Friday, July 10, 2009

Proof That Matt Busch is Some Kind of Genius

Here's what's posted on Matt's site:

Have a Slave Leia costume? Wanna be in an upcoming episode of How To Draw STAR WARS? Artist Matt Busch and the folks at www.LeiasMetalBikini.com are teaming up to do a video shoot at Comic-Con International on July 24.

If you want in this fun opportunity, then meet at the Gentle Giant booth at 1:00 PM on Friday, dressed ready to kill... Jabba!


For more information, visit http://www.LeiasMetalBikini.com.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

IN MEMORIAM: HARRY ROLAND

Over on Scoop, I've just posted the obituary of Harry Roland, a great artist gone to soon. Harry wasn't a close friend, but I got to know him a bit and worked with him on my McCandless & Company story "No Man is an Eyelid."

I hope you'll check it out. He did some truly great covers over the years, including one of the best Famous Monsters of Filmland covers from the early 1970s.



Wednesday, May 20, 2009

HUMAN TARGET Trailer... AMAZING!

For fans of 24 and Burn Notice, or of the original comic book adventures of the Human Target, this looks pretty darn keen...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lovers and Madmen- A terriffic Batman/Joker tale!

I love the Beatles. Almost every song they ever did is a classic, a standard, a pillar of almost total perfection. Even today, many of the music industry's top singers and songwriters freely admit that they hope to attain even the tiniest portion of the Beatles success, ability and creativity. That's why I love it when artists are able to cover a Beatle tune and not just reproduce the original sound but really and truly work with the source material and make it their own. Case in point: Joe Cocker and With A Little Help From My Friends and Earth, Wind & Fire with Got To Get You Into My Life.

In one of my recent blog rants I came down pretty hard on, among others, Batman comics from the past few years. I'm angry at their almost constant reimagineering of the Batman origin story. DC just spent 2 entire issues in a row doing this during R. I. P. I find this spate of "retelling the origin of..." to be irritating, unimaginative and senseless, thus my blog tirade ended with my plea for comics to "just make sense."

A few months ago I started reading Batman Confidential. Liking the current issues I was reading, I went a searching for all it's back issues because it's still a relatively young comic a little over 2 years old. I was able to track down issues 7-12, under the arc title of Lovers and Madmen, which originally came out back in early 2008. The cover stated it contained "the thrilling chronicle of Batman and Joker's first historic confrontation". Great, yet another rehash battle.... Zzzzzzzzzz. Even with this strike against it, I thought I would still give it a chance due to the fact that the current issues were pretty darn good, and that it was being written by TV show Hero's writer Michael Green.

This phase of Batman's career has been tackeled many times by son of the greats of comics including Finger, Kane and Robinson in the 40's, O'neil, Adams, Englehart and Rodgers in the 70's, and Moore and Bolland in the 80's just to name a few. Over the years each crew has added, subtracted, erased and redrew, ignored and explored various facets of the Batman/Joker relationship. So, you can imagine my trepidation upon finding "another thrilling chronicle...".Boy was I ever wrong. Reading this story once again reminded me of why I love comics and why I still hold out hope in an industry gone EPIC crazy. Green's take is very much in line with the then newest and now legendary screen portrayal of the villain by Heath Ledger. In Lovers and Madmen, the Joker is best described by pre-Scarecrow Jonathan Crane. "He's not a criminal. This isn't crime. This is EVIL."

This story is one of the best explorations about the struggle to understand the nature of evil and how far good will go to subdue and overcome it. This battle is best summed up in a conversation between Bruce and Alfred in the Batcave. Bruce has just found out that the woman he loves, whom the Joker sliced open during their latest confrontation, has taken a turn for the worst in the hospital.


Bruce: " I can't do it Alfred. When I began my mission I thought I would battle MEN who were monstrous. I never imagined I'd be fighting actual monsters. Demons. Things I don't even believe in. But DO exist. What killed my parents...he was nothing compared to what's coming. And this one... He's plutonium, Alfred. An atom split, rupturing two more--and two more...and two more after them in an ever widening chain--spreading the damage exponentially...until there isn't an atom left. In the face of that, my mind...my methods... are nothing. I can't do it."


In just this one page, this story was able to capture the essence of the entire superhero genre. And later in the story, Alfred sums up the feelings of all the innocents in society, all the friends and family of our heroes, and the pressures that they can come to bear on the superhero's themselves.


Alfred: "I have known you your whole life, sir... your best moments, your darkest nights...I was there. Many times I've said I hoped better for your soul than this mission you say chose you. This disinfecting of man's basest nature. That I wanted for you a LIFE. But this...YOU did this. You unleashed something foul and depraved. On whose lives you swore to improve. A dead thing. Killed by you. That makes more dead things. And now they call on you to rein it in. You cannot do nothing."


And to be fair, Batman's point of views aren't the only ones explored in this series. The Joker starts out as a brilliant but bored criminal, planning and committing ever more elaborate crimes. Yet, each heist, planned down to the smallest detail, brings him less and less pleasure. There's just no surprises, no fun. Until Batman breaks up one of his robberies.Later in the story Joker says "I owe it all to YOU. I didn't know WHAT to do with myself til a man put on a mask and called himself Bat." This is very reminiscent of the scene in the famous fan film Dead End, in which the cornered Joker says to Batman "You made me...Daddy!".

And later still during their climatic battle scene comes this wonderful interaction:

Batman: "You're CRAZY."

Joker: "No. I'm just funnier than you. I see the world right as rainbows and I have you to thank for it. I had nothing. Then YOU came, gave me my spinach strength. And now the world is full of color-- even sick sad bland bad Gotham is bright as sunrise. Or sunset. You pick.

Batman: "All those lives. All those people-- you MURDERED them! Why do you kill them?"

Joker: "Why do you save them?"


In the end, it's hard to tell who is really the crazy one... but it sure is easy to tell That this is a fantastic read. And not only is it a great read but also a beautiful book to look at. Denys Cowans' pencils, John Floyds' ink and stunning colors by I.L.L. combine to make images just jump off the pages. I particularly liked the use of the color red throughout to highlight key points such as sunglass lens, a ballroom mask and of course, blood on the Bat A Rang.

So, as I'm prone to say... Rush out in a buying frenzy and get these issues. By the way, just last week DC made this much easier to do by putting out a trade paperback compilation. So there goes your excuse of I couldn't find them all.
Until my next good read... ENJOY!

Konxari- a treat for all your senses!

A funny thing happened on the way to writing this review, I was forbidden to actually try out the product by my house mate. But I'll get into that in a minute. Matt Busch was kind enough to send me the newest version of IRM Foundation's Konxari (pronounced kon-zar-ee) Cards to try out. Konxari is a form of Cartomancy, which is divination or fortune-telling through the use of cards. Konxari itself dates all the way back to the ancient Egyptians and is said to have been created by their god, Thoth. The word Konxari derives from the Egyptian word Konxar which means to speak with the dead. And this is where the history and entomology lesson ends but unfortunately where my problems begin.

You see, I live in a haunted house. The term Haunted House usually goes hand in hand with the word “BAD”, but not in this case. Have I seen eerie shadows of hanging figures on the stairs leading down to the basement? No. Do I awake at night to the sound of distant echoing voices in the hall. Not really. Is my house a creepy old mansion, built on a sacred ancient Indian burial ground whose previous tenants mysteriously disappeared late one foggy, desolate night? Ahh... No, No, and No. But I do often find my dog just sitting for hours staring at the empty stairwell, tilting her head listening, to things that remain unheard to me. And my roommate, who swears she's sensitive to such things, says that she often feels various presences around the house. So, who am I to argue with the smartest dog in the world and the lady who pays half my rent?

But I digress, and will continue to do so for one more paragraph. So here's my problem. I have this pack of cards that plainly state DO NOT USE ALONE because, well, it would be bad. How bad?


I'll let my friends the Ghostbusters explain:

Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean “bad?”

Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously, and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Total protonic reversal.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Right, that's bad, Okay, alright, important safety tip, thanks Egon.


I think you get the picture. There is absolutely no way I was ever going to actually try these cards in this household. So, I did what all good strong virile dominate “THIS IS MY HOUSE” kinda guys would do. I said a variation of “Yes Dear” and just did an end run around the entire situation. So, here is my non- review review.

