Friday, February 26, 2010

This just in...

Bankers still @$$holes.


When everything's said and done (and I'd kind of like that to happen as soon as possible, please) this won't be remembered as a week in which dreadful things happened to me. In spite of that, I feel dreadful in pretty much every conceivable way. So I'm going to recycle some stuff I wrote for/to the guys at Happy Harbor about February's Previews magazine. Each month HH employees are asked to make a couple of suggestions (plus an alternate in case there's overlap) for what they think customers might want to pay special attention to in the latest Diamond catalogue. This last time out, I wrote my picks and then kinda kept going for a bit...

STAR WARS OMNIBUS: A LONG TIME AGO... VOLUME ONE, by a whole lotta folks. As a reader, nostalgia very rarely drives me to buy anything, especially comics. There's so much awesome new stuff out there to be found, and I'm, like, the exact opposite of wealthy. And let's face it, if I'm really in a mood to try and recapture the rush of excitement I got from, say, Claremont and Byrne's Dark Phoenix saga or Frank Miller's Daredevil stuff, well, I do pull a few hours a week behind the counter at a comic shop. Once Jay's drunk himself into an insensate coma (usually happens by around 2:00), provided the vacuuming's done, there isn't a whole lot stopping me from plucking a trade off the shelf or something out of the back issue bins to remind myself of the appallingly bad taste I had as a boy. You can't go home again, and the days of me being heart-palpitatingly excited to find the latest issue of New Teen Titans hidden on the spinner rack at Patton's Place are gone, gone, gone. Having said all that, this Star Wars Omnibus, reprinting the first 26 issues of Marvel's original Star Wars series--which, as it happens, are among the first comics I read, actively sought out and collected--hits all my ageing fanboy happy buttons. ALL OF THEM, every single one. And at 25 yankee dollars, I can almost afford it. Even if I couldn't--I mean, come on, the first storyline after Star Wars proper features a humanoid green rabbit bounty hunter fighting alongside a delusional old librarian who thinks he's a Jedi Knight named Don-Wan Kihotay. DON-WAN KIHOTAY. It works on so many levels! So yeah, I don't care if I am buying this for all the wrong reasons (as I recall, Jabba the Hutt in this version is a tall, skinny, purple walrus guy. Which is an improvement over a glaringly obvious CGI inserted slug, really.) I MUST HAVE IT.
BEASTS OF BURDEN, by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. You know what's fun? Reading the entire Previews catalogue looking for a couple of suggestions for stuff Happy Harbor customers want to buy, only to discover that your two picks both appear in the first fifty pages of the FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY+ PAGE BOOK. But what can you do? From the classic Star Wars Omnibus to this almost brand-spanking new book, Dark Horse is where it's at this month. With the kind of high concept that inspires burning envy in those of us who didn't think of it first, from what I've seen so far, this tale of a bunch of dogs (plus a cat) taking on supernatural menaces in their neighbourhood is possibly the cutest horror comic ever created. What I've seen so far consists of the first issue of the four issue miniseries this 8x11" hardcover collects (along with several previous short stories that appeared in the various Dark Horse Book of (scary things) series, if I understand things correctly). Having read that first issue, I realized this one was a keeper, something I was going to want to own as a collected edition, and now here it comes--maybe, POSSIBLY just in time to get artist Jill Thompson to sign it when she appears at the Calgary Expo in April. Fingers crossed.
TURF #1, by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards: "A hardboiled noir crime thriller with guns, fangs and aliens." The solicitation might as well be, "Hey, Andrew Foley! READ THIS COMIC!" How creepy would that be if that actually was the solicitation? For me, I mean, for you it would probably just be an oddity to be frowned over briefly and then forgotten. Anyway. If the pitch wasn't enough to get me interested, and artist Tommy Lee Edwards weren't enough to get me interested, the sample pages would probably be enough to get me interested. For a modern comic, there's a lotta text on those pages. If the full 22 pages is like the three on display here, this is going to be a two-bathroom trip read, minimum. That might frustrate some readers, but for me it says the creators are trying to give the pamphlet-reading audience something they can sink their teeth into. I like that, even if there are occasions where the writer's reach exceeds the artist's grasp and word balloons end up cropping artwork that I'd kind of like to see more of, as occurs in the very first panel of the first sample page. Still, I'd rather have creators try and put too much in and not quite make it than have them not bother trying to push the limits of what the comic page can comfortably hold at all.