This was the final regular installment of "For Your Consideration" that ran on the Pulse. I did manage to get two more published - through perseverance - but, at that point, much of the skeleton staff had been let go and Jen Contino was basically doing everythingo keep the site going and, apparently, just didn't have time to format and get FYC up on the site. So, with two exception that will be run here later in the week, this will wind up the archiving of my Pulse column.
For Your Consideration: Peter Rogers’s 11th Hour (now from Markosia)
By Chris Beckett
FRONT PAGE: Some of the best advice I’ve read regarding breaking into comics is to work at your craft every day and get your creations into people’s hands – self-publishing if necessary. Peter Rogers heeded such advice, producing two issues of his anthology, 11th Hour, and now it has garnered several Eagle Awards and been picked up for publication by UK publisher AAA/Markosia. Click on in and discover one of the best new anthologies in comics.
Eleventh Hour Volume 1
Edited by Peter Rogers
80 Pages B/W
What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):
Peter Rogers, like many comic fans, wanted to create his own comics. To that end, he wrote stories and found like-minded artists willing to work with him to bring these tales to life. Making contacts at local conventions, while also submitting some of these early attempts to various publications, Rogers learned how to craft short tales using words and pictures. His initial steps were awkward, as most are, but he did not allow this to deter him and continued to submit his creations. After a number of rejections, some of his pieces finally got accepted at smaller publishers. But, always at the eleventh hour, something would go awry – an artist would miss a deadline, a book would fold, or a publisher go out of business – and those stories that had been given a green light now found themselves relegated to comic purgatory. Frustrated by undaunted, Rogers took the advice of comic scribe Geoff Johns, whom he heard speak at the Bristol International Comic Expo, and decided to self-publish these stories. And thus, Peter Rogers’s anthology 11th Hour was created – recently garnering Eagle Award nominations in the category of Favourite Black and White Comicbook – British and Favourite Newcomer Artist and Favourite Artist: Fully-Painted Artwork for artist Azim Akberali, whose work can be found in both of the initial issues of this anthology.
11th Hour has a nice variety of stories with Rogers showcasing his creativity and range with the diverse genres he tackles. Opening the first issue with a vampire tale about the hunt for the last of the original Romanian princes, Rogers – ably assisted by artists Nuno Nubre (pencils) and Ian Sharman (inks) – sets the tone of the book nicely. Leading his audience through the pre-eminent vampire hunter’s pursuit of Lord Jozsef Horvath, prompted by an anonymous tip from Horvath himself, it becomes evident that the ancient Prince, after a thousand years on this Earth, has finally tired of the pain and hunger in his life. Taken into custody, he longs for the death that has eluded him a millennium, but the final page masterfully subverts readers’ expectations with a climax as logical as it is surprising. And with this final flourish, what seemed a typical horror yarn becomes so much more.
The rest of the tales, the bulk of which are written by Rogers, are just as entertaining. Cutting a swathe across genres the rest of the first issue is filled out with an end-of-the-world farce, a supernatural tale set during the Vietnam conflict, a heart-wrenching narrative of one man’s hell, and a preview of Ian Sharman’s and Randy Valiente’s superhero tale of the “Young Gods.” Exhibiting his penchant for intelligent storytelling in the vein of classic anthologies like EC’s line of comics and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, Rogers manages to provide consistently unexpected outcomes for what often appear, at first glance, to be stories that have been done before. It is a testament to his skill as a writer that Rogers can utilize familiar themes and settings to create stories that are new and original.
The range of art is also impressive. Nubre’s sharper, more angled linework melds perfectly with the initial vampire story, while Azim Akberali’s clean, polished inking adds much to the horror one experiences when reading “Purgatory Blues,” the highlight of the initial issue in my opinion. Likewise Randy Valiente’s pencils for the superhero preview “Young Gods,” whose characters seem to live within speedlines, their actions more dynamic than those of common people meshes well with Ian Sharman’s writing to create an intriguing introduction to these new heroes. It is not an easy thing to work within multiple genres – many writers have difficulty breaking out of the box – but Rogers seems willing and able to forestall any pigeon-holes yet. This facet of his imagination and skill is accentuated by his ability to find artists ideally suited to the various stories he wants to tell within 11th Hour. For entertaining tales from exciting new creators that will make you think, I would recommend you seek out 11th Hour.
An Interview with Peter Rogers:
Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?
Rogers: It took me a long time to realise that writing for comics was something I should be doing. Looking back on things I really wish I’d started a lot sooner, because the fact I left it until my mid twenties is a major regret. I’ll always feel like I’m making up for lost time, and I wish I’d put my love for comics and love for writing together sooner.
