comics

Links, Updates, and Et Ceteras

I’ve been guest hosting over at Functional Nerds, with Patrick Hester and John Anealio. Our first episode together was posted online yesterday (you can listen to it here). We talked about a bunch of random topics, including web shows, comics, Duotrope, and Patrick’s interest in my legs. Recorded another one last night (more comics, whether we should change book covers for digital audiences, and only one accidentally unfortunate comment about me from Patrick) which will go live on the 25th. We’re doing two more shows in January too. John and Patrick are great guys to hang out with, and I’m flattered that I was their first choice to be a host after their format change.

My indie comics column at SF Signal is going great. Next Tuesday will be two months that I’ve been writing about one of my favorite storytelling mediums, and the list of titles I get to talk about is just getting longer. Click on the links to read my latest reviews: Richard Sala’s Delphine, Ursula Vernon’s Digger, and Royden Lepp’s Rust. I’ve gotten some very supportive comments:

Thanks for reviewing this wonderful, intoxicating work. Without your review, I never would have fallen for this book. Speculative fiction comics need wider exposure; thank you for providing it in such a delightful way.

and

Thank you for reviewing this. I don’t often find people talking about Sala’s work and that is a shame.

and

Keep this stuff coming!

Comics can be amazing. Beautiful art, brilliant writing – I love that readers of speculative fiction novels are finding themes they love in comics too.

I’ve started writing short fiction again. My novel is still progressing slowly, but it’s been months since I spent any time on a short story. I’m a person that needs small goals, short accomplishments, and while I get that from my column, I’ve never had a hard time churning out non-fiction. I like it but I find my opinion of myself as a writer isn’t as wrapped up in non-fic as it is in fiction. That’s where I find challenges and spend time perfecting a style. That’s where I need to do well.

It’s getting harder to write fast, though. I used to be able to do thousands of words in a day. Now if I can write two hundred I’m thrilled, and some days I delete more than I’ve written. It turns out that the better I get as a writer the more I can see my own skills and flaws, and the more I take my time writing. Words have to be perfect. Sentences have to flow, one into the other, and paragraphs are blocks of time that have to express a mood and distinct chunk of information. Writing takes work and time to perfect. I’d rather devote myself to that than churn out a thousand words of average (or worse) prose that I can’t be proud of.

One last thing: food. Eating non-dairy has been great for my son, and eating a lot more fruits and vegetables (whole meals that way, instead of mostly carbs) means I’ve got more energy and am losing weight again. All good things. You know what else is good? A juicy medium-rare burger. A thick cut of steak seared in a cast iron pan… yum. Eating a lot more vegan dishes has been working for me, but I have to admit that am not ready to give up meat entirely. I tried it and what’s right for me is going to be balancing healthy choices with occasionally unhealthy delicious ones.

With food, or writing, or anything else in my life, I have to balance what I love with what I need, what drives me, and what makes me happy. I think that with a little effort I can have everything I want.

What I’ve Been Reading: Comics (O’Malley, Chao, Kim, Talbot, Cooper)

Have you seen the introductory essay for my new indie comics column at SF Signal? Though I am aiming to keep myself to speculative fiction comics for them, because that fits with the scope of what SF Signal talks about, I read a lot of other comics each week. I’m particularly into semi-(and)autobiographical and realist stories, which rarely have a speculative element, but I still think are worth reading. In the last two weeks I’ve read:

Lost At Sea, Bryan Lee O’Malley – This book, by the creator of Scott Pilgrim, comes early in O’Malley’s career, drawn when he was just 24. Though SP fans will be able to see the evolution in O’Malley’s style from here to there, I actually prefer Lost at Sea. It’s not as directed toward the 20-something gamer geek crowd, which I am tangentially affiliated with (being both a gamer and a geek) but not quite a member of.

Lost focuses on the story of one girl looking for her soul, which was stolen by cats, or traded to the devil. Or she could be looking for friends, or a salve for her broken heart, or a ride back to Canada. There are a lot of possibilities. O’Malley mixes a strong but cute style – grounded in his use of dark line work and sometimes-dynamic panel placement – with a not-entirely-linear story line that was so intriguing I read the whole book in one sitting.

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A few thoughts on writing comics

Now that my secret love of comic books is no longer a very well kept secret, I’ve had a lot of people – artists, writers, and readers – talk to me about their work, their favorite titles, and share some great stories about the industry. It’s been lovely to sort of “come out” as a geeky, comic book reading, girl, and not get the kind of dismissive “what do girls know” attitude that made me stop fangirl squeeing in public a long time ago. But …

One of the most common things I hear when I talk to other people about comics is, “Oh, I thought about writing a comic book someday”. Their idea is that writing comics is a) pretty simple and straightforward, and b) still more important that the work of the artist, who (it’s assumed) will just draw what the writer wants. Because I talk about writing here, I thought I’d lay out the facts of the situation, with some helpful quotes and links to other people saying it better than I could. This quick overview is meant to be the beginning, not the end, of the conversation, and assumes you already know things like “come up with original ideas”, “use a spellchecker”, and “edit your work”.

