DON’T Become a bad Fiction-Writer (Comic Books)

•August 21, 2014 • 1 Comment

Since I started this blog I wrote a few articles about WHAT NOT to do and WHAT TO emulate when you are writing a comic (or a work of fiction in general).

If you don’t believe me check out Nuff Said Posting

I don’t think (and this is my personal opinion) that good fiction-writing is about being 100% original and giving echo to your own inner voice. Nor it means being popular and selling a gazzillion issues. Nor it means selling little but having awesome critics review your work with lots of kudos!

Of course you can define it in any of those terms, if you want. If you want to sell a lot, then you want to hone on you targeted audience. If you want to receive amazing reviews, learn to write like a pro, and don’t focus on sales.  If you want to hone on your inner voice, and be unique, be ready to not sell, to not get good reviews, and keep knocking on doors.

Yep, this is how all writers live and work…suuuure…

The most difficult trick anyone can performs is: Writing with their unique voice, selling a lot, and being popular. It is possible.

Let’s break it down into rules:

RULE #1   Watch TV Shows, not to be entertained, but to analyze their MANY failures in storytelling.

TV is a medium to be mass consumed. And the majority of TV shows are shit on a stick. This post is not about what are good show and which ones are bad.  If you want to learn about some good ones from the last 10 years, all I can recommend are Lost (innovative storytelling), 24 (some seasons, for its pacing and consistency), Shameless (learn how to write believable and likable real characters with distinct voices), Once Upon A Time (to learn how to adapt old tales with new twists), BattleStar Galactica (how to write believable dramatic Science Fiction).

But then you have the immense majority of shows. For example, SuperNatural in Season 1. You got a theme of demon hunters and supernatural happenstances heavily overshadowed by cheap and overused soap-opera topics.

Mind you, most shows during their first season suck. Usually because they don’t know what they want to be yet.

TV Shows are done (in their majority) to achieve massive audiences, and thus earn profits through advertisement. The business model is changing, and some Netflix and Hulu only produced shows are really amazing. But a TV show gets done by a writer bringing an idea to a producer, or sometimes a producer having an idea, and asking a writer to put it on paper.

Then 10,000 people have their input and re-write the concept until it (usually) is unrecognizable from the first concept.

RULE #2 Read everything and anything (and not just comics)

Do a quick experiment. How many of these terms you can talk about in certain depth?

  • Operation Paperclip
  • The children’s crusade
  • The beast of Gevaudan
  • Piri Reis Map
  • Los Tayos Cave
  • Lake Volstok Anomaly.

Seriously, if you consider yourself a good fiction-writer, you should know the story behind them like the back of your hand, because the ones I chose there are not that weird, obscure or unknown. And why is it you don’t know about them?  Because you haven’t read enough.
And the problem with that is that there is nothing new under the sun. And that wonderful story of vampires you thought about when you were 14… it turns out a famous writer wrote about it and better back in 1975. Or that mystery story you had in mind… someone wrote about it back in the 19th century.

After you have read a lot, you will understand better controversial issues, you will understand a bit more of history, and be able to voice characters better.

RULE #3 Things to Avoid after you master RULE #1: CLICHES

“Trust Me!!” You want your characters to resolve a confrontation quickly, because they already spent two pages arguing? Use the magic of “Trust me” or any of its variants “I need you to trust me on this!” or “You have to trust me!”   This is lazy, and is such a common device used in TV, that people even think is OK to use it in real live, and way too often in fiction. IT IS NOT. Is lazy and is bullshit.

AVOID “I can’t talk about it now”:  In cheap flicks and TV they need drama. And to make drama their characters have to be really flawed. And the inability to reach a consensus through dialog (which is the most common sense way of reaching an agreement) creates great drama. But it is lazy and unrealistic. And bullshit.

Another variation of this is “Why won’t you talk to me?  “It’s complicated.”

