsaw

It’s Einstein holding a frickin’ chainsaw!
What more could you want?

What if you wrote a comic about the fabled Manhattan Projects, but then twisted it so that everything and everyone made such little sense that somehow it just worked? Hickman takes a story about scientists pushing the envelope and turns it all the way up to 11. Oppenheimer is an insane person. Einstein is a dick. And even Laika, the Soviet Space Dog. Pitarra’s artwork does a good job matching the frenetic pace of the book with his cartoony style, lots of little bits and pieces on each page and in each panel.

It’s a crazy comic where there is literally no way that a reader could ever figure out where the next issue is going. And it is one of those comics I need to sit down with and do a full reread of the first 15 issues or so because I’m sure I’ve missed so much that has been included within the story, between the panels, and in the chapter breaks.

 

Archer and Armstrong (Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, & Matt Milla) – Valiant Comics

archer and armstrong

Since Valiant relaunched a couple of years ago, my refrain when referring to their comics has been that I think Harbinger is the best book they put out… but Archer and Armstrong is my favorite. A book that takes the absurd idea of a kid who grew up in a cult and an immortal (who might just drink a little too much) he was programmed to kill… and then turn that into a buddy comedy is something that shouldn’t really work. And yet, somehow, Van Lente gets it to work.

It’s the one Valiant comic (prior to the relaunch of Quantum and Woody at least) where I’ve laughed out loud on more than one occasion. And even when their enemies might not inspire the greatest “fear” from our heroes, the story doesn’t ever suffer. And I love the way that they have almost pop-up video style remarks within the panels which explain what a particular move or moment might have been. It is a technique that echoes back to the old days when an editor would put comments into the panel (“For more information on why Archer just crane kicked the bad guy see…”).

All of the Valiant books have been well worth the ride over these first 2 years, but this is the stand-out star.

 

Knights of the Dinner Table (Jolly Blackburn) – Kenzer & Company

1223721-knights_of_the_dinner_table_161

I used to roleplay. For many years I was very happy in spending an evening or a Saturday rolling the dice and weaving my character’s story through whatever world the Game Master supplied. But like many things, I just don’t have the time for it any more. And that makes me a little sad because no matter how cool video games are, there is something about spending time in another world with some good friends and drinking waaay too much soda.

Knights of the Dinner Table is my conduit back to those times. It is a black and white comic with the back half of the comic devoted to various roleplaying articles and whatnot, but the thing that brings me back month after month are the strips in the front of each issue. Most stories deal with things that might have occured during my own roleplaying sessions. Those funny, crazy moments, where you just about spit Coke out of your nose because of someone doing the “dumbest thing ever” (TM). That is the bread and butter of this comic.

untitled1-copy

It just passed issue 200 last year, but it is the type of comic that you could pick up and pretty much be in on the joke for the word go. And there are many, many trades to be had (though if they ever start doing Omnibuses that will be bought the day it comes out).

 

Alex + Ada (Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn) – Image Comics

AlexAda-01-0b-web72

During South By Southwest Comixology ran a promo where you could download the first issue for free. I’ve been a fan of the Luna Brothers since I read Ultra and Girls (I haven’t read The Sword yet, but it is on my bookshelf waiting), so I figured I’d give it a shot.

And then I bought the 2nd issue. And the 3rd. And the 4th. And if there had been a 5th I would have bought it as well. That’s called transforming “free” to “paying” customers.

Alex + Ada is about a man and his robot, just that in this case the robot looks like a fairly good-looking girl. And is willing to do whatever Alex would like. The only problem is that robots can’t have true AI due to an event prior to the beginning of the series. So Alex is in a weird place where he’s not sure what he’s supposed to be with this robot girl.

And then a potential solution presents itself.

That’s all I’ll say about it so that I don’t give anything big away, but I read these over the weekend and am now waiting for the next issue to arrive (I think in a couple of weeks it’ll be live).

 

The Last Days of American Crime (Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini) – Radical

The Last Days of American Crime Movie

There is only 1 week before the US government uses a signal which will make it so no one will want to commit a crime… and word has leaked out to a few. So now, with the clock literally counting down, they have to pull off the last heist anyone might ever pull off.

A mix of noir, cyberpunk, and good old fashioned heist story all rolled into one, Last Days is one of those stories where you end up pulling for the criminals, the “villains”. Will they get that big score and retire to the beach somewhere? Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but it is one of those I probably need to go back and read again.

This one has been out for a couple of years, but the good thing is that it is done and collected as a trade. I remember seeing a brief synopsis on this and earmarking it to buy if I ever saw it at a con. Lucky for me I did, and now it is sitting on my bookshelf.

 

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but definitely worth checking out if you have run out of things to read.

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows and the steampunk comic The Gilded Age.

Behind the Comic – The Gilded Age

 

behindthemusic-thumb-3

This week over on the Terminus Media LLC’s Facebook page this week is The Gilded Age week (available at Amazon and Comics Plus). So I thought I’d provide the blog with a little bit of how this little project came to be.

GildedAge_Front Cover-tessera

It all started with a convention in Orlando a few years ago. My buddy Egg either had a table or was sharing a table or something (it doesn’t much matter). The important thing was that while he was down their he met an artist by the name of Larry Watts who was looking for a project to work on. For some reason Egg thought Larry and I could match up on a project. Larry has since gone on to work on a Zenescope Comic called Robyn Hood (found here).

The only problem was that I didn’t really have any ideas that were artist ready.

Now I certainly had a handful of ideas, but I had no finished scripts that were just begging for an artist. So when faced with the prospect of working with an artist and you have no solid ideas I cheated and went onto his Deviant Art page to check out his stuff and see if anything “inspired me”.

And there it was… a shot of a old western gunfighter… with a metallic arm. In that instant, something flipped in my brain and I had the barest bones of an idea. What followed over the course of the next few days would end up becoming a pitch called Machine Heart.

Now Machine Heart was ready, but I believe that Larry was no longer available to work on it (I probably missed my window by not being prepared with something). So I filed it away on the computer, just waiting for the moment to spring it from it’s prison.

A year or so later Terminus Media was beginning to look towards doing something more than just anthology stories. They wanted to have something that could be 5 or 6 issues to start. Something different than what was on the shelves. And that little voice popped up in my brain and I mentioned my “Steampunk” story. A couple of meetings later things began to crystallize and suddenly it looked like things were a go… there was just one problem.

With an indy comic there is always the risk that there will be a delay between issues. You might have production problems, money problems, printing problems, and who-knows-what-else problems. But here we are wanting to tell a story over the course of 5 issues… what happens if people don’t want to wait that long? What happens if someone stumbles onto issue 2 and can’t find issue 1?

So what was the answer? In a perfect world you would find a way to have a regular schedule. We, however, live in the real world (one populated with superheroes and the like, but real enough) where delays are going to happen…

xiron-man-alarm-clock.jpeg.pagespeed.ic.pNs3wejHrQ

Iron Man doesn’t like Daylight Savings Time either.

And then it hit me –  I could build this world from the ground up by telling single issue stories about a variety of characters. And what better way to ensure that there are plenty of characters to choose from? Have the stories take place in a vaudevillian carnival where you could have all sorts of weirdos running around and no one would bat an eye. Plus, the other bonus was that I could tell a variety of stories (adventure, horror, heists, etc.) and they could all work because of the characters involved.