As soon as I opened up the pack and started flipping through the cards I noticed these weren't like any other divination cards I'd ever seen. They are beautifully designed with a central photograph surrounded at the edges by a main title, such as DESIRE and a letter, number or symbol meant to further elaborate on the theme of each card. As I slowly scanned through all the cards, I was amazed at how many memories, thoughts and feelings were invoked by the imagery portrayed. Creepy would be the primary feeling I had while looking through them. Thoughts filled my head of Blair Witch and abandoned buildings with shattered glass, John Carpenter's Halloween and old 1950s war department Nuclear bomb tests, The Ring, The Grudge and One Missed Call, and walks late at night when you just know someone or something is following just beyond the fading streetlight. Like I said, Creepy.

But freaked out as I was by this flood of memories, I was often totally surprised by the occasional card that led down other interesting paths. The Desire card made me think of the first girl I ever kissed. And the Hatred card made my thoughts jump to Martin Luther King's struggles for freedom against intolerable and seemingly insurmountable odds. Great works of art can do that to you. Make you stop in your tracks and suddenly think and feel... I mean really think and feel.

Did I just call this pack of cards a great work of art? Well yeah, I guess I did.

The photographs for the Konxari Cards are taken by award winning photographer Paul Michael Kane. Amazingly, each photograph is 100% pure with zero Photoshop effects. In this age of digital manipulation and spending hours adding just the right shadow where one never existed, Kane's startling array of haunting and otherworldly images is astonishing in their natural beauty. The entire project is being over seen by Matt Busch, best known for his work on such mainstream projects as Star Wars, Witchblade and Battlestar Galactica, and Matt's also representing IRM Foundation as their chief spokesman for the cards.

I highly recommend going out right away in a buying frenzy and picking up a pack of Konxari cards to see what amazing doors of perception they trigger in your mind. And while your sitting there in the dark, candlelit recesses of your house, and just before you try to cross between the realms to retrieve the hitherto veiled and hidden messages the spirits have for you... Please... Please... don't forget...

Give me a call... I'm dying to try these suckers out!



PS: I just read this review to my roommate. The only response:”I'm still not trying the damn cards.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

20 QUESTIONS WITH MICHAEL AVON OEMING

Powers. Hammer of the Gods. Mice Templar. Ship of Fools. Six. Parliament of Justice. Rapture. Thor: Blood Oath. Omega Flight. Foot Soldiers. Bastard Samurai. Red Sonja.

The list of Michael Avon Oeming’s projects could go on and on and on and on (it does, just trust me on this one), and he always has something more on the way.

Whether as an artist, a writer, or even a filmmaker, there is always at least one project he’s working on now, one in some stage of development and one he’s just contemplating. The level of his success over the years has definitely changed, but for those who have known him for an extended period, that’s one of the few things that have.

“I've known Mike since he was in high school, I think. He was working at a comic shop run by a friend and helping with their small line of comic books that they were publishing,” said Mark Wheatley, his collaborator on Hammer of the Gods.”

“Mike was one of those irritatingly talented kids. But unlike a lot of irritatingly talented kids who get success easy and stop growing artistically, Mike has always had a need to reinvent himself,” a trend that continues today, he said.

“He is always trying on other art styles. And he is good at it. His sketches are like a walk through a Who's Who of the very best comics artists of all time. So he learns by assuming the style of others. And then he turns it all on its head and comes up with his own distinctive style that carries over the essential thinking and design of the original artist that influenced him. It might sound like cheating to someone who isn't an artist. But to do this really well means you have to leave your ego at the door. And that is almost impossible for most talented artists. Because what we do often gets propped up by a healthy dose of ego!” he said.

His work on Jim Krueger’s Foot Soldiers is as different from his art on Powers as the Powers material is from Hammer of the Gods. His writing, likewise, changes to suit to the project, whether Thor: Blood Oath or Parliament of Justice.

And as much as he infuses outsides elements into his craft on a regular basis, there are definitely also some constants, Wheatley said.

“Two things never change about Mike. He is a basic, good person. And he is one of the best storytellers I've ever worked with,” he said. “And I'm proud to say I've worked with some of the very best.”

He met his best known collaborator, Brian Michael Bendis, at a signing in Philadelphia. Soon after that, Bendis said, Mike was working on a new style that evolved into the style he would use on Powers.

“Mike faxed over a version of [BMB’s character] Jinx and David Mack's Kabuki. I loved, loved, loved it! I dove to work with him. We became family very soon after,” Bendis said.

It may be difficult for some to put in perspective now, but Bendis had a mainly indy track record with Goldfish and Jinx and Mike was known for either illustrating Ship of Fools or inking Daredevil when they got together to do Powers at Image.

It was anything but a sure thing.

They clicked in working together, though, and what they were doing clearly clicked with the fans as well. Powers built into a hit and each of the creators established themselves further. Bendis wrote Sam & Twitch for Todd McFarlane and then moved to Ultimate Spider-Man before running off a list of hits at Marvel Comics.

Mike set himself on a course that has seen him alternately writing, inking, designing or playing cover artist on a string of creator-owned properties and company-owned titles.

“I think Mike will tell stories in any medium that comes along,” Wheatley said. “And he will make it a lot of fun whenever he does.”

“He's grown as a storyteller, writer, businessman and publisher,” Bendis said. “Honestly with the right diet and sedatives, there is nothing Mike could not tackle. Next year Mike and I will be doing another creator-owned project together that is as different from Powers as Mice Templar is, and I know he will destroy on it just like he did on those books.”

First, though, he has to deal with the 20 Questions:

JCV: What compels you to create?
Mike Oeming: Hmmm. It's probably psychological. Some kind of OCD. I'm not kidding. I look back at my life, I've been drawing constantly since I was 12 or 13 and there's a lot things I never did because I chose art and drawing first, even simple things. It was pretty compulsive for me and still is.

JCV: What was the first story you can remember coming up with or actually writing down or drawing?
Mike Oeming: It was a superhero team, a brother and sister, the brother could run at super speeds and the sister could turn into animals. I had them racing for like 30 panels on one 8 ½” x 11” page of typing paper. I think I was 13. I still have it somewhere. I have almost everything I've ever drawn. I don't know what to do with this old stuff. Throw it away? Burn it cathartically?

JCV: When did you know that you wanted to pursue art as your career?
Mike Oeming: When I was 12 or 13. I started reading comics and I knew right then and there what I wanted to do. I had all this want to draw, but draw what? It was frustrating. Then I found comics and my inner compass led the way.

JCV: What type of education did you have? Did you have any particular formal focus on art or was it just something you picked up?
Mike Oeming: Honestly, I have very little education. I was a terrible student. If it weren't for the art, I’d be a blue collar drifter. Seriously, other than art, I had no focus and I was practically raising myself. My mother was sick most of the time. I did the shopping with food stamps while she was zoned out on Prozac and stuff like that.

I never finished high school; I was kicked out for skipping too many days. I was passing though. I was skipping school to stay home and draw or I was up so late drawing I couldn’t get up. We were too poor for art school and I didn’t have anyone around to tell me I could have gotten a scholarship or something, so the idea of even trying for higher education wasn't even on my plate. I just had no idea. I thought of the Joe Kubert School, but there was no way I could afford it.

But I was head strong and beleived in myself, so I never saw those things as a problem at the time! I do wish I went to art school, Kubert or the big one in NYC. That would have been an amazing experience.

JCV: What was your earliest exposure to comic books that you remember?
Mike Oeming: About five or six years old, getting my haircut in Bordentown, New Jersey. It was an issue of Spider-Man.

JCV: Did you collect comics after you discovered them or were they just something incidental to your art?
Mike Oeming: I collected not for value, but for love. I had lots of Amazing Spider-Man, New Mutants, X-Men, Nexus. Then it became about collecting artists like Art Adams, Steve Rude, and Mike Mignola.

JCV: What other early influences inspired or sparked your creativity?
Mike Oeming: Music. It's always influenced me. Lyrics, a sound, a vibe... I drop lyrics into dialogue sometimes like Led Zeppelin. In Rapture there’s some lyrics by Bright Eyes that were very influential.

JCV: What was it about comic books as an art form that helped you find that inner compass?
Mike Oeming: Hmm. Could be that I spent so much time as a kid in my own head. My own fantasy world and such. I spent a lot of time in the woods, wandering around my mind and imagination taking hold of me... or listening to my aunt and uncle’s ‘70s music, the singer-song writer thing, creating stories in my head. It was all pretty unfocused until I found comics and it all came together.