AVOID “We have to talk about your/my feelings”:  Usually, real life is not about psychoanalysis with your friends. Usually.

AVOID “You owe me as much”: You want to force a character to disclose information to another, so you resort to this old artifice

AVOID Forensics always misses something at the crime scene

AVOID Irish guys drink and sing old-timey songs: Careful with racial/gender/nationality stereotypes. Germans being all neo-nazis, middle-easterners being all terrorists, French all smoking and smelling bad… I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen action taken place in cities of Spain (like Barcelona or Madrid) and the artist using references of rural Mexico. Also, the Asian math geeks who can’t drive, or the rural white who only has one tooth and married his cousin.

AVOID Children behaving like morons:  Most TV/Hollywood writers not only do not have children, but even the ones that have them, avoid them and leave them with nannies. Thus they constantly use them (often) as a recourse for when they need someone to do something stupid to move the plot along.  I saw a 10 year old girl open the door to a clown in the middle of the night, a child play with matches sin a gas station, a kid provoke a multiple car accident from the back seat… Add in this category the Troubled Teen Daughter/Son

Children usually are freaking smart, (except a noted cases) and very creatives, thinking outside the box. But writers keep using them as artifices for stupidity.

AVOID assuming people are interested the same you are about the same things you are.  Recently I wrote a bad review about a comic called Evil Empire, because the writer (who I later found out was on a band) put too much emphasis on the character who was a singer. And singing and comic books… are a hard match. And he didn’t make them work because he assumed the readers would be into the music part of the comic as much as he was….

 AVOID TV CLICHES: Lets see… the nerd with the tape on glasses, the comic book collector that talks like he has a mouth full of spit and gum, the Chief of medical staff who is a sarcastic asshole, the judge who goes against the protagonist, just to create extra drama, the jock who is a muscle-bound ignoramus,

Now, these tips are things to avoid in order to NOT BE A BAD WRITER.

But in order to be a mildly successfully popular writer, you can’t completely avoid these conventions.

If you want to use them, you have to make them yours. You have to twist them and use them to your advantage. And if you are writing for an audience, always keep them in mind.

Comic Book History: From when Marvel had swagger….

•August 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Some years ago, about the same time I started this blog, I realized I didn’t have an inventory of my comic book collection.

Why I haven’t done that before? I’ve been moving around, almost every two years. Carried the boxes with me, never checked what was in them for a long time.

I now have a few large plastic bins, not the square cardboard boxes. The square cardboard boxes got wasted in the first floods.

But a few months after leaving New York, I sat down with a software database, and took the time to enter the majority of my stock onto the database.

I admit that my most priced items are some comics from the 70’s, but I am lazy about re-reading them.

That is… until Marvel brought out the Essentials collection.

Just a sample of the books in this collection.

 

I love this collection for multiple reasons:

1)  Continuity: You can finally read it all in one shot (likely in multiple sittings) and follow the adventures of a given characters during a long period of time.

2) They are in black and white: Sorry colorist, but with the distraction of color out of the way, the work of pencilers and inkers stands more on its own.

3) It’s a really affordable way of catching up on the ins and out of the Marvel universe. Almost like if you were there when the comic was released.

 

Continue reading ‘Comic Book History: From when Marvel had swagger….’

Comic Review: Evil Empire. Making us wish evil was truly this cheesy…

•August 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Evil Empire

Writer(s):  Max Bemis

Artist(s): Ransom Getty

 US Publisher:  Boom Studios

++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Plot:

A country is about to become an evil empire, so the authors want to show you how it happened (I think. I am in issue 3 and still not too clear on this one…)

Continue reading ‘Comic Review: Evil Empire. Making us wish evil was truly this cheesy…’

Focus on the Artist: Garth Ennis, the brilliant writer that desperately needs an editor.

