Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Heroic/Wasted Efforts

On a professional level, I've found myself... easily distracted, lately.

The same can pretty much always be said for my personal life. And given the health issues I've been experiencing for the last six months in general and the last two weeks in particular, I've been inclined to give myself a pass on it.

And why not? The work that really needed to get done (stories for UP1) have been taken care of on-time without much difficulty; Avril Lavigne rejected me (it's probably the painkillers talking, but phrasing it that way makes me giggle), so June's going to be a lot easier than I'd feared/hoped; only the INCURSION rewrite for Platinum has a solid deadline to worry about. And that's in July, which shouldn't be too hard to hit. Actually, it should be a piece of cake to hit, but thinking of it that way would align the cosmos in precise manner necessary to screw it up, so I'm absolutely not saying that.

Even the project for Small Press Publisher 01 (working title: ERSATZ) is supposedly paying something prior to publication. Not much, but something. So there's an argument to be made that working on ERSATZ is not completely unjustified. In fact, that is what I ended up working on for most of last week's fifteen minutes when I wasn't feeling sorry for myself or working out what I could make for dinner that could be eaten through a straw. The three issues are broken by page now, certain portions have barebones panel descriptions in place, and the last scene's dialogue is more or less written.

In fact, outside of the two page outline that's still three pages long, the last scene is the first thing I wrote for ERSATZ. I had a vision of how the story ended, which made sense from a plot/theme point of view, but still felt wrong, for reasons I couldn't put my finger on. So I started actually writing the ending, rather than writing about the ending, letting the characters talk with each other and do what they wanted to do. They told me how the story had to play out, and that energized me so much that I went back and started breaking panels and writing snippets of dialogue for the rest of the series.

I thought I was heading into another TITUS: HEROIC FAILURE scenario, and looked forward to writing the script for all three issues over the weekend and then writing the damn two-page outline for SP1. I'd get all that out of the way, go see the dentist on Monday, feel fantastic by today, and get to work on INCURSION and the revised 40-page story outline for my remaining UP1 commitment.

And then I got blocked on the first scene. And I can't seem to get past it. I don't want to write the rest of the damn book till I get that one worked out to my satisfaction, and the more I look at it, and tweak it, and worry over it, the less satisfied I become.

Into all of this waltzes Chimaera Studios' George Singley, the guy who created TITUS: HEROIC FAILURE's eponymous hero. George is currently neck-deep in putting together the Chimaera Superhero Universe with a number of different writers and artists, myself included.

Since my work on Heroic Failure, I've tried to keep my participation in the CSU limited to frequent conversations with George regarding overall direction and promotion--for instance, my idea for Chimaera's Free Comic Book Day book seems to have been generally accepted by the Chimaera Brain Trust. I'm fairly excited about the FCBD idea, as I think it stands a chance of really kicking awareness of the CSU up a notch if (if) everyone involved steps up on a local level. We shall see.

But up till now, I've generally resisted adding things to the CSU in the way of new characters or properties, for a couple reasons. I really hope this thing works, but if it doesn't, I don't want to be so wrapped up in it that its failure takes me off my game (and, let's face it, the success record for superheroes outside the Big Four is...not promising). I don't particularly like losing control of material/characters I created for nothing up-front (I'm giving the rights up for ERSATZ, but for that I'm also getting a creative team supplied, a guarantee of publication, minimal editorial interference/as much editorial control as I want, deadlines of my own choosing, and a nominal payment prior to publication--and I'm still less-than-thrilled, but in a lot of ways, it's the price of doing business at this level of the industry. C'est la vie), even when I don't imagine the stuff has much chance of a life outside of comics. And if all of that wasn't true, there's still the fact that...


Even without the Avril gig, I've got a few thousand dollars of writing work I should be doing, work that a leaking roof and Revenue Canada and an infected tooth tell me I need to be doing.

So, of course, George comes along and says, "Hey, got any original supertype characters you want to do a story in the CSU with?" or "Hey, the CSU could use a Canadian superhero team, wanna come up with one?"

Well, no, not really--I mean, I do have some superhero ideas I'd like to explore, but...no time. I could come up with a Canadian superteam, but...no time.

Unfortunately, my mind's been making time. And in the last 36 hours, ideas about what I could do with some superpower concepts I haven't thought about for fifteen years have been rattling around my head, eventually setting up shop inside a three or four issue faux-EC-anthology type thing called SPOOKY ACTION, the characters from THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT was temporarily retooled as a Canadian superhero team, then that was ditched in favour of a more traditional patriotic superteam composed character ideas like Unity, The Happy Couple, Colonel Chinook, and The Phantom Mountie (the last of which I'm reasonably would infringe on someone's trademark...).

I love writing superheroes, I really do. And I love reading them, when someone does something interesting with them (someday I'll be taking Grant Morrison's DOOM PATROL run with me to a desert island.) Interesting, but not in violation of the tenets on which the character is built. Which makes writing long-standing icons like Superman, Batman, and Captain America a challenge few writers are up to. Myself included, I suspect.*

I look at the doomed super-universes of the early '90's and see missed opportunities galore--here were dozens of character concepts creators could have done literally anything with. The bulk chose, or were forced to, regurgitate the same tired superhero formulae of the previous thirty years, relying on collectible gimmicks rather than good or interesting or experimental storytelling to stay afloat.

"More of the same" didn't work for the smaller guys, and it seemingly stopped working for the Big Two eventually, as well. As never before, it feels as though nothing at Marvel and DC is sacred. The risks that could have been taken by those with nothing to lose in the '90's have instead been embraced by editorial regimes that, if the world made any kind of sense, would instead be striving to maintain the integrity and consistency of their trademarks--not just because there's cash to be made from having the comic versions of Spider-Man and Batman be recognizable to the audience that paid millions of dollars to see the movie versions of those characters, but because those characters should rightfully be part of the fabric of western (pop) culture.

Conventional wisdom is that non-Big Four superheroes are a dead end in the mainstream comic market as it currently stands. Chimaera and Arcana are challenging that wisdom. The success or failure of the Chimaera Superhero Universe will hinge on three elements: promotion, quality work, and an audience looking for something different than what they can get from DC, Marvel, and even Image.

I can't control the first, the last, or even the middle, outside of my own contributions to the line. I've been reluctant about getting deeply involved because if things don't work out, I don't want anyone, least of all me, looking at a failure on my part to deliver anything but the best work I'm capable of as one of the reasons for it.

I don't have time for SPOOKY ACTION. I really don't.

But I've got a feeling I'll be making some soon, if only because there's a story there that wants to be told, and it doesn't care about things like economic viability. And while I care very much about that sort of thing, at some point Spooky's going to interfere with paying work to the point where it's easier to just write the damn thing than try and fight it. And who knows, maybe the time is ripe for a new superhero universe, God knows the response George's gotten so far has been overwhelmingly (and considering some of the sources, surprisingly) positive...fingers crossed.

I blame art college for this. But then, I blame art college for most things.


(*It'd be nice to find out for sure someday, though.)

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