Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent?

Comic Book Resources' Brian Cronin has a new book of comic book trivia out now called Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? The book contains a number of contributions from comic book creators such as Mark Waid, Eric Trautmann, Jeff Lemire, Frazer Irving and myself.

You can learn more about it from the author himself by going here. To order the book via Amazon, just click on the link below.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

4 Questions, 4 Answers

Ben Z. asks...

1) Supposing you are in the deep woods of Michigan, how are the ticks this year? Do you have struggles with ticks, and if so, how do you approach the struggles? 

That biographical information about me on my website was not entirely true. I did live in Michigan for a time, but not in the deep woods. That photograph that allegedly is me was chosen because it looked nothing like me and that man looked like a real character. I live in New England now pretty well surrounded by woods and the ticks are a huge annoyance. You can't walk outside without picking at least one of them up. The deer ticks are not much bigger than this: .  so it's not easy to find them on you and they are the ones to worry about. I blame the mild winter. 

I usually deal with them by staking a small child down to the ground and once all of the ticks have attached themselves onto he/she, I know it's safe to go outside. 

2) Do you feel the scripts for Kobalt #17-19 could be successfully reconfigured to feature new characters (other Company characters or ones that you own)? Or were the scripts only viable with the Kobalt character and in the context of the 16 other issues?

I don't think it would be impossible to reconfigure those scripts for other characters, but there isn't as much point to doing it. They were really meant to serve Kobalt. One of the stories I did reconfigure as what would have been Midnight, Mass. #9. Sadly that series ended with issue #8. It worked really well for Midnight, Mass., and was probably truer to that particular series, but it was actually a stronger issue of Kobalt. I've taken the villain for that story and decided to include them in a young adult novel I've been slowly pulling the pieces together for. Don't look for it anytime soon. 

3) Have you ever considered a creator-owned series that used your ideas for the post-Morrison Doom Patrol as a starting point? 

Not really. Most of the ideas I had for that series were very specific to the Doom Patrol and its characters. Some of the material was cannibalized for Xombi, and some of it was going to wind up in Midnight, Mass., had that series continued. Some of it may end up in something else I'm working on, but it's really pulling out bits and pieces and applying them to other material rather than using them as a starting point to develop new characters and a new series around. 

The way I approach writing a comic book series is to start with the characters first and then come up with plots that bring out some aspect of the characters, or serve to change or develop them. Because of this, most of the plots I come up with are designed to be strong stories for the characters that would be taking part in them and not necessarily plots that could easily be transplanted to another character. 

When I come up with a new series I usually start completely fresh, developing characters that will serve the idea I have for a series, and then coming up with stories that will drive both the idea of the series and the characters created for it. If an old unused plot happens to be something that can serve that purpose, I'll retool it and use it on a new project, but usually it's in a form that is very different from the original plans for it.

4) Would you be able to endorse any current comic series being published outside of The Big Two?

I don't have a comic book store closer than about an hour away, so I'm not really seeing anything unless it's collected in book form, and most of what I'm buying that way are archival reprints such as the Creepy and Eerie archives, the Little Lulu collections and the Dell/Gold Key material such as Turok: Son of Stone and The Mighty Samson coming out of Dark Horse or the Carl Barks and Mickey Mouse reprints coming out of Fantagraphics. I have been keeping up with Hellboy/B.P.R.D. in book form, which I am always happy to recommend.

I'm also regularly following Drazen Kozjan's  The Happy Undertaker which I also really like. 

I see so little new stuff that I couldn't even recommend anything from the big two at this time. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Godzilla

 Travis asks...
"Barring the original, what's your favorite version of Godzilla: the child-friendly superhero from the '70s, or the more anti-hero-like version from the '80s and '90s?"
Godzilla is somewhat like Batman to me in that I can enjoy both the more purely monster-like Godzilla of the 1950s-mid 1960s as well as the more anthropomorphic, kid-friendly, pro-wrestler persona of the late 1960s-1970s, just as I have no problem enjoying the Adam West Batman, the Michael Keaton Batman or the Christian Bale Batman. 
Having said that, I don't find any of the Godzilla movies made between 1984 and 1995 particularly enjoyable. In fact I find them downright dull. The movies mainly consist of uninteresting human characters, plot elements stolen from high profile Hollywood movies such as Terminator 2 and Aliens, combined with scenes of giant monsters standing still and firing beams at each other until one of them falls over like a lead statue. All of this is watched on big tv screens by the military in a safe location so there isn't even any sense of danger from the allegedly rampaging monsters.