•July 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been a fan of Garth Ennis since the days of Constantine and Preacher (read mid 1990’s)

I’ve even made a post regarding a review on The Boys series and I’ve made vocal my admiration for The Crossed as an example of modern horror, and how to rehash the modern zombie mythos. 

But in this world of comics I find two arenas clearly defined when it cames to this writer: Either you find unconditional fans, or strange detractors whose criticism of him come across as petty and maybe even jealous of his success.

At the end of the post I will add a short biography of Garth, for those who got to this page in search of biographical information.

Garth Ennis gets criticized for being very violent, for being foul mouthed, even for being misogynistic, and for being a hack.

What really really pissed me off is that no one criticizes him for the right reasons. Having little sense of timing/rhythm, and for being too long winded.

I don’t know if during his period in Preacher, Garth had editors, but the work turned out to be dynamic, with a flux that showed dynamism while giving in to interesting exposure. I am sure that the art of Steve Dillon had a lot to do with it.

But every backstory had a bit of flashiness to it. The scenes of people talking their asses off in a bar were kept to a minimum, considering the quantity of issues it took to complete the story, and his subsequent work.

Another flaw of Garth as comic writer: Mistaking his interesting moments in real life for something that may work well for comics.

You see, I too have had my share of interesting stories happening during a night out with “my mates”… I got stories that range from impromptu strippers being chased into my poker game by jealous boyfriends who happened to be undercover cops, to UFO sightings leaving a bar, to sad sob stories about a five year old panhandling in front of a disco to pay for his mother’s addiction…

Problem is, Garth, that what my work nicely in a novel, might be very very very difficult to make it work in a comic, and even more difficult to make it sustainable in a long-on-going series.

This is a nice sedgway into another problem Mr Ennis seems to have.

He either doesn’t want to be edited, or no one wants to bother editing him.  And holy mackrel!! does he need a content-editor! Not to censor his ideas, but to smack him over the head once in a while and say “You are really farting into your hands and smelling your own methane, friend. For the last 5 pages. You should say this, but condense it in 1″

I mean, we all got frustrated with our high-school creative writer teacher who told us to be more direct and say it with less words, and use more action-related verbs, etc… and we, in our teenage wisdom would mutter “She doesn’t understand what I am trying to do here. She doesn’t get me…” and guess what? WE WERE WRONG!

That teacher had read tons and tons of books that we hadn’t and thus was speaking from a position of experience and know-how that we didn’t have because a) were too young and hadn’t lived long enough or b) were too lazy to have read enough, or worst yet BOTH a) and b)

But by know, my friend, after having seen your work for more than 20 years in the comic industry, I would assume you would’ve outgrown that teenage angst of someone criticizing your work, and would’ve learned to welcome it.

I seriously think that someone in DC asked him while working on Preacher to “Cool it off with the bar scenes” and he did, resulting in a more dynamically paced narrative, but in The Boys, every other floppy has a static exposure of bar scenes. Again, I am sure Garth has a blast sharing a pint with his closest mates, and swapping stories, but I TOO REPEAT: WHAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN IN REAL LIFE DOES NOT ALWAYS TRANSLATE I GOOD COMIC BOOK WRITING.

Garth, how about this for homework: From now own, every-time you write about character/s sitting in a bar and talking, you have to pay every reader who buys the book the cost. (tong in cheek)

Here is a collection of Images from the first search page in Google Images (bar, gets exchanged with “sitting down and chatting”)

 

And I could go on and on…

And by no means am I a prude against drinking or bar-scenes on grounds of “But what about the children…” I’ve always said “Children’s are their parents responsibility.” and thank goodness there are a plethora of comics for young readers out there!

Is just that in the last 15 years of reading Garth’s comics, he abused the “Guys hanging out in a bar” concept, as I’ve shown above.
See, Garth? I am repeating my premise changing the words. That is like using a graphic medium, and having guys sitting in a bar, to tell stories. You don’t need a graphic novel for that, Garth. Seriously. A movie with flashbacks, or a novel is better suited.