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: RISE OF ARSENAL #2: Hey, when did Winter Soldier join the DC Universe? ...Sorry, couldn't resist.
DV8: GODS & MIONSTERS #1: On the one hand, I promised myself I wouldn't flag something just because of the cover. On the other hand, I promised myself I'd shamelessly hype the wonder and glory that is Fiona Staples at every possible opportunity. What should I do, Happy Harborites? WHAT SHOULD I DO?!?!?!?
IMAGE FIRSTS: YOUNGBLOOD #1: Because finding a cheap copy of Youngblood #1 is SO. FREAKING. HARD.
ARMAGEDDON NOW: ANTI-CHRIST: Jesus, who wrote this solicitation copy? "Anti-Christ" is hyphenated IN THE TITLE and they can't be bothered to use a dash in the solicits? And "Corbin pursues Jada assassin in Rome."? How would the world work if everyone actually talked like that? "Hey, Jay comic shop owner. How's it going?" "Not bad, Andrew comic shop tillmonkey and sometime writer. How's your wife, Tiina graphic designer?" "She's good. Right now she's taking Data dog and Dare puppydog for a walk." Oy. It's times like this I'm glad my Allah is the Flying Spaghetti-Monster...
PROJECT SUPERPOWERS: CHAPTER TWO #10: In this issue: superheroes nobody remembers play jacks in a futuristic subway station!
THE PHANTOM: GHOST WHO WALKS #10: In this issue, an obese Phantom takes a long hard look at himself and decides to make some changes. Be here next month for the start of brand-new series THE PHANTOM: GHOST WHO JOGS.
SPELL CHECKERS, VOLUME ONE: Teen witches in high school, in a manga-influenced art style. My nieces will LOVE THIS.
MERC: BROKEN WORLD #3: I would bet five dollars pencils aren't finished on this already-solicited comic. Prove me wrong, Dan Schneider. Prove me wrong.
PREVIEWS PAGE 338 & 339: There is nothing on these two pages that is not wrong, wrong, "abomination in the eyes of God" WRONG.
NEW AVENGERS #64: "Plus the fate of the one they call Mockingbird!" Anyone want to give odds it's better than the fate of the one they called Wasp? And what happens if she dies and Hawkeye takes over her superhero identity (which is the style of the times), and then he's got a fate? What do they say then, "Plus the fate of the OTHER one they call Mockingbird!"?
FIRESTAR #1: Because somebody demanded it? Incidentally, Angelica Jones wasn't JUST a "friend." She was an AMAZING friend.
DEADPOOL CORPS #1: I hope you guys are wearing steel-toed boots, because if you aren't, sooner or later you're going to have to stop kicking that horse.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #630: Chris Bachalo drawing the Lizard. That is tempting...
NEW AVENGERS MGC #1: Now you can read the first issue of the title whose last issue we solicited a few pages ago! (Still the best comic of the cheap cover price MGC bunch, though. At least for this month.)
NEW AVENGERS: LUKE CAGE #1 (of 3): "So for the cover, what you do is you take this HELLBOY image, flip it around, lose the goggles--oh, those are horns? Well, whatever they are, they're gone. And you make the skin black instead of red and the big hand thing silver, but only, like, the arm part, the hand itself can be black too. Oh, and make sure it's got the right number of fingers." (All joking about the cover aside, I am a fan of Eric Canete's art and will probably check this out on that basis alone.)
DAREDEVIL #506: Hey Marvel? For future reference, there's no H in "Antony".
NEMESIS #2: "The most talked-about new series of 2010 rages on!" So Millar and McNiven's Nemesis is part of the Watchmen sequel/prequel thing? Got to admit, I did not see that one coming.
DARK REIGN: HAWKEYE TPB: Hey Marvel? For future reference, there's an "Antony Johnston" in "Antony Johnston".


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I can haz payntbrush?

There's a couple posts I've been wanting to write, but I've been neck deep in revising the screenplay yet again, so instead you get photos of four of my last five attempts at painting. I'm only even remotely happy with one of them. Can you guess which?

