Artists

By Sunday, June 19, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but my Zenith Comics partner Andrew linked to this piece from last year a while ago about the perception of writer vs artist in the indie comics scene.

My thoughts are very similar, especially at the entry level.  At the ground floor, the road is far easier for the artist (although that does change at the higher level of the publisher driven pieces from what I can tell.)

One of the difficulties of the whole Zenith Comics experience has been the fact that comics are a visual medium and while the Zenith Comics group has some very talented people helping out as a labour of love, the one piece we are missing is an artist.

While in the world of DC and Marvel (and some of the stronger indie publishers) you can sell a series and develop a following based on the writer, in the world of the independent fan base, the passionate following is that of the artist. The internet is a visual medium, and the casual fan base is for those who provides visuals.

That truth has been part of our struggle to keep momentum for Heroic.  We’ve worked with some lovely artists, and they have been excellent professionals. But we are still a part time labor of love, able to pay them (because we firmly believe in paying the talent) only through our Kickstarters. We don’t have artists who are just drawing in the world of Zenith Comics out of a love for the world and a friendship with Andrew, and so we don’t have that constant visual stream that would help build the fanbase and more importantly guarantee people keep seeing the world and investing in it. It has been frustrating.

The first two issues are out. Issue three is perhaps Andrew’s most daring in terms of story structure and plot complexity, but the stumbling block of an artist as a core part of the brainstorming is a problem. We are now ready to get back into it, but determining if we have the audience – something substantially harder to maintain with no fixed artist – is something we’re relying on a twitter count to do for us.  (You should all follow us)

I can’t think of another medium that suffers from this in quite the same way, although perhaps musicals and/or opera might be close. You can brainstorm the libretto, but the piece simply isn’t what it is without the feedback of the songs. (Film, oddly enough, can progress rather forcefully on script alone.)

I don’t really have a solution. Obviously, I’d like the comic to continue, but if that isn’t in the cards, it isn’t in the cards. We’re still working on the RPG, and there may be other media where the world can continue to grow and evolve. Nothing is ever truly lost.

But HEROIC! is a comic book, dammit, and that is really the way that story needs to be told. (You should all buy it.)

Life Will Find a Way (Steven Universe Speculation)

By Monday, May 9, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

I was late to the party, but I adore Steven Universe. It’s a brilliant example of slowly building your world building into an excellent story.  It has a huge and passionate fan base, so if you want analysis of its themes, storyline, gender politics, or song covers, you can find them all over the web.

Season 3 starts soon, and I wanted to get my thoughts down about one of the world building elements I hope to see play out.

Continue Reading…

In which I agree with Grant Morrison

By Sunday, April 17, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

While I liked Animal Man, in general I have not been a fan of Grant Morrison’s work in comics. I didn’t hate it, it just mostly hasn’t interested me. But I may pick up his new Wonder Woman comic, though. While I am deeply suspicious of his working queer themes and kink into the book (not because they shouldn’t be there, but my impression is he won’t do a great job handling it), I do like what he has to say about how he approached the character.

So my advice would be, study the original material and also make yourself as familiar as you can with the rest of what’s been done with the character. Because there have been so many different interpretations. There’s always a different one. The new generation will be the film interpretation and that will be Wonder Woman for a lot of people. So this, again, is just a little facet of the jewel that is Wonder Woman, to have a look at and think about.

He also mentions wanting to move away from the Greek Mythology focus and bring back aspects of the weird super science, which I think is a great idea.

How Quickly Things Change

By Tuesday, January 19, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

And just like that, the FASERIP experiment is no more and we are off to another system.

There is always the tension between bringing something out that is your personal vision and bringing something out that reflects what the market expects.  It looks like we’ve decided to go with the former and bash out something close to a homebrew Andrew’s had percolating in his head for a while. It’s a snappy little system, with a quirky dice mechanic that makes rolls fun, so I think this might be the boulevard we strut down for the next little while.  Hopefully the near future updates will be tied to specific progress in the new paradigm.

Heroic RPG Update

By Saturday, January 16, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

How quickly things change.

So due to a combination of design decisions and someone else working in the Old School D&D space, the Heroic RPG has ventured off in another direction. As Andrew mentions in his video here, the core of the game is going to be based on the beloved classic Marvel Super Heroes. Consider it a spiritual successor, rather than a clone. It’s still definitely part of the OSR in many ways, since it is going back to basics in many ways.

It’s definitely overturned the apple cart from the original approach. Personally, I’ve always preferred the MSH approach to Supers than D&D. The biggest thing I like I about it has always been it is one of the simplest systems to wrap your head around what the stats mean. To this day, people who played that game can use the stats descriptors to rank everything. We aren’t quite going that way, but there’s a lot of good here, and I do think it will be a system that will play supers wonderfully.

It will be a fun road to walk.

The Joy is in the Chase

Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie about chasing things.