JCV: Do you think the lack of formal art training actually held you back in any way or do you think it made you more open to trying different approaches?
Mike Oeming: Well, I did have an art school of sorts. A circle of friends, most never made it, but they all had skills. It was like an art studio every weekend for a few years, making our own comics.

I met Adam Hughes and Neil Vokes early on. They were really my mentors and schooling. Had I gone to school, hell yes, I would have learned even more, pushed myself harder. Still, the past is the past and I seemed to have done pretty well...

JCV: What was your first experience with comic professionals and how did it come about?
Mike Oeming: The first pros I met were Neil Vokes and Rich Ranking, creators of Eagle, at a small con in New Jersey around ‘86-87. Rich showed me how to use spatter with ink and toothbrush!

JCV: What was your first professional work and how did it come about?
Mike Oeming: The inking job on Newstrallia when I was like 14. I was just handing in samples and somehow I actually got work from it. I was too young to know I could follow up and get more work, so there was quite a time between that and when I was 17 and got some real inking work again. Well, I guess three years, but it felt like forever.

JCV: What were the next steps in your career?
Mike Oeming: Grinding it out as an inker and doing indie comics. Then I did an issue of Lyrcra/Spandex with Bryan Glass and caught the eye of DC Comics somehow. During that time I started some inking gigs on Daredevil and somehow leapt right to penciling and inking Judge Dredd. I was not ready in many ways. That was a harsh lesson.

JCV: What were your early influences?
Mike Oeming: Art Adams, Steve Rude, Frank Frazetta, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Mignola Kevin Nowlan, Mike Golden and Jamie Hewlett. Quite a contrasting bunch of folks. For years I couldn’t sort it out in my head. If you have the Ship of Fools trade, you can really see those styles colliding.

JCV: What influences did you pick up later? There was a point not all that many years ago when one could see a lot of Alex Toth in your work. Now that’s much more subtle, for instance. Has this been a constant evolution?
Mike Oeming: Yeah, Toth and Bruce Timm came in later, a real growth. I don't think I would have understood their work if I was not into Steve Rude first, though.

JCV: What was the lowest point of your career and how did you rebound from it?
Mike Oeming: Which one? The one where I was fired from Judge Dredd or from inking Force Works? During the five months I stopped drawing after some personal hell? Or the one where there wasn’t any work coming my way and I had to get a regular job?

I've had quite a few lows, been kicked a few times while I was down, but it never kept me down. The idea is that bad times happen and bad times pass. You just have to remember that, learn from it and move forward!

JCV: Some years back, we talked about perceiving yourself as more of a storyteller than specifically an artist. You’ve been a writer, penciller, inker, layout guy, cover artist, photographer and filmmaker. What other roles have you undertaken and what do they have in common?
Mike Oeming: Well, that about covers it! When it comes down to it, storytelling is about communication. I think the only other role I've learned well over the years is about communicating and that spans a lot of things, not just art but day to day stuff. How do you get your point across in a conversation? Well, it's not a story, but the goals are the same, aren't they? Writing and drawing has made me better at simple communication, and vice versa.

JCV: What do you perceive is different about expressing yourself in each of those roles?
Mike Oeming: Point of View. Always have one, or do your best to find one as soon as possible, or you’re lost.

JCV: You’ve had a lot of collaborations. Are they all different?
Mike Oeming: Yes, but I've been pretty picky about who I work with and for the most part, they become very similar in the process. I think a lot of that has to do with trust, both in ego and creativeness. Show trust, earn trust and the working goes smoothly.

JCV: In terms of synthesizing two different sets of ideas, what’s the best or most effective collaboration you’ve ever had?
Mike Oeming: Wow, that's hard to say. I'd have to go with working on Rapture with Taki, but we are married, we live together, so it's not quite fair to compare. I mean this morning we were working out, jogging and watching Chuck on our iPod when an idea struck and we were able to talk about it right there. I don't work out with any of my other writing partners!

JCV: When you see an aspiring creator with talent, what is the advice you give them?
Mike Oeming: Patience. Always be on a learning curve.

Mike's new series, Rapture, is due out from Dark Horse Comics in late May 2009. He's working on the new Powers series, as well, and you can find out more about him at on his new website. You can also sign-up for his email newsletter by dropping a request to Oeming@aol.com.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

BACK TO THE BACK-UPS!

My pal Mike Solof recently posted his “I Hate Comics!!!” column here on Comics Spotlight. In its own way, his “Make Mine Make Sense” cry turned out to be something of a manifesto, and while I don’t want to address each of his points, I do instead want to point out something going on in comics that I think is very good.

The addition of Blue Beetle and Ravager, respectively, as back-up features in Booster Gold and Teen Titans, respectively, harkens back to an excellent and overlooked era in comic books and it could well portend some truly awesome storytelling.

First, the economic realities: There are some titles that are going to see their regular prices go up to $3.99. That’s a tough blow because for the first time you won’t be able to get three comic books for $10, and that’s not good for anyone.

Making the best of a bad situation, though, DC has made a solid move with these characters. The new Blue Beetle is a charming property with a lot to offer. I don’t think I even know how much I liked him until I got a chance to write him in the DC Universe Holiday Special 2008 (so yes, maybe I’m biased, but I’m not writing him now).

While far removed in tone and spirit from the Ted Kord Blue Beetle so many of us loved, this new one does have a tone that will fit nicely in Booster Gold, which has been one of the best and most consistently interesting superhero monthlies for many months now.

Ravager, who is a character that will most likely always have some link to the Teen Titans, is a great fit for that book.

What I’m hoping we’ll see through the eight-page back-up stories is solid storytelling and continued character growth, and through those factors some real value should be added to the titles they’re featured in. It’s not automatic, of course, but there are definitely precedents.

Following the “DC Implosion” back in the 1970s, we saw some great characters pop up in following years as back-up features. Personally I remember Firestorm in Flash and Green Arrow in Detective Comics.

Mostly, though, I remember a one-issue comic (it was supposed to be more) called Dynamic Classics, part of the “DC Explosion” that soon became the “Implosion.” Not only did it feature a great Batman reprint from the Neal Adams era, it featured the first chapter of Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson’s “Manhunter.” It hooked me in eight pages.

(If you haven’t read the collected Manhunter in one of its reprints, I offer you two choices: stop right now and go get it, or get out of comics. Yes, it’s that good. Now, back to my point…)

Manunter was everything you could want in a back-up feature. It was solid, it was inventive, daring and it took full advantage of the fact that because it was a back-up no one really cared too much what these two amazing creators did.

They should have cared. They should have been taking notes. In eight-page segments (except the final one, which crossed over with Detective Comics’ main feature, Batman), Goodwin and Simonson put on a storytelling clinic.

Years ago at a dinner, I was blessed with the incredible opportunity any young creator should have been willing to kill for… I was seated at dinner immediately across from Will Eisner. I’ve later had this same point made to me by Jim Shooter and other great storytellers, but Eisner was the first one who said it to me: Anyone who can tell a story in eight pages can tell as story in 22 pages, but the opposite isn’t always true.

A lot of writers, including me, should take this new-old form, the back-up story, as a challenge to do better work. I’m looking forward to doing so.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I HATE COMICS!!!

Ok, I don’t actually hate comics, but my old public speaking teacher said to start every speech off with a bang. So, I don’t hate comics. Yet.

They are just currently frustrating to me. Very frustrating.

First, a little background: I have been collecting comics for over 15 years. I have been to over 40 conventions nationwide, including the big ones in San Diego and New York, smaller ones like Pittsburgh, and medium ones like MegaCon.

I have over 7,000 comics, more than half of which have been signed by the creators involved: writers, inkers, colorists or cover type guys (or gals as my dad would say). I have interviewed or photographed tons and tons of top people – TOP PEOPLE – and I am pleased to say that many of them over the years have become good friends. By the way, people ask how many of the 7,000 comics have I read. I’d say I’ve read…ahhh…all of them. So, do I know about that which I speak? A little.

That aside, I currently find myself very frustrated by the state of comics today. Why? Well I could start with a Countdown, giving you 52 reasons, but then I would have to follow that with an Ultimatum. Would that cause a Final Crisis? Would my answers start a Civil War or just bring an end to this Dark Reign? I mean…Holy Crap!* I used to love comics, but that was back when I could understand them.

(*Holy Crap! has not yet been announced as a major crossover event, but I’m expecting it any day.)

