Sunday, April 26, 2015

What It Is – week ending 26 April [2015]


With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).


WRITING:
Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

Been working on my pitch for Oni, which shared the guidelines  for their upcoming open submission period.  They can be found here.  An interview with the editorial staff can be found here , full of good information for others looking to send in a comic proposal.  And they have been answering questions through their tumblr account, in order to clarify exactly what they are looking for. 


For me, this is pretty exciting.  It’s been years since Oni has allowed unsolicited submissions, and they have published a lot of amazing titles I’ve enjoyed, through the years, including Queen & Country, Oni Double Feature, Volcanic Revolver, and The Bunker.  So having the opportunity to share my work with them and know that it will get a proper assessment is stellar. 


This is also the point where I can try and “make my own luck.”  I admit, I didn’t fully understand this phrase when I first started writing and submitting stories to publications and editors.  To my mind, it made me think of those stories where people use a bit of subterfuge or “hutzpah” to get an in with a publisher, and having gotten their foot in that door are able to prove themselves worthy of the opportunity.  But now, having been working at my writing for a few years, I realize it’s far more than that.  I have a backlog of stories on my hard drive, in various stages of completion, as well as published stories to my name, which means when an opportunity of this nature comes about, I probably already have something that will fit – which I do.  At this point, I’m already ahead of the game because I’ve been working on this story for a while.  I just need to hammer it into a pitch that will engage the editors while making sure it fits with their guidelines.  If I were starting from scratch, I would be hard pressed to get anything in by the deadline.  Making my own luck, as best I’m able.



READING:
So, I’m reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for the first time, and I’m really enjoying it.  I love Mark Twain’s use of language – in the dialogue, in the descriptions, in the quiet moments – it’s all beautiful, almost elevated in its poetic nature, while still feeling authentic.  Not sure now why I have not read this book before. 


Xenozoic by Mark Schulz.  This was a favorite comic of mine, back in the day, that sadly did not come out often enough, for my taste.  Schulz may be one of the best illustrators ever to work in the medium, but it came at the price of anything resembling swiftness.  His pages, and the panels on those pages, are beautiful and he doesn’t short change readers at all, with a wealth of details all painstakingly delineated with a precision that is jaw-dropping.  This guy can draw.   And what he drew—dinosaurs in a future, five hundred years after the cataclysm that threatened to bring about the extinction of the human race.  But now we live alongside these giant beasts from the past, as one man, Jack Tenrec, works to keep the balance with nature that can ensure humankind’s survival, while a beautiful ambassador from a neighboring tribe comes to lay the groundwork for a peaceful coexistence that might also be mutually beneficial to both tribes.  Of course, the two become enamored of one another, but Schulz keeps that simmering within the subtext, for the most part, crafting a mature relationship between these two strong characters that is engaging and distinct, for these aspects of it.  I forgot how much I enjoyed this book.  It was great to re-read these stories again.  Well worth seeking out, if you’ve never read them before. 



WATCHING:
District 9 from director Neil Blomkamp, co-written by Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell.  This continues my foray into “recent” science fiction films I missed.  I enjoyed this.  I found the story engaging, even if the metaphor (though a worthy one) was a bit heavy-handed.  The effects were well done.  I appreciated the design of the aliens.  The villains were a bit one-dimensional, but what are you going to do?  Not great, but definitely worth watching.  Next up, some Val Lewton classics. 



MISCELLANY:
Something I managed to forget to include in the last “What It Is,” was the latest offering here at Warrio27:  A Fistful of Single Issues – Superhero Comics.  These are 6 (had to have an honorable mention) of my favorite single issue cape comics, the ones I go to when I have to read something exciting that will get my inner child all giddy.  Including work by Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Todd McFarlane, Larry Hama, and a host of others, these are the comics I would bring with me to that theoretical desert isle.  And they would keep me pumped about comics for a long, long time. 
[interestingly, though unsurprisingly, three of these books were published in 1984, when I first began collecting comics, while the other three were published between 1988-89, which goes to prove the adage that a comic collector’s “Golden Age” is usually that period when they first began reading]



SIGN OFF:
As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt, Darren Smith (with Bryan Young on accompaniment, when he’s available)  and Don McMillan, as well as Dan’s foray into podcastdom, the Potato League Podcast, for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  

-chris


Sunday, April 19, 2015

What It Is – week ending 19 April [2015]




With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).