There was only one more problem… a title. Machine Heart didn’t really apply to this particular story, so I needed to come up with something better than “Untitled Steampunk Comic”.

Enter Mark Twain and his coining of the phrase “The Gilded Age”. Now his applied to the late 1800s corruption occurring within the US government, but I saw something that could apply to this new world. There would be corruption (there always is), but it also rang true somehow for the comic… I can’t explain it completely, but it “fit”.

gilded age by twain

While Machine Heart’s plot-line no longer applied, the characters of Hannah and Elias still worked for me. An actress who is new to the carnival, bright eyed and innocent, and the stage magician of the crew who would need her help acquiring an item for his next performance. So I made the first issue about the two of them, giving the reader a complete story in 1 issue, but hinting at a much bigger world that I’m hoping to explore more and more of.

Issue 2 is still in the process of being finished, but that gunfighter with the metal arm that inspired it all… well, he’s getting to tell a story of his own…

Gilded Age #2-004-small

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Comics on my Nightstand

ComicsI read comics. They are the best of both worlds–art and story–but I wouldn’t say I’m a collector. I just like to read comics, both digital and paper. If I like a comic enough I’ll buy both. For example, when I began reading The Walking Dead the series was already in the 70’s. I was reading from the hard back books. Now I read the single issues via Comixology but I still buy those hardback books when they release. It’s my system. Don’t question it. This past weekend I went through all the comics on my nightstand because the stack had become a beast. I cut the pile in half, keeping what I still hadn’t read (plus the other issues in a series–sometimes I look back to recall little details).

~ A few things to note ~

Marvel: I’m a Marvel fan. More than half the comics I sorted through were Marvel comics. That shouldn’t be any big surprise considering where my loyalties lie. (Did you catch the pun there?) However, I’m not one of those Marvel vs. D.C. fans. Read more

John McGuire is at Atlanta’s Anachrocon This Weekend!

This weekend (Saturday and Sunday) I will be at Anachrocon in Atlanta, Georgia. While I’m still unsure whether I’ll have a table, in theory I will be participating in a couple of panels talking about collaborating with artists in order to make a comic book (that should be on Sunday, though I am not sure of the time).

GildedAge_Front Cover-tessera

Regardless, if you are at the con, come find me and we’ll chat about all sorts of things I’m sure. And if you are trying to find me you can always hunt me down @JohnR_McGuire on Twitter.

Hope to see you there.

John McGuire

 

Behind the Comic – Misusing TIME and Being STUBBORN

behindthemusic-thumb-3

 

Making comics is a tough business. Maybe the big companies have all the little things figure out, but when you are one of the little guys there are a lot of bumps in the road. And I have come to the conclusion that there are three assets that will serve someone who aspires to create comic books (well there are more… a lot more, but these are the three I’m focusing on).

The first is to be realistic about TIME.

Dragon Clock

What does that mean? Well, what it really means is that you need to get a decent idea of your own abilities and not oversell what you can or cannot do. When someone asks you how long it is going to take to do a script or to draw your pages or to ink those pages or to color those pages or to letter those pages… well, for the sake of everyone else on your team, just be realistic about the amount of time it is going to take.

Back in the prehistoric age (about 8 years ago) Terminus Media (an Atlanta based comics company) decided to dip their toes in the comic book world. It made perfect sense, we had artists and writings sitting mere feet from each other on a weekly basis. None of us had any real credits to our comic resume, so it was a win-win situation. Plus we were meeting in a COMIC BOOK STORE for Heaven’s sake. If that wasn’t a sign to get to work, I don’t know what would be. So we got together and made a black and white anthology comic book. It worked so well we ended up doing another one, and then we did a color one, and then we did one more color one.

So what’s the problem? What does this has to do with TIME?

It took almost 7 months for that first anthology to get done. Four stories of 8 pages each took 7 months. This wasn’t 1 writer and 1 artist, this was 4 artists and 4 writers, teamed up.

Evolution-Book-one-cover-lo

So why did it take so long? Honestly? Because people have lives that they were trying to live. School or work and everything between and when you are doing something for free, deadlines go out the window for many people. But mostly it was because these creators didn’t know how long it was supposed to take. And so they said that they could deliver their script or pages or whatever by X date… and then not do it. It is hard to make something work when you have no idea if someone is going to be true to their word. It sucks to have to hound and probe and needle and stand behind someone with a wooden spoon to whack them on the back of the head yelling “Work faster!” (Why a spoon? Because its dull, it’ll hurt more!).

With the second anthology we had learned all these lessons from the past. We knew what the big mistakes were, we knew that when someone said it would only take X time to do a task we would secretly (mentally) assume 2X to do it. “Oh, it’ll take you 3 weeks to draw those pages?” (writes down 6 weeks). We were going to streamline things… no 7 months for us!

It took 9-10 months to put out the second issue.

Why? Well the TIME thing was a big one. People said 3 weeks and we figured on 6 and it took 12 (if we were lucky). But the other thing we learned was that some people liked the idea of being in comics more than the actual “creating” of comics. They talked a big game, but when push came to shove, nothing ever materialized. And they left some of their co-creators in a huge lurch searching for a replacement.

Be PROFESSIONAL.

I’m not talking about whether you get a page rate (though that is nice), but I’m talking about how you treat the people you are creating with. Don’t waste their TIME. If you aren’t serious about the project, if you don’t care about the story or the art or whatever, and are just doing it as a goof… and are always just minutes away from disappearing from the face of the Earth, then don’t bother. All you are doing is pissing people off and showing that you cannot be trusted with deadlines.

It wouldn’t be a problem if I could just chalk it up to the idea that these guys and gals weren’t getting paid, and sometimes life gets in the way, but I’ve seen it time and time again over the last decade. I’ve seen people with talent, REAL TALENT, just not give a damn. These are writers who seem to have no problem talking about a story that is amazing, but never putting fingers to the keyboard to actually write the damn thing (Just Finish It!). These are artists who I would swear should be drawing Spiderman and Batman right now, but just won’t spend the TIME in front of their artist’s tables doing the work.

When you get a team together that cares about the project and act like they are professional, it is a glorious sight to behold. And suddenly TIME doesn’t seem like quite as big a deal.

The other piece of the puzzle, at least as far as I am personally concerned, is being STUBBORN. I’m the guy that can’t give up. When it was taking 7 months to get that first comic out, I fought and emailed and sometimes just showed up to give my support, and eventually the planets aligned and the comic happened.

Of course, being STUBBORN means that as a writer you are going to get to have a lot of scripts on your hard drive that never get off the ground. You’ll have an idea, but no artist. You’ll have an artist and struggle for an idea. You’ll have the artist and the story, but then he/she decides that they cannot do the project. Or they fall off the face of the Earth and you have to start completely over with a new team.

Over and over again until you feel like you could scream.