Let me jump back again to my early days of collecting: I had the privilege to make among my first big purchases 10-year runs of Batman, Legends of the Dark Knight and Detective Comics. Reading week after week, month after month, some of the Bats’ greatest stories, all without having to wait till next week, was an amazing experience.

So, why am I confused? What did these older stories have that their modern counterparts don’t? Did they have huge arcing storylines? You betcha: Knightfall, KnightsEnd, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, etc. Did numerous characters pop up from throughout the entire DC Universe? Yes. Did they have multi-issue crossovers with other (seemingly unrelated) titles? Yes. So, if the huge storylines aren’t the problem and the crossovers aren’t the problem, what’s the problem?

The current ones are unintelligible.

I gave up trying to follow them. I have canceled so many books from my pull list because they (to paraphrase a favorite song of mine) stopped making sense. Try summing up a current story line in a few words. And don’t say “Skrulls undercover attack.” That doesn’t sum up or come close to encompassing all the madness and incoherency going on in most of the marvel universe right now.

Here's another example. I just finished reading Batman #681. It's the one where: Spoiler alert: BATMAN’S DEAD. Batman just died after being blown up in a tragic helicopter explosion over Gotham River while fighting Black Glove, his latest baddie. But they can't find his body? (Sorry, to me, no body = not dead.)

In Batman #682 we find him alive, sitting in a chair and talking about a bad dream where his back story is relived for the 1197th time.

Then in Batman #683 we see him being tortured by an ape during which he hallucinates his back story again (for the 1198th time). On the last page of this issue we see this blurb: "Follow the Dark Knight to his Last adventure in Final Crisis #6."

So I do. And even though I just finished reading that he is either chunky style fish food in Gotham River or sitting in a chair dreaming in the Batcave or hallucinating in an underground chamber while being tortured by apes, he is actually being turned into Tuna Melt by Darkseid in outer space.

Excuse me, but WTF?

That is just a very, very, very small sampling of the mishmash occurring in the DC universe. Oh, and by the way, let’s cancel almost every Bat-title and give people a reason not to stick with the new ones, and let’s do it by killing Bruce Wayne around the time that The Dark Knight passes the $1 Billion mark at that box office… Great…great…

When I started reading 52 I thought it ended at 52. Silly me. I was late in realizing that I was wrong. When I finally did, I canceled my run at issue #50. The folks at my comic book store looked at me as if I was crazy. “Why Stop Now?”

But isn’t that a sad comment when you stop to think about it? It’s like being on the Titanic as it’s sinking and instead of going for a lifeboat, saying to yourself, “Hey, I paid a lot of money for this cruise and I’m pretty heavily invested in it. Why the heck should I stop now?”

Today I got the new issue of Battle for the Cowl #1. The blurb on the last page says "Highlights from the New York Comic-Con: DC Nation News: Dan DiDio, Senior VP and Executive Editor explained at the DC Nation panel how Batman made it from R.I.P. to Final Crisis."

Should the average comic buyer really have to spend hundreds of dollars to travel to New York, buy tickets to the convention, fight the crowds and be lucky enough to get into a small panel just to have his comic explained to him by the company Senior VP? How pathetic is that?

Are there ongoing things out there giving me hope? Of course. I highly recommend titles like Captain America, Daredevil, The Walking Dead, Invincible and newbies such as Echo, Kick-Ass and Incognito. I promise you don’t need a universe guide or Who’s Who to read any of these.

A popular slogan used to be “Make Mine Marvel.” Right about now I’d settle for “Make Mine Make Sense.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

WHO WATCHED THE WATCHMEN (in 1986)?

Over on Comix 411, our pal Tom Mason (veteran writer of things from YA novels to cartoon show, but for us he could have stopped after creating Dinosaurs For Hire and still been cool forever) took last Friday's release of the Watchmen movie to check in with comic book industry folks about their memories of the initial release of Watchmen #1 in 1986.

It was a random, unscientific sampling to be sure, but the question prompted some very interesting responses.

Among the participants were Frank Mangiaracina (formerly of Friendly Frank’s Distribution), Chris Ulm (formerly Editor-in-Chief of Malibu Comics, now a game developer), Tom Heintjes (Editor of the great magazine Hogan’s Alley), our friend Mark Herr (who worked at Geppi's Comic World back in the day), Brian Augustyn (Gotham By Gaslight), John Jackson Miller (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), Gary Guzzo (former retailer and Marvel PR guy, among many other titles), Dave Olbrich (former Publisher of Malibu Comics), Carl Potts (former Executive Editor of Marvel Comics), Aaron Lopresti (artist), and yours truly.

Click for Part One or Part Two.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

20 QUESTIONS WITH BRANDON JERWA

In the short time since we started the Comics Spotlight blog and offering these “20 Questions With…” insights into the creative process, I most often have found myself trying to get information I didn’t know out of people I knew pretty well. That isn’t the case with Brandon Jerwa, though, who I only knew through his work.

Rather quietly, he has been moving up in the field of comic book scribes, building a reputation for creativity and reliability, two factors that don’t always dwell within the same creator. His interesting list of credits is at present spread across a field of licensed comic book properties starting with G.I. Joe and encompassing Battlestar Galactica and Highlander, with plenty of immersion in each universe. Now he has an original graphic novel (OGN), on the way from Vertigo.

So who is Brandon Jerwa and what makes him tick as a creator?

“Brandon is among the most reliable freelance writers we deal with,” said Joe Rybandt, Associate Editor of Dynamite Entertainment, which Jerwa’s Battlestar Galactica and Highlander series have called home. “Every script is solid and since we deal with him on a lot of licensed properties, any rewrite or restore is done quickly and without need for further revision. He proofs art, letters, colors, etc…. anything he can get his hands on and acts as another set of eyes which is always appreciated.”

He knows his material and does his research, Rybandt said.

“That’s the tangible, the intangible is that he’s become a close friend and he and I share more in common than you’d think from music to humor and a little of everything in-between. He’s described me like as being like a brother and I feel the same about him,” he said.

“Brandon is almost boundless in his enthusiasm and love for the work,” said Eric Trautmann, his collaborator on the upcoming Vertigo project. “He's a whirlwind of good ideas, and he's genuinely funny -- which I hesitate to admit here, because it will only encourage the bastard. He's also blazingly fast, whereas I'm a bit more deliberate and, well, slow. So when we collaborate, I often find I'm playing catch-up.”

Trautmann said Jerwa has a tremendously fertile imagination and is series about his craft.

“His commitment to the work and his love of the comics form are probably among his main strengths,” he said.

This is echoed by Elliott Serrano, the Associate Editor of ComicsWaitingRoom.com (where Jerwa contributes the regular column “Anything Goes”) and his co-writer on Xena vs. Army of Darkness II.

“Brandon brings a lot of energy to a project. Sometimes writing can be a tedious experience when you get bogged down in the minutia of putting a script together, but he knows how to keep your enthusiasm up so that the work doesn't come out flat. He's also incredibly receptive to ideas and has the rare ability to check his ego when working with a partner,” Serrano said.

In the realms of his licensed work, he takes the continuity as a challenge rather than as shackles, the way some writers appear to do. The results have been positive.

“I think Battlestar Galactica: Zarek is very strong and created a model of sorts for us that became the “origins” series, but I also think he delivered an excellent action/adventure comic, while working within thorny continuity, with his Highlander run. That remains incredibly unappreciated by the comics crowd, but the highlander folks loved it from what I understand,” Rybandt said.

There may well be the tug of more original and/or creator-owned material in Jerwa’s future, but first he has to get through the 20 Questions:

JCV: What compels you to create?
Brandon Jerwa: Wow! You go right for the throat. I love that.

The real answer is “I don’t know.” I guess if I did know the reason behind my creative drive, I might not have that drive at all. I try to avoid thinking too hard about this subject, honestly. It’s like a Russian nested doll; getting past the first question just leads to another question.

I have to wonder if it comes down to some perceived lack of aesthetic fulfillment in what the world has to offer you. If you were completely satisfied with every bit of art, music, food, writing -- or whatever -- around you, would you feel compelled to create something new? Maybe not; there are certainly people who don’t feel the need to create, or just haven’t tapped into that aspect of their personality, so there you have at least some degree of empirical evidence against creativity being an irresistible primal urge within all of us. Or maybe those people are just happy with everything they already have around them, and the rest of us are picky bastards.

