Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Compliments of The Person Making You Feel Terribly Uncomfortable

Had a conference call with my manager AND her partner on Monday. The addition of the partner to the conversation was unprecedented. So was the conversation itself, which consisted largely of the both of them telling me how much they liked a script I wrote while under the influence of a sinus infection. Listening to them for a good fifteen minutes, describing in detail exactly how the various elements of the script were really, really good was…

Well, it was excruciating.

A couple years back my wife got to meet Marv Wolfman, briefly. A huge New Teen Titans fan, she naturally told him she loved his work, or something along those lines. His response is burned into my (and T’s) memory: “Thanks, but you’re deluded.”

T still gets conversational mileage out of “the time Marv Wolfman dissed her.” I’ve tried to convince her what he didn’t intend to insult, or at least not insult her. But she’s not buying it. Or maybe she does buy it but thinks her version makes for a better story.

If so, I wish she’d tell me this was the case; Marv gave me my best-paid writing work to date, and I’d feel a bit more comfortable if my wife accepted, as I do, that his off-the-cuff remark was made in a self-deprecating vein.

I’m certain it was; I mean, I’m absolutely 100% sure of it. Even if I hadn’t been there to see the exchange, I’m pretty sure I’d be certain this was the case. Because “Thanks, but you’re deluded” is exactly the sort of thing I can see myself saying if someone stepped in front of me and told me how great something I wrote was.

In theory, I like receiving compliments as much as any creative person who isn’t sure they’re good enough to be spending all of their time being a creative person rather than something useful to society, like a bricklayer or human guinea pig for experimental drugs. In practice, I absolutely love receiving compliments by e-mail, mail, even a telephone message.

But people who have the misfortune of trying to compliment me live in real time probably don’t get that impression. Because I am incapable of gracefully taking a compliment, unless I have some way to prepare myself for receiving it.

I’m pretty good with criticism, or at least I like to think I am. The suitable response to any given piece of critique is generally pretty obvious to me: ignore it, thank the critic for taking the time to offer their thoughts, make changes necessary to resolve the critic’s problems…that’s no problem.

The suitable response to a compliment is pretty obvious, too: “Thanks.” But, somehow, it never quite feels like that’s enough. When these situations occur (which isn’t often, but it has happened), there’s almost always an awkward pause as I and Person who had the misfortune to tell me they liked something I did wait to see if either of us is going to say something else.

And it’s into that awkward silence that I might feel compelled to insert a comment along the lines of “But you’re deluded.”

I mean, SOMEthing’s got to go in there, right? And on the whole, when I tell an author I like that his work is great, I’d rather have him say “Thanks, but you’re deluded” than “Thanks, I know.” Even though he does know. I know he knows.

All writers know their work is great, or at least believe it to be. If they didn’t, they’d never show it to people, never mind expect people to give them money (or compliments) for it.

But just because they do believe their stuff is great, there’s no reason in the world to act like they believe it. Because at the end of the day, yes, work that’s successful almost certainly displays some degree of craft in its execution. But excellent craftsmanship is by no means a guarantee of success. The most successful writer in the world may well be the best writer in the world--but getting to the top of the heap? That has as much or more to do with luck as it does with skill.

Best to at least ACT humble. Even if you do end up inadvertently insulting people’s wives occasionally.



But he’s probably the only one who has a chance of getting it. Like much of THE HOLIDAY MEN, anyone who isn’t me or Nick is probably not going to see anything funny in this sub-section. If you’re not Nick, move along. There’s nothing to see here.



Bored? Check out me waxing philosophical about the art of writing dialogue at Maple Ink Comics, and the demise of the comic book at Canadian Geek. Then you’ll know what boredom REALLY is.



Frequent Buffy writer and current Battlestar Galactica producer Jane Espenson has started a blog in which she discusses various aspects of writing a pilot television script. I wish I’d had this blog to refer to when I wrote my spec pilot a couple months ago.

But my manager and her partner liked what I came up with and are planning to “go out” with it. So everything’s turned out about as well as it could have, regardless.

Still, anyone with an interest in writing in general and television pilot writing in particular should check it out.


Sunday, August 26, 2007


"A movie is like a roller-coaster--you go on a ride, get the experience and you're done. A TV show is more like a road-trip. The scenery can be nice but it's not going to be any fun if you don't like the people you're in the car with." The Manager, talking in general terms about the different requirements of a movie vs. a television show.


Looks like I've got a new manager. Which is to say, an additional manager--one who'll be representing my interests in the publishing area. He loves (or in his words, "loveloveloves") THE SPOOKY KIDS, which makes me happy. Not as happy as him getting a publishing deal for it would make me (or DONE TO DEATH or PARTING WAYS or BadBoy or THE HOLIDAY MEN would make me), but baby steps...