WRITING:
Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

At last check-in, two weeks ago, I’d completed the first draft of the novel.  Now I’m onto the pitch for my time travel “epic,” refining and rewriting it in anticipation of Oni’s open submission call next month.  I’ve got a solid premise, I believe, with an engaging four-issue arc that can work as a standalone story, but is also intended as the opening narrative of a much longer story, in the vein of Sandman and Queen & Country, two primary influences on this project. 

I don’t know exactly what Oni will be looking for, so I’m working up various items for inclusion, a synopsis of the opening story, a detailed issue-by-issue breakdown, character profiles, a final script for issue one (which I workshopped at Comics Experience, where I got some invaluable critiques that improved it immensely).  Some of these aspects, I already had written in a rough form and only need to revise, while others I am writing up for the first time.  The great thing about this is that I’ve discovered a lot about the story and been able to flesh it out more fully, so that when I do submit to Oni, I will have a far better understanding of where I am going with it, which, I hope, will improve the chances of getting picked up.  If I don’t, though, I may turn this into a novel at some point down the line. 



READING:
Finished up Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake this week, and I had two thoughts: 1) what an amazing and beautifully written book, 2) why am I even trying to write? 

That second thought is one that occurs a lot, especially when I finish a book as stellar as this.  The connections Lahiri makes, her use of language and the perfect balance of detail and metaphor, and the facility with which she opens and closes a scene—all spectacular.  If you’re looking for a moving, engaging read, pick this up. 

I also re-read Elektra: Assassin this week.  I didn’t connect with this work the first time I read it and subsequently sold my trade collection of it.  But I recently picked up the individual issues on ebay and am I glad I did.  Miller’s writing, specifically his dialogue and captions with their halting cadence revealing the truth over the course of dozens of bits of text, is superb.  And the art by Bill Sienkiewicz is just damn beautiful.  I love his art, and he is just on the top of his game in this book.  Amazing stuff.  If you like over-violent, satirical stories and are a fan of comics, and you haven’t read this yet, do yourself a favor and seek it out.  Now. 



WATCHING:
Watched Live. Die. Repeat./Edge of Tomorrow/I Don’t Know What Title I am? this past week, and I really enjoyed it.  (Sure, there’s a theme running through most of these “updates” about how much I enjoyed reading/watching/hearing something, but that’s because I tend to be picky, and I also don’t want to spend much time on anything that I found less than enjoyable)  The conceit of time travel, as a story engine, is difficult to “get right,” or at least to utilize in a manner that doesn’t pull the audience right out of the story (fingers crossed with my comic pitch above).  But with this film, they did a great job of engaging viewers with the visuals and the drama of the situation, while offering a plausible explanation for the time travel (though, to be fair, it wasn’t so much time travel as a temporal loop, wherein Tom Cruise’s character repeated the same day, over and over, until that chain is broken).  I really enjoyed how we got to see Cruise’s character learn from each jump back to the same day, as he died again and again but retained his memories of those previous days, and the manner that the filmmakers revealed this worked well.  It kept me interested, provided the right amount of drama and intrigue, and offered questions that demanded answers.  And, as the guys at Travis Bickle on the Riviera stated, we got to see Tom Cruise become Tom Cruise.  His character arc was really interesting, something you don’t necessarily get in most action films.  Fun stuff. 