All I really know about my need to create is that the act of creation itself usually quiets the constant chatter in my head, if only for a little while. My son is currently dealing with ADHD, and that’s something he definitely inherited from me. I grew up in the late 70s / early 80s, so it wasn’t quite as well-diagnosed at that time, and my tendencies got me in trouble at school and tagged me as a bit of a weirdo to some of the people around me. These attention-deficit issues are something I may have carried into adulthood, and am actively exploring even now. If I didn’t have the right creative outlets, I honestly think I’d be completely sideways by now.

My wife and I have had a few debates about whether or not a highly creative, artistic person should be expected to have a reasonable amount of eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. Believe it or not, she actually comes down in favor of that concept, where I tend to reject it. That might be because these conversations often follow me displaying some kind of erratic or manic behavior, so I’m usually already feeling out of sorts and probably a little bit disappointed in myself.

Going deeper and further back, it may have been a byproduct of my childhood. My father was an alcoholic and he could turn pretty mean and violent towards my mother and me at times. As a result, I think I spent as much time as I could immersed in escapism: comic books, toys, drawing, writing and just basically pretending I was someone else in some other place.

Putting all of that aside, I’m pretty sure that my life path was set in stone early on. In my time, I’ve been an actor, a morning DJ, a musician and a writer. Even when I was trapped in a “normal” job, I always approached that job in some unique way; my bosses met this with either appreciation or derision. It was usually the latter, but there were times when it worked in my favor. As clich├ęd as it may sound, I always knew I’d end up doing something out of the ordinary.

JCV: What was the first story you can remember coming up with or actuallywriting down?
Brandon Jerwa: That’s really hard to say. I do know that I was never satisfied to just play with my Star Wars or G.I. Joe figures as the characters they were intended to be. I was perfectly happy playing in those universes, but I also had to take it further – from age four to age 12 or 13, I had this vast universe of superheroes with those action figures standing in for my original characters. This was really an extensive thing; the adventures were ongoing, had continuity, and I had notebooks full of character profiles, storyline notes and maps of my imaginary world. It was seriously on a Marvel or DC universe scale.

I also wrote and drew my own comics. I never really had any illusions about being an artist, but that didn’t stop me. Ultimately, I guess my first stabs at storytelling came in either comic book form or the acting out of that form. It was really my chosen medium from a very young age.


JCV: When did you know that you wanted to pursue writing as your career?
Brandon Jerwa: Again, I’m not exactly sure, but it was early on. When I was in the eighth grade, the Longview (Washington) Daily News interviewed me after I won the district spelling bee, and I was quoted as saying I wanted to write comic books someday.


JCV: What type of education did you have? Did you have any particular formalfocus on writing or was that something you picked up in addition to otherstudies?
Brandon Jerwa: The truth be known, I dropped out of high school. That isn’t something I’m particularly proud of, but it is what it is at this point. Again, it comes back to the attention issues, and is pretty clearly illustrated by these facts: I scored a 98 on my PSAT and missed one question on the test to get my GED. The woman running the test thought she was having a prank played on her.

When I could muster up the patience to apply myself in school, I always showed particular aptitude for drama, music and English classes. There was one teacher in particular -- the creative writing teacher, Mr. Morehead – that presumably saw some kind of potential in me. When everyone else was handed To Kill A Mockingbird to read for class, he slipped me a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and said, “You need to read this.”

He definitely understood me, and seemed to go out of his way to encourage that out-of-the-box thinking. I can’t begin to tell you how greatly he influenced me, and how thankful I am that he did. You never recognize those things when they’re actually happening.


JCV: Did your education lend itself to this pursuit or was it a hindrance to it?
Brandon Jerwa: I think I somehow managed to walk away from high school having picked up on at least some of the wisdom my teachers were trying to impart, but I do wish I could have summoned up the perseverance to make it through those four years. I know I missed out on a lot of learning there. I have no regrets, but I will acknowledge a lesson learned the hard way. JCV: What was your earliest exposure to comic books that you remember?
Brandon Jerwa: Someone else asked me this recently, and I think I eventually decided that the first comic I remember having was a Marvel Star Wars book, something in the first six issues. The book had Howard Chaykin on the art, almost definitely. Kind of ironic that my first comic would be a licensed property, isn’t it?

I’m sure Spider-Man and Batman were in there pretty early, too. I clearly remember – and in fact, still have – Spectacular Spider-Man #26 as a book that I had to have read a million times. It was Spider-Man and Daredevil versus the Masked Marauder, who had blinded Spidey. That was, what, 1979? I would have been five or six years old when that came out.

JCV: How did your reading taste in comics develop from that point?
Brandon Jerwa: Comics were a cheap, easy way to keep me occupied on long car trips and a small thing to ask for at the grocery store or gas station (remember when you could buy comics there?), so my collection really started to expand around age seven. When I was eight, my parents told me I could have two comic subscriptions; I chose The Avengers and Marvel Team-Up.

My parents divorced that same year, and it was a very rough situation. My mother was given custody and my father visitation, so there was a lot of back-and-forth movement for me. My father was overcompensating by buying me piles of toys and comics, although it was impossible for me to see that at the time; all I knew is that I always had plenty of new G.I. Joe figures and comics to help me escape from the reality of what was going on around me.

Speaking of G.I. Joe, I recently remembered something pretty brutal from my childhood in regards to that first issue. I’ve never spoken about this with anyone besides my wife, but I guess we’re here in the moment, so brace yourself for some honesty:

I clearly remember buying Marvel’s gigantic G.I. Joe #1 at my local Alco store (in Junction City, Kansas) and being completely blown away by it. I must have read that book a hundred times in the first month of owning it. I had totally connected with that world and those characters.

My mother and I were in our apartment – it was right after school – and I know that she had been arguing with my father over the phone a little earlier. Well, he showed up unannounced and managed to get inside the apartment. I was sitting in the living room, trying to block out the yelling and arguing. Soon enough, things turned violent.

I can still hear the sounds in my memory if I try. I was nine years old, and all I could do was sit there, sobbing, re-reading this comic and praying that Snake-Eyes or Hawk would come and fix this problem. It’s a horribly visceral memory, and probably speaks volumes to the deep bond I have with G.I. Joe; it was a literal lifeline for me.

From there, I just dove right in to comics completely. Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, Justice League, Rom, Firestorm, you name it. Captain Carrot!

I almost totally abandoned comic collecting in the mid-90s, but the X-Men eventually sucked me back in. These days, I’m a trade paperback guy; I just don’t have the patience or space to follow the monthlies.

JCV: Did you keep reading other material, too, or did you pretty much center just on the four-color world?
Brandon Jerwa: Oh, I kept reading “real” books as well, and I could read quite a bit above my grade level, probably due to starting so early with comics. Here we are again with Star Wars; I read the novelization of the first movie when I was six, helped in large part by the fact that I knew the story, I’m sure. I would later tear through all the Han Solo novels.

I was a big fan of the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series (something I have now passed on to my son) and whatever book was making the rounds among my friends. One of my favorites was The House With a Clock In Its Walls, which I didn’t know was a series until a couple of years ago, again in the process of sharing it with my son. Later on, I got into the work of a teen suspense writer named Jay Bennett, which led me to Stephen King (as will happen in high school). I also fell madly in love with 1984 and Animal Farm.

JCV: What was the path that led you to writing for Dynamite? How did you get to this point?
Brandon Jerwa: I made it into comics on what was literally my first attempt, working on G.I. Joe for Devil’s Due (See? Full circle here!), so my introduction to the industry came in the form of “lucky fan gets big break” stories (I’m pretty sure Wizard actually used that as a headline for an article). That’s completely understandable, of course – no reason to think I was sticking around – but I think it created a misconception that I was just a fanboy who managed to get his little story published, you know?

Three years later, I had proven myself by moving from a Joe anthology book to taking over the main series for 20 issues and writing three ancillary mini-series to boot. Eventually, Devil’s Due wanted to clear the decks and re-launch the franchise to boost sales, so after Snake-Eyes: Declassified wrapped up, I was out of work. I could now officially claim to be a writer, but I had only ever worked on G.I. Joe.