But I won’t give up on people. Had I given up The Gilded Age wouldn’t exist. Had I given up I wouldn’t have done Tiger Style. I wouldn’t have multiple shorts in a handful of anthologies. I wouldn’t have completed The Dark That Follows. STUBBORN. Too damn stupid to know any better apparently. INSANE, because I keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result… and yet, while there are many failures or aborted projects or things that just don’t get off the ground, I’ll continue to agree to doing these things. I’ll continue writing outlines and full scripts and 8-pagers and whatever else someone wants me to do if I think there is a chance it will work out. How could I not?

Shark Fishing

Because I never know when that next thing might be the one that hits. So I put as many lines in the water and wait for that fish to come.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Illinois Corn, Comics, & Sound Direction

A few years ago (maybe 2006, 2007) my mom’s side of the family, the mostly Chicago based Stephenson clan, decided to hold a family reunion in Monticello, Indiana. Monticello has great vacation spots/ campsites in the area, including a hallmark of Midwest fun times, Indiana Beach, a local amusement park/ waterpark.

Now if you could ignore the various “Anti-Meth dealing” warning signs we saw on various back roads, this place is one to visit.

Emmy-winning meth.

Emmy-winning meth.

In the surrounding area you’ll find picturesque woodlands, replete with nice lakes, small towns, and great places to just barbeque, and while away the day. We were able to snatch up a set of cabins for the entire family, and spent a five day vacation just catching up and having fun.

Our folks had come from all over to commiserate: Atlanta, Sacramento, San Francisco, Jackson (MS), Los Angeles, Chicago.

Heck, there was some family I hadn’t seen since the second Rodney King trial verdict.

Basically, it’d been a while since I’d seen half of these people.

So being Atlanta based my brother (Brandon) and I decided to forgo the sensible option of getting plane tickets to Chicago, and catching a ride with the family to Monticello which was just a few hours away.

Nope, being the guys that we were (and wanting to have some wheels while on vacation), we’d come up with a decision to load up in my 2001 Nissan Altima, and take the 9-10 hour drive to the reunion. Added to this, with the work schedule that I had at the time, we had two options on when to leave: exactly after I got off of work, which would have been around 9 or 11 pm, or wait until the next day.

roadTrip_night_news

Road tripping how it should be done. At least for insomniac’s.

Needless to say, we decided to tap into our inner insomniac and hit the road, caffeine/ Red Bulled up to the gills.

For me night driving is fun, and a bit relaxing. I enjoy being able to see the world when it’s basically asleep, and just catch the sights as most folks are winding down for the day. Our nocturne route took us through Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, and then Indiana.

Alternating between blasting OutKast, Kanye West, Esperanza Spalding, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, my brother and I took turns with the driving duties.

It was when we hit mid Illinois that things got interesting.

At the time, I was driving, rolling through moon drenched rows upon rows of corn.

Endless-rows-of-corn.

Though I’d gotten use to this from previous road trips to Chicago, to say that endless rows of flat farmland can lull you into a chillastic state is an understatement.

So guess what I had to break me from this stupor?

Police lights ahead of us. A lot of them. Blocking the whole two-lane interstate.

You would’ve thought that damn Dr. Richard Kimble was on the loose with all the lights that I saw.

No caption needed. This scene was just all sorts of awesome.

No caption needed. This scene was just all sorts of awesome.

First thought I had: Damn.

Second thought I had: Damn, damn.

Third thought I had: Our current situation playing out like the one from “The Five Heartbeats” when the cops pull the main characters over on a lonely country road

Check the movie out and you’ll catch my drift.

So I wake my brother up, who’s a much cooler dude than I am. He tells me to just chill, and we hit the roadblock.

I rolled down the window and the officer asks for my license and registration. As I’m handing it over I decide to ask why the whole freeway is closed down at the latest hour known to man.

The cop hands back my information and doesn’t give a reason. At all. Just hands it back. Then asks where we’re headed.

Yeah....our cop wasn't Mr. Smiley.

Yeah….our cop wasn’t Mr. Smiley.

I told him Monticello, and then ask is there an alternate route we can take to get back on the highway we were on.

The cop mumbles something about taking a nearby exit, follows up with something else unintelligible, and then backs away ready to direct the next car in line.

So as I prepared to barrage the officer with more questions, my brother, sensing that this dude wasn’t going to be too forthcoming, instructs me to keep rolling.

So we follow the officer’s “directions”, and all we see are rows of corn.

We drive in another direction, and see rows of corn.

No indication of how to get back on the freeway. None at all.

So this goes on for maybe, 30, 35 minutes max. As far as gas, we’re doing alright, but not spectacular.

I started imagining thoughts of my mom getting a call from the Illinois State Patrol:

ISP: Ma’am, we’re sorry to have to inform you that, well…., ma’am, your son’s got lost and gorged themselves to death on corn.

Ma: Oh….. God….No….

ISP: The truly tragic thing about it miss, is, well…. there was a McDonald’s not but a step or two around the corner from where their bodies were found.

Ma: Noooooo!

So as we’re driving my brother points into the distance.

“BJ (my nickname), look.”

I look in the direction he’s pointing and see a convoy of taillights. A semi-truck convoy.

“Who would you figure might have the best idea on how to get back to the interstate?” Brandon asked.

I figured, heck, we’re not having any success so why not follow them?

Keep on truckin'.

Keep on truckin’.

Relying on faith, and the sound judgment of Brandon, we struck pay dirt. Following the truckers lead we rolled through a small town, sleeping neighborhoods, took a bunch of side roads, and within a bit of time, we were back on the freeway.

After hitting the interstate, we were good to go. Heck we even got to the vacation spot before anyone else in the family.

One thing I learned from that situation and in countless one’s before and since, is it’s sometimes good to follow the lead of others. Not those folks who don’t have your best interest at heart, but those who care enough about you to set you on the right path.

On the nerdy/creative front it’s happened a number of times.

Some of Ms. Butler's most awesome sci-fi works.

Some of Ms. Butler’s most celebrated sci-fi works.

My Dad introduces me to the awesome work of Octavia Butler, a talented sci-fi novelist to whom I now look for inspiration on the writing front.

One of my closest friends Oscar gives me a copy of Alan Moore’s seminal work, Watchmen, and this writer’s mind is blown. An awesome friend, Patrick, loans me his entire of collection of Preacher to read, and I devour the books in the span of a weekend.

 

 

 

A man of many talents.

A man of many talents.

One Saturday afternoon I get a package from my Dad in Atlanta, and was introduced to the mind-blowing universe of Milestone Media, and another writing inspiration, Dwayne McDuffie.

My mom picks up a copy of “The Amazing Spiderman” from the drugstore (remember those days folks?), and my world is forever rocked by the exploits of a certain web slinger who often had problems paying the rent on time.

 

 

 

 

 

I meet up with the folks of Terminus Media, who teach me the ins and outs of writing/ creating comics, and I’m now a published comic book writer.

A little comic I created.

A little comic I created.

Through the instruction, and direction of my editor/ brother from another mother, Dennis, I got a firsthand instruction on what it took to be a successful freelance journalist.

Heck, the often maligned Wizard Magazine got me pushed in the right direction of another writing inspiration, Greg Rucka.

Tara Chace. Her Majesty's Bad Ass.

Tara Chace. Her Majesty’s Bad Ass.

So if you get the gumption, take a chance, and follow the direction of those folks willing to offer a helping or a guiding hand. Makes things fun, heck even easy in some cases.