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Future is Four Days Ago

The Future of Story conference took place at the Grant Macewan Arts Centre this past Friday and Saturday. I was there, largely because I was invited to speak on a panel Saturday afternoon. This was nice, because I'd have wanted to go anyway if I'd known it was happening prior to being invited, and now I got to go for free. I didn't even have to pay for parking or gas, because the arts centre is literally two and a half blocks from my front door.

No question, this was a sweet deal for yours truly, and I used all the skills I learned as an art student to take advantage of the opportunity, descending on the cheese platters like a living god of the locusts and mostly enjoying the "two dollars for everything" cash bar (I say mostly because the first night I paid two bucks for a can of Sprite Zero. EVERYTHING cost a toonie...)

Even without the free food and the cheap booze, it would've been a worthwhile experience. For me, anyway. Mileages seem to be varying, judging from the reactions I've encountered, largely at the twitter #futureofstory feed, which I blanket-bombed Saturday night with 20-some tweets after the conference, relating the most interesting, inflammatory, and/or bizarre statements I'd written down during the programming I attended.

I don't know that I've got much to say about the specifics of what I saw. Keynote speaker and BONES creator/showrunner Hart Hanson's talk on Friday night was easily the highlight of the weekend, and some thoughtful person has transcribed the whole thing online. Well worth reading for anyone looking to create stories for a mass audience; perhaps a little frustrating for those of a more, for lack of a better word, artistic bent.

In between cheese cubes, I got to talk one on one with Hanson for a couple minutes, during which he advised me to, basically, be really happy about Cowboys & Aliens being written by Kurtzman and Orci. "You should be happy," he said, or something close to it, "Happier than you seem to be." And this was after I'd had a couple beers; I thought I was acting pretty happy already. Perhaps I'm not as enigmatic and inscrutable a figure as I strive to portray.

In addition to Mr. Hanson's presentation Friday, I saw a panel called (I believe) "Creating the 21st Century Writer" entirely by accident. I'd thought I was going to the panel about new journalism, but had aimed myself at the room specified in the program, rather than the one in the revised schedule. I don't think I was the only one, either. By the time I figured out I wasn't where I was supposed to be, I was already ensconced in the back row of the room. Exit options were limited; I didn't think I'd feel comfortable lugging all the stuff I hadn't had a chance to get coatchecked out right in front of the panelists.

The only panel I saw on Saturday (note: I didn't see mine--I went into my public appearance fugue state at the beginning and was pretty much lost to reality for the next hour and a bit...) that I think went anywhere near the implied topic of the conference followed, this one dealing with reality television. Some juicy quotes there, most of which I failed to record because my pen died an ignominious death and when it comes to portable technology I'm one step removed from carving stuff on stone tablets.

There then came the alt-narrative panel which I was on and which was, to my surprise, actually attended. Three other panels were happening simultaneously, one of which featured Hart Hanson; I was semi-convinced nobody was going to come to ours, but as it turned out the room was not entirely devoid of non-panelist human life.

With one exception, I have no idea what I actually said during the panel. I'm still foggy on what a couple of the other panelists actually do (I write comics, Mike Laidlaw writes videogames, Kim Clegg and Ava Karvonen are involved with all sorts of multimedia platform development but I'm not clear what that involvement entails and probably don't even have the vocabulary to grasp it fully.)

One thing I do recall is suggesting that I could think of two ways to determine when the alternative becomes the mainstream, and one of those ways was when it started making money. Beyond that, it's all a haze of me being nervous and computers failing to work properly (for a minute, Mr. Hard Copy here was looking PRET-ty good with his old-fashioned comic books to hand around, I think...) ("Hardcopy" would be a great name for a hard-boiled detective, wouldn't it? Needs a sidekick, though. "This week, on HARDCOPY & McCOOL: When they investigate the death of the Archibishop of Canterbury, a mysterious figure from Hardcopy's past appears, threatening his friendship with McCool!")

After that, there was just the Crotchety Old Peop--er, A Word from the Wise panel. A distinguished panel of authors, all winners of the Governor-General's Award, but perhaps an odd note on which to close something called The Future of Story.