Of course, I had been casting my line out to see if any other publishers took the bait. Marvel would talk to me, but we’d never get anywhere; DC and Dark Horse wouldn’t even open up a conversation. IDW would correspond with me, but nothing ever materialized there. I was involved with Speakeasy and came very close to releasing the first issue of a super-hero magician series called The Last Bastion, as part of a shared universe with Dan Jolley and Marie Croall. As we all know, Speakeasy imploded dramatically and our books never came out. This was a blessing in disguise, of course, but it was hard to see that at the time.

Needless to say, I was starting to think I was done. I’d had my moment in the sun and now it was time to go find a real job.

Then came Dynamite. They were still new on the block at that point, and I knocked on their door immediately following the news that they had obtained the Battlestar Galactica license. The first TV mini-series had completely rocked my world, and I just had to take a swipe at being involved with the comic. To my shock, they were extremely receptive and liked my work. Unfortunately, they had already committed to a Greg Pak-written Galactica series, so that was off the table. They said they were considering some spin-offs if Pak’s book was a success, so the chance might come around again. We had some talks back and forth, and they eventually asked if I would pitch a Highlander series.

The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve written a ton of books for Dynamite, including Highlander and plenty of Battlestar Galactica. As of this writing, I’m not sure what my next project is for them, but I’m sure it’s right around the corner. I really love my Dynamite work; I get to play in some great sandboxes, and you really couldn’t ask for a better editor than Joe Rybandt. This may seem like a novel concept, but he actually takes pride in being an editor, rather than living out his secret dreams as a writer by rewriting your script after you’ve turned it in. Last of a dying breed, that one.

JCV: What is your average day like, if you even have such a thing?
Brandon Jerwa: At the moment, my wife is recovering from a nasty car accident, so she’s working from home and I’m called into duty as a nurse and manservant a little more than usual. Ultimately, it doesn’t change the schedule that much, so let’s just pretend that it’s a normal day…

I wake up at 6:50, get the kid out of bed and feed him some breakfast. We’ve been watching one episode of The Twilight Zone every morning before school lately, which is fun. So, he takes off for the bus at 8 A.M. sharp, at which time I’ll sit down and putter - surf for an hour and then dive into some kind of work. I’m prone to distraction, so I can be diverted at any time! I’m usually listening to either Howard Stern on Sirius or watching TV through all of this.

After lunch, I tend to do things around the house: laundry, dishes, whatever, with intermittent periods of writing, answering interview questions, updating the website, and so on.

Occasionally, I’ll grab a one-hour nap before my son gets home at around 3:40. From there, it’s dinner, homework, TV, and a 2-mile evening walk. My bedtime varies between 12-2 AM depending on how tired I am. I will occasionally stay up and work, but I rarely, if ever, work on weekends. I tend to treat this like a “day job” just to keep some semblance of order.

And sanity.

JCV: When you’re writing a story that is going to be longer than one issue, like a mini-series , do you plot the whole story in the same level of detail before you start or script or do you concentrate more on the first issue and then refine the plot as you go?
Brandon Jerwa: When you’re dealing with licensed properties, you’re usually expected to outline the broad strokes from start to finish. I usually create a pretty thorough outline that has the key bullet points, but leave myself some space in every issue to play around when I’m actually scripting. It’s really created a good habitual working method for me; I outline everything now, even my own personal projects. The end result is a better story, in my opinion.

JCV: Licensed properties usually come with another level of approvals, but they also have pretty well established worlds. How does that help you as a writer?
Brandon Jerwa: I don’t know if other writers look at established continuity as some kind of invisible cage, but I really like having something to expand upon. My best ideas are usually the ones attached to some larger picture, be it the existing lore of a particular franchise or the process of collaborating with other writers, like Eric Trautmann and Elliott Serrano. If I could make a living solely as a co-writer, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

JCV: Some of the properties you’ve worked on have continuity that is a bit looser, but the current version of Battlestar Galactica has some of the tightest continuity on television (I wrote 24, so trust me when I say I know tight continuity!). How did you figure out where and when in the overall story to set your tales? What were the challenges you faced doing this series?
Brandon Jerwa: With Galactica, I’ve really been fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose what I do. The Zarek book was offered to me as part of a list of potential ideas, but the others were things that I conceived on my end and pitched to Dynamite.

As for the challenges, I think the main thing – especially when you’re doing prequel stories, or something set in the middle of the bigger continuity – is creating some sense of genuine tension. You know Starbuck’s not going to die, so it’s hard to make the reader feel concerned for her welfare. I’ve had to learn how to use these stories to shed more light on the characters, as we know them, without adding some big new revelation or ratcheting up artificial “high stakes” situations.

JCV: Is writing Battlestar Galactica something that requires you to be a fan of the show in order to get the world and the details, or is it more just a practice of your craft as a writer?
Brandon Jerwa: I’m not sure, because I was definitely a fan when I got the gig! On the other hand, I was not altogether familiar with the big picture of Highlander when I took that job. I’d only seen the movies, so I had to have a giant study session with the TV series, as I’d never watched it.

I don’t think it’s a universal law that the writer of a particular property has to be a hardcore fan, but it certainly helps. There’s something to be said for enthusiasm at the starting line.

JCV: It would seem that Highlander is on the other end of the spectrum. Between the various movies and the TV show, there are all sorts of contradictions in supposedly major plot elements. Did that make it easier or more difficult to stake out your own version of the story? What were the upsides and downsides there?
Brandon Jerwa: The main thing I’ve learned about the hardcore Highlander fans is this: you cannot please all of them, no matter how hard you try. There are so many contradictory views of the continuity, which movies and developments from the TV shows are canonical and which are not, etc…and trying to make every fan happy is a trip down the road of madness. There’s a fine line between respecting the franchise and pandering to the people who love it most, and I just can’t play that game.

At the end of the day, I just sit down and try to give my best to each story. I’ve developed a real affection for Highlander, and I think the fans have, for the most part, accepted me as part of the creative family. You can’t ask for much more than that.

JCV: In your experience, do you have to be in a particular mood to write a particular series or is it just a matter of focusing on the deadline and getting it done?
Brandon Jerwa: Obviously, there will be times when it’s just not going to happen, and that’s simply beyond anyone’s control. Those days are few and far between for me, but like I said, I approach it like a day job, and I think that’s worked out fairly well for me. My output has been pretty constant for the last couple of years – I’ve had at least one book on the stands every month, sometimes as many as three – so I’ve had to adopt a sort of factory mentality, keeping a constant rotation. I try to avoid jumping between scripts if I can help it, though; I’d much rather stay focused on one issue at a time.

I know that some writers will just sit down and write a four-issue arc in one long sweep, but I don’t do that; I like to see the art for the first issue before I start scripting the second. A good artist can really inspire the story, and I think it’s great to play to those strengths when you can.

JCV: Some creators can have TV or radio or other distractions on while they work, while others can’t work that way at all. Where do you fall in that spectrum, and why?
Brandon Jerwa: It’s funny, but I can’t really listen to music when I work. I’ve been a musician since I was about 15, and for a long time the rock star dream was my big focus. Maybe it’s because my brain is really open to being immersed in music, but I find it distracting to mix my media like that. I’ll occasionally pop in a music DVD while I’m writing, but 90% of the time, my work accompaniment is Howard Stern followed by a movie or TV show. I have to have the TV on while I’m working, but I tend to favor things that I can absorb without completely investing myself in. Lots of lightweight documentaries, director’s commentary tracks, things like that. Sometimes I’ll watch Highlander or Galactica when I’m writing them, just to keep that headspace, but it’s not an absolute necessity.

I find that it’s helpful to have human voices and conversation going on around me to make dialogue and character interactions seem natural when I’m writing them. That’s one thing I really try to focus on – does it sound real? Does it feel like something you and I might say to one another in that situation?

JCV: What is your work area like? Neat and tidy? Cluttered? Well lit? Dark?
Brandon Jerwa: My wife and I bought a new house in September, and it has a room at the back of the house that we intended to use as an office. A little over a month after we moved in, Jess was in a nasty car accident and ended up with a bunch of broken bones. So now it’s March, and we’re still surrounded by boxes. The office holds the largest amount of these, so my current workspace is the couch with my laptop in front of me on a laptop stand on the coffee table. Jess is still working from home while she heals, so she’s five feet away on the loveseat, her laptop in front of her as well. It’s actually a really great system for us, and since I usually work when the house is empty, I can’t see locking myself away in the office once things get back to normal. I like it right here!