The other major reason why Garth needs to hire an editor is because I just read his web-comic Crossed “Wish you were here”, and I only muster to read half of it. Because now, Garth has exchanged a guy sitting in a bar and talking to friends for a guy sitting down and writing his diary.

Dude, you have stories to tell, but you have a problem getting them set up.

Is that easy, and that sad after so many years doing this.

Pretty decent fair for a Crossed Series, but Jeeez, does he go on rambling on and on about the inner thoughts and feelings!!I Call FLUFF! Fillers, I tell you! Fillers!!

That is why he desperately needs an editor. He has fallen for the sin of hubris, where he thinks that every line he writes is indispensable.
Please, Mr. Ennis, read this wonderful short article by Kwanza Why Image Comics and Creators Need to Stop Demonizing Editors Now

Does his degree of verbal diarrhea warrant me to stop buying/reading his stuff? No, but he has fallen into the category of those authors who I skim through their work, because they have turned into those writers that you have to work through their stuff to get to the good part. And even if the good parts are great, that makes them less than good.

Here is looking at you, Garth, in the hopes that you get an editor someday soon!!

Garth Ennis in all his humbleness.

Bio:
A Northern Irish comics writer, best known for the DC/Vertigo series Preacher, co-created with artist Steve Dillon. His work is characterised by extreme violence, black humour and profanity, but also by an interest in male friendship and an amused disdain for organised religion. Frequent artistic collaborators include Dillon, Glenn Fabry and John McCrea.

Date of Birth: January 16, 1970
Birthplace: Holywood, Northern Ireland

Continue reading ‘Focus on the Artist: Garth Ennis, the brilliant writer that desperately needs an editor.’

State of a Project: The City

•July 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you know a bit of comic book history you find it plagued by great artists that have their pet peeves, and one of the most common ones is how often they dislike drawing inanimate objects.

Ranging from the legendary John Buscema, to Bryan Hitch, and passing through The King “Kirby” himself, lots of artists have voiced their distaste for having to draw the backgrounds.

What separates the “greats” from the “not-so-great” is that the good illustrators rose up to the the challenge and learned to make the backgrounds part of the story. The little whinny pussies who can’t deal with backgrounds are usually infatuated with anatomy and dynamic poses, and fail to end up making a cohesive story in graphic format.

I mean, c’mon! Even John Buscema gravitated towards Conan just so he could avoid drawing buildings and cars and city landscapes.

In this project I am on, the city IS the story and sometimes it has a larger protagonism than the hero himself.  So, here I am working and working on making the sets, fleshing the surroundings, documenting styles for the buildings, and in general working my ass off to make this city come alive.

The story calls for the characters to walk into dreary alleys, to be ambushed into derelict streets, to hang out in rooftops, to develop shanty towns based on cultures and ethnicities, to see trash as a part of the landscape, etc and a very extensive etc.

I have scenes where the nuances of the building create ambiance, where street angles are used as part of the story, and the landscape has to contribute to story, accentuating diversity and the richness of a destitute melting-pot.

20140618130024258_Page_11

Being a mediocre artists (and that is being kind) I am spending many nights drafting and sketching this environment.

I realize this is a huge departure from the majority of comics published in the us, where buildings are something superheroes use to fly over, to create vanishing points for the human figures.

 

I remember seeing some great shots on some Marvel titles that elicit awe and admiration through the years.

And that, my fellow artists, is a text book example of Vanishing Point reference.

And although those moments where present more often than not in the silver age of comics, some remains are still carried over today.
Although it must be said that even back then the emphasis was always placed on the heroics, the flashy costumes, and the bright colors, and the city, more often than not, got relegated to the function of a prop for the hero.

Check out how a master like John Byrne uses city landscape to make Captain America get a workout in the city.

Man, I love how resistant the flagpoles are in NYC… they can stand the thrusts of a 200+ lbs muscle man….