I began reading comics when I was very young, starting with Whizzer & Chips (a UK kid’s humour comic) and moving onto Tiger (sports and action anthology - my favourite character being wrestler Johnny Cougar). But it was the Marvel UK reprints that really made me start to get obsessed with the medium. I started picking up Spiderman and when they brought out Secret Wars I was completely blown away. Secret Wars gets a lot of criticism now, but at the time seeing how big and exciting the Marvel Universe was had a real impact on me. I was a Marvel kid from that day on and I was soon picking up a number of their superhero titles. But Secret Wars will always be the book I look back on with the most nostalgic feelings, a lot of other British comic fans do too.
Writing was always a big part of my life as a boy and I had an overwhelming urge to tell stories from as soon as I could pick up a pen. I wrote every single day, short stories about monsters, fake newspaper articles, magazines set in the future, all kinds of things. I remember writing an episode of the A Team once, for some reason I decided that Murdoch should be obsessed with wheat germ.
I did entertain the idea that one day I could work in comics, I think I was about 12 at the time. I didn’t really understand that there was a writer involved and thought that I would have to become an artist. My family bought me “How to draw comics the Marvel Way” and some other art books and I started to try and create my own characters. I think my plan was to send them to Marvel. The only thing I had not taken into account was the fact that I wasn’t actually very good at art. It still baffles me that writing comics never seemed like an option. Especially as writing continued to shape who I was.
Having written short stories, poetry and a few chapters of a novel in my teens, I decided about the time I was in University that I wanted to get into screenwriting. This was about the same time that film had taken over from comics as my favourite entertainment medium (not living near a comic shop didn’t help). I threw myself into screenwriting, reading pretty much every book on the subject and taking some courses (Raindance’s Writing the Hot Script, John Truby’s Story Structure and some production and directing courses). After quite a few aborted attempts (I have a short attention span so tend to flit between projects) I finally completed a Western called “Restitution” but the less said about that the better. I was actually turned down for a Masters Degree in Screenwriting because my work was too genre lead and likely to be popular!
It was in the late 90s that I got back into comics. We were on a beach holiday and I had run out of reading material and was getting progressively more bored. I went to the local shop to pick up a paper or a magazine and stumbled across a fine array of DC and Marvel titles. The first book I read was an issue of the Hulk and suddenly the buzz was back. I bought about 20 books that week and when I got home I spent a small fortune on trade paperbacks to try and find out what I’d missed (the likes of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and Preacher). I realised that comics was far more than I remembered and that the medium had generated stories that put the vast majority of movies to shame. A light-bulb came on above my head, I should try writing comics.
I bought a great book called “Writers on Comic Scriptwriting” and some script books and set about writing comics and I have been doing it ever since. At first it was something I was doing as well as screenwriting but in the end I switched my focus totally. I had made some good movie contacts and the pitches I had made to producers had been well received. But I realised my heart was no longer in it, I think you can blame DVD extras for that. The thought of five other writers reworking your script until it bore no resemblance to your original vision made my heart sink. And so did the thought of writing screenplay after screenplay with no guarantee that any of them would ever make it to the screen.
Anyone can make a comic if they want to, regardless of their finances or their day job circumstances. You can’t say the same about movies. Well you can but comics don’t have budget restrictions so you can do anything that you can imagine in the medium. And it’s not as if there is a comics equivalent of the dreaded test screening either. Writing something with a downbeat ending and having to change it to happily ever after to keep the moneymen happy must be soul destroying. I really think that creating comics has to be one of truest forms of creative expression, certainly within mass media. But the thing that has really made me love writing comics has been getting to collaborate with such talented artists. When they take your words and turn them into something far, far better than what was originally on the page there really is no better feeling.
I’m intrigued by the variety of genres showcased in Eleventh Hour. Was this intentional on your part or just a happy coincidence, and how do you market such a diverse anthology?
Rogers: Kind of halfway between the two really I guess. The first issue of Eleventh Hour was very much about getting my own work out there so I didn’t have a plan as such. The first few years writing comics had been a steep learning curve. I was basically learning by my mistakes and taking on board lots of advice from pros I’d met through cons or through friends. It wasn’t until 2004 that I began to have any real confidence in my writing for the medium though. I won the Writer’s Pitching session at the UK’s largest convention and that really made me feel I was ready to get my work in front of people.
I didn’t think I was ready to pitch to the big guns just yet so I focussed on submitting to small independent publishers. Things went pretty well, I had a couple of rejections but I also had a lot of submissions accepted. Despite having my stories picked up I was still unpublished two years later. In a lot of ways that was more frustrating than being turned down. Artists had pulled out, books had been cancelled, editors had gone AWOL and publishers had ceased to exist and I started to feel I would never actually see my work in print.