I’m still doing it, and think I’m all the better for it.

If you don’t you might find yourself stuck in endless rows of corn.

 

My Muse

Today is my wife’s birthday.

Courtney puts up with a fair amount from me. She has endured the loss of an entire closet to a boatload of comic long boxes. But it doesn’t end there. Comic books are normally lying all over the house, and she just takes it in stride… though her favorite line may be “do you need to go buy another long box to put these comics in?” (meaning, maybe these need to go upstairs in the comic room).

longboxes

Now, we’ve been together since high school, so she did not enter into this situation unaware. MAYBE she didn’t quite understand the extent of how many comics I had or how deep my love is for the format, but she had a preexisting knowledge of some aspect of it.

Over the years I even managed to get her to read a Bone comic. She has a Superman t-shirt and a Wonder Woman t-shirt.

She journeys to all the latest comic related movies. She knows not only who Mary Jane Watson is, but knows that her husband hasn’t read a Spiderman comic since their marriage was done away with (even if she doesn’t know how that bit of strangeness happened in the first place).

avengers-movie-poster-1

I try to take her to this type of movie…

 

batman_and_robin_movie_001

Not this type of Superhero movie!

But that’s not all. I’m not sure she knows this (I don’t know that I’ve said it to her), but she’s my Muse.

She’s the person that has to endure my random story-ideas as we are driving around, running errands, or perhaps even worse for her, when we have a longer trip planned. I can only imagine what she thinks of some of the things which roll past my lips. Yet, somehow, someway, she not only spares my feelings when perhaps the idea is not one of the better ones, but she helps to flesh out some aspects of these tales. There has been many a time where my side of the conversation began with:

“So I have this idea about a guy who does this X thing… and that’s all I have really.”

She takes this in stride and knows to ask questions that may or may not prompt me into some kind of discovery.

This is how The Dark That Follows came to be. I literally had the barest spark of an idea for a story (I didn’t know what it would be or the length even): What if a fortune teller could actually see the future? And then what if he came across a person who no longer had any kind of future? What then?

That’s all I had, just the barest of a thought. She was the one who encouraged me to begin writing that book. And then she assumed her next role… that of my Alpha reader.

Through this entire adventure through my writing those first couple of short comic stories for the Terminus anthologies to my first novel (extremely soon to be released), she has been the rock that not only supports my dreams, but shares in them. I’m in the final phase of editing/formatting The Dark That Follows, and I think she is happier about it than I am (that’s not to say I’m not happy, but it is mixed with a sense of relief that I can finally release this thing I’ve worked on for the last 3 years into the world). She’s bouncing up and down thinking about various ways of letting people know, her hand on the trigger to call all the friends and relatives as soon as the book goes live on Amazon.

And that feeling, knowing that she is proud of the work I’ve done, proud of OUR accomplishment in all of this, is better than the finishing of the book. Because this book is as much hers as it is mine. Without her constant support, I’m not sure I would have gotten this far… perhaps video games or some other shiny object might have occupied my attention.

In the new year, I want to repay her for a little of this support by writing the book she’s been wanting me to write for about a year and a half (currently titled The Edge of the World). Again, I hit her up with a bare-bones idea, but she latched onto it. I keep teasing her with it, telling her that it is next on the docket as soon as I get some free time, as soon as the writing schedule frees up. And in January I should have a little time, maybe a bit more in February, so I’m putting it out there in writing for all to see. It’s not quite wrapped in birthday paper, but it will be my gift to her.

And who knows, maybe a year from now I’ll be talking about publishing that one.

birthday

Happy Birthday, Courtney McGuire!

Thank you for everything you do… I literally couldn’t do it without you.

Behind the Comic – The God That Failed

Of the four of us who write on the Tessera Blog, I’m the comics guy. Though that is a bit of a misnomer as I know both Chad and Amanda read comics as well. However, on the writing side of things, until my novel comes out next month, the only thing I’ve ever gotten published is in the comics field, so…

The first comic book story I ever wrote was composed while I was at my day job in about 10 minutes time. I’m not talking about the basic beats of this 8-page story, but the full script was furiously jotted down on scrap paper to the point that the rest of the world no longer existed (probably a good thing my boss didn’t walk by me at that point, I wouldn’t have noticed him). This idea of a superhero story that wasn’t just the typical story that you’d normally get. That’s what I was shooting for. That and something that could be told in a short form (8 pages).

Now forget that I had no idea what a comic book script was supposed to look like format wise… at least not really. I had this vague idea that I’d need to break this plot down into pages and that those pages would need to be broken down into panels, but for some reason I either couldn’t or just wouldn’t do that. Instead the script that I delivered to the artist was mostly composed of narration and some vague attempts at “Hey this would be an interesting image to appear somewhere on this page”.

But of all of the things I’ve written, The God That Failed holds a special place in my heart. Most likely because it was the first thing I got published in a comic (it appeared in Terminus Media Presents: Evolution Book 1), but I think it also was that first spark which showed that maybe, perhaps, this dream I had since I was all of 10 years old scribbling ideas in a blue spiral notebook might be attainable.

Evolution-Book-one-cover-lo

Since the internet loves a list, here are 10 things (Why 10? Because that’s how many I came up with!) about my first comic that might strike your fancy, a behind the scenes, if you will:

1- The story is online, for free at Terminus Media’s webpage. Click here to give it a read and tell me what you think in the comments section below (on Terminus’s site or on this very blog).

2- John Etienne was the artist on the story. The only reason that Etienne was my artist is because I had approached him a couple of months earlier, before the idea of doing an anthology was even a real thought in anyone’s head. However, it wasn’t because I had this story lined up. No, instead I had wanted him to draw an 8 page Moon Knight story for me (not sure what my goal there would have been). Lucky for me he didn’t have time right then to work on anything, and when the anthology project was finally launched I had a story of my own.

3- John Etienne happens to know my Mother-in-Law. She played a trick on him once the comic was out by telling him that not only had she gone to Dragon Con, but she had bought this comic book and wondered if he was the artist on it. “I always go to Dragon Con, and I love comic books”. After a few dumb-founded seconds she fessed up, but both of them later relayed the story to me (and the look on his face as he wasn’t sure if he’d stepped into Bizzaro world or not). I believe Etienne’s words were to me that he just couldn’t see her at Dragon Con. Though, I would pay good money to see her downtown on Labor Day weekend.

4- There was some debate about the order of the stories within the book. I generally like to be the nice guy about most things, but by my thinking I believed you either wanted to be the first story or the last story in the book (actually we all may have thought those spots were the best). I ended up with the last story position, but when the first story ended up delayed (or abandoned, I can’t remember) everyone agreed to put The God That Failed into the first position. Again, I have to thank Etienne for actually being the first one finished with his pages which made the choice fairly easy plus they looked pretty damn good as well, which did not hurt our cause).

5- I mentioned in the last blog that my favorite superheroes are Spider-Man and The Flash. The God That Failed was my idea of what would happen to a guy who received the abilities of The Flash, but that power was burning him up inside.

