Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Collaborate

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

One of the things that drives me crazy about the comics press is that there’s a disconnect between the final product which is a collaborative effort of the entire team and what they see as the value.  Unless you’re talking about a superstar artist, for the most part, the artist gets short shrift in the process.

Rahsan and I talked almost non-stop through the process of making this book, and he served as both a sounding board and a quality meter for what i was doing.  The first reaction I wanted to from each finished script wasn’t from my editor or my usual gang of friends who read the book, but from Rahsan.  When I talked to him about the book, I knew if what I was doing was working and if what he was going to do would work.

That’s collaboration.  Rahsan and I have collaborated in one way or another on a couple hundred pages of comics at this point, and, hopefully, that’s just the beginning.  Because he brings something to my writing that no one else can.  Himself.

Thanks buddy.

Echoes #4 is in stores this week, and in it you can see two of the most beautiful pages of comic art ever printed.  You’ll know ’em when you see them.

 

A Day in the Life

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I get asked quite frequently what it’s like being a freelance comic book writer. I figured I’d walk you through a typical day for me.

Saturday, February 12th
Wake up at about 6:30 to the baby wanting her mom. Feed the cats, shower, pass the baby to her grandma and lock the door to my office. Noise Canceling headphones on, Pandora playing my handmade 90’s alterna-rock station, anchored ably by the Pixies. After about twenty minutes of Twitter and newsfeed reading, I turn to the half finished WFH script on my screen. I work with a dual screen set up, and actively use OSX’s Spaces to keep work on one set of screens, screwing around on another. So, when I look in to work mode, I’m pretty good about keeping my head down.

This script was really thoroughly broken down in outline form, so, for the most part, I’m just busting out panels and adding dialogue. Because of the dual monitors and the joyous program that is Scrivener, this process is incredibly fast, almost more like doing an adaptation that original writing. By 10:30, it’s time to run next door and feed the neighbors cats. Figuring the cats could use the company and I could use the quiet, I bring my laptop. With the lack of Wi-Fi and the baby to dote over, I spend an hour petting the cats and banging out the remainder of the script. Without the outline right in front of my nose, the script goes to a strange (but I think fantasticly cool) place. Back to my office for a quick second draft and dialogue polish.

I tend to forget to spell check on the first submitted draft, I suppose it’s because I’m of the school that if you leave something for the editor to do that’s obvious they won’t start poking around for something that’s not. Or I’m just lazy, one of the two.

By about 1:30 the script is ready to go. I make up my invoice and shoot off both via e-mail. Time for lunch. The baby is asleep with her Grandma, and I don’t want to wake her, so I call up Tony Fleecs, and the two of us hit the dollar taco place around the corner to talk about story on the new creator owned series I’m working on and having a bitch of a time wrestling to the ground. After that, we make a quick stop at the amazing Iliad Bookstore around the corner from both of our houses, where I pick up a Charles Beaumont Paperback AND limited edition ashcan of one of his unpublished short stories.

With my frustration on this new book, and that it’s skews way more superhero-y than possible, i scour the comic racks for something that I don’t own that’ll inspire me. Born Again my Miller and Mazzuchelli and Kraven’s Last Hunt by DeMatteis and Zeck fit the bill.

Home again, home again. I play with the baby for twenty minutes and then get back to work. I’ve been banging my head against the wall for about a week to really crack this story, and I finally give in. I take a break and read Born Again from cover to cover. I wonder to myself if maybe that’s the structure I should use, is that why I chose that book?

I’ve got two interviews about Echoes to get done, so I decide to split them up, and crank out the first one as the hours tick down before my wife comes home.

I start cooking dinner and have a good hour long freak out session with that book’s editor, Rob Levin. After his amazing calming influence, I manage to actually stop thinking about the project when my wife comes home and the whole family sits down for dinner.

We spend the better part of the evening trying to convince our daughter to go to sleep, to very little avail. The whole time, I’m chewing on the outline, trying to figure out what it’s missing, and what, in turn, that first script is missing. The baby finally calls it quits around 1:30, and I’m too exhausted to do much more. Instead, I read Born Again one more time from cover to cover.

So, look, not so much a typical day because, well, typical days don’t exist. Some days the baby is miserable and whether we have help or not, I have no choice but to stay with her. Some days I spend driving around the city going from meeting to meeting, and others are spent with my brain turned off and watching Hammer movies with my daughter all day. And don’t get me started on my doctor days. Eesh.