Meanwhile, Manager The First seems to like the pilot I wrote--going to be having a call with her and (I think) her partner about it tomorrow evening. And the movie spec is getting closer to being ready to go out.

I guess taking the initiative and writing the pilot without consulting her was a good move, as she's now apparently entertaining the idea of me producing material in formats other than comics. The other day she asked if I'd consider writing THE KIDS as a screenplay.

This is a fairly dramatic shift from (what I perceive to be) her previous position, which was that anything I came up with was going to be somewhere between very difficult and impossible to sell without a comic book in hand--a terribly frustrating situation for someone who's at the mercy of artists to be in.

Between Manager The First deciding/realizing I can write something worthwhile in something other than the comic medium and Manager The Second coming on-board to handle the publishing end of things, I'm feeling closer to actually making a go of this whole writing thing than ever before.

Almost there...Allllmost...


Looks like UP1 in being shut down for the time being, which is going to hurt a little even if I get paid for the work already performed--I was expecting to have an additional forty-page story to help T and I get by, but right now, it's looking like the wisest course of action is to assume nothing's coming in and get on with life.


Artists, man. They're killing me. Killing me!


Had a chance to look at the first issues of NEOZOIC, ABYSS, and ATOMIC ROBO, the initial offerings from Calgary-based Red-5 Comics, and I've got to say, I was very impressed. Some fun and/or interesting concepts, solid writing, great art right across the board, nice, professional production values...if one's going to try and launch a small press comic company, this is the way to do it. If Red-5 can maintain the level of quality in the issues I saw, keep to their schedule, not wander too far from the sci-fantasy niche the first books occupy, and not flood the market with too many titles too fast, they might be able to survive, even eventually thrive, in a hostile direct market. Here's hoping...


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Manager is going to die in a horrible car crash

"Sometimes I get e-mails when I'm driving and that's not the best time to reply."

How many must perish before reason prevails and the Blackberry is outlawed?


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chimaera's Challenge 3.5: Putting the "Fun" in "Funeral"/It's All About Me

"You know that criticism that often gets applied to things, that those involved in the creation clearly had a lot of fun making it, but forgot to be able to translate that to the audience?" Graeme McMillan, reviewing the Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Spectacular for The Savage Critic(s)

If I recall correctly, Alan Moore actually created the America's Best Comics line in response to what he perceived as a darkening in tone in modern superhero comics, partly as the result of his own dark (but in its own way, fun) superhero epic THE WATCHMEN. If ABC wasn't a direct response to that, Moore certainly stated on many occasions his regret that the darker, more "realistic" sheen of the Watchmen and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS had been embraced by other creators who hadn't absorbed what really made those works special (that being, again if memory serves, their relatively complex narrative structure. I also think both books had a degree of ambition that the majority of mainstream comics at the time lacked--that the majority of mainstream comics at this time still lack, come to think of it--but that's me.)

So Moore created the ABC line as something of an antidote to the grim 'n' gritty atmosphere that was then sweeping through comicdom. His goal, as I understand it, was to make comics that were fun. His relative success can only really be judged on a reader-by-reader basis. For myself, TOP TEN was far and away the most successful and, not coincidentally, fun of the titles. PROMETHEA started off fun (and in its last storyline actually mostly finished that way), but as it became less about mythical heroics and more about educating the title character, and by extension the reader, in the ways of magick, it went off the rails a bit. On a technical level, it was excellent, and I'm sure it was fun for Moore to write. Personally, I didn't enjoy reading a good portion of it.

Which brings us to...


When George described the future first press release for the CSU, he wanted the first line of the PR to be something along the lines of “Remember when superhero universes were fun, exciting places to be?” And that was my touchstone for all the stuff I've done in connection with Chimaera. When working on TITUS: HEROIC FAILURE, TALES OF STUPEFICTION (changed the name from Spooky Action), and Chimaera’s Canadian Champion Contingent, I’ve always come back to “fun” as the requirement for whatever I contribute to the Chimaeraverse. And I've pretty much ignored the idea that the label "fun" is a death sentence in the current comics (direct) marketplace.

Partly that's because I think it's a stupid premise and I want it not to be true, in spite of a substantial body of evidence that says it is. Hey, I want to write comics for a living--"must live in a fantasy world" is practically part of the job description for me. And partly it's because that's a general statement, and I've got a more specific reason to worry about making comics I think are fun. As Graeme McMillan's quote at the start of this post points out, as the PROMETHEA example was intended to illustrate, what's fun for a creator isn't necessarily going to be fun for a reader.

It becomes even more problematic when you consider the idiosyncracies of the creator in question. To get to what I think is my point in this next bit, I'm going to narrow my focus a little, and talk not about fun, but funny.