JCV: What’s the best advice you ever got as a writer and what advice would you pass on to new writers?
Brandon Jerwa: Best advice? I’m not sure. I’ve learned a lot about this job from a lot of good people, and I’ve had to learn some things on my own. I guess my advice to new writers would be this: always be professional and courteous. Don’t get discouraged. Practice your craft and don’t try too hard to speak with someone else’s voice. You will find your own if you’re patient enough to discover it.

Oh, and it will be truly horrible at times. Terrifying and uncertain. You might think that you’ve had a curse laid upon your head. And who knows? Maybe you have.

JCV: What do you have coming up in the near future?
Brandon Jerwa: If I’m being honest, I’m at a bit of a crossroads right now. I’m currently doing rewrites on the second act of the Vertigo original co-written by Eric Trautmann and myself, but beyond that I have literally no clue what I’m doing. I had as many projects fall apart in 2008 as I had on the stands, so there’s proof positive that you can’t take anything for granted in this industry. Obviously, I’m hoping the Vertigo book will open some new doors at DC and elsewhere, but who knows? I’m staying focused on the task at hand and hoping for the best. It’s all you can do, really.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

WONDER WOMAN DVD

Warner Premiere, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation will release the all-new animated original movie Wonder Woman on March 3, 2009 in multiple formats.

The Direct-to-DVD will be available as a Single Disc DVD for $19.98 (SRP), 2 Disc Special Edition DVD for $29.98 (SRP) and Blu-ray Disc for $34.99.

It’s produced by Bruce Timm, and features the vocal talents of Keri Russell (Waitress, Felicity), Nathan Fillion (Waitress, Firefly), Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), Virginia Madsen (Sideways), Rosario Dawson (Sin City), Oliver Platt (The West Wing) and David McCallum (The Man From UNCLE).

Wonder Woman’s origin and meeting with USAF pilot Steve Trevor are part of the tale.

MIKE OEMING LAUNCHES NEW SITE

Michael Avon Oeming, the writer-artist-filmmaker and man about town has launched a new website, michaeloeming.com. The site will include, according to Herr Oeming, blog style updates full of news and daily sketches, art galleries, links to the Powers and Mice Templar sites and message boards. It will lso include updates and interviews about Rapture, his new six-issue mini-series from Dark Horse that he created with wife Taki Soma. Mike has always been very insightful about his own creative process, so we look forward to seeing what he comes up with on this site.

In addition to Powers, Mice Templar, and Raputre, Oeming's working includes Hammer of the Gods, Ship of Fools, Foot Soliders, Ares, Beta Ray Bill, Bastard Samaurai, Bulletproof Monk, Parliament of Justice and numerous other projects as a writer, penciller, inker, or in some combination of those roles.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

FLYING SAUCERS, ANYONE...?



A funny video animation by our pal James Nelms and his niece.

Monday, February 16, 2009

20 QUESTIONS WITH BARRY LYGA

I first met Barry Lyga in the offices of Diamond Comic Distributors. I worked one floor up at Gemstone Publishing and pretty quickly had scoped out who were the other creative types that worked there. He was definitely top of the list.

In describing his personal projects, the stuff he did outside of working the marketing department, he frequently used the word “re-writing.” Frequently enough to make one think he was being paid per use. As it turned out, he was just fanatically dedicated to his craft, and he was always writing something.

The finished product of some of his early comics work – Warrior Nun Areala from Antarctic Press – doesn’t show half the conceptual or story work that Mr. Lyga put into it, but behind the scenes it was immediately apparent to those who watched the level of effort he put forth for the project.

He created the back story or play concept for an ill-fated toy line called Lazer Wars and we produced the comic book and promotional copy for the packaging together. If they were half as neat as we expected, we’d still be working on it.

As the years passed, he mostly drifted from comic books as something he wanted to write (he was a nearly lifelong fan) to his original love, novels. He started writing and re-writing like crazy, or so it seemed, and he wasn’t afraid to switch between genres.

Then the day came when he said he was going to quit. He had been instrumental in setting up Diamond's side of Free Comic Book Day, but now he had enough money to write for a year, or so he thought. He had been attending writers’ conferences, had some good leads, and was ready to give it the make-it or break-it roll of the dice.

Something like two months later he had an agent and a two-book contract, and he was well on the way to the critical applause that greeted his first book, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, which asks and answers the question, "What happens when a 15-year-old comic book geek meets the girl of his nightmares?"

Steeped in the world of an aspiring creator who is a huge fan of real-world comic creator Brian Michael Bendis (who actually appears in the book), the novel hit big in the Young Adults category. USA Today called it "an entertaining read no matter what age you are," and Booklist and School Library Journal both gave it starred reviews.

His next novel was Boy Toy, which dealt with the depressingly common phenomenon of teachers involved in relationships with their underage students.

“Lyga's Boy Toy is a story that everyone thinks they understand: Teacher Has Affair With Student. However, this book guides readers beyond sensationalism and straight into empathy, challenging expectations and assumptions on every page. Lyga's prose is unflinching and the result is heartbreaking and unforgettable,” said the CYBILS, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards, which gave him the win in their Young Adult Novels category.

His third novel, Hero-Type, featured a central character who took a controversial stand for uncertain reasons and managed to walk the fine line between making a point and slam-advocating that same point.

All three novels, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, Boy Toy, and Hero-Type, are all set in the same town and around the same school, but they aren’t really otherwise related. In comic book terms, they’re set in the same universe.

In the “just released” category, he has “The Mating Habits of Whales," a short story in the anthology Does This Book Make Me Look Fat?, a comic book story, with art by Jeff Dillon, whose work was to represent the central character’s comic art in Fanboy but didn’t survive the final edits. Beyond that, this summer he has “The Truth About Dino Girl,” a short story in the anthology Geektastic, and this fall he has Goth Girl Rising, the sequel to his first book

Next up, though, is Wolverine: Worst Day Ever, an all-ages illustrated novel from Marvel Comics told through the eyes of a new student at Professor Xavier’s school.

First, though, we hit Barry Lyga with the 20 Questions:

JCV: What compels you to create?
Barry Lyga: I'm not sure! I wish I could give you some metaphysical answer like, "A desire to understand the universe" or even a mercenary answer like, "The money." But I'm not consciously aware of any particular reason why I do this - I've just always created stories and characters, as far back as I can remember.

JCV: What was the first story you can remember coming up with or actually writing down?
Barry Lyga: As a child in elementary school, I had to do one of those assignments where you write a story using all of the week's spelling words. We were focusing on the "ch" and "tch" sorts of words, so I ended up with a story about a witch who stole my watch and ran to hide in a ranch. That sort of thing. I remember this story very distinctly because it was also my first experience with dealing with criticism - my teacher loved the story, but pointed out that I left out one of the words. She didn't really care, apparently, because the story was sort of advanced for second grade, but I was so mortified that I refused to share it with anyone.

JCV: When did you know that you wanted to pursue writing as your career?
Barry Lyga: God, forever! I distinctly remember telling people I wanted to be a writer when I was as young as eight or nine. I don't think I really had a full understanding of what exactly "being a writer" entailed, but that's what I wanted.

JCV: What type of education did you have? Did you have any particular formal focus on writing or was that something you picked up in addition to other studies?
Barry Lyga: I took some creative writing classes in college, but with one exception, they didn't really impact me. The exception is a class I took in my sophomore year, taught by the one and only Tom Perrotta. Tom was the first person in authority to tell me that reading comics wasn't necessarily an indication of serious brain damage and could, in fact, be helpful to me as a writer, even if I didn't write comics themselves.

JCV: As you evaluate it now, did your education lend itself to this pursuit or was it ahindrance to it?
Barry Lyga: I majored in English, but honestly, I don't think that's necessary for a writer. If you can write, you can write. The English degree is nice when I'm feeling pretentious and want to bust out some classical allusions or name-drop Charles Brockden Brown, but it didn't impact the writing to any great degree. It might have hindered me a little bit in that I always felt like I was comparing myself to legendary writers who were and are so much better than I am, but I think everyone goes through that, regardless of what they studied.

JCV: What was your earliest exposure to comic books that you remember?
Barry Lyga: The first comic book cover I can remember is an issue of Superman. On it, Superman is standing on a deserted city street, screaming to the heavens, "Don't let it be true! I can't be the last man on Earth!" Man, when you're a kid, how can you not read that?