It was only after that last panel that I was able to put my finger on the second of two tensions that seem to me to have underpinned much of the overall conference. The first of these, introduced by Hart Hanson during his opening address, and one that's of perpetual interest to me, was the tension between the artist and the entertainer. Hanson, refreshingly, made no bones about his role as an entertainer (though I might dispute his characterization of art, even as it relates to narrative.) It was nice to see someone unconcerned with the pretense that they were creating something "more" important than entertainment, who nevertheless obviously takes the creation of entertainment very seriously. Well, it was obvious to me; Hanson's lecture was full of humour and self-deprecation, which I suppose could be interpreted by some as his being less than fully invested creatively in what he does (even if he point-blank said otherwise.)

This attitude stood out in stark contrast to many, if not all, of the 21st Century Writer and Word from the Wise panelists, who seemed to go to great pains to portray what they do as Important. Also important to them and, I gather, folks like bookseller Laurie Greenwood: the format in which what they do is received. Which brings me to the second tension: the schism between new and old, especially as it relates to media.

This divide between old and new wasn't immediately obvious to me during the conference itself. It should have been, with comments floating around like Sophie Lees' "Blogging is the antithesis of craft"--a notion so ridiculous I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and interpret it as a deliberately provocative statement designed to inspire discussion. Even her fellow panelists pointed out that not all blog posts are unedited, ill-thought out ramblings (which is in no way meant to imply this one isn't exactly that), and I believe one even said they stopped their blogging activity because it was taking too much effort to polish their posts.

But it wasn't obvious to me, not until I got back Saturday night and read the twitters under the #futureofstory hashtag. It seemed at the time that a good portion of them were arguing a position that the tweeters didn't feel was sufficiently represented on the panels they were watching, that of the early adopter of technology.

(As an aside, I've never wanted to have reliable mobile internet access in my life so much as I did this weekend--two or three people were livetweeting the event and it would have been fascinating to follow the online conversation in realtime with the panels and speakers being discussed. It's almost enough for me to wish I had a cellphone.)

At least one of the livetweeters seemed somewhat offended by a conference named The Future of Story focusing to the degree it did on the past, at least when it came to narrative delivery platforms. And honestly, judging from statements attributed to some of the panelists by the (admittedly likely to be at least somewhat biased) twitterers, I can understand why.

Now, I like books, and, for what it's worth, I think of a books as printed objects substantively different from an electronic document containing the same information. Someone tweeted something to the effect that a book isn't a format, the implication (quite possibly made explicit, I can't remember) being that an e-book is also a book. I'd go as far as to say a novel's not a format, but a book is and so is a digital document--but that's a semantic argument that probably isn't worth having.

An argument that maybe is worth having is whether the book as an object is going to be a viable delivery platform going forward, as opposed to digital documents conveyed via some form of monitor, be it a computer, cellphone, e-reader or whatever new shiny thing comes next. When someone with a vested interest in print media claims a kid can only be taught to read via text on paper--that's a questionable position and it's one that I'm not sure was as thoroughly questioned as it could have been (I wasn't at the panel in question, though, and am basing that on commentary tweets).

I don't think it's out of line for people who don't mind, or even prefer, to read books on monitors to take offense at someone implies or even outright states that their platform preference is somehow less... valid? Authentic? Just plain less?--than "real books" because kindles don't smell like fresh ink on old parchment. As I seem to recall saying in my panel, I'm leery of assigning a sweeping value judgment to something that isn't inherently good or bad, but simply is. Could I read an entire book on a kindle? I don't know, but, financial issues aside, I wouldn't mind finding out.

Even if I didn't, even if the only way I could read a book was if it had physical pages, it would be unbelievably arrogant to try and claim a position of authority on the matter of how books ought to be read based on nothing more than some combination of personal preference, ingrained habit, and wishful thinking. I can actually see the face my niece would make at me if I tried to tell her it's wrong to read something online if a print version's available. It's the face young people make at old people who've said something particularly stupid; she makes that face at me a lot.