Chasing survival.
Chasing glory.
Chasing treasures.
Chasing ghosts.
Chasing hope.
Chasing freedom.
Chasing redemption.

It’s just that all of it is filtered through two hours of chasing a truck.

The film has been getting stellar reviews and with good reason. It is a master class in a certain type of visual storytelling. Despite it’s over-the-top, operatic visual style, it is verbally minimalist. There is not a huge amount of dialogue. Of that dialogue, very little is exposition. At the same time, a whole world and backstory is hinted at by simply having everyone assume it exists. Despite my love of words and explicitly digging into the hows and whys of things, it is an approach I adore when pulled off with conviction. Act like the world is real, and the audience will accept it as real, filling in the gaps as they go. It is the very essence of “show, don’t tell”.

The world of Mad Max: Fury Road — like the Mad Max movies before it — is baroque and bizarre and doesn’t make much logical sense (nor maintain continuity from one film to the other, which works if these are all “Tales From the Wasteland” told years later), but at the same time has a sort of archetypal consistency which makes sense in its self-contained world. Everyone and everything feels like it has a backstory and some reason as to why its there. From the screams of “Witness me!” for each WarBoy’s sacrifice, the implication of three brothers running their corner of the world despite their differences of opinion, the hints of the Wives’ sheltered lives and rise to freedom, and the unspecified details of Furiousa’s history, it all seems to make a strange sort of internal sense. And all of this is done without ever stopping to explain it. There’s no time to explain, there is a War Rig to chase, and things to blow up. All of these bits happen around what is an essentially simple story – someone stole something and fled in a truck. Other people want to stop them. That’s it. The why of it all has a basic explanation, but the many layers behind that why are implied rather than stated outright. They don’t matter, really. You don’t have to know every detail. you just need to know that it matters to these people, and that’ s enough.

This can be viewed as underwritten. (Indeed, my companion for the second time I saw the film was bored to tears by and endless chase and thought the dialogue and story trite.)  But I actually argue it is just the opposite. It’s writing in negative space, letting all the visual elements of the world, the body language of the cast, and the basic internal logic of the story and character motivations, give you enough to buy into a surface story with a great deal of depth below the surface. By writing in archetypes, while letting those archetypes have human cores underneath, the story is conveyed efficiently, but with room for complexity as human frailty pushes through the symbol.

[As a side note, that leads me to the fact this film is being touted in some circles as a “feminist” film.  I think that does a disservice to the film. Besides the simple fact that feminism isn’t a single thing, but a number of different philosophies and political movements, it positions the film as an agenda-driven propaganda piece. The film only qualifies as feminist inadvertently. If you take the most anodyne definition of feminism, “women are real people”, then it qualifies. The internal logic of the film places a number of women in the narrative focus. Miller believes that the women in the film should have backstories and motivations and purpose, just like the men in the film should. That this incredibly low bar feels radical is a tragic indictment of the general state of films, but it is hard to say that makes it explicitly feminist. (Sasha James argues for a more explicitly feminist interpretation while agreeing with my basic reading of it being a byproduct of the story. I think she is overestimating the importance of Eve Ensler here, but at this point it is mostly nitpicking.) The movie effortlessly passes both The Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori test, but Joss Whedon probably serves as a warning of the dangers of pushing a role as “feminist writer” on someone who isn’t writing to an agenda, but simply doesn’t dismiss the women in their story.]

Having just recently re-watched the second Mad Max film, The Road Warrior, you can see this story telling style already there. There is a lot more hinted about the world than told. Everyone feels like they have an internal life and reasons why they are doing what they are doing. Even The Humungus has a sense of history, with the odd moment of his WWI era photographs in his gun case, and his hints of loved ones lost.

But while there is a magnificent elegance in this approach, it is clearly in service to leaving enough space to have virtually non-stop kinetic motion and visual spectacle telling the front story. There are almost no wasted shots in this film, all in the service of an extended chase. Despite a sort of constant ebb and flow of action, gradually escalating with each wave, everything on the screen matters. Prop detail tells little stories of character and world, with the return of a boot having an emotional beat and what looks like a piece of inconvenient detail from earlier in the film becoming important later. The ridiculous extravagance of the Doof Warrior’s speaker-laden, drum-beating, guitar-shredding death wagon ends up getting used for more than just show. Shots are framed where elements are happening in the foreground while additional story happens in the background, moving everything along with remarkable efficiency. It’s amazingly effective, and a reminder that different media have different strengths in how they can tell a story.

This tale could only be told this way in moving pictures, any other version wouldn’t be the same in a thousand subtle and important ways. It’s a tale of fire and blood and breathtaking stunts and action, anchored in a simple human story of people looking for a better life. It’s an amazing balancing act, and while exhausting if fisticuffs, bullets, and exploding cars aren’t your thing, it is the work of a master of his particular craft, and well worth seeing.

 

Wither Wonder Woman?