JCV: How did your tastes in reading, including comics, change as you got older?
Barry Lyga: As a kid, I read sci-fi and fantasy almost exclusively, with the occasional mystery thrown in. As I got older, I became more interested in the real world, and then how the real world intersects with magic and speculative notions of science and the future and all that. I like magical realism, metafiction, stuff like that. But it has to be grounded. That's the big thing for me: A story has to be grounded in the real world. I can appreciate the artistry of, say, a science fiction story told entirely from an alien perspective, but ultimately it will feel flat to me. That's not a value judgment - it's a totally subjective opinion.

JCV: Whose writing grabbed your attention and hasn't let go?
Barry Lyga: I can still read old Paul Levitz and Alan Moore comics from the eighties and feel like I'm a kid again. Joe Haldeman's work is amazing. John Barth is a hero of mine. And I will always read anything by Tom Perrotta, who only gets better with each book.

JCV: What is your regular work routine, if you have such a thing?
Barry Lyga: Usually it runs like this: Wake up. Eat breakfast while scanning e-mail and some news sites. Write for a few hours. Exercise. Eat lunch. Then, depending on how the work is going, I either go back to work or I read or do research. I typically write something like 3,000 words a day (about 10-12 pages). I've gone more when I'm really in the thick of things.

JCV: Do like distractions while you work, such as radio or TV, or do you prefer quiet?
Barry Lyga: Definitely no TV. No way, no how. Some days I need to blast some music from iTunes, while other days I need it quiet. I haven't found any sort of pattern to it. It's pretty much a whim.

JCV: When you're going to work on a new novel, what do you have to know to start? Do you have to know the ending, the tone you want, the full outline, something else?
Barry Lyga: Before I start, I need to know: The main character. The overall tone. The beginning. The ending. That's not to say that some of this stuff won't change as I work. In Boy Toy, for example, I got about halfway through and suddenly realized that I had gotten off-track and wouldn't be able to hit the original ending. I had to make a decision: Backtrack and fix things? Or keep going and see where I end up? I chose the latter and I'm really glad I did because I think the new ending was better than the original.I rarely outline. More accurately, I rarely do any sort of formal outline. I always have a vague, shifting, amorphous sort of plan tucked away in my brain. Sometimes I consult it, sometimes I don't.

JCV: You are among the most diligent re-writers I know. To get to that stage, when you're ripping whole chunks out of a finished project, how much do you have trust your abilities to do something different instead of just tweaking what you already have?
Barry Lyga: I think it's gotten easier to trust because I work with that ubiquitous safety net we call a computer. When you can save every iteration of your novel, it's less sweat-inducing to chop out big chunks of it. You can always go back and grab them if you want them. So the question becomes less, "Do I dare try this new draft?" and more, "Is it really worth my time to try this new draft?" Because, really, there are infinite variations on almost every story - the trick is to narrow yourself to one option and exploit it as best you can. You can waste endless amounts of time dicking around with this variation or that variation, so you need to have a clear sense of your story going in so that you don't get sidetracked into pointless tangents.

JCV: How did you develop your eye to do that?
Barry Lyga: This is actually a really difficult question for me because I've noticed that this tends to be an all-or-nothing proposition. For my first two books, I did very little in the way of rewriting. For Boy Toy, I had to cut some big chunks out of the book (the original manuscript was really long), but I didn't think of that as rewriting so much as trimming. For my third book, I did all kinds of rewriting, more than for any other book to that point. Fourth book was a breeze again. Fifth book just gushed out of me. But I'm working on a new book right now where I have - no lie - written this thing four different times. Once entirely from scratch!

So I guess the answer is: Sometimes you can tell that something just isn't working. And sometimes you have to be told. On the book I'm (re)writing right now, I gave a draft to four different readers. One of them loved it. One of them thought it was a great improvement over the earlier draft. One of them was bored by it and thought it needed a lot of work. And the fourth hated it so much that she couldn't even articulate why in any coherent fashion! So what the hell do you do with that? An even split, with extreme reactions on either end. Ultimately, that was gut-check time, and even though it would have been easy to say, "Hey, this person over here loved it, so it can't be objectively bad," I had to admit that the book just wasn't ready. And so, I'm rewriting it. Again.

JCV: What's the best way you could recommend to an aspiring or young writer to look at his or her own work with a critical eye?
Barry Lyga: In my experience, you develop a critical eye for your own work by developing a critical eye for the work of others. So, join a critique group and/or find a good critique partner. When you start finding things in other people's work, that's when you'll begin to notice the same things in your own work.

JCV: When did you write your first novel, and how long was it between then and when you actually sold your first published novel?
Barry Lyga: And the award for Most Depressing Question goes to…!

I was in high school when I wrote my first novel, a truly terrible mish-mash of fantasy, science-fiction, and Millennial fears. I didn't sell my first published novel until I had been out of high school for around fifteen years. That's a long time to wait.

JCV: There's actually a method to my madness sometimes. The reason I asked about how long between your first novel and the first one you sold is so I could ask this question in context: What made you keep after it? What is it in you that made keep going when I lot of talented people, including folks both of us know, just gave up their dreams?
Barry Lyga: I wish I knew. The first answer that comes to mind is, "Stubborn idiocy." I mean, for a very long stretch of time, there was just no reason to keep going. No one was publishing me. No one was even saying nice things about my work. I don't know what kept me going during those years. But I held on long enough that eventually little things started to click, and those little things were enough to make me hang in there a little bit longer.

JCV: Your work at Diamond Comic Distributors could seem to be almost painfully close to what you really wanted to do in that it put you right up against the window looking in but didn't put you inside to do the writing. Was it, in fact, a double-edged sword, and regardless of that what did it teach you?
Barry Lyga: You characterize it well: Up against the window, looking in, but never allowed to open that window and go in. Very frustrating. On the other hand, it also opened me up to a lot of opportunities - I met some cool people and I learned about publishing and marketing in a way that gave me some helpful perspective on the business. I don't really dwell on it that much, to be honest.

JCV: When you got to that point when you rolled the dice, quit your job and decided to go for it as a writer, did you have a time limit in mind? What would you have done if you hadn't succeeded at that time?
Barry Lyga: I seem to recall planning things out where I had enough of a cushion that I could spend a year on my writing before I would have to panic. The plan was to do some freelance editing to try to keep the wolf from the door. But I realized very early on that my calculations were off and I only had six months in that cushion!I was very lucky, though - within two months of quitting my job, my agent sold my first book, so I never had to consider alternate scenarios.

JCV: In the conversations we've had since Fanboy was published and in the interviews with you that I've read, you're very even-handed about the whole Hollywood thing. What's your relationship with the film world been like and when, if ever, do you think we'll really see one of your books made into a film?
Barry Lyga: I look at Hollywood this way: I write books, not movies. If someone wants to make a movie out of one of my books, that's very flattering, but it's going to have to be the right person, with the right attitude. I don't allow myself to let Hollywood become a part of me or my lifestyle. I never put myself in a position where I'm counting on Hollywood for a paycheck. That's the only way to stay sane. I write books. The movies - if they happen at all - are gravy.So we've optioned one of the books and we're close on a second one, and in each case I picked guys who may have small budgets, but they have the right attitudes and the right respect for the material. But you know how it is: A lot of stuff gets optioned, but of the stuff that's optioned, not a lot gets made. So we'll see if either of these end up on a screen somewhere. If they don't, I'm fine with that, too.

JCV: You know I have to ask. You're well-known to your friends as a DC Comics fan, particularly the Legion of Super-Heroes. Now I know - and I'm sure your regular readers have already figured out - that you're not going to do anything unless you can kick ass, but how the heck did you end up writing Wolverine: Worst Day Ever?
Barry Lyga: I am sort of the last guy in the world you would expect to be writing Wolverine, especially when you look at the very non-super-hero-y books I've published.

It just happened. A perfect confluence of events, really. I was sort of between projects - I had finished my edits on Goth Girl Rising and I was waiting for my beta readers to finish commenting on my next project. So I was just enjoying some time off when I got an e-mail from Marvel asking me to write Wolverine.

And my first response was, "Are you sure?" But then they told me what they wanted the book to look like, the tone they wanted it to have, and what they wanted to accomplish with it. And suddenly I could see the whole book in front of me. I could see how I could do this, and I had the time to do it.I just had a blast with it.

It was so much fun to write it, and even though I wrote it aiming at a specific age group, I really think it's one of those books that earns the label of "all ages." Kids will like it, and I think their parents will like it, and I think old fanboys like you and me will dig it, too.