TheFlash

6- In my original script, page 7 was actually page 6, and page 6 was page 7. Given the way the narration was done the story wasn’t as much linear as it was a guy talking about his friend who was disappearing from the world. When I actually saw the finished pages I had those two flipped given the way the story played out. That being said, page 7 is a “what if” moment, not something that the character actually did (he didn’t need to get more power, he already had way too much).

7- Though I love the serialized format of comic books, this was always a stand-alone story… a cautionary tale, a new myth or something. Thus began my apparent need to tell complete stories (done in one) in comics. That continues today with The Gilded Age. But the real reason that I didn’t want to have him as a new hero for future stories was that I had no idea if or when I’d ever get a chance to do more comics. And as a reader there is nothing more frustrating than buying a comic that says “To Be Continued” and then not ever finding the rest of the story.

8- The main character’s name was John Smith; however, it wasn’t because two Johns worked on the story. I wanted a generic name, someone who might be easily forgotten regardless of all the good deeds he might have done. That fear is something that I know I have and I was channeling that fear into John Smith. This is really summed up to me on pages 5 & 6 but mostly in panel 4 on page 5. John carving into the Easter Island statues is not him destroying something precious; it is his attempt to prove that he existed at all. I sometimes wonder if he did that all over the world.

9- The title is taken from the title of a song on Metallica’s Black Album. I just liked the way it sounded, and since superheroes many times are considered gods, it fit exceptionally well in my mind.

Now I probably owe them money or something.

10- My favorite page of the story is the last one. I think (I hope) that I dodged becoming too preachy by having that last panel thrown in there. I love the idea of another what if… this one being, of course, what if John Smith had lived. The shot of The Fruit Fly conjures up memories of a 10-year old me. I think he would have gotten a kick out of that.

behindthemusic-thumb-3

So there you go, a few bits and pieces about the story… my own commentary track. Sadly it is not like the old VH1’s Behind the Music because at no point could I really say “And then tragedy struck”.

Or maybe not so sadly…

Chad’s Theory of 10%

a good muffin

I apologize in advance for the brevity of this post. Sometimes the words flow out of you, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you can’t stop writing; sometimes you can’t start. In this case, sometimes you have too much to write and your weekly blog post gets shuffled to the bottom of the pile.

I am currently adapting two works into other mediums: a novel called Proxy into a treatment for a motion picture screenplay and a motion picture screenplay called Dakota Skye into the first of a series of novels.

I wrote both of those things. So that means I’m adapting myself.

And it ain’t easy.

Partially because I’ve told both of these stories before and it’s hard to get up to tell them again.

But mostly because I’m struggling to find the magic 10%. What the hell does that mean? you ask. I’ll explain.

Novels have been adapted into films since the beginning of cinema. Modern readers are often disappointed with the adaptations of their favorite books: “why did they cut that?” “she wouldn’t say that!” “where is Tom Bombadil?” “that’s not how it ends!” “what are you Hollywood morons doing to my favorite thing?!?”.

Understandable thoughts, I think. I’ve had those reactions myself. Understandable, but quite unreasonable.

You see, the major narrative mediums: fiction, drama, television, film, web series, operas, comics, and, to an extent, video games, are 90% the same. The tenants of storytelling apply across the board. Structure, pacing, conflict, character, tone. Storytelling hasn’t changed much since the days of bards and minstrels.

So, if all these mediums are so similar, if storytelling is so uniform, then what makes them different? It’s that missing 10%. That 10% (obviously just an arbitrary symbolic ratio) to me is what makes each art form its own. Every single one of those storytelling vehicles I listed above have something that the others can’t do. A great book, movie, or play takes advantage of what it does better than its peers.

I believe that you should create your work with only one medium in mind. You shouldn’t write your novel thinking about how it would make a good movie. Don’t make your comic book with visions of a video game in your head. Because that thinking limits you to that 90% and keeps you from realizing the full potential of what you’re writing. To me, that’s where you get boring books, paint-by-numbers films, and mediocre television.

I had an incident two years ago that illustrates this. I had an idea for a web series. A friend of mine has a character, an alter ego you would say, that he has created, and we were always looking for something to do with it/him. So I hit on an idea that I thought would work as a web show. I took into consideration the limitations of the form (and our wallets), but also what I thought could make it unique and interesting and funny by working within those confines. By making something that only made sense as a web series, that catered to the viewing habits of internet watchers, that made it unique.

We both loved the idea, but we thought maybe we needed to bring in a few other people to help, because we probably would need a little money. We met with an couple guys that were looking to get into producing web series. We started talking about the show; they had read the pitch already. We all thought it was a good, funny idea.

But then things went south. They started to talk about ‘opening it up’. Taking the character ‘out into the world’. Varying up the types of episodes. Making it less specific, trying to reach a broader audience. It dawned on me what they really wanted to make:

They wanted to make a mini-sitcom.

Which is a terrible fucking idea.

But what they were looking at this web series as was a means to a bigger end and to me, it was the end. They wanted to make something that could then be picked up as a regular television show if successful. So they wanted to apply many of the (outdated) rules of TV to it.

But this idea of mine, it would have been an awful, unsustainable television show.

But a great web series.

I ended up scrapping the whole thing because these guys didn’t understand new media. Had no idea. I would mention very successful web series like ‘The Guild’ and get blank stares. They had never seen a web series. They wanted to make short-form TV pilots.

They wanted to make a show that covered the 90% and ignored the 10% that would make it special. And in my experience, if you write something in one medium with another medium being your goal, you are going to create something that falls short of both.

The same thing happened when I was working on a comic book with a creator/artist who could not shut up about how much money he could make with the toys and movie rights. I kind of wish he had spent less time dreaming about being Todd MacFarlane and more time actually making the fucking comic because it’s been several years since my departure from it and the book has yet to see the light of day.

When I wrote the screenplay for Dakota Skye, I only ever thought of it as a film. Even though it’s talky, I still tried to think visually, using the language of cinema to tell the story. Film stories are flimsy things; there is not a lot of depth to them based on the limitations of running time. You have to do things, like create a love story, in brief and broad strokes. Luckily, a single image can convey what a novelist would need 5000 words to evoke. The image is at least 75% of film’s 10%.

(Getting tired of the arbitrary percentages yet? Sorry. There will be more.)

So now I’m sitting down to turn this screenplay into a novel and whoa boy. I learned on Proxy that a book requires many more words than a screenplay (a script page is mostly blank space). A lot more writing. Adapting Dakota Skye is reinforcing that bit of knowledge with a vengeance. I sat down to write the first chapter, based on the first couple scenes of the script, and just wrote what was in the script. Didn’t add any dialogue, just included very simple descriptions of what was happening and didn’t go too far into the characters’ thoughts. I did a very faithful version of the scenes that people know from the movie and script.

When I was done I had about a page and a half.

So what I’m doing now while I’m writing the book is searching for that 10%. I’ve taken away the things that make the movie a movie: the ability to convey information with imagery alone, characters coming to life through the use of actors, the ability to augment pace and emotion with things like editing and music. So, what do I replace those things with to make Dakota Skye: The Novel into an actual novel in the way Dakota Skye: The Movie was a movie?

It hasn’t been easy, but it mostly involves adding a fuck-ton more words.