MISCELLANY:
Sox are in first place!  I’ll take that.  I’m not expecting much from the team this year, their pitching could use a shot in the arm (pun intended), but the offense should/could be exciting.  We’ll see  At least I’m not a Cubs fan (sorry, Dan)

The new Star Wars 7 trailer dropped.  And it is magnificent.  The initial teaser did nothing for me.  It didn’t feel like Star Wars, and after the prequels I felt too burned to give in to the dark side.  But this one kicked me right in my nostalgic, five-year-old self’s heart, and I am all in now.  That opening shot is what did it for me—seeing such familiar imagery, the desert, the X-Wing, and the Star Destroyer shown in such a wholly new context, that was exciting.  Add to that, the fact that the “soccer ball droid,” BB-8, is a practical effect, a puppet, and not a CGI effect, that cements it.  Abrams knows how to rummage through my memories and pluck just the right strings to make my heart sing, and he’s doing it again.  Can’t wait for this now.



SIGN OFF:
As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt and Darren Smith (with Bryan Young on accompaniment, when he’s available)  and Don McMillan, as well as Dan’s foray into podcastdom, the Potato League Podcast, for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  

-chris


Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Fistful of Single Issues -- Superhero Comics



Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, choosing to walk a different path, amended that to “A Fistful…” over at their blog, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  A film-centric blog where they also discuss comics and books and TV, these two regularly share their top 5, ranging from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I hope to regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

I love comics.  Been collecting since 1984 (31 years for those who don’t want to do the math).  I have sixteen or so longboxes full of single issues, not to mention the collections I own and those I’ve read through the library.  I’ve ingested a helluva lot of comic books, across a wide swathe of genres and styles and formats—superheroes, mini-comics, autobiographical, black and white, fully painted, photorealistic linework or animation styles, manga, etc. etc. etc.  And for the most part, those comics have been at the very least entertaining, and at their best, mind-blowing (see: Alan Moore & Grant Morrison).  Even with all that, there are still only a relatively small number of comics I can re-read and be exhilarated with the experience every single time.  So, despite the tens of thousands of comics I have read, it was fairly easy to narrow down those five (+ 1) single issues of superhero comics that I go to whenever I want to recapture my youth. 

Note: Some might argue that I took slight liberty with the definition of a superhero comic in some of the choices below.  Technically speaking, there are two Vertigo books in the bunch, Swamp Thing & Animal Man, but both of these issues were published before the mature readers imprint was implemented.  And though Swamp Thing does not wear a costume and was actually created for DC’s horror line, I’m going to allow it because it’s my site, my post, and my rules, plus the Justice League and Batman make significant appearances in Moore’s run.  So, case closed.  And G.I. Joe—don’t know that there’s been a cooler superhero team in comics’ history with all the code names, cool skills, and various costumes.  But I’ve rambled on too long, something I am fairly good at when I sit down to the keyboard, so let’s get to it…

MY TOP FIVE SUPERHERO COMICS (in no particular order):


Incredible Hulk 340
“Vicious Circle.”  Written by Peter David; Art by Todd McFarlane
Wolverine.  Hulk.  Battle royale.  ‘Nuff said. 
I don’t know how many times I’ve read this issue, but it’s easily a couple dozen.  This is a visceral story, with Hulk and Logan beating the snot out of one another as they both try to prove their superiority over the other.  Peter David’s script is great, but what really makes this work, for me, is Todd McFarlane’s art (something I’m not often heard saying).  His frenetic, overly hatched style imbues the narrative with a frenzied agitation that enhances what could easily be seen as a simple punch ‘em up.  I’m not a huge fan of McFarlane’s work, but I love his Hulk, and he puts it all on display in this issue.  Great, fun, cathartic stuff. 


