Saturday, December 31, 2005

Inspiration-Movie Spoilers!

You know what I like about blogs? You don't need to be linear!

I watched a silly movie on Sci-Fi called "Decoys". It was okay, but it had some really cool stuff going on at the end. Since you will probably never watch it, I'm giving away some of the stuff towards the end.

One of the alien girls falls in love with a guy named Roger hoping she'll take his virginity. She does the full-on expository thing, telling him why they're here, and that they're having a problem mating with humans (the poor guys end up as corpsicles). He actally then seduces her! (He ends up dying later, but still...!)

Later, same alien has been injured enough to show her native form, the hero nails her and yells, "For Roger!" She pauses meaningfully, and then just lays into the guy (remember she loved the guy that he's avenging, which was Roger's own fault). She dies, but it was a nice touch; you have a three-dimensional bad guy, who has to choose between survival (she could have easily ran away), or just getting ticked.

And this was a Sci-Fi channel B-Movie...

Something to remember when you are looking for inspiration is that sometimes the best inspiration can be found in the worst places. It seems that B-movies and bad comic books know that no one will watch them, so they try some of the most interesting stuff just because they can. Sometimes a movie really is interesting enough to watch it for two minutes of sheer coolness.

But...the point here is that don't assume that when you're told to read/watch stuff, to limit yourself to just the good stuff! Sometimes the really, really bad stuff will be inspirational, or at least show you what NOT to do, which can be just as important...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Backing Up: Themes

Heh. Just realized that I forgot to mention themes.

Oops. So...backing up a step...

The theme is the arguably the most important part of the comic. You'll find that a theme does one thing really, really well for you, and that one thing is extremely important: It ups the importance of your comic. By making it a lesson, you make it important for other people to listen to you, because YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!

Think about that for a moment. By deciding the core of your comic, by deciding on what you want to say, you add something to you comic.

Better yet, it allows you to remain focused, and centers your imagination. As you are trying to figure out what needs to be done, you have something that helps you to concentrate the wildest parts of your imagination on telling a story with a moral, and that keeps you on track.

So, what is a theme? It's your message. It's what you are trying to say, and what someone should go away from your comic with. The "Lord of the Rings" was that anyone can help, and that size is not important. Mine, Sex Percussions, is about that love comes in many forms, but it's important to love something. Dominic Deegan's is that things are rarely as they seem.

You can even change the theme for each story arc; Tales of the Questor seems to change each storyline. It started with "You can achieve anything" to "Anything can be overcome" to "Everyone has a message" to "Mothers are important", and the last arc was "Never leave friends behind." It looks like the next will involve paying for mistakes...

Just decide what it is that you would like to say, and go for it! State the theme as succinctly as you can, and constantly refer to it constantly. But...decide on what you think needs to be said, and let it guide you.

Oh, and just as important: Don't feel that it's necessary to have a theme! Some comics, especially comedy comics, don't have a theme. That's fine, too; just be entertaining!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Other Issues To Keep In Mind

Good vs. Evil: This represents a three-fold issue; be very wary of it.

First is that there may be the cliche turnaround; who you introduce as the bad guy and good guy actually are the good guy and bad guy respectively. This is just annoying because there's just no way to handle it right. It's either obvious from the get-go, or it feel like a betrayal. I appreciate the temptation; it's either a way to keep things fresh, or to show that good vs. evil depends on perspective, but it always comes off cheap.

The second is that you may feel like making the good guys corrupt and the bad guys downright nice in order to show that there are many shades of gray. That's the time-proven wrong reason to do it. Now, if you wanted to show that what's important is the decisions people make and why they make them, that works. I'm not trying that I don't disagree with that style of writing; the flawed hero and honorable bad guy are definitely important archetypes. However, the important issue is that they are still good guys and bad guys; a long as their reasons for doing what they do is valid, such as cops taking bribes because it at least slows the bad guys down a bit is okay, but the cops taking bribes because they like it is a problem.