At the same time, a few producers have expressed interest in considering thinking about the idea of my novel Proxy as a film. Before they can even see that, though, they need a treatment (a short prose description of the film, usually written before the screenplay) and eventually a script. So I’ve been working on that at the same time as the new novel and am facing the same challenge: the 10%.

In the case of going from the novel to the screen, the specialness you’re losing is the depth. The ability to dive into a character’s mind, to go off of tangents that may or may not enhance the narrative, to take characters on long, complex journeys step-by-step without having to use shorthand, to build robust worlds for your characters to inhabit.

The main thing you lose is the characters’ internal lives, especially with a first-person novel like Proxy. In a film, you can’t describe what a character is thinking: you need to show it. You can’t meander in and out of the world you’ve created: there’s no time. A characters thoughts, emotions, beliefs, motives, they all have to be on the screen. Sure, you can use voice-over (I did in Dakota Skye) but that’s very easy to do wrong and even when it’s done right (like in Dakota Skye) you have to use it sparingly.

No, film truly is ‘show don’t tell’.

So now I have to take this book I wrote, this book that was the center of my world for over a year, strip it down, simplify it, find ways to convey complex information in broad strokes, get rid of the asides and deviations, and mostly ignore the world I’ve built, and in addition serve certain non-diegetic concerns such as commercial viability, budget, and casting.

What do I get in return for these sacrifices? I get the things I’m having to lose from Dakota Skye. The image. The edit. The visceral experience that a book cannot provide. Do you know what will be better in a film version of Proxy than in the book? Fights. Chases. Sex. Things that you can do fine on paper but that movies excel at. Finding the ways you can take what you’ve done and make them visual filmic is difficult and rewarding. Sometimes you add things; sometimes things have to go.

So remember that the next time you see some stupid filmmaker fuck up your favorite book. A book is not a movie; a movie is not a book. That 10% is 100% the difference.

Taking a book and making a word-for-word film version would not just make a thirty-hour movie, it would be impossible.

Taking a screenplay and making a word-for-word novel version would not just leave you with a 45-page book, it would be impossible.

So, anyway. that’s where I am now. This crisscross of adaptation. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t difficult, but I am determined to find each project’s special 10% that will help it make the transition properly.

This was going to be a blog post about how I didn’t have time to write a blog post. I ended up writing one anyway. I’m a big fat liar like that. There’s at least a 62% chance that I’ll have something substantial next week as opposed to this unorganized rant about how busy I am and my 10% philosophy, one of my many annoying and I’m sure incorrect ideas about writing and art (I’m sure I’ll inflict more of those on you at another point).

Anyway. Gotta go. My other projects are calling me.

Now, should I work on the adaptation…

or the adaptation?

The Biggest Fish: Smallville

At some point the following tale has become my own Big Fish story. Or perhaps it just has that sort of potential. I can only relay the events as they are currently in my mind… somewhat dulled by the time and distance from the original events. What you do with this information is completely up to you.

Garrison_Big_Fish

I cast my mind back to sometime in 2002 where I had joined up with a group of like-minded aspiring writers in the back of the Dragon’s Horde comic shop in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I like to think of this time as the beginning of Phase 1 of my writing career (Phase 2 came in 2010). The beginning of working with others on various projects, and the beginning of having someone read something I had put to paper (up to this point writing was this distant thing in the back of my mind, but I either lacked the willpower or the knowledge to even know where to begin).

Anyway, one of the group members (we called ourselves WriteClub… possibly not the most clever of names, but it got the point across) told us he had a connection through his sister that could walk a potential script into the Smallville offices. We just needed a script.

Smallville-Logo

Of course the first question after “How exactly is this going to work?” and “Really? No BS?” was how were we going to do this? There were 6 of us in our little group and this could be something we all focused on. A true collaboration. So we sat around one Sunday and talked about the show, and if we were going to do a script what plot points should we hit? I want to say after that one afternoon we had a rough outline and plot points, but it may have been a couple of meetings before that happened. And I don’t remember all the specifics of those meetings, but I do recall the FUN of it all. This was our chance, no matter how small, and we were all ready to give it a shot. No idea was off limits at first, and then we slowly began to circle around the true idea… the one that would serve as our story for this script.

That story was roughly as follows:

Green Arrow would make his first appearance on the show. (What nerve we had to even think this way. I mean not only were we going to immediately get this script sold, but we’d also be the first to really bring in a non-Superman hero. Like no one in their writer’s room had thought of that.)

Green_Arrow_Vol_5_logo

He would meet/come into contact with Chloe (she was the sorta Lois character before Lois showed up on the TV Show) and there would be some definite sparks that would fly between the two of them. (While I think this is a fairly obvious thing to do, I actually still like the idea of trying to introduce another person into the Lana/Clark/Chloe triangle. And there would be someone else for Chloe to add to the Wall of Weird.)

He would need something from Lex. And to get that something would require breaking into Lex’s home. (I believe this was one of those things that would initially bring our heroes into conflict as suddenly Clark is really stuck between possibly covering up a misdeed of Lex or letting a thief get away with something that could hurt his friend… a pseudo gray area for the Man of Steel).

And at the end, Green Arrow would get the heck out of town with some aspect of the information he was after (courtesy of Chloe), but with the feel as if he could be back.

Again there was more to it than that, but this was the basics as we settled on them. Now the only question was: Who wanted to bang out this script?

And the table went silent. I’m not sure if it was because none of us really had a clue what we were doing and didn’t want to be called out on it or what, but for whatever reason I found myself saying the words: “I’ll do it.”

Looking back, this was a huge step for me. What in the world was I thinking? What if they hated it? What if I was exposed as a fraud? Hell, I barely understood the way a script was supposed to be formatted at this point. And still I raised my hand and volunteered. I rushed home with Final Draft ready to be installed on my computer and began to type, my fingers a blur as the ideas and the dialogue flowed from me. I did my best to develop scenes and made sure to hit all the high points. By the end of the night (probably more likely very early in the morning), I had the roughest of rough drafts finished. A masterpiece of American Television waiting to be unleashed upon Hollywood.

It was 29 pages.

Now, what I did not know at the time was that in script terms for movies and TV 1 page equals (roughly) 1 minute of filming. Smallville had a running time without commercials of around 42 minutes. Which meant I should have something around 42 pages.

And I had 29.

No problem, though. I was excited to have that much written up. And when I found out about the discrepancy, well that was why I was a part of the group. We tossed more ideas around and I believe we got the script up towards 40 pages (I might be wrong on this, but as I said above, this is my Big Fish and it weighs…). But we weren’t done. We did a table read. We brought in a couple of females to read the women’s lines to help make sure nothing was too out of whack. And at the end of that follow-up meeting I took the notes and compiled that final version.

We sent it off to the sister.

Add_submission

And waited.

And waited.

And then heard back from her that she read it and really liked it! It was on its way as she’d pass it along to her contacts over at Warner Bros.

And then nothing. Nothing came of it. In my mind, I constructed an elaborate Twilight Zone style scenario where the script was on the desk of the man (or woman) who was the final arbiter and somehow it had fallen behind the desk, just out of sight. Because that was the only reason our phones had not been ringing off the hook (back when phones did that and didn’t just vibrate in your pant’s pocket).