Things improve a great deal with Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs Megaguirus including a nicely redesigned Godzilla with massive pointy dorsal spines (as shown above) and some interesting adversaries. 
My favorite version of Godzilla came with Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah - Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) which was meant to be the first of a series of one-off Godzilla movies that were sequels to the original Godzilla (1954) only, ignoring all of the movies that happened in between, and allowing for a variety of interpretations of the character and the series. In this movie, former Godzilla adversaries Mothra, king Ghidorah, and Baragon are all mystical, mythological guardian monsters who return to protect Japan from the attack of the evil Godzilla. And no mistake about it, this Godzilla is evil on a staggering scale. Redesigned with blank white eyeballs set in a fearsome face and a bulky powerful body, Godzilla is the unstoppable, brutal, embodiment of destruction (also of all the restless spirits of those killed in World War II) with powerful radioctive beams of energy which cause mushroom cloud explosions when they strike. What really makes this movie work, is that it doesn't flinch at showing the impact on human lives as Godzilla smashes the buildings they reside in, or blasts the soldiers trying to stop him. This is about as scary as a giant monster movie can get and is a powerful reworking of the original film including a journalist following Godzilla's wake of destruction as her soldier father tries to find a way to stop Godzilla. The humans are engaging, and their story feels like an integral part of the movie at large, but Godzilla is simply amazing. 

The Grim Gallery's First Anniversary

One year ago I started a companion blog which was created as a means for me to take all of the digital files I've either amassed, or created, of monster imagery and to put them out into circulation for others to enjoy and take for their own use.

Granted a lot of these images are probably familiar, but there are quite a number of rare pieces as well. At the rate of one image per day, The Grim Gallery showcases stills, screen grabs, art, toys, models, costumes, props, book, magazine and comic book covers featuring all manner of monster.

Here are a few of the fiends who have been featured over the past year:

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the 366 images posted during The Grim Gallery's first year, and a meager handful of the thousands of images I have left to post. I've already completed scheduling posts through 2014 and there are still so many monsters which have yet to make an appearance. If you're a fan of monsters in any form be sure to visit the Grim Gallery.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Writing Comic Books Marvel Style

Robert Pope asks "Have you ever professionally worked "Marvel Method," and if not, would you like to try it to see how writing a comic book "fill in the blanks" style would suit you?"

For those of you who don't know what working Marvel Method means, it's a way of writing comic books that was created out of necessity by Stan Lee at Marvel Comics in the 1960s. At the time Lee was writing a vast number of stories for Marvel and it would not have been feasible to write each story as a full script.  Writing a full script for a comic book story which includes breaking each page down into a set number of panels as well as describing all of the visual information for each panel such as characters, their actions, facial expressions, costuming, physical setting, time of day, time of year, time in history, props, weather and so on, as well as the verbal information such as the dialogue and sound effects. 

What Lee did instead was to give his artists a very bare bones outline of the plot for each story, often times just the beginning, middle and end. The artists would then figure out the rest, draw the story including subplots with supporting characters and hand the pages of art back to Stan Lee with notes as to what was happening and sometimes suggested dialogue. Lee would then, using the art as a guide, create the dialogue and narrative captions for each panel of the entire story. 

For example; for a 22 page issue of Spider-Man Lee could tell his artist over the phone (as he often did) or jot down on a single sheet of paper -- Aunt May is sick and the bills are stacking up. Peter is worried about her and feeling frustrated and guilty. His camera was smashed by the Rhino in the previous issue and without it he has no means to continue working as a freelance photographer to get Aunt May the Medicine he needs and to help her with the bills. Without a job, he can't even earn money to buy a new camera. As Spider-Man, he is determined to catch the Rhino, whom he blames for his unfortunate circumstances, stop his crime wave and bring him to jail. 

What this really meant is that the artists ended up doing the bulk of the work while Lee got virtually all of the credit as writer. There is no doubt that this method can work as the Marvel comics that Lee collaborated on with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko from that era remain some of the finest comic books ever produced. 

Have I ever written this way? Yes. Once. I honestly cannot remember what comic book story I tried this on, but found the end result to be a failed experiment. I went into it thinking it would be freeing and allow the artist a bigger hand in determining the choreography of the action sequences and interesting ways to depict the more normal day-to-day life sequences. What happens, and this is by no means the fault of the artist, is that the story comes back looking fantastic until you sit down to the dialogue for the art. Expressions and body language are wrong for supporting the proper feelings  being conveyed in dialogue, characters are on the wrong side of panels (or even missing) disrupting the flow of speech between them, the panel that requires the greatest amount of text will be the smallest on the page, as often ends up happening to the panel which should be the largest and most dramatic. Important props end up missing, etc. This happened even when I provided a plot that actually broke everything down page by page and provided an overview of the emotional character arcs and thematic nature of the story. 

I do prefer writing full script so that the artist has all of the information necessary to inform them of what's needed in the story. Providing them with dialogue in advance allows them to get a feel for how to lay out the panels so that the conversations flow smoothly and maintain a rhythm. It also gives them a sense of the relationship between the characters doing the speaking which not only allows them to depict the characters with the correct facial expressions and body language to emphasize their attitude to what they are saying, but their attitude to the person they are talking to to, whether they are feeling at ease, or tense, or transition from one state to the other. Providing setting and prop information adds to the artist getting abetter sense of the mood of the story, and a better feel for the characters based on their environments. Even describing the action provides a sense of how quick to pace the action, or whether one character is physically pushed while another is handling it with ease. 

I often write a 40+ page script for a 22 page comic book story, especially if the artist is someone I've never worked with before. My feeling is that the more information I provide, the more they'll get what I'm striving to do with the story. For a long while I felt guilty, like I was micromanaging everything and not letting them have as much input, but my guilt was erased when no artists complained and often would commend me for putting so much thought into the script that it would often trigger ideas of their own and that they felt like they had more room to explore how they want to depict the story. 

Something I always emphasize with any artist I work with is that even though my scripts are detailed and broken down panel by panel, they should feel free to reconfigure that if they think they can do it better in fewer panels, more, etc. This usually works marvelously (no pun intended). When it's an artist I've worked with in the past, or am working with regularly, the dynamic changes and my scripts tend to get shorter. When I first wrote Xombi in the mid-90s, my scripts became really short, since J.J. Birch talked about the stories at least two or three times a week, so he had most of the information he needed. The scripts ended up with shorthand description and panel breakdowns including the acting for the characters and the dialogue. In the more recent Xombi, my scripts also become considerably shorter once I saw how well Frazer Irving and I were matched. I started leaving a lot of the layout decisions to him, and stopped dictating color choices (which I often include because it can emphasize the mood, or emotional state of scenes) altogether. I also scaled way back on the descriptions of character interactions. He asked a lot of questions up front about their relationships with one another, and conveyed all of that beautifully in their body language, which also made it unnecessary for me to cover some of that same information in dialogue or script descriptions. I would still over describe set decoration with him knowing full well that it would all be ignored in his more minimal presentation. My reasoning is that by seeing how I visualized it and what I was looking for, he could more accurately suggest the same thing with less. 

For the Cartoon Network titles such as Scooby-Doo and Dexter's Laboratory, my scripts were also pretty short. The artists, including Robert Pope, were all people I worked with regularly, and we were all working from a known property and had the animated tv series for each property to inform how the characters would act and react, as well as what the physical design elements would look like. Most of these scripts had a couple sentences of description per panel plus the dialogue. 

Having said all that, the Marvel Method still appeals to me, but I think it has to be down in collaboration with someone you've already worked with successfully , and the writer and artist need to be in regular discussions about how the story will progress. Even so, I think that all of the dialogue and character performance should be provided in advance. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

From The Archives 16

I had originally planned to post this when I learned that the brilliant French artist, Moebius died several weeks ago, but could not find the image.

This is a poster that Moebius created for Milestone Media back in 1994-1995 for the comic book series, Xombi, which I wrote. The poster features Xombi, David Kim holding a wooden staff/walking stick which was featured in some of of the concept art and because of that on a number of covers and this poster. The staff never featured in the comics (though I think artist J.J. Birch drew it leaning against a wall in David's apartment in one issue as a joke. We toyed with revealing that it was one of those rain sticks that sound vaguely like rain when you turn them over on end. I think Dwayne McDuffie said that the original idea was that it was part of a caduceus that was meant to appear as a visual element meant to indicate that David's healing powers were activated.

Another weird bit about this poster concerns David's appearance which is very unlike his appearance in the comics. It turns out that Moebius was working from some old sketches for the character when he was meant to be African-American, David Saunders. When a request was made to correct this Moebius elected not to redraw David's face, but simply to color his skin with a different palette.

I know Dwayne was really disappointed with how this turned out and, admittedly, so was I. On one hand it was amazing to have Moebius depicting a character that was very much mine, but it would have been even more amazing if the artwork actually looked like the character it was meant to represent.

I don't know how well this poster sold at the time. Probably not that well would be my guess. It does show up on ebay every now and then which is where the above image came from. I do own this poster, but have never felt compelled to get it framed.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Ask Me Anything #20

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, or anything else I might have a possible answer for. 

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,  #15 , #16#17 , #18 and #19.  Answers not found following the questions can be found in the archives section for each associated month under Ask Me Anything.

Now ask away.

Friday, May 04, 2012

May the 4th Be With You

Happy Star Wars Day.

"Memes" Opens Tonight

The "Memes" show at Gallery 1988 opens tonight from 7-10 pm. If you live in Los Angeles go check it out. I have a piece in the show which can be viewed by scrolling down to the previous post.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Batman + Lightsaber + Great White Shark

This Friday at Gallery 1988: Melrose in Los Angeles the Meme show opens. For the piece I contributed I went with this viral image of Batman vs Shark with Lightsaber by Andrew Zubko which had been passed around the internet about a year ago:

I reinterpreted the combination of Batman and lightsaber and great white shark as this:

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Up Next...

I'm participating in the "Memes" show at Gallery 1988. The show opens Friday, May 4th from 7:00 - 10:00 PM. If you are in Los Angeles, check it out. I'll preview my piece here on Wednesday.