The third is the worst of all: That anything is good given the right context. The problem is two-fold: First, you need to keep in mind that, as a race advances certain things are left behind; murder and rape are arguably the two best examples of that. Aa a corollary, you can't judge a race's morals by what it becomes; in other words, there has to be a point where a reasonably peaceful race can no longer be judged by the crimes it committed centuries before.

Consider slavery: Originally, it was agreed that it had definite advantages. Eventually, it was decided to be an evil and abolished. Should the American south be forever hated because it once participated in the practice, or should that sin be fogiven?

The other aspect to this is to not judge a culture by modern rules. The issue here is that our rules may not apply to cultures past, and that it is far too wasteful an exercise to blame a past culture for its rules when they are different from ours, especially if you assume that the same issues that beset the current culture effected the past one as well.

Consider that a women's place is not in combat; in the medieval era this made perfect sense as women were far more valuable giving birth; it may sound sexist now, and it should. However, when half the children were dying before they were five, and wars and disease got the rest, there needed to be as many children born as possible. Now, a woman need only birth a single child, maybe two, in her lifetime and her responsibility to the race is done. Now, if she wanted to go into combat, there should be no stopping her; the original reason just doesn't exist anymore.

As noted, people change and are respected for it. Shouldn't that apply to cultures as well?

Magic: This needs to be defined rather tightly as quickly as possible. Stories in which magic is defined or limited tend to be better than those where magic can do anything. You just can't provide any actual sense of suspense when it's entirely possible for someone to use some magic to get out of any situation. It also means that the characters will have to think their way through. At the same time, avoid elemental magic; cliche issues.

Chaos: True chaos is neither evil nor silly. This isn't to say that it's always a good thing; it just is. Chaos should foment change, growth, and allow for some reflection. At the same time, it can damage organization, cause too much growth, and get caught up in the moment. Balance in all things!

Sorry; I'm a big Monkey fan. I see far too much of the latter three, and not nearly enough of the former three. I really wish people would remember that sometimes you need a bit of randomness; too many heroes get too angsty because they forget that there is more to life than just the usual scheduled battle; the little random bits, such as a beautiful smile after a hard battle, a child needing protection from the normal monster under the bed, and gentle rain after a heat wave, color life and make stories so enjoyable. More people should read Tales of the Questor; it does a beautiful job of combining magical spells and magic moments. Okay. so I like racoons, too;-)...

I think that that's enough for tonight...

Monday, December 26, 2005

Themes To Avoid: Anti-Military or Anti-Religious

Something to really watch out for is taking on an anti-religious/anti-military theme. This isn't because of some need to avoid controversy or to avoid fanatics of either flavor. It's because you can't always pull this one off.

The inherent attraction with both themes are that they are large organizations with an inherent organization, and with a history of doing bad things. This is definitely antithetical to the artist, who must rebel against authority and seeks to do good.

It must be realized that they are organizations, not individuals. Both organizations have done a lot of good, especially for the arts. The various armed forces have defended the same freedoms that they stand accused of destroying. They have helped those in emergencies, given people a way to change their lives, and given confidence to those that didn't have it.

Unfortunately, too many people see the violence and that the military needs to have a different set of rules in order to function. They also see a lot of crimes that tend to not happen, or at least not as bad as the conspiracy theorists would have you believe. This isn't to say that the military doesn't commit crimes. It does. But you need to realize that there is a huge difference between a soldier raping someone and that being sanctioned (it never is).

Dealing with an alien species is always difficult, especially if you don't like that species. Artists have always likened the military to ants; following orders no matter what, even if it means its doom. How can humans follow orders that could mean their deaths? It's difficult to understand, but that loyalty, with the understanding that your life may be save hundreds of others, makes the action have sense.