Continue reading ‘State of a Project: The City’

Recommendations: Some Manga (part 1)

•July 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Let me start by saying this: Manga is a wonderful influence in the western world of graphic storytelling.

That said, you should know that I despise the majority of manga.

Wow! Talk about contradiction! Well, I am a complex soul.

I respect a lot the influence of Stan Lee had on popular comics in the 60’s. He energized the characters, set them in real cities, gave them real problems, and made them so relatable that it may escape the younger readers.

Superman was so overpowered that the writers had turned him into a circus of super-contrived feats of wonder, trying to put challenge him (how do you challenge the man who has all the powers in the universe?)

Here are some links, of other sites that dealt with the topic:

http://io9.com/the-15-worst-batman-superman-stories-ever-told-1202007441

http://www.ranker.com/list/the-50-greatest-examples-of-superman-being-a-dick/ariel-kana?format=SLIDESHOW&page=3

http://www.cracked.com/article_20069_5-classic-superman-comics-that-prove-he-used-to-be-dick.html

And the same goes for Batman, don’t get me wrong. DC was publishing company that was churning these stories like they were in a factory (it was).

So that’s why Stan Lee has so much merit reviving the genre and bringing the cartoonish characters to life.
But along the way something else happened.

From 1970 through 1990 most pages were so focused on action and dramatic stances, that the genre forgot how to take a pause, and breath, and create dramatic pauses. Well, I should remind you that I am talking about mainstream American superhero comics. Avant-garde authors like Will Eisner were already masters on pacing a story and choosing how to tell it. And other authors, like Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson were also setting their own pace, albeit their work did not get as much recognition in the US as it did overseas.

And so, by the end of the 1990’s some daring publishers introduced in the states popular manga, and eventually its influence was felt in the story-telling process of future writers.

Now, as to why the reasons I dislike manga is exactly the same reasons I dislike American mainstream superheros: The majority of them are cookie-cutter products (and I make room for some noteworthy exceptions.)

If you go to an area in Tokio well known for its comic stores, and pick one manga of each title from the shelf, you are read them without your brain turning to mush, you will find one common thread: Way too many of these book are very intimate portrays of personal slow paced experiences.

And dear readers, do start emailing me telling me to check out this or that, to prove that it is different. In Japan’s comic scene there are fights, there are romantic, there adventures, there are space-operas, there are period pieces, there are a myriad of topics, I am fully aware. And do not get me started with the rich tapestry of Hentai, the pornographic section of manga, that deals with every fetish under the sun, some very disturbing to our Western sensitivities…

But, way too many manga are focused on the character development and the intimate moments of the character.

Basically is a medium for a teen to enjoy in intellectual/artistic masturbation.

I don’t mean masturbation in the sexual sense. I mean masturbation in the sense of that there are some people who seek information to confirm a view they already believe in, not caring that there may be contradictory information. Or those authors who admit starting a comic with a blank canvas, no script and just start drawing what they feel like.

Usually this leads to very slow storytelling (not that there is anything wrong with that) because making a story efficient and agile usually requires revisions and rewrites.

But when a whole industry is plagued by this type of narrative… it does get boring fast. In the same way that superheroes can get boring fast.

Anyway, let me make some suggestions for those of you not familiar with Manga, that may help you enjoy some of the best that Japan has to offer.

All of this recommendations are among the best graphic stories I have read, so let me know what you think (and please, use the comments, not the email address of the blog)

Lets start with the new classics. Manga evokes Japan and Japan evokes samurais, right?

 

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, by Hiroaki Samura  Published by Dark Horse.

http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/46-978/Blade-of-the-Immortal-Volume-1-Blood-of-a-Thousand-TPB

 

You get it all here. Rogue samurais, a young girl seeking revenge, lots of gory violence, but justifiable in the context of the story, a bit of supernatural flair, and lots of lyricism and pacing when telling this story.