In Mel Brooks' movie SPACEBALLS, there's a bit where Rick Moranis' Darth Vader knock-off character tells his subordinates he wants them to "Comb the desert"...for something. I don't even recall what they were looking for.

Anyway, a little while later, Moranis is in the desert, and in the background are a couple guys with giant combs, running them through the sand. As a sight gag, it's not great, but it's passable. Brooks wasn't satisfied to leave it a sight gag, however. Moranis makes a big deal out of his guys using a giant comb to comb the desert. At the time, I assumed that was because he believed his audience was too stupid to put two and two together. They needed to have the giant comb pointed out to them, to ensure they got the joke. "Get it? Eh? Get it?"

There's a theory I've heard that if you have to explain the funny part of the joke, the joke isn't that good. As an extension of that theory, I've generally worked from the premise that if you have to point out a joke is actually there, you're cutting into the joke's comedic potential. Part of the reason Douglas Adams' HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY books are things I can go and read every couple of years and still enjoy is because each time I manage to come across a joke or two that I missed the last time around (having a memory like a sieve helps, I think). It took me ages before I realized the exchange:
"It's unpleasantly like being drunk."
"What's unpleasant about being drunk?"
"Ask a glass of water."
wasn't the surreal but still funny non-sequitur I'd taken it for when I first read the book as a kid. I probably never would've figured out what a "Kuhniggut" was in MONTY PYTHON'S THE HOLY GRAIL if someone hadn't actually explained it to me (if I recall correctly, they hadn't figured it out independently themselves, which made me feel slightly less stupid.)

In my long-gestating TOKEN GOBLIN series, the city of Idolon's watchmen are named after the city's most famous mayor, Reegan Onyer. They're the Onyer Guard. It was immensely satisfying to me when, more than a year after a friend had read one of the Token Goblin prose stories I've written and said, "The Onyer Guard. I just got it."

That's a moderately to not-very clever play on words--not a great joke, by any means. But to my mind it would be a lousy one if I'd gone to great lengths to call attention to it--any lengths at all, really, other than to toss it out and act like it wasn't a joke at all. Because it landed months after the initial reading experience, it becomes that much better than actually is.

But is a joke that someone's not going to get on the first read through going to fly in the North American comic market?

Or, to put it another way, is what I think is funny going to read that way to someone else? I worry that it won't, because I've got a superhuman sense of humour. It's going to take most of humanity about five million years of evolution before it'll be able to grasp what I find so patently, self-evidently funny about a store called SofaLand.

It's a concern. Fortunately, my friends and family generally indulge or ignore my tendency to burst into unstoppable giggle fits at the drop of a hat. (My all-time favourite line from my all-time favourite commercial: "Whoops! Dropped my hat!" I'm still chuckling about that one more than twenty years later...)

And I've got other friends who have some sense of what's actually working as comedy and what isn't. I showed the scripts for TITUS: HEROIC FAILURE to my DONE TO DEATH collaborator Fiona Staples. Her first comment on it was, "Boy, you were really angry when you wrote that, weren't you?" Which I was, but that was beside the point.

"Yeah," said I. Then, towering imperiously over her, I demanded an answer to my burning question. "But never mind that: was it funny?"

Said Fiona, "Yes, it was funny."

Which at the time made me happy; someone else thought the book was funny. Looking back on it now, however, it seems to me she answered the question... a little hesitantly. And now I'm starting to worry again.

So there's another aspect of Chimaera's Challenge: produce something that's fun (or funny, if appropriate), not for me, necessarily, but for the comic's eventual readers (both of them.) When I'm having too good a time doing what is, after all, supposed to be work...well, that's when I know I've got to be careful.

Because SofaLand is really quite funny. Just trust me on this.

"This is life. So go and have a ball. Because the world don't move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you may not be right for some. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you opening statement. Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog." - Peter Griffin


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Three Ways to give yourself a headache

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Waiting to hear what the Big Publisher thought of the stuff I sent. Waiting to hear if the UP1 publisher is actually going to get around to paying. Waiting for a call from the manager. Waiting to find out what the hell’s going on with That Publisher.

Writing, writing, writing.

Treatment for the screenplay’s almost finished--I’ll be heading back into the script to make the changes agreed upon tomorrow. Or Friday. Probably Friday, actually. THE HOLIDAY MEN #1 is slowly being torn out of my brain and slapped on the screen. Brainbusting some new ideas, just to make sure I’m still capable of coming up with new ideas (I worry.)

Reading, reading, reading.

Steven Grant’s Permanent Damage column at is always worth reading, but a couple of passages really jumped out at me today.

“Publishers need frameworks and guidelines whereby editors can unilaterally take on at least a few projects without going through extended permissions chains. Which means - and this may be the biggest stumbling block - everyone in the process needs to learn to trust each other more, and to not betray trust placed in them.”