As part 2 of my sister’s Wonder Woman story comes out, and in light of the earlier post, what would *I* do with Wonder Woman if I had free reign

The Powers: Like many of the oldest DC characters, Wonder Woman’s powers have varied wildly over time. I’d actually want to move away from the “magic from the gods” origin, and return a bit to Marston’s early conception that her powers are part of Amazonian training. Basically, the mental and physical training of the Amazonians lets them channel mental energy and perform miraculous feats. I’d make her the best at this, and probably at top focus and form let her still be able to keep up with the powerhouses, but I would probably overall shave the power level down a bit.

  • Super strength and toughness would still be there.
  • I’d bring back the limited telepathy and empathic connection to the world.
  • Multi-lingual, to the point of learning at an unearthly rate.
  • I’m torn on flight, I’d probably get rid of it.
  • The lasso would still be able to elicit truth, but would also enable control. I’m good with it being magic.
  • The bracelets would be the ultimate defense.

Paradise Island. I’d draw from the idea of the Amazons originally being Scythian-Smartian or otherwise Indo-European north of Greece.  They would be a mix of groups who lived this alternative, Amazonian lifestyle. I’d keep the basics of the story where they seclude themselves off from. the world by way of magic of the gods. I’d go with a classical approach to their gods, using a hodge-podge mix of Indo-European forms, where they accept anyone’s gods, honoring some as most important to their civic life, but basically accepting them all as having a place, and combining some who they feel are different aspects of the same core truth.Effectively this lets me put together a unique pantheon, vaguely recreating a proto-Indo-European mythology but drawing on the later traditions, and even going beyond just that root stock.

A key part of the Paradise Island mythos is that it is magically cut off the world, and was a haven only accessible to the oppressed. That means it isn’t exactly limited to women born of women. Also, now, thousands of years later, it isn’t going to be just the original ethnic stock. People will have been finding their way to Paradise Island over the years, only ever a few at a time. Some people just fall out of the world. They bring news of the World of Men, they bring new gods and new ways. Some stay. Some go back. (Yes, this makes Paradise Island a bit like Shangri-La.)

Unless I set the stories back in WWII, I can’t use the Steve Trevor story as written, but “someone washes up with a story that makes the Amazons decide they need to send a champion and ambassador” is still the way I would send Wonder Woman to the world.

Feminism.  Which feminism? I’d shy away from a specific modern political form of feminism, as I actually think her role as outsider critiquing the world is more important than pushing a specific agenda. It’s sort of a banality devoid of political teeth, but for story purposes the whole “Feminism is the radical notion women are people,” works as a guide. I wouldn’t go with the female superiority angle Marston originally wrote, but I would (if allowed to start from the beginning) have her simply work from the quiet assumption that women are competent and probably in charge. Basically flip the marked and unmarked class; Wonder Woman simply defaults to women as baseline human in everything.  I’d also build from this out as a basic sense of being anti-oppression in her focus. I don’t want her defending the law and the status quo nearly so much as defending people from injustice. She needs to want the system to change. (Knowing she isn’t going to wage a war to overthrow the system, but is rather going to serve as example and ambassador.)

The Enemies: Wonder Woman has never had a great rogue’s gallery. Probably the closest to an iconic foe is Cheetah, although you can make a case for Doctor Psycho and Circe. None has had the kind of punch of Joker or Luthor, however.  I suspect I would overhaul a number of the villains she had, although I would move away from the “directly fighting with the gods” side of things, as I would be moving away from Greek mythology God power as her core origin. I would seriously consider bringing back The Duke of Deception as a new character to take over some of the role Ares has played in the past, as sower of war and discord.

Stone in the Sky

By Monday, March 2, 2015 0 No tags Permalink 0

As most of you know, the book is out, and you can purchase it here.
(Although actually there are a bunch of purchase links here on the blog tour list.)

I have, of course, purchased a copy, and I’m oddly excited because the book is a bit of a mystery to me.  I often get to read an advance copy of Cecil’s work, and even sometimes help in giving feedback on drafts, but this time (due to a variety of circumstances) the last version I read was not yet finished.  I’ve known the end point of the story for a while (since Cecil always knew where it ended up), but the details on how we get there (and what “there” actually meant) were still being hammered out last time I saw any text.  So I don’t actually know what happens in any meaningful way, and that makes me excited to read it and find out.

To whet your appetite, here’s an interview from the blog tour.

Happy New Year – 2015

By Thursday, January 1, 2015 0 No tags Permalink 0

And so 2015.

I’ve decided to re-start this thing, and try again to make this a workable site.

The dream of making it more a showcase for finished work seems done, and rather than struggle with never feeling a piece is finished, it will be about process going forward.  This will be a blog and site about stories, whether told in words, dance, pictures, games, or anything else.

Thoughts on language and the nature of story and words will feature heavily.

I’m not going to focus on politics, but it is impossible to discuss art and narrative without some sort of political view, because our values and standpoint affect the kind of stories we tell.

The site may change form as this goes along, as I move around categories and the like.

Welcome to the new world.