It was at the Bristol Comic Expo last year, the same place I won the pitch fest, that I started to think seriously about putting the stories out myself. Geoff Johns was on one of the writing panels, and his advice to writers who wanted to “break in” was to self publish. He said that editors were far more likely to read your comic than to read your script, and it made real sense to me. His words really cemented what I should do and from there the initial premise of “Eleventh Hour” was born.
At that time I had no master plan to create a new anthology series, I just had a bunch of stories I wanted to collect. Most of them were written for specific publications that required a certain genre or mood, which is one of the reasons that the book has such diversity. Once Ian Sharman came on board, Orang Utan Comics co-founder, we started to look at Eleventh Hour as a series rather than a one off book and that made a difference.
In terms of marketing I don’t think we need to pigeonhole ourselves in one genre to do it effectively. We very much wanted Eleventh Hour to be a talent showcase, a place to introduce people to the next generation of comic creators. We tend to market the book loosely as a sci-fi, horror and fantasy but our main focus is always the creators. We have handpicked artists from across the globe and I would be much happier if the talent involved was the main draw and not just one genre or defined style.
The general consensus is that anthologies “do not sell.” So, why jump into publishing with an anthology such as Eleventh Hour?
Rogers: I guess it depends how you look at it. I know people talk about anthologies not doing well in terms of numbers but there have been exceptions. A book like “Flight” is an example of an anthology that had made real inroads, mainly in the book market. And in the UK anthologies have always been part of the fabric of the comic scene. If you look back at something like “Warrior”, it was responsible for some groundbreaking stories that have helped shape the medium. 2000AD has managed to keep going despite growing pressures, and there’s no better place for new talent to grow and flourish. One thing “Warrior” and “2000AD” do have in their favour is the fact that most stories are episodes and not actual standalone tales as such.
The fact anthologies “do not sell” never really crossed our mind, mainly because sales was not one of the things that motivated us. It has always been about getting our work in front of people rather than making money. Most of the decisions we made along the way were pretty organic, mainly because we started out as a collective. Essentially we were a group of likeminded creators who wanted to work together and create the best comics we could. We ended up putting the first two issues out ourselves and it worked in our favour. Having an anthology title has given us the flexibility to try new things and the chance to work with a number of very talented artists. It has also proven to be the perfect place to nurture and develop talent.
More than anything it has become our calling card, making people take a lot more notice of our studio work and the other projects we have in the pipeline. In fact a number of our studio members have gone on to work on high profile books as a result of their work in the anthology. Sales have been good through conventions and a selected comic shops but the real measure of success is how much we’ve achieved in just a year. “Eleventh Hour” has been picked up by AAM/Markosia for future issues and it has also been nominated for the Eagle award for “Favourite Black and White Comic – British”.
Alan Moore has said that writing short stories for 2000AD was a great way for him to learn how to write comics. What have you learned from your experience writing these short stories and how will you apply that to your future writings?
Rogers: I love the fact that someone with such an immense talent as Alan Moore still refers to the process and how all writers can improve what they do. We often think of the greats like him purely in terms of their talent, but often forget the work they have put in to hone their craft to such a level. No matter how good you are naturally you always need to have some perspiration to go with the inspiration.
Anyway have I learned from doing short stories? Yes. Writing shorter stories certainly gives you greater discipline and it makes you get to the action quicker definitely. I think my ongoing stuff is getting tauter as a result of writing shorter stories. I naturally lean towards quite a decompressed style, probably because of my screenwriting background and writing shorts keeps that in check. Where I might have taken a few pages to build character or tension I have to do it in a few panels instead in a short and I try and take that into my other projects.
Saying that I think writing “Future Shocks”, the 5 page shorts in “2000AD”, would be even more valuable because of the page restriction. The majority of the shorts I have written in Eleventh Hour did not have a predetermined length. One notable exception is “Brothers in Arms” which was originally written for “End is Nigh – the magazine of the apocalypse”. It had to be 2 pages long, and it had to be written in a certain style and about a particular theme. I was totally out of my comfort zone writing that and it was a long way from my natural style. But I learned a lot working on it, and it has ended up being one of my most talked about stories.
Writing an ongoing title teaches you some invaluable lessons too though, and in some ways there are more restrictions in that format. If you have to write 22 pages per issue, 4 issues per arc with mini cliff-hangers on each page turn that makes you far better at planning your plot and story beats. Writing from another writer’s plot, which I have done a couple of times now, is a very quick way to learn. You don’t have the flexibility you have when creating something from scratch and have to learn what to add and what to take out very quickly.
For aspiring creators, what is the best advice you would give to them as they work to break into comics?
Rogers: I’m not sure I can add anything to what far more established and more successful creators have said in the past. Most of the advice I have been given or that I have read has proven to be right really. I guess I can summarise some of the key things that I think are important for you though.