This is so astonishingly true I almost fell out of my chair when I read it. While the context applies to editors dealing with the higher-ups, it could just as easily be applied to editors trusting creators to do the job they’ve been hired to do.

Another thing Grant wrote that caught my eye:

“In this business, if you don't want to share the pie that's called "work-for-hire" and there are rules governing it. The biggest of those rules is: money. The only way around it is to either hire artists willing to work just for the exposure - which usually indicates they're not ready for prime time and the resulting book won't look all that good - or to luck out and latch onto some artistic genius five minutes before they're discovered by the rest of the world…
But be prepared to pay for it. If you're asking other people to help make your dream come true, it's only fair.”

I wrote a lengthy rant inspired by that which I’m pretty sure I’m legally unable to post.

The short version is: What Grant’s saying is right. It is only fair. And it’s so increasingly rare that those in the industry give what’s fair even a first thought, much less a second, that thinking about it has given me a headache. The original rant cited a number of examples of the wrongs committed against creators I know. In light of the pounding in my skull, I just can’t be bothered to rewrite those examples in such a way as to ensure that someone, somewhere, can’t be sued.

Maybe tomorrow. But probably not.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Looking Back to the Future, Part One

Seems like just last week I was writing about the webcomics zeitgeist that has taken hold of several comic companies who in the coming months plan to boldly blaze a path into the online future of the comics medium (while boldly ignoring the paths already blazed by successful online comics creators, possibly because the amount of money that makes an individual creator happy isn’t enough to make a multimedia company happy.)

Platinum Studios and DC's new Zuda Comics initiative cast the comic creator as contestant (much to the chagrin of Scott Kurtz)--and I know of at least one other online initiative in development at a major company also looking to go the American Idol route. Virgin's Coalition Comics puts readers in the role of creative collaborator. And the recently announced resurrection of the DARK HORSE PRESENTS anthology on MySpace mentioned something to the effect that Dark Horse was expecting to use the venue at least partly to showcase the work of new creative talent discovered on MySpace itself.

These look like potentially heady days for an online comics creator looking for an expanded audience or even a paycheque. Actually, in some cases, they're potentially heady days for any comics creator, really. Neither Platinum's Drunk Duck webcomic site nor MySDHP have made much effort (that I can see) to alter or encourage the alteration of work from the traditional comic format in a way that would make maximum use of the delivery technology that the work is, at least theoretically, intended for--a monitor.

What I've read of the first edition of MySDHP, while entertaining and well-produced, was clearly created with traditional-sized print comics in mind. Maybe the intended audience is used to scrolling down to get to the end of a (from an online point of view) completely arbitrarily shaped page, before moving on to the next one and I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. Wouldn't be the first time. But speaking for my Luddite self, I find the format distracting at best and, because of my frequently-glacial internet speed, frustrating as hell at worst.

In any event, I can't help but think that by ignoring the advantages the monitor-as-delivery method offers in favour of the same-old, same-old, these companies are making it easier for the pre-existing (and massive) webcomic reading community to dismiss them as an crass attempt to co-opt the webcomic format, making it an advertisement for an eventual comic or trade rather than a satisfying reading experience in and of itself.

But “(re)Create The Future” was LAST week. While Dark Horse, Virgin, DC and Platinum look to the web; Dynamite!, Marvel, and Image are looking in the opposite direction.

First, Dynamite! announced SUPERPOWERS, the next project by the creators of DC’s JUSTICE maxi-series, Alex Ross and Jim Kruger.

"These are characters that had different titles in the past and so, not all of them were part of one grand scheme or groundwork originally, and what we are trying to say is "here is this groundwork of characters that makes up what would appear to be, to anyone’s senses, a very rich world, similar in scope to the majors."

Then Erik Larsen announces Image’s THE NEXT ISSUE PROJECT, which will

"...showcase top talent from the world of comics reimagining Golden Age characters that have fallen into the public domain. But it's not quite as simple as that - the series will literally publish the next issue of a great golden age book, with modern interpretations of Golden Age super heroes."

Around the same time (possibly slightly before), Marvel announced JM Straczynski and Chris Weston’s 12-issue series, THE TWELVE:

"While some of Marvel's first heroes such as Namor and Captain America have blossomed into the foundation for the Marvel Universe, there are others that for one reason or another weren't able to have a firm grip as Marvel evolved. But no more. In this twelve issue series scheduled to begin in Spring 2008, these heroes (and villains) are revived and rejuvenated and brought into the 21st century."

To the best of my knowledge, all these series feature characters (exclusively superhero characters, to boot, as opposed to the more diverse genres the online initiatives seem to be willing to entertain) that were created 65, 70 years ago.

And all of them are bringing the characters into the modern day.

Which begs the question: Why?

To be continued (unless it isn’t.)