If you could save thousands of people, would you? Are you willing to draw a line in the sand, and then back it up? If someone was going to do their level best to destroy your country, including destroying all that you holdd dear, would you fight for it or run? Either choice is legitimate; running and setting up elsewhere is an acceptable decision. However, it needs to be realized that taking a stand is just as legitimate a decision. Pacificism is more extreme than violence is; one willing to defend is willing to defend all, but a pacificist will attack those defending him...

The various organized religions may have committed crimes throughout the ages, but they have also done a lot of good. The same church that burned witches also found a way for girls made pregnant to escape their families. They also ofered what succor they could during disease, famine, and war. In times of war, they were the ones to barter for peace; boxing was the creation of a priest wanting to find a way to stop nobles from fighting to the death. Religious men have led the fight for civil rights, or was it forgotten that Ghandi and MLK, Jr., were a priest and a reverend respectively?

The various religions may have flaws, but they weren't without their share of merits as well.

And both have done their fair share for art, as well. Religion has inspired and commissioned some of the greatest masterpieces in the world, and that military's need for records has also shown to be a springboard for art, especially in those who job it was to go along with the soldiers. Just something to consider when you are about to do yet another "it sucks to be in the military" and "the church should go away" story...Does the benefits of the organization outweigh the issues, or do the issues outweigh the benefits?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Plotting II

Before plotting, you need to decide on act structure. Before you can do this, decide on how you want it to end: On a good note, or a bad one.

If you want the standard feel-good ending, then the last act needs to be a rising action; basically, it needs to have been bad, had something good happen, and rise from there. If you want the bad guys to win, then it needs to have been going good, then something bad happen, and it goes down from there.

Those points are called "climaxes". It's when you have risen or fallen as far as you can, and have started going in the opposite direction. Assuming a standard three-act play, the action will rise, hit a climactic point, and then start falling. It will hit a second climax, and the action starts rising again.

It'll sorta look like this (if you plotted it in terms of positive actions (things go good for the hero) and negative actions (things go bad for the hero)):

--+------- -+-+------ +---+---+ -----+-+- ------+---

A bad (ie, not non-good, but more "bad guys win" ending needs the opposite: A falling action, then rising action, and back to the falling action:

-------+-- ------+-+- +---+---+ -+-+----- --+-------

Note that I'm assuming a standard three-act play; most movies are based on them. The beginning is short (about 10-15 scenes, or 20-30 minutes), the middle is twice as long (about 2-30 scenes, or 40-60 minutes), and the end is as long as the beginning (about 10-15 scenes, or 20-30 minutes).

For a comic, the same basically applies; think about it: First act is when the heroes find out about the problem, and by the end of the act are either forced to deal with it, or have decided to deal with it. However, then various plot complications come to play (why they can't succeed, or why they shouldn't, better known as "The Quest"); this is the second act. When they can finally start being able to deal with the issue, that's the third act.

This is not to say you can't add on new acts; just keep in mind that they should keep up the pattern (otherwise it's just a continuation of the current act!).

This isn't to say you need to keep up the pace; it's good to vary the pace. I'm not talking battle-chase-cliffhanger; that's keeping the pace on high. I'm talking, battle-catch breath-chase-regroup-cliff-hanger. Ever been on a roller-coaster that never lets you catch your breath? Bored at the end? The same applies to stories; you need the audience to catch their breath or your breakneck pace story ends up being boring.

Throw in the subplots, the running gag, and don't be afraid of exposition! People don't like exposition because they see it as "the boring parts"; when it's done badly (just talking, or a Q&A session), then it does nothing, and it is boring. But, with as a flashback, or with the proper graphical back-up, or even when it's virtually asked for, it can be great.

Oh, yeah: Plot vs. Character. This is sort of a weird one; there's a debate going because there are two groups out there that believe one or the other is better. The "Plot is better" group think that the plot should go not change no matter what after you have written it. The "Character Rules" group believes that plot should change as you find out more about the characters.

Personally, I'm a fan of not forcing a character to do anything that feels unnatural unless you can justify it. Plot First types generally don't allow for characterization beyond needed for the plot; should something come up, