Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thank You!

Publicly coming forward with the reasons why I chose to leave Static Shock was a decision I did not make lightly. I recognized that it could very well have had detrimental consequences (which it still could) but felt that given the negative response to what was erroneously perceived to be my contributions to Static Shock, that it was best if I just told the truth about what happened and let people react in whatever way they chose.

I'm still overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that has come my way both from fans and fellow comic book professionals and publishers. Tens of thousands of people have visited this blog to read my statement, and it was covered by most of the comic book sites I know of, discussion groups, and even mainstream media sites. I also received a lot of email. I can't possibly respond to all of it, but understand I am grateful for all of the kind words, well wishing, and support that you have shown. It has taken, for me, a difficult situation and decision, and made me feel that I had made a wise choice in coming forward.

There were, naturally, some people who were skeptical of what I revealed. They pointed out, fairly, that they were only getting my side of the story. That's all that I can offer. I have no doubt that both Harvey and Scott felt that my writing was terrible (they told me so), and they could be right. My complaints stemmed from being treated in an unprofessional manner by them, being listed as a writer but not being allowed to do my job, and simply wanted to exempt myself from a comic book series that I felt was mediocre at best and written in a manner that I would not have done it had I actually been writing it. As I said, make of it what you will. I said what I had to say, and now I plan to move forward and leave Static Shock behind me.

If nothing more I hope that my coming forward will allow anyone else who may find themselves in a similar situation to feel that they aren't alone and that remaining silent won't make the situation better, or go away. Hopefully, my coming forward will even make it less likely that this sort of situation will ever happen again.

Two of the more unusual bits of coverage that came from my expressing my situation were the comic strip at the top of this post which came from Let's Be Friends Again which makes me look like I stepped out of a Joe Matt comic, and being turned into rap lyrics.

Again, thank you everyone for the show of support.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Original "The Thing" Art On Ebay

30 Days of Night creator, Steve Niles has a few pieces of original art on ebay right now to benefit his dog, Sonny who has been weathering some chemo treatments. Among the artwork is the above original cut paper collage that I made based on John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) with Sonny in the foreground.

You can bid for this piece here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why I Quit Static Shock

This post is to clarify some comments a made on facebook, which were picked up by Bleeding Cool News about why I left the comic book series Static Shock which was one of the 52 titles that were part of DC Comics' much celebrated relaunch last fall. The comments were made in a Milestone specific group and were meant more to shed light on my feelings about the missed opportunity to show the true potential of the character of Static, and what I had hoped to do with the character, and series, when I was asked to write it, and less to do with my reasons for leaving. Because the comments were made casually, I left a lot of room for interpretation for anyone reading them, which isn't fair to any parties involved, so I'm taking this opportunity to offer some clarity.

Initially, I had never intended to openly discuss the reasons why I chose to leave Static Shock. My reasons were my own, and I felt that after expressing them to the powers that be at DC Comics and after discussing them with Bob Harras that the situation was resolved amicably and that there was no reason to say anything further than acknowledging that I had indeed left the series. However, since the announcement that Static Shock would cease publication with issue #8 ( I was only involved with issues 1-4) there's been a lot of online chatter about why the series failed, and I've received a lot of angry email blaming me for wrecking the series, the character, and the opportunity for an African-American character to take center stage at one of the big publishing companies. I've had people announce that due to the low quality of comic that they would no longer buy anything that had my name on it. I've had an editor at a publisher other than DC say they weren't interested in having me write for them because they thought Static Shock was a poor comic book series.

I don't really care what people think of me personally. Not everyone is going to like me, that's a given. That's okay. I don't really care if people don't like my work. I can't please everyone. No one can. That's okay, too. There are enough people who do like my work that I'm happy to have them, and happy to let those who don't like my work read the stuff they do like. That's all good. I finally spoke out because I'm unwilling to have my professional reputation damaged because of something that is not my responsibility. I've always been very vocal about crediting my collaborators for their contributions, or for others for inspiring aspects of my work, and always been completely willing to take responsibility for something I did that turned out to be less than it could have been.

This brings me to Static. When I was asked to write Static Shock for DC Comics, it was no doubt because of my long relationship with Milestone Comics (where the character originated, as did Xombi) and because of my long, close friendship with Static's creator, Dwayne McDuffie, who died nearly a year ago. I was excited by the opportunity. I loved the character, who I'd previously written in an issue of Kobalt way back when, and was looking forward to writing something so radically different from what I'm usually offered, but still infusing it with my own sensibility and giving the world a comic book series full of creativity, crazy ideas, and a lot of fun and humor unlike any of the other 51 titles that DC would be offering up last September. I thought Static had the potential to be one of DCs A-list characters, and not simply some supporting character incorporated from an outside company's pantheon of heroes. I never felt that Xombi lent itself well to full incorporation into the DC Universe and would always have to exist as it's own pocket world in the DCU. With Static Shock, however, I was fully looking forward to embracing all areas of the greater DCU, and also using the series as a gateway to not only showcase how cool all of the other Milestone characters were, but to bring them into the DCU in their own right.

To say I was disappointed with how things turned out is an understatement. From the first issue on, I was essentially benched by Harvey Richards and artist/writer Scott McDaniel. All of my ideas and suggestions were met with disdain, and Scott McDaniel lectured me on how my method for writing was wrong because it wasn't what the Robert McKee screenwriting book he read told him was the way to do things. The man who'd never written anything was suddenly more expert than me and the editor was agreeing with him. Scott had also never read a Static comic book, nor seen the cartoon series, yet was telling me that my dialogue didn't sound true to the character and would "fix it."

There was more concern about seeing that the title sold and didn't get cancelled than there was in telling good stories and having something coherent to bring readers in. This is what led Harvey to insist on the stuff with the two Sharon's and cutting off Static's arm. He had no answers for how to resolve these things, but thought it would keep reader's wowed enough to stick with the series. This, too, was frustrating. It was a lot of grasping at straws and trying to second guess what would keep it selling. It was decided that "bigger action" on every page of every issue was the key.

Static's alter ego, Virgil, who was more important to the original series than his super hero persona, was put on the very back burner because Harvey said it wasn't important and that the book just needed to be all action. One of my scripts was deemed too slow because there were a total of 4 pages where no one was hitting or shooting anything. Essentially my job was to transcribe Scott's voluminous and often clunky dialogue into a script format. Any efforts I made to try and finesse, edit, or reduce his dialogue or captions, offended him, and everything had to be changed back to how he'd originally written it, while my dialogue always required his improvement. Scott, to be fair, had a lot of great ideas, but did not have the writing skills necessary to make these ideas compelling stories, but was not willing to take any suggestions, or changes that I'd give him. As a writer, I understand the desire to want to protect you ideas and to believe that they are all golden, but this was supposed to be a collaborative experience, and I was supposed to be the writer with experience. To give credit where credit is due, my meager contributions to Static Shock amount to including Hardware, naming the school after Dwayne McDuffie, giving Virgil an after school job at S.T.A.R. labs, the Pale Man, Guillotina and the random line of dialogue. That's about it.If you didn't like any of those things, blame me.  Everything else was Scott and Harvey.

It could be said that it's Harvey's right as editor to decide that Scott's ideas, and writing in general, were better than mine, and maybe he was even right. In that case though, why keep me on the series as co-writer? Scott could have transcribed his own dialogue into script form. No one needed me for that. I was hired as writer, and the series was being published with me listed as such even though there was little to nothing between the covers of the comic that came from me. Even worse, it was all material I didn't believe in, and thought was substandard fare that we'd seen in a million comic books before.

It was a miserable experience, which I tried to weather professionally, and see if I could turn back into my favor, but that never worked. I was also determined to stick with it out of loyalty to Dwayne McDuffie hoping that I could fix what was going very wrong with this series. I even voiced my unhappiness with Harvey Richards who promised me that the situation would change.  When I received an email from Harvey telling me that he and Scott had been plotting out the series without me, after Harvey had promised me that I'd be back in the driver's seat as the writer, I'd had enough and quit. The experience as a whole was incredibly stressful, and I became physically ill just seeing an email in my inbox from either Harvey, or Scott.

My quitting was something that I spent a lot of time considering. It was while promoting the then forthcoming first issue that I first began to think about leaving. Even though I pushed the series, including here, where I posted the various villains in the days leading up to the issue #1 debut, my heart wasn't really in it. I avoided most interviews because I couldn't bring myself to lie about being enthusiastic about a book I had little to do with, and which I felt was not very good. I never  announced the publication of any other issues for the same reason. I couldn't encourage anyone to buy them.

Again, it really came down to how this was affecting my professional reputation. No one outside of Harvey, Scott and myself knew what was really going on behind the scenes. When I saw that a lot of people were buying Static Shock because of how much they enjoyed my pervious series, Xombi, I felt that it was unethical and irresponsible for me to let them be deceived into buying something that I had made no real contribution to. I won't take credit for work that's not mine -- good, or bad.  I also felt that after nearly two decades in the comic book industry and finally being recognized for my work with Xombi, I was unwilling to see that erased with Static Shock, which I felt was a mediocre comic book series, at best, a view which a lot of readers seemed to share, and blame me for.

I was stunned by how unprofessionally I was being treated by my editor, with whom I'd previously had nothing but a positive working relationship with for the bulk of my career in comics, and by Scott McDaniel, who seemed like a nice, personable guy, and the interactions he's had with his fans that I've read would indicate really is one. My negative experience was exclusively with these two people and not with anyone else at DC Comics, or with DC as a whole. As I said, no one knew any of this was happening until I quit and let the executives at DC know why. Anyone who wants to believe that my experience was some general DC policy would be wrong to think that. Bob Harras, Geoff Johns, Dan Didio, and Jim Lee did not tell Harvey Richards to reject all of my contributions on this. Harvey decided that, himself. All of my other experiences with a variety of people at DC going back to the 90s have been overwhelmingly positive. Again, they handled the situation, once I quit, rather well, I thought.

As a side note, some people read into my comment about looking for work from other publishers when I left Static Shock as some veiled hint that all was not good between DC and I. As anyone who freelances could tell you, new projects take months to reach the point where actual work is being done on them, and anyone is being paid. While I do have projects under consideration at DC, I'm still interested in working on other things. Since Static Shock, I've been concentrating my efforts on a project outside of comics which I can't announce yet, but was a nice change of pace. I'm still looking for things to do with other publishers as well, and am always willing to consider projects.

Static Shock did not get cancelled because DC has some racist motivation against minority characters, or the Milestone characters. Static Shock was cancelled, in my opinion, because it wasn't a good comic book. If it had been, people would have stuck with it, just as they have with Animal Man, who is a C-list character elevated by the talents of its creative team being allowed to do what they do best. DC wanted Static Shock to succeed as much as anyone did. They would never have started the series if they didn't think it had a chance to do so.

If you enjoy Static Shock, which by all means you have the right to do, then thank Harvey Richards and Scott McDaniel. They deserve full credit for everything you've read. Scott, constantly while rejecting my ideas and dialogue, would say he was doing it in an effort to put out the best comic book possible. I believe he was really trying to do that and was unfortunately saddled with me, a collaborator completely unsuited to his sensibility, and apparently unskilled enough to handle the task.  From the first interviews supporting the launch of this series, I went out of my way to suggest that Scott was doing it almost single handedly. That wasn't me simply trying to be gracious. It was the truth.

If you hated the series, and like me, felt that it could have been something much more than it was, I'm sorry. Good, or bad. This is not the Static Shock that I had hoped it would be. It's not the way I would have written it.  I hope this isn't the last time that Static will be given his own series. Even if he does manage to return, chances are high, I won't be writing it.

I don't plan to say anything else about this experience, and never had planned to say anything at all. Again, I'm just trying to correct assumptions made and preserve my professional reputation as a writer, and to keep people from making assumptions that my negative experience stemmed from some general policy at DC Comics. I plan to continue creating work for DC for as long as they'll let me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The "Perfect" Movie

As part of taking care of some unfinished business, there were a couple of questions asked of me in older editions of "Ask Me Anything" that I never got around to answering. Since the whole purpose of my hosting "Ask Me Anything" is to provide you with answers to your questions I feel compelled to do my best to provide said answers, no matter how difficult the question.

Now I'm going to answer of of these long neglected questions. This comes from September 2011, and was put aside, but not forgotten,  as I became consumed with last minute preparations for the Countdown to Halloween.

The question comes from Robert Pope, my pal and longtime collaborator on the Scooby-Doo comic book series. Robert's question:

Bruce Timm has called "Jaws" a "perfect film." Which film produced since 1970 (just to make things easier) do you consider to be "perfect" and why? 

As you can see, not an easy question to answer. This would also differ from my favorite movies ( an expanded list can be found under "notes" on my facebook page), but actually includes a couple of them.

I would have to say that there are four films made since 1970 that I consider perfect. 

Heavenly Creatures (1994) - This is the Peter Jackson movie which introduced the world to Kate Winslett (though I found her co-star Melanie Lynskey just as compelling). The movie was about a notorious murder case from 1954 that happened in Christchurch, New Zealand in which two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (now author, Anne Perry) murdered Parker's mother. 

From the scream that starts the movie all the way to the end, this movie was simply riveting. Beautifully shot, written, and acted, I was sucked into way this story built to it's tragic climax. The way Jackson merged and overlapped the real world with their shared fantasy world was also really impressive. There was nothing extraneous or missing from this movie. I saw this opening night and when it was over I went to the lobby and bought a ticket for the next show. 

Blue Velvet (1986) Wholesome Kyle MacLachlan finds a severed ear in a field and what starts off as an almost Hardy Boys like story quickly becomes a nightmare as he becomes immersed in the dark underbelly of suburbia. 

This was another movie I saw opening night and I just remember feeling that finally someone made a movie that was aimed just at me. The fact that it was this one, probably will make people reevaluate me, but it's true. It's like a secret door in my brain was opened and I could really identify with the protagonist.   Lynch's overly saturated colors and dense soundscape made the wholesome world seem as unreal and nightmarish as the rotten core that it was hiding. It's almost like a fairy tale taking place in the contemporary world. This was like watching a dream transplanted onto film. This is a really dark, beautiful movie. 

 In the Mood For Love (2000) -- This is I think the most perfect movie I can think of. It has an incredible rhythm to it which is very relaxed with a repetition enhanced by the beautiful score. Wong Kar Wei is one of my all time favorite directors and Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are two of my favorite actors. The movie which is about a man and a woman who are neighbors drawn together because they're spouses are having affairs was organically made, with everyone improvising and changing the story as they made it, resulting in an incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking movie where so much is conveyed in body language and reactions. The movie also has an incredible color palette and costume design.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Like Heavenly Creatures, Guillermo del Toro's movie masterfully merges a fantasy world with the real world, but here the fantasy world offers an escape from not the mundane, but the horrors of war and change. Fantastic performances, pacing, use of color, creature design and direction combine into an amazing, engaging, dark fairy tale. It also really appeals to in the conveyance of a mysterious world abutting close to ours and for taking this idea as something natural.  

I'd also almost inlcude Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) except my willing suspension of disbelief is always knocked out of commission by the notion of Indiana Jones traveling for hundreds of miles strapped to the conning tower of a U-boat. Except for that, really quite perfect. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

Mad Scientist #24 Now Available

Mad Scientist issue #24 is now available. I contributed a collage portrait of Carlos Villarius as Dracula from the 1931 Universal Spanish production, as well as a short article on Alan Ormsby's fantastic book Movie Monsters which was a staple for Monster Kids who grew up in the 1970s. You can order a copy and see the rest of the contents at the Mad Scientist website.

Mad Scientist is an excellent magazine which I highly recommend, whether I'm involved with it, or not, and I became involved with it because of my admiration for it's high quality, the variety of the content, and the overall enjoyment factor that comes with reading each issue. But don't take my word for it. Tony Isabella has reviewed the recent issue.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday to Charles Addams

Today is the 100th anniversary of cartoonist Charles Addams best known for his macabre cartoons featuring a family of characters which would become known as "The Addams Family." Here, using his first wife, Barbara as a model for Morticia, he sketches one of his cartoons. Charles Addams collections at the library caught my attention as a kid because of the subject matter and were probably my first exposure to black humor.


Monday, January 02, 2012

Ask Me Anything #16

As everyone slowly recovers from the holidays, it's time once again for "Ask Me Anything." This feature runs on the first Monday of every month and gives you the opportunity to ask me anything you might be wondering about me, my work, my favorite stuff of 2011, or anything at all.  I've already said this twice previously and failed to deliver, but this month I swear I'll also be responding to a couple of questions from previous editions of "Ask Me Anything" that I've been remiss in answering, and had intended to get to before my work schedule and the holidays got the best of me. 

Head down to the comment section and post your question. I'll either post my answer in the comment section as well, or answer it in a special post all its own sometime later in the month.

Please take the time to view the previous questions so that we don't wind up with a lot of repetition. I've been asked a lot of good, thought provoking questions in the past as well as some really banal ones. all of which I tried to answer. You can see the previous questions by visiting Ask Me Anything  #1#2 ,  #3#4#5#6 , #7 , #8#9,  #10,  #11,  #12 , #13#14 and #15.  Answers not found following the questions can be found in the archives section for each associated month.

Now ask away.

Sunday, January 01, 2012