How do you get started in the writing side of comics?

Step one: Read everything.  If you don’t read enough to have a sense of what’s being written, or has been written, especially in your genre, go do that.

“Do not learn to write comic books from reading comic books only. (Nor should you learn to draw comics from comics.) Reading good comics will help you learn elements of form and style, but it is also inherently limiting. You get into the law of diminishing returns, for if you don’t have any reference points beyond comics, everything you write will be derivative. Read novels. Read newspapers. Read non-fiction. Watch foreign films. Go to the theater. Expose yourself to more than what you find on comic book shelves. The more you know about the world around you, the more material you will have with which to build stories. The more storytelling styles you have encountered, the larger your own bag of tricks will be.” – Joe Edekin, Writing for Comic Books

Step two: Be a great writer. Not just a good writer, but the best one you can be. Write short stories, novels, plays, whatever – but be a great writer before you turn your hand to comics because you will need to be a great writer to work in comics. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that that comics are easier just because “you only have to write what happens, not describe everything”. Writing a comics script is more complex than writing a screenplay – which probably is the easiest kind of writing to do – because you will create your script as if you are the writer, director, art director, casting agent, and more, all in one.

“The fact of the matter is that as a comic book writer, you are responsible for everything that goes on the page, just as if you were writing in prose. The artist is your partner, not your substitute. Think of writing a comic book as a collaboration with another writer, one to whom you must give very good instructions!” – Barry Lyga, Writing Comics

Step three: Learn what you like and don’t like in comics. There’s only one way to do this. You have to read every comic you can get your hands on, take recommendations from friends, seek out other work by writers you like, and always check the credits to see who did which part of the book. Who is the writer? Were there multiple authors? Is there a creative team manager overseeing a large crew, or is it a single artist/writer/creative on the book?

Step four: Learn how to write a comic book script. 

“Too many writers think about the script merely as a tool for them. It’s not; it’s a tool for the entire process. It should be prepared as such.” – Comic Related, Learning The Craft: Writing

Step five: Be sure this story is best told as a comic.

Deciding that you’re writing a story told in both words and pictures, an adventure in narrative art, means that it won’t just be your words telling the story. You will need an artist to bring your ideas to life. You have to give up on the idea that the story will be 100% yours, that everything good about it will come from your brain. And, of course, you’re going to need to pay your artist to drop everything and work on your book, even if you plan to submit it to publisher. Even if you haven’t any idea how to get paid for doing this story as a comic, you need to spend money to hire an artist to create it with you.

Because a comic isn’t just words. As Kelly Thompson says in her “Don’t Write Comics” series:

“I know, I know, you’re saying that your story is SO GOOD THAT THE ART WON’T MATTER.  That is great news.  Write it as prose.  Seriously.  If the art doesn’t matter, if your story doesn’t HAVE to be a comic book, then simply don’t do it.  It’s only worth all of this if you know that comics is the right medium for your story. And if comics is the right medium for your story then the art very much matters.”

What do you think?

Links:

The script for Cable #83, with comments from author Robert Weinberg

Dark Horse’s comics submission guidelines, including guidelines for writers and a sample script

Kelly Thompson’s great “Don’t Write Comics: How To Write Comics” series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Dennis O’Neil’s series on writing comics: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9part 10, part 11, part 12, part 13, part 14, part 15 & 16, part 17, part 18, and finally, part 19

Anina Bennett’s list of terms: Visual Language, writing for comics (with a lot taken from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics)

Peer Pressure, Updates, and Links

I had to take a break from writing and editing and much of anything else while I took care of myself and a sick kid and tried not to die this week. In other words, we had the flu. Dayquil played a starring role in accomplishing these goals. Also, the irony of getting the flu a few weeks before I’m set to start writing a viral apocalypse novel is not lost on me.

Up until I got sick, I was actually getting caught up, and had a packed October planned. Silly me, I didn’t budget in time to lie in bed and stare at a stuffed shark for several hours a day*. You’d think it would be quiet around here but a lot’s happened in the last week or so:

First off, Jessica Corra, John Stevens, and Mike Allen did their “Next Big Thing” posts, and so did R.S. Hunter (who I’ve published at Dagan Books) so go click on the links to read ‘em.

By January I will no longer be writing my Tech Nerd column over at the Functional Nerds site. Patrick Hestor and John Anealio were great to give me a chance to do that, and I was officially part of their site for over a year, but it’s time to move on. I will turn in three more columns, to be posted this month, in November, and in December.  I will continue to write the occasional mainstream book review for them, and hopefully appear on a future podcast.