Superman 400
“The Living Legends of Superman.”  Written by Elliot S! Maggin; Art by a plethora of comic giants
I wrote about this comic for our 400th post.  It is easily one of my all-time favorite comics.  The variety of stories on display, with art from a murderer’s row of talent, including Frank Miller, Steranko, Al Williamson, et al.  This comic, more than any other, beautifully captures the wonder and grandeur of Superman, while also evincing the humanity that is the core of his character.  Ever wondered why Superman is the pinnacle of superheroes?  Read this comic to find out.  And if you want a more detailed look at this issue, go here.


G.I. Joe 21
“Silent Interlude.”  Written by Larry Hama; Art by Larry Hama & Steve Leialoha
For comic readers of my generation, few single issues have been more influential than this one – the Silent Issue.  Relatively early in the run, Larry Hama not only wrote but penciled this issue, wherein Snake-Eyes parachuted into Destro’s castle to rescue Scarlett, and a mysterious connection with the Cobra ninja, Storm Shadow, is revealed at the end.  As the title suggests, this issue is entirely devoid of word—no dialogue, no captions, no thought balloons—and it works amazingly well.  The body language, the action, the facial expressions, all add up to a very emotional and exciting adventure.  G.I. Joe was a gateway drug for many comic readers of the mid-80s, and this was the pinnacle of that magnificent run by Larry Hama and a host of talented artists. 


Saga of the Swamp Thing 21
“The Anatomy Lesson.”  Written by Alan Moore; Art by Steve Bissette & John Totleben
This comic was my introduction to Alan Moore and his writing.  At the end of these 23 pages, I was all in with respect to Moore.  The issue opens with Swamp Thing, dead.  And from there, Moore, with lush, unsettling art from Bissette and Totleben, overturns all that readers and fans thought they knew about the muck monster, drastically resetting the status quo without ever changing what has come before.  The pacing, the imagery, the revelations throughout these couple dozen pages all combine to create a suspenseful, engaging, and exciting story.  Probably my favorite comic on this list.


Animal Man 5
“The Coyote Gospel.”  Written by Grant Morrison; Art by Chas Truog & Doug Hazlewood
As Moore did with his second issue of Swamp Thing above, Grant Morrison, also early in his career, completely upended expectations in this fifth issue of his seminal run and provided a powerful emotional reaction in his readership (or in me, at the very least).  I have never felt such pangs of sorrow, when reading a comic book, as I did within the first ten pages of this issue.  Animal Man is confronted with a being from a parallel universe—a coyote-like being who comes from a Looney Tunes universe—who relays the injustices and physical abuses he’s endured on his alternate world to our hero, only to discover upon completing his narrative, at the same time the audience does, that Animal Man cannot understand anything he said.  This revelation hit me like a dead weight falling on my chest.  It was so painful, so real, and yet, did not feel forced.  Morrison, with art from Truog and Hazlewood, completely sold this moment, and I knew I’d found another writer whose work I needed to keep an eye out for.

HONORABLE MENTION:


Miracleman 16
“Olympus.”  Written by Alan Moore;  Art by John Totleben
For the longest time this was the only issue of Miracleman I owned.  The culmination of Moore’s story, it was a final issue that tied up loose ends, while leaving some dangling, with which I hadn’t a proper context.  Miracleman and Miraclewoman made love in the sky, which the populace experienced as some mirthful lightshow, if memory serves me well.  Miracleman had created a utopia; Charles Manson was even rehabilitated; and now he could look down from his amazing crystal palace on high and appreciate what he had built for humanity.  It was epic, with Moore’s signature use of language on display, and the art from Totleben was breathtaking.  I read this single issue multiple times before I was ever able to find the collections of the earlier issues, and it is one of the singular memories from my hobby that is seared into my brain and brings a smile to my face and a chill to my skin every time I think of it.  Love.  This.  Book. 

[for me, MM is Moore’s “final word” on superheroes, not Watchmen, and someday I’ll get around to writing that post here]


-chris

Sunday, April 5, 2015

What It Is – Easter Edition [2015]



With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).


WRITING:
Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.