Months passed and the script became almost an urban legend in the group. We’d mention it in passing like someone who had taken a grainy picture of Bigfoot or Loch Ness. The thought was occasionally passed around that we might be able to resubmit via another connection (we may or may not have done that, I can’t remember). I took the last printed copy and stored it away for safe-keeping. Eventually, like most legends it slipped completely from our consciousness.

Fast forward to October 20, 2004. I settled in to watch Smallville for the evening as the episode “Run” appeared. It was to feature a non-Superman hero: The Flash.

For those of you that don’t know my two favorite superheroes are Spiderman and The Flash… but I’ll talk about that in another post. So to say I was glued to my seat would be an accurate statement.

This version of the Flash flirts with Chloe, steals something from Lex, which causes him to come into conflict with Clark.

Watching the episode was a bit surreal. Little things here and there seemed familiar, big things seemed close…

And when I was done I felt a warmness spread throughout me. We were on the right track with our script.  This episode felt so much like ours that it only reinforced that thought in my mind. The next day I talked to one of the group. His first words were:

“I liked the episode of Smallville you wrote, John.”

Now do I know if anyone in the Warner Bros’ offices actually ever saw our script? No. Heck, I’m 100% (well more like 99.999 – with a lot more 9s, but we’ll round up) that they did not. I’m not accusing anyone of anything unsorted.

I just think we tapped into that common Idea Space that is out there, that so many creative people seem to be able to harness. That same reason that multiple movies come out about the same subject (of course the other reason for that is because the studio sees an opportunity to beat an opponent at the same game, but I digress).

This was an example of that. That’s how close it was/felt to what we had done. That’s how close we were to getting a shot at the big leagues.

But above everything else, that project gave me some measure of confidence in my abilities. Writing that script in the first place and then watching as the others read it I felt like a team with others, but more than anything I felt like I could be one of the heavy hitters for that team. My future in writing was going to be big and bright.

I mean, I’d written an episode of Smallville after all.

Just Finish It

I’ve gone to plenty of writing panels over the years hoping to discover, like Ponce de Leon looking for the Fountain of Youth, the secret formula to their success. How the heck did they manage to get up there with their book, comic, etc? Most of the time I do learn something, some nugget of truth that makes the trip worthwhile (maybe a technique or some obstacle they managed to overcome). But there really is one thing that separates them from those of us in the room:

You want to be a writer?  Then write, sure, but FINISH the task.

Too much I get caught up in the idea of writing. Make sure that I get my WORDS in for the day, or make sure that the latest chapter gets revised.

w-b-park-finish-it-why-would-i-want-to-finish-it-new-yorker-cartoon

 But at some point you have got to get to “Pencil’s Down”. This is something I have only just now begun to understand, and I am not even close to where I want to be.  I have only scratched the surface of this for myself and constantly have to fight to get there.

There is a difference between “Wanting” to be a writer (nevermind the great) and “Being” a writer.

It is the “Doing”.

In everyday life there are people who WANT to do, be, have something.  How many of them take the time to sit down (or stand up as the case may be) and actually do it?  How many distractions can one person have before their WANT simply becomes their DREAM and then later their REGRET.

Dreams Road Sign

 

This is the mantra I have to keep telling myself over and over. When I get tired or don’t want to sit down at the computer, I repeat it.

It seems so simple. It seems like one of those things that you read and say “Of course. What else would you think you needed to do?”

Even knowing it isn’t enough. It’s never that easy. How many ideas do I currently have sitting on my computer or flash drive that are waiting for me to finish them?  Dozens.  How many are finished?  Not nearly enough (not by a long shot). So why can’t I get there every time? What’s the hold up?

Sometimes it is the FEAR. The FEAR that what I’m writing is not going to be liked. I’m just as worried that by finishing said story or script or novel or whatever that people will read the FINISHED product and not like it and then where did my work get me?  What a waste, right?

ed-dans-ed-wood-de-tim-burton-10967401cmebh_1713

Really? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better.

I have to convince myself that it isn’t a waste. That with each word that I write (and rewrite and edit and then even the ones I cut) means I am one inch closer to where I need to be. I get to that million words and beyond.

So that unfinished thing is doing you so much good then?  Sure, you can’t get hurt if you don’t finish it, but I have to say, putting that final word down on the page and knowing that you have actually completed something.  That’s got to be worth something.

Right?

When somebody posts their finished piece of art or script or whatever, they are 1 million times ahead of me with my dozens of unfinished products.  It doesn’t matter how much better of a writer I THINK I am because they have already lapped me 4 or 5 times.

I know plenty of people (I am one of those people some times) that start a project and get bored and then jump to another project, get bored, wash, rinse, repeat.  At the end of a year they have enough stuff that you’d think they’d have a Finished Product, but instead it is spread out over ten different things. Ten different UNFINISHED things. Ugh.

It’s an odd thing that really in the last year I feel like I’ve started to have real successes on the writing side of things, but even those are still not quite finished. Sure, issue #1 of The Gilded Age is complete, but I think I allowed myself about 5 minutes to enjoy that it existed in a tangible format before my brain started spinning on when the next issue would be finished. Same with Tiger Style #1.

The greatest thing about comic books is that it is a collaborative process. You need a writer and an artist and maybe an inker and a colorist and a letterer and an editor before the whole thing is ready and done.

The worst thing about comic books is that it is a collaborative process. And that you need to have those other people because when any one point slips, the whole process comes to a complete halt. I don’t get the artist the next issue’s script, well I guess that is going to delay the book. The inker doesn’t get the pencils by the deadline… now we have another delay. And so on.

It can be maddening. It’s one of the reasons I started writing a novel in the first place. Finally, something that is totally on me and only me to get done.

Only. On. Me.

Gulp.

Yeah, so now who do I get to blame when my next chapter isn’t written yet? Who do I get to blame when that second draft is still waiting to get done?

Oh, that would be me.

Even now as I seemingly crawl through the last bit of editing on my first novel, The Dark That Follows, it doesn’t really exist until it is done. Before that it is just another unfinished project hoping for me to put the time in and get it out the door. The serial I’m working on with J Edward Neill, Hollow Empire, has many chapters completed in various forms (some in needed of editing, some ready for a read through, etc.), but until Episode 6 is complete and edited and out the door it just is another thing “I’m working on”. The next issue of The Gilded Age or Tiger Style or whatever else is coming down the pipeline.

So I repeat my mantra and put my butt in the seat and start typing.

New York Comic Con Recap – Stories from the Con

New-York-Comic-Con

Even a week and a half later I’m still recovering and reflecting from my experience over those (very) long four days. I went up as part of Terminus Media‘s 3-man team. Our goals were to sell some comics, do an interview with the kind folks at Comic Con, and just begin to get the word out about our books. In the coming weeks, I’ll get a little more into Terminus and our books, but for this post I wanted to share a handful of moments/stories from the convention (or just from those four days).

Steampunk Guy

When you are passionate about something in the “Geek Culture” you want everyone else to know it. Maybe you love dropping obscure knowledge or quoting the movie/tv show/book/comic/whatever on some unsuspecting person.  But the biggest thing, is that much like a Superhero, it is your solemn duty to stamp out any perceived ignorance about your LOVE. This means that you must constantly be vigilant for anyone who might take this LOVE’s name in vain. I mean Heaven help those who might get something wrong about that thing you LOVE.