The art is simply gorgeous. Jaw dropping.
H. Smaura manages to strike a decent balance between lyric exposure and gut-wrenching action.
Something worth noting is the realism with which people die. Gut wounds can take days to kill someone off. Bleeding of can take for ever. Lots of injured people do not stay down till you completely disable them.

 

 

 

Very gory when it needs to be.

 

Continue reading ‘Recommendations: Some Manga (part 1)’

Where are the graphic albums?

•July 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

With age comes a certain burden of knowledge that is difficult to relate to those who haven’t experienced it in person. Also allow me to clarify that I am some decades away from qualifying for Social Security (mainly because they will push the retirement age further and further)

The 70’s gave us Warren with the plethora of amazing Spanish artists giving us a different take on art. Also the revival of Will Eisner’s Spirit.Cover of Will Eisner's The Spirit, as published by Warren Publishing

 

And Heavy Metal.

Then in the 80’s we had a chance of growing up when Moore and Lloyd introduced us to V for Vendetta , and later we saw the publishing of the Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen , both in 1986.

The main thing I remember about the 90’s was giving up on comics. Among bad business decisions, there were some redeeming books to be picked up, although some serious gems can get lost among the rubble, and we should recover them.

You have Maus coming into being.

DC Published Preacher and also Death: High cost of living 

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City gave us an amazing fulfilling look at superheroes in a “realistic” settings

And The Authority finally asked the question “Why are these heroes not fixing real world problems?”

And 10 more years passed and we saw a pleasant growth on what they become called “independent” publishers, that in my humble opinion, were just alternatives to the Big Two.

But the market trends still show a great love and market share for the staples of superheroes. Granted, all of this promulgated by amazing licensing in the 90’s and 2000’s, and more recently some great movie deals for Marvel characters, but where are the amazing sales figures for Torpedo, by Sanchez and Abuli, published by IDW???
Where are the blockbuster sales for Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido by Dark Horse??

I haven’t checked but I were to look at sales and discover that something like “Scott Pilgrim” had better sales than the two mentioned above, I would then know that the audience and the market is still going through some growing pains.

Ah… screw it! I KNOW “Scott Pilgrim” had better sales than the other two masterpieces because the work by O’Malley had a movie made. That creates momentum and expands audience reach.

So here I am, working on a personal project that’s been put on hold too many years, and I find myself liking the script (to a degree) but wondering if the narrative and the theme is not right for the average American comic book reader.

Brings to mind a recent interview Kevin Smith did with Neal Adams in his (very recommendable) podcast Fatman on Batman where Neal Adams tells of meeting with an European publisher who is ranting about not being able to afford the great Neal Adams, and where Neal asks how much they are paying per page in Europe is told about $300.00… while he ends up confessing that he is getting $50.00 in the US, and the editor doesn’t believe him.

Where are the demands for direct to Album releases? Heck, forget albums, direct to graphic novel!

The majority of our comic production seems to be disposable products, floppies at $3.99 (or so) that some kids treasure and bag n’ card, while some others do not mind leaving behind in the bus after reading.
Heck, I have a hard time seeing a hardcover album of Lieutenant Blueberry left behind in a bus by sheer forgetfulness, and even if that happens, the owner not spending the rest of the month crying for the loss…

Some attempts are being made, I know.

The good people of A Wave Blue World did publish American Terrorist ATcover_smalland if memory serves, it went directly to Graphic Novel.

And a few others went to collected volume, graphic novel format or so, but too few.

 

And Kickstarter does some very good projects direct to Graphic Novels. But where are the bets coming from the publishers?
Are the publishers still the problem after all these year, constricted and bound by market forces they barely understand and to which they react to late?

Is there any thrust behind this demand for Direct-To-Album, or is just wishful thinking on my part?

 

Well, my next entry will likely focus on reviewing some Kickstart projects.
Stay tuned!

 

 
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