I missed last week because I had to keep writing on the novel.  All along, I’ve know how it would end and had a handful of landmarks I was always moving toward, but most of the middle was just “made up” as I went along.  Last week, though, I hit the point where I knew I had only three chapters left and exactly what needed to occur in those three chapters.  So, I pressed on.  And this past Friday I wrapped it up with the last couple thousand words.  426 manuscript pages, 114,300 words, and roughly six months of work (though there were short breaks to write pieces for W27, as well as those few weeks in December where I focused on preparing for Christmas, including writing letters from Santa to my three boys).   It feels really good to have arrived at the end. 

The year before, I wrote a draft of a YA novel, but about halfway into that, I realized it was far too visual to be a novel and would work better as a television series.  But I pressed on to prove to myself that I could complete a novel—something I’d begun three times prior without success, often stopping around 100 pages into the manuscript—and in finishing that, I knew this story was something I could also complete.  This narrative is far stronger than last year’s, and I look forward to getting it “up to snuff” for submission.  But that’s months away.  Time to let it sit and percolate.  I’ll return to it in October for my first revision, and depending on how long that takes and how long it takes to write the next novel (a crime story), maybe the following summer for a third pass to finalize it.  For now, I need to work on polishing up a science fiction comic proposal I have sitting on the hard drive, because Oni will be opening up for submissions in May, and plan on being ready for that.



READING:
Finished reading Ghettoside by Jill Leovy.  Looking at the epidemic of the murder of young black man, particularly black-on-black murder, through the lens of a single L.A. murder of a police detective’s son and the southern district detective who brings his killers to justice, this is a fascinating, heart-wrenching, anger-inducing book that will make you think.  It also posits the idea that this is a catastrophe that could be turned around, relatively easily.  If less emphasis were placed on prevention over a proper and quick reaction, if homicide detectives weren’t shunted to the side lacking necessary resources, IF BLACK LIVES WEREN’T SACRIFICED behind utter bullshit “explanations,” this would not be the tragedy it has become and continues to be. 

The focus, in many departments, is on bumping up the stats—solving the easily solved crimes, creating crimes where none may be when they stop-and-frisk or focus on the jaywalking rather than the killing—rather than on the more deadly, more heinous, more important crime of murder.  Overtime is cut (this is not a 9-5 job), resources are misappropriated (detectives get promotions in L.A. to high-profile districts where the murders are few and far between, but involve glitzy white people), and they focus on being “tough on crime,” a euphemism for making the punishments more stringent rather than making the punishment swifter. 

There are many common sense points made in this book—the swiftness of justice trumps the harshness of the punishment, when a people already on the fringes of society feel as if the law does not care about them they take justice into their own hands, and others—all borne out by the truths we see on America’s urban streets as well as the truths seen in historical texts, that it makes you question what the hell those in charge are thinking.  The answer is that, either they don’t know how to think critically, or they only know how to think with their wallet. 


WATCHING:
Watched The Signal, based on recommendations and an interview with one of the writers from the ITMODcast, and I loved it.  A fairly simple science fiction story that was crafted with a lot of intelligence and skill, Laurence Fishburne is great in it.  The setting and scenario feel fresh, the acting and directing was all good to great, and the effects were superb.  The creators manage to make it all feel grounded, with the few twists and revelations perfectly paced so that they surprise without feeling out of place.  And they nailed the ending, giving us a heartfelt, emotional conclusion while opening things up for possible sequels.  I’d like to return to this world and hope another film might come from these guys.  Might be interesting to jump way ahead, a couple of decades or more, and see what’s what.  We’ll see.  Check it out.



MISCELLANY:
Opening Day! 

This is my religion, though, like my lapsed Christianity, I don’t find the time to worship as often as I’d like.  But that doesn’t matter. Baseball’s back, and that is something for which there should be much rejoicing.  Go Sox!


SIGN OFF:
As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt and Don McMillan, as well as Dan’s foray into podcastdom, the Potato League Podcast, for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  

-chris