But, that’s a pretty good look at what it’s like to be a freelance writer, combining the work for hire with the creator owned and the PR and marketing responsibilities all while trying to have some semblance of a life that’s not just doing work.

Sick and Tired

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

“Don’t you get sick of writing such dark stuff?” was a question I got asked in an interview the other day.

And frankly, I didn’t know how to answer.

I did answer, I just don’t know what i said, or if it was what I really felt or not.

So, I figured I’d give it another try, with some fresh eyes and some freeform rambling.  Please excuse any of this that you find boring or offensive.

Comics are for kids.  Or rather, comics were for kids.  Forever and a day, it was a medium directed and aimed at children.  After the first few generations of fans were turned into meat for the war grinder, you finally had the kids of the 60’s.  Comics were growing with them.  Stan and Jack and Steve and Carmine and Julie and so on realized that the audience would stick around longer if you just made the comics slightly more applicable to them.  And, the thing is, kids read those comics when they were kids, too.  And then as they grew up, they wanted something more mature and darker, and you get Alan Moore, and then the kids who grew up on Swamp Thing and Superman Ennui from Alan want something even darker still, and you get your Grant Morrison’s and Neil Gaiman’s, and then Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis and so on.

But, here’s the thing.  Up until the 90’s, comics were still for kids.  The bulk of what we’d consider mainstream comicdom were comics that any kid could read.  Sure, they were richer and deeper and more involved than Cap punching Hitler in the nose, but, they were still accessible.  But, maybe it was video games or computers or cell phones or whatever culprit we want to blame, at some point the kids started getting older, and nobody was there to replace them.

So you can’t blame the publishers of 90% of comicdom to service the audience they have.

So then, along comes me.  I love writing about how awful people are.  It comes naturally to me, because, frankly, that’s how I feel about most people.  I think that while there’s certainly some good to be found in everybody, there’s just as much shit and bile and venom and ugliness, if not more, in all of us.  I love finding out what it takes for one side to overtake the other.  What makes us go from a person with bad impulses to a person who kills.  Or, who leads  men into war.  Or, kills little girls.  Those are the ideas that resonate with me.

But… I love comics.  And not just the spawn of Alan Moore that’s got us where we are.  I love reading Stan and Jack’s FF as much as virtually any other piece of literature on earth.  I love the thought that in a world of confusion, there can be something as cut and dry as Superman and Batman.  And I want desperately for my daughter to be taught that idea of morality so that when she comes to make the harder less black and white decisions she can say, “What would Wonder Woman do?”

So, I made a rule for myself.  Whenever possible, whenever applicable, write about what’s wonderful.  I feel a responsibility, because so much of what I write is about awfulness and the sour shit of existence, that when given the opportunity, I’m gonna make sure that I get to show the awesomeness too.

Writing, for example, this Marvel Girl one shot that’s coming out in a few weeks is an extension of that.  I, hopefully, you be the judge, wrote a story that’s in the mighty marvel tradition but still contains all of the hallmarks of my writing.  It’s about battling yourself rather than any real enemy, as that’s what every battle we face ultimately is.  When was the last time that you had to fight actual evil?  No, what we fight most of the time is our own foolishness or laziness.

I want to write happy things, I honestly do.  But, I feel like by exploring the awfulness of the universe, I’m exorcising that demon from my head… I’m finding coherent logic in a place where there is none and can be none.  I’m sorting out my fears and anxieties into nice little packages so that instead, in life, I can focus on the joy and the wonder.

I need there to be a Marvel Universe and a DC Universe, if only to satisfy the little hopeful boy in me and to know that there’s somebody out there making sure there’s new readers being introduced to our medium .  That’s my biggest worry.  As you see kids comics getting thrown by the wayside, and outreach either blundered or more or less ignored.

I think about this new Wonder Woman tv series.  Where essentially they just keep the name and nothing that’s iconic or proper about the character.  And that’s fine.  Throw it out.  But, when a kid who loves the tv show comes to read the comic (brilliantly written by Mr. Phil Hester, mind you) what are they going to find?  Not the tv show that’s for damn sure.

Who should change?  That’s the question I suppose.  Not one that I should or would answer, mind you.