Patrick told me that I probably won’t be getting away so easily, and they’ve got plans which might include me still … Once I know, I’ll let you know.

I do have another non-fiction writing gig in progress. In a few weeks you will be able to find me talking about independent, alternative, and creator-owned comics over at SF Signal. Brian Ruckely, who’s already writing a great column over there called Words and Pictures (click on the link to read what’s he’s done so far) has graciously agreed to share the topic of comics with me.

You guys know I love comics, read comics – mostly the kind of small press comics I plan to talk about, but I also like what Image has been doing recently and was a fan of DC’s Vertigo line from back when it started in ’93. I’ve even written about comics from an academic perspective in the past. My college degrees are in Fine Arts and Art History, and though I studied antique books, prints, and printmaking techniques in school (and just read comics for fun) it turns out that I couldn’t have done much better if I wanted to prepare myself for serious study of narrative art.** I’m excited to have a forum to share what I’m reading a couple of times a month.

Dagan Books work is behind but still progressing, as seems to be the constant state of things this year. All that needs to be done by the end of October will be done, I can see that. It will involve lost sleep and some help from my amazing staff, but it will get done. WFC is about 3 1/2 weeks away… I’m scared and thrilled and looking forward to it at the same time.

November’s going to be busy too. After WFC I’ve got my novel, a lot more Dagan Books work, the comics column, and 10,000 words on my 1/2 of a complicated and brilliant science fiction novella I’m co-writing as part of a project being published next year. I can’t say more than that right now, except I’ve outlined the idea of what I’m writing, and the format I’ll be writing it in, so I feel confident it will get done on time. I like the idea very much.

I’ve also gotten back to a regular drawing practice lately, and I can already see myself improving. This is important because it gives me a creative outlet even when my brain is melted from writing, it’s a marketable skill to have, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of finishing a drawing. I can complete one in a few hours, and I get to say that magic word – DONE. I can’t write a piece of fiction in only a few hours and think it’s finished, so it’s nice to have these little moments of feeling useful to help power me through the long writing tasks I’ve got in front of me.

Speaking of the novel, I figured out the third act – internal, external, and meta motivations – so I’m truly done with the basic outline. Next free moment I get, I will type it up, take the notecards off the wall, and use that space to start building my “bible”: reference material, maps, scene sketches, and other background or extra-novel material that will help me write but isn’t necessarily part of the outline.

Kid is doing well. Personal life is doing well. Making new friends. Health, aside from the flu, continues to improve. Still dirt poor, but I’m working on that. Oh, and I rearranged my furniture.

Overall, I’d say things are heading in the right direction.

* Note to self: schedule shark-staring into regular calendar. It’s very soothing.

** My favorite professor still sends me calls for papers on the confluence of graphic art and art history.

My (Science-loving, Steam-Powered) Heart Beats For Atomic Robo

Sometimes a girl needs a little fun in her life. A moment to enjoy some good old fashioned science-fuled ass kicking. A happy ending would be nice too. So, what’s a girl to do? I got my hands on volume 2 and 3 of the Atomic Robo trade paperbacks.

If you haven’t heard of Atomic Robo, go read my review of the first book.

This series is written like someone handed Brian Clevinger a list of all the things that make my heart sing. Tesla, mad science, heroic action, Carl Sagan, giant robots, evil Nazis, and Scott Wegener’s adorable art style? Oh, pitter patter.

Vol. 2, Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War, collects the five-issue mini-series, complete with cover gallery, pin-ups, and bonus stories. It shows more of Robo’s adventures in World War II, introduces a plucky British heroine, and there’s some evil genius-designed weather cannons.

It also has a brief appearance by James “Scottie” Milligan, a Scotsman and a hero. He was Scott Wegener’s grandfather.

That the creators of this comic wrote in Wegener’s grandfather, in order to allow him to live again in Atomic Robo, is the biggest part of why I adore this book. It’s written and drawn by people who want to be a part of this world, so much that they will populate it with their favorite things, their joys and sorrows and loved ones. This is he one great power we have as writers – the ability to remake the world in whatever image we want, to fix its flaws, to ressurect the dead, to make it right. When it’s done well, as it is in this case, it’s breathtaking.

Vol 3, Atomic Robo and The Shadow From Beyond Time, combines AR with my other great love: HP Lovecraft. I did tell you they write this series just for me, didn’t I? Let’s start with the fact that “Tesla Heavy Industries” had, in 1926, a storefront office with “Science While You Wait!” painted on the window. Throw in the Tunguska blast, Howard P Lovecraft babbling like a mad man, Carl Sagan, lightning guns, tentacles, and … I don’t want to give away the rest of the story but if you like that sort of thing, this is the book for you.

Oh, and Robo’s wearing argyle socks. I’m just saying.