Don’t show your work too early. This is a mistake a lot of people make and it can totally destroy not only your confidence but also your credibility. I was told this many times and didn’t listen. I sent my first ever story “Darwin” to Andy Diggle and it was nowhere near good enough. I can laugh about it now, but it was a stupid and sizeable mistake.
Learn the craft. You really do need to understand the medium and how to write for it. Simple things like script layout are something you need to get a handle on, and reading other people’s scripts is a great place to start. Get an understanding of story and embrace structure rather than fearing it. And do the background, as tempting as it is just to get writing preparing a full back-story for your characters and universe will prove invaluable.
Make plenty of contacts. Every time you speak to a creator, editor or fan is a networking opportunity, in person or online. One thing people often forget, particularly on forums or by email, is that everything you say and do makes an impression. Be courteous and keen, but not too pushy. When you do meet influential people make the most of it, I have had to learn not to be shy to ensure I don’t miss opportunities. And to not get drawn into online fire fights too!
Treat artists very well indeed. Without them you are just writing scripts not making comics, so look after them. They hold the keys to the kingdom. (Feel free to shoot me for that cliché)
Get your own work out there. If you can’t get published just do it yourself. As long as you have had some editorial or professional feedback then it is not vanity press by any means. And if you don’t “break in”, whatever that means for you, at least you have a comic in your hands and available for others to read.
Give yourself deadlines and set yourself clear objectives. It is easy to end up talking about what you are going to do and still not do it. Easy to let your day job, family life, social life, social networking and console games take up all your time. Setting yourself daily or weekly objectives as well as an end goal will really help you focus and keep your eye on where you are going. This doesn’t sound like fun, but there is nothing worse than regretting not putting the hours in.
Write every day. This is something that everyone tells you and everyone is right! I spent a lot of time reading about writing or taking courses about writing when I could have actually been writing.
My main personal advice would be to find something that helps maintain your motivation. We all have down days especially as writing can be such a solitary thing, so you need a light at the end of your own personal tunnel. I think about how I will be remembered after I’m gone (I refer to it as my funeral montage), it’s a bit morbid but it definitely ensures I put enough effort into it. J. Michael Straczynski put it far better than I can though.
“ Like everyone else, I am going to die.
But the words - the words live on for
as long as there are readers to see them,
audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy.
It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.”
What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?
Rogers: Like I said earlier I have a short attention span so I tend to have quite a few projects on the go at once. I’ve just finished writing an 8 page preview comic to promote a new British movie “Fight Back” which was an interested change. I am working on an ongoing series and three mini series at the moment as well as more short stories for future issues of “Eleventh Hour”.
The ongoing series is “The Intergalactic Adventures of Slam Ridley” which I am writing from a plot by Ian Sharman. It is essentially a space opera and if you like Firefly and Star Wars this should be right up your street. It centres around the titular hero Slam Ridley, who is a pilot and trader. He travels the galaxy with his robotic sidekick Dan making money doing some rather shady deals. Slam doesn’t want to get involved in the political and military situation that is going on around him, but suffice to say he is soon drawn into it.
Writing Slam has been a real change for me, because the tone is much lighter than the work people have seen from me already. It does have some real world parallels but essentially it is a pulp adventure. And the relationship between Slam and Dan draws on my love of buddy movies and the work of screenwriter Shane Black. I have written the first four issues that make up the first story arc and Welsh artist Simon Wyatt is hard at work inking his own pencils at the moment. We hope to have the book out later this year.
“5th Outlaw” is a 4 issue mini series that I am working on which is essentially a modern day Western. I would describe it as Monk meets The Rock meets Point Blank directed by Robert Rodriguez. The two main characters are Nathan Campbell an FBI agent with obsessive tendencies and Jesus San Vitores an immortal Mexican outlaw who is hell bent on revenge. The first 8 pages are about to be lettered ready to submit to potential publishers with pencils and inks by JC Grande and colours by Megan E.Cittadino.
I am also working on a superheroine mini series that started life as part of a recent competition run by Shadowline. I didn’t make the finals but once I’d already written a comprehensive character bible and I knew I had to get the story out there. I have three working titles for it at the moment and a shortlist of potential artists. I’ve plotted the mini series and broken down the pages into story beats, and I’m part way into writing issue 2. I am really excited about this and I think it could be the most mainstream and fun book I’ve written.
The third mini series is very much in the early stages of development and it is a real diversion for me. It’s an all ages story called “My Monster Book” and it is about a small boy with an incredible imagination.
Once these are all done I have lots more up my sleeve that I want to get moving, including a teenage Viking story and robot hunter team book. For regular updates on each of the titles people should visit www.orangutancomics.co.uk.