My point, which I lost somewhere around outraged paragraph three, is that I don’t get sick of writing this stuff, because, it’s there.  It’s what I see, it’s what I read in the paper, it’s what I see on the internet, it’s what I see walking around North Hollywood on a Wednesday afternoon.

But all the other stuff?  Watching my daughter climb and roll around and wave and say my name?  Seeing my wife come up that escalator at the same time everyday with a big smile that’s just for me and my kid?  Spending time with the people who aren’t shitbeasts?  Working with people who actually care about what they do, rather than just their bottom lines or what the world thinks about them?  That’s in there too.  Maybe not so much in ECHOES, but, it is in there.

There’s a guy I know, same education, same general upbringing as me, just as smart and as talented a writer as me.  One day, he chose not to get up on a morning that I did.  I moved forward, while he stayed in the same place.  Ten years later, I’m living a life I could never have imagined, he’s living the life he lead then, only with grayer hair.

I think about that, not so much out of superiority or judgmentalness (although, I am vindictive as hell), but, because I know that the world is not a fecal-filled explosion of awfulness.  I know that life is what you make of it and what you accomplish is what you do and succeed as much as you allow yourself.  I know that I’m fucking lucky to make work that I love passionately and to even have a tenth of the success that I’ve had.

But I save that for the people I love.  You guys get serial killers and brain tumors.

Violence and You

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

I’m a pacifist. Alright, maybe not a pacifist so much as a coward. I don’t fight. I’ve been in fights, and they mostly end with me bleeding and somebody being pulled off of me before I lose consciousness or a tooth. I do abhor violence, though. And yet, i write almost exclusively nothing but. Hell, comics in general are nothing but fist fights and gun fights and laser eye blast fights. I mean, from the outside, anyways.

But what’s going on underneath is something else altogether.

We right about violence in comics because it allows us to control it. Action dominates so much popular fiction because it’s the last true mystery. We look at someone like Bruce Lee, watching him moving faster than it seems possible (the old story is that they told him when they were filming he had to slow down, cause the camera couldn’t catch his moves), as graceful as a swan flapping delicately through a world of utter and complete chaos.

This is how we wish violence was. We wish that we, and by extrapolation our characters are the peace and order in a world of chaos. Take for example, the Bob Hoskins starring flick the Long Good Friday. In it, Hoskins plays a British mob boss standing on the brink of a huge deal with the American crime syndicates. He’s been in control of London and by extension England’s crime world for ayears, a big powerful swan, swiping away at all of it’s chaotic competition. But, when the story starts, somebody is fucking that all up. His men, who were thought to be untouchable, get butchered, cars and buildings blown up, and his power base destroyed.

Rather than panicking, he begins to investigate and enact retribution. At the time, the movie was considered grossly and thoughtlessly violent, but, in fact, what it’s really about, and what it’s really saying is how violence and control are the same thing. That by turning his own tools back on him, our protaganist is in fact trapped in a web of his own making. That by creating a world of violence, he’s doomed himself to a death by the same means. And in the end when he’s looking down a barrel of a gun, the look on his face says, “Sure.” rather than “What the fuck?” because he’s learned the truth of himself through these hideous violent acts.

That, to me, is what violence is really all about. It’s not so much the face kicking as the soul punching that really matters.

Or so says I.

Now, watch it be my downfall.

The Wading is the Hardest Part

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

I knew this writer who would obsess over research.  He’d spend weeks, months even going over and over every little detail for every project.  Trying to find the meaning and the truth behind the story.  This was equal parts genuine interest and procrastination.  Sound familiar?  It’s just about every writer I know, including myself.

This act of wading (see? That title totally makes sense and isn’t just a bad pun) is one of the core skills of a writer.  If you can’t find the cut off point between getting ready to write and actually writing, you’re in trouble.

Part of the trick, I’ve found, is finding out just enough so that you can work with some confidence and let the rest fill itself in, without necessarily just wildly making shit up.  I thought for sake of explaining this, I’d talk about my research phase for Echoes.

As mentioned previously, Echoes started as a tiny inkling of an idea… one about… the secret word (damn that secret word.)  I did a lot of cursory research into the meaning of this word which led me (man this is repetitive) to a whole slew of medical research.