I find it unfortunate that the conference didn't explore this friction between old and new in much depth, at least not on the programming I saw. Instead, each panel tended to be filled with people of like mind--in terms of diversity of activity and possibly opinion, the alt-narrative panel quite possibly contained the most variety of any of the programming. Which, depending on the intended goals of the conference, could actually have been part of the point. If an attendee or student wanted to find out about reality television, they would go to the reality TV panel, where reality TV people talked about reality TV. It was only during the question and answer session afterwards that a couple basic assumptions of a reality television producer faced any sort of challenge. One questioner, who assumed those wanting to appear on such a show were too naive to understand what they were setting themselves up for, clearly felt the whole thing was a moral cesspit; one exec's blase response to viewers suggesting she should have contacted childrens social services regarding a {I assume} parent's treatment of a child on one of their shows--basically, "our job is to document lives, not interfere with them (more than necessary to maximize the drama)"--left me feeling uneasy. Part of me wishes those were the kinds of subjects discussed during the panel proper, rather than the Q&A session afterwards.

All that said, there's a reasonable chance students and other interested parties walked out of the reality television panel with a better understanding of "unscripted programming", and a better chance still they wouldn't have walked out with the same sort of potentially useful information if the panel had instead featured a reality producer squaring off against someone who doesn't think a reality show involves actual writing. Such a set-up would be dramatically different, and perhaps more along the lines of what some expected/wanted. Certainly there seemed to be some frustration among the online contingent towards a perceived imbalance between those who insist print is inherently superior to digital content.

All of which amounts to what, exactly? Everyone I interacted with seemed to agree that the conference made little, if any, progress towards answering any substantive questions regarding the future of story. (In a conversation post-conference a student suggested that, inspired by things like Twitter/facebook/email/blogging, extreme brevity could become the next big thing when it comes to literary style. I found that an interesting idea, even if it actually happening would pretty much dump me in with the dinosaurs, no matter how much I accept and support new media platforms.)

But really, how could anyone, any gathering of people, hope to provide concrete answers about the future of a concept as ephemeral as "story"? While there probably could have been more detailed discussion about what the future (as opposed to the present and arguably the past) hold for narrative forms, things are moving way too fast for anyone to be able to speak confidently about what's coming down the pipe. As Gloria Sawai said, regarding the conference's subject, "Am I supposed to know that?"

For my part, I'm glad I got to take part. If I don't agree with all (or even most) of what I heard said this past weekend, it was still a positive joy to be among those who think about what story is now, and what it might become.


PS: The Macewan Arts Centre has the worst pop machines in the entire universe. I swear, the entire building was conspiring to prevent me from getting my hands on a Coke Zero, which every other machine claimed to have as part of its offerings. One machine was out of CZ, one was out of everything, another wouldn't accept my money, and yet another had a sign on it declaring that while it would technically give me a Coke Zero, the cooling mechanism on the machine was broken, so the pop would be hot (not just warm, but hot.)

PPS: Also, the mens bathroom nearest to the cafeteria? Ridiculously hard to get to. Only way I managed was by getting a student to show me where it was, and I honestly don't think I could find it again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I wanna party with the California republicans who came up with Carly Fiorina's new attack video.

There's a rumour that DC is considering commissioning the creation of WATCHMEN comic book prequels/sequels/spinoffs. If it's true--and I'm cynical enough to believe it's at least being seriously considered, even if common sense prevails and it never materializes--I'm guessing they'll move heaven and earth to get Dave Gibbons' unqualified and very public support. That's the only way I can see this not resulting in Dan DiDio being dragged out of a DC Nation panel and strung up from a San Diego lamppost by a mob of irate fans.

If they can't get Gibbons to back the play, the only non-Alan Moore Big Two comic creator I can think of working today who might stand a snowball's chance in hell of making such an idea transcend the creatively bankrupt moneygrab it clearly is at the corporate level is Grant Morrison. It seems to me almost any creator who would be foolhardy enough to attempt to follow one of the greatest superhero comic book stories of all time would find their efforts overshadowed pretty much all aspects by the original work, while being boxed in by them.

I generally enjoy the comics work of guys like Brian Bendis and Warren Ellis, but off the top of my head, Morrison's the only one of the North American mainstream who's even come close to Moore when it comes to focusing on, and pushing, the formal qualities of superhero comic narrative. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he seemingly isn't content to simply tell Very Good Superhero Comic Stories--he wants to refine and redefine the medium he's working in. Depending on your tastes, that drive may lead to good or bad or disastrously awful comics, but the general attitude seems to me very similar to what Moore and Gibbons had in mind when they created the Watchmen.