So the comic book that I’m currently working on… the thing which has sprung forth from my little brain is The Gilded Age.  Now this is a Steampunk book (at least according to me… the creator).  That is an important piece of information. I’m at the table and this guy comes up dressed in a Steampunk inspired costume and the following conversation happens once I give him my 30 second spiel about The Gilded Age and he begins to flip through the comic.

Me – So I want to build things through the characters… from their eyes before I throw you in the deep end with dates and everything.

Him – Well that’s not really Steampunk.  You know, that’s what people want, they want all of that information and then they’ll want even more from you.

Me – Well I guess that’s what I like about the genre is that it is open to various ways of telling a story.

Him – Yeah… no, people want it all at once.  That’s what Steampunk is about. <pause> What’s your Point of Divergence?

Me – Sorry?

Him – Where the timeline breaks off?

Me – Oh, well, I haven’t gotten into it, but it has more to do with DaVinci and his inventions than something like Babbage.

Him – Hmm. <takes a moment to flip through the issue again> This isn’t Steampunk.  This is really Arcane Punk.

Me – Ok.

Him – Do you know what <some art related criticism> is?

Me – No, sorry, I’m not sure what that is.

Him – Of course you don’t. You’re just an artist. But it is done wrong in this book.

Me – Well, actually I’m not the artist. I’m the writer.

Him – Oh.

During the whole conversation I’m alternating in my head between channeling Samuel Jackson and just smiling. It took some self-control, but I kept smiling.

Arcane Punk

He bought a copy though.

Airport

After the con was done we had to head back to Atlanta so we got to the airport way early… like your Dad gets to the airport early (three hours early). I’m fine with it even if we had to abandon our booth a couple of hours early, but I’d rather have a moment to grab a little food and rest.

Of course, the flight was delayed 15 minutes to start.  We finally get boarded and then promptly sit on the tarmac for another 30 minutes. It was at this point I found out/remembered that Airtran may possibly have the least about of leg room of ALL TIME.

A little about me: I’m 6′ 5″ tall which means that I have long legs.  Now I have come to grips on the fact that the world is built for much smaller people (on the way up I somehow lucked into an exit row seat – glorious leg room!). However, I’m ready to say right now that sitting on the runway for that long amounts to a form of torture and by the Geneva Convention I think I have a case against the airline.

Really. Kissing your knees is not a fun way to spend the evening.

Phones have not been invented yet

We get to the hotel to check in.  Go up to the front desk and give the concierge our names, but alas the room is not under Tony or my name. Mark (head of Terminus) had reserved the rooms for us. No problem.  We get Mark on the phone in an effort to get all of this resolved.

Tony – I’ve got him on the phone. He can give you all the correct information.

Concierge – No! I can’t take that phone. I can’t do anything over the phone.

Tony – But he’s right here. He can tell you.

Concierge – No, I can’t do it over the phone. What he will have to do is FAX me his information.

At this point Tony and I turn to each other, dumbfounded.

What year is this? FAX? 1993?

Do they still have dial-up modems?

Do dinosaurs still walk the Earth?

dino-phone

Tony – Can he email it to you?

Concierge – Yes.

So wait… he knows what email is, but he can’t take the EXACT same information over the PHONE? In case you were wondering that would be where a person SPEAKS to another person. It’s like texting, but Ma’ Bell thought it up about 100+ years ago!

But he can take it through a FAX which uses the PHONE LINE.  Good lord!

Our Booth Location

Terminus was situated just across from the Intel gaming area which actually was a blessing in disguise as we weren’t cramped up in regular aisles. Instead there was plenty of room in front of us.

It also meant that we had a front row (figuratively speaking) to the Starcraft Tournament they were running. Now the last time I played Starcraft was over a decade ago. I liked the game, but my Xbox 360 pushed it out, and I haven’t really thought about it until the con.  Where they played.

Every day.

On the big screens.

For hours on end.

Never-ending battles of Terrans vs. Zerg vs. Protoss.

Feature matches on the big screens.

At night I would dream of those units moving back and forth across the screen. My brain slowly trying to figure out which board might give an advantage to a certain army.

It may have been too much.

Since I’ve gotten home though I do feel like something is missing in my life. And that old game has begun calling my name.

334px-Starcraft2-logo

Excuse me while I download the latest version for my machine…

Why Can’t I Be Rod Tidwell?

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Rod Tidwell is an athlete who has confidence in himself (some might say too much), in his abilities, and in his skill. But he’s hit the wall. No one seems to know about him and no one seems to care about him (in the football world at least).

Until… finally, at the end of the movie he shows up and on a national stage does something to capture everyone’s attention.

That’s what I want.

No, not the money, I certainly don’t write to make tons of money. I just want the opportunity to show that I have some talent. To tell a story and to have others see it.

To have others enjoy it.

The most maddening thing about being a writer who is on the outside looking in is that moment when you read something “professional” and know, 1000%, that you could do it better. That your ability to string words together in a sentence was better than that particular writer. If only you had the chance.

If only someone with power knew you existed.

I’ve been at this writing thing for almost a decade now. I say a decade because the stuff before it doesn’t count for me. It was playtime in a notebook. I cringe to think about those stories I wrote back in school. The terrible poetry (maybe it is good – with that certain teenage angst running through it, but I cannot bring myself to look) sitting on my hard drive. The one problem with being a pack rat is that old stuff is still around. Everything is kept because to not keep it would be disastrous.

So, ten years ago I became involved in a writing group. We met in the back of a comic book shop. Artists flowed in and out of the place and someone had the idea “let’s make a comic book”. That first day I saw a page of something I’d written drawn was a moment akin to magic.

That was the first step.

But with every little step forward it was followed by at least two steps backward. A cliche, to be sure, but beyond true. Flaky people who promised one thing and then never delivered. They all seemed to fall right off the face of the Earth. And yet, stubbornly, I continued on. The first anthology comic came out. A year and some later another one came out. Then the first color book about a year after that.

When Do I Get To See The Sailboat?

When Do I Get To See The Sailboat?

And still the frustrations grew. Projects thought up and then abandoned for all sorts of reasons. And still I wondered what it was going to take.

“I should be further along…

If only the artists would stop being so slack and finish something…

If I had more free time…

If…”

Almost three years ago I got laid off from my day job.  For the first time since college, I was out of work for almost four months. That time might have been eaten up before I knew it, if not for my wife. She was the one who suggested that I just write a book.

“You have these stories, and you never have the time normally, but now…”

So I went home that night and started to write what would become The Dark That Follows. Every night after my wife went to bed I stayed up into the early hours writing on that draft. Stumbling over words, but doing the deed.  Butt in chair every night.

I finished the first draft the night before I started my new job.

Since then I’ve written another novel, worked on a bunch of comic projects (both of which I’ll be talking about as time goes on), and slowly feel like the tide is turning. The old 10-year success… maybe. I’m certainly hoping that someone notices.

That someone enjoys it.Rod Tidwell Touchdown

I’ve got my celebration dance ready for that day.

John McGuire

PS – You can find that very first comic here: http://www.terminusmedia.com/new-retro-the-god-that-failed/#more-1063