So let’s start there.  First things first, I spent a good day or two researching the conditions that my characters needed to have in order for the story to work.  Alzheimers and Schizophrenia seemed like the obvious solutions.  I did some fact checking and figured out that I was right.  I spoke with my father the Psychiatrist about both conditions just to get a sense of what’s fact and what’s fiction, which, thanks to the way movies have warped our understanding of the world is much harder than you’d expect.  From there he recommended a few books and a few articles.

I buy the books, I read them as thoroughly as a BFA Theater Major can read a medical text book, and then I move to the journal articles, which are personal statements from people afflicted with Schizophrenia.  These are ten to fifteen (sometimes more) page long confessions which ran in various medical journals over the past twenty years.  All of these are available either on the internet, or via the resources available at the Local Public Library (aided by my wonderful librarian wife, of course.)

After spending my free time reading about the most awful things that can happen to a person based on chemistry alone, I moved on to the next chunk.  Figuring out the killer.  I’d already gotten a heaping helping of info from the journal articles, but, what I needed was to find a totem for our killer, something that sets him apart and signifies his illness and his obsession.

Again, from the research I wound up with… damn, I wish the book was out already.

Okay, so let’s take all of that as done.  We’ve got two other big research bits to complete.  Character and Location.

Location… well… I cheat.  I’ve learned over the past ten years of writing for a living that it’s way easier to build what you know than it is to make everything up whole cloth.  So, look, I wanted our characters to be stuck in the suburban wastelands, why not make it the one I grew up in?  I know the streets, the route names, the houses, the hospitals, everything inside and out.  Plus, my hometown is the place they shot Dawn of the Dead, so, y’know, score!

Character… Everyone handles differently.  For me, I like to just build out situation.  With Brian, I wanted to capture a lot of the fears and anxieties of my own life, hence the pregnant wife.  Then for the sake of story, I knew he had to have a bad relationship with his father and that they both had to have schizophrenia.  From there, using all of that medical research, I built a sort of character profile.

This isn’t necessarily even something I wrote down or ever really expressed.  Some people find doing that helpful, but, I find that if I have a fully fleshed out character in my head, then I can usually just let the character go, and see what they do.

Writing is about building the maze to put your characters in.  If your plot is the walls (and hence the main obstacle), your research is the window dressing that helps to steer your characters in strange, exciting new directions.

WHERE DOES IT COME FROM

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

The most irritating part about being a writer and doing interviews is when they ask where your ideas come from.  It’s borderline impossible to answer in any way that isn’t the most ridiculous, amorphous, pontificating load of bullshit.  Ideas don’t just spontaneously hit you in the face… no, they fester and develop, from an inkling to concept to something… more and meaningful.   Or, y’know, something with a lot of dick jokes.  It’s really one or the other.

I’m hoping I can take you on the journey that led me from idea to execution…

Echoes started as a single word in my Evernote.   It came up during research for my last book, Tumor. Now, silly as this sounds, I can’t tell you what that word is… it would be… telling.  But, that word led me to another word… Schizophrenia.  Let me back up some.

My father is a forensic child psychiatrist.  He specialized in some of the most troubled and damaged kids in the world.  From the time i was old enough to type, I worked as an office assistant to him.  Mostly, this was data entry, but, sometimes it meant transcribing reports.  So, I’d sit there as a 10 year old listening to the life story of some of the most traumatized people on the face of the earth, and learning about the origins of trauma, be they both chemical and situational.  From that time I found myself obsessed with the amazing way that our minds and bodies work, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I wound up being a writer.

Alright, now, bear with me… While doing Tumor research, stories about end of life came up quite a bit… Which of course led me to senility and Alzheimers Disease.  Which ties in nicely with that secret word that started the whole shebang.  So, now, in my Evernote, I have a nice little chunk of information regarding secret word, schizophrenia, alzheimers disease, and the end of life.

And then I found out about my daughter.  Since my wife and I first met, we didn’t think we wanted to have kids, but, a pregnancy scare led us to realize that maybe we did and that maybe we wanted one right now… So,  suddenly, I’m thinking about legacy and what it means to have a person who’s made up of 50% you, and how all of your mistakes and bad decisions effect this tiny little innocent life and-

What if your father confessed on his death bed that he was a serial killer?  And what if you both shared several traits… You look alike, you act alike, and you both have the same mental disorder.  What would you do?  How could you cope with it?

And suddenly, Echoes was born.  I spent about a week or two developing an outline, which I then submitted to a few publishers, and, also went to friend and former collaborator Rahsan Ekedal.

To be continued!