Morrison's respectful enough of what's gone before to want to honour it, while not letting himself be confined by it. If a Watchmen follow-up is going to work on a creative level, that's the kind of creative approach that's required.


If they do go forward with multiple Watchmen-related projects, they could do a lot worse than getting Paul Grist involved. I can't believe the similarities between Jack Staff's narrative construction and Watchmen's never occurred to me till now (and it's been awhile since I read either)(where the hell is Jack Staff V4, anyway? That thing's like, half a year late now...)


But on the whole, I hope they don't go forward with any Watchmen-related projects. The movie alone shows the folly of even attempting to follow it up.


Come to think of it, one of the screenwriters did mention he had an idea for a sequel, which he told Alan Moore during the LAST CONVERSATION THEY EVER HAD, EVER.


Also, on an unrelated topic, Peter Sprigg is a moron. (via mightygodking)


Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Still not really in a mood to blog, really, but I'm starting to feel guilty about not writing much of anything for the last couple months (not strictly true--there were a few pitches, a film treatment, and a metric ton of e-mail, but that stuff doesn't really count). And I don't know how to transfer images from the camera to the computer (I don't much like two of the three paintings I've done since the last time I posted images anyway), so you get this update-y thing instead.

My mood continues to be in the toilet. Actually, that's not true. In its more ambitious moments, my mood aspires to rise to the level of being in the toilet. Why the malaise? Let's see. There's...

1) The obvious reason. I had a near-breakdown during a lunch meeting this afternoon when someone mentioned they'd spent the night at the hospital with their father, who's just suffered a stroke. The bereavement counseling is either interesting or a bunch of useless hippydippy crap depending on my outlook during a given minute.

2) The usual reasons. My winter headache's just kicking the crap out of me this week, the financial insecurity of the freelance life seems particularly insecure at the moment, blah blah blah...

3) The semi-usual reasons. With all the other stuff going on (or not, as the case may be) trying a new medication, even one for migraines (DIDN'T WORK) probably wasn't the best idea. Not getting a decent night's sleep for more than a week adds a couple degrees of suck to everything.

4) The new stuff--which isn't mine to air publicly, but which is having its impact all the same.

Stepping back from all the crap and looking at life with as objective an eye as I can manage, most of the actually important stuff is solid (with one glaring exception, but there's nothing to do about that but go on) and the slightly less important stuff is going in the right direction, albeit with its usual glacial speed.

New people are interested in the spec. People who matter in Hollywood. Which means more notes, which means more work for, based on past experience, no money. But hey, people are interested, by golly! My managers are upbeat, but then, they're always upbeat. I don't know what they're snorting, but I want some. Anyway, one more draft and I'm done with that until someone hands me a cheque. I mean it this time.

In the meantime, there's actually been some movement on the comic writing front (as opposed to the comic editing front, which was much more lucrative this last year or two). Progress is being made towards getting one of my first books back into print at a reputable publisher. I've got a few pitches in to different places, and I'm generally making a nuisance of myself to the editors who're currently willing to talk to me. Is it possible to push your luck when the only luck you're having lately is bad? I'll let you know...

Olivia Wilde is in talks to co-star in the film version of Cowboys & Aliens. When word of this filtered down through the grapevine to me a week or two ago, I said, "That's interesting." But it wasn't interesting enough for me to go find out who Olivia Wilde actually was. Now I know she's "the sexy bisexual doctor on House" (thanks Steph {and Diane}), which part of me always knew was more likely to be true than what I chose to believe for the longest possible time: that she was that she was a porn star who was finally getting her big Hollywood break. Anyway, that's that rumour confirmed, which makes me think the other casting rumour for the film I've heard that hasn't gone wide yet is at least possible. That's name even I recognized.

Not that any of this makes me any money, at least not directly. But it does open a few doors a crack wider. It also floods my inbox with google alerts to stories that have my name in them but are so distant from my reality they might as well be on another planet. At least the stories do actually involve me, however remotely, as opposed to the alerts about the Andrew Foley who owns the bookstore in Sarasota or the British politician.

(Yes, I've got a google alert for my own name. My ego is Just. That. Big.)

What else?

I'm sure there's something, but I can't think of what it is, so I guess I'll just say Richard Cohen's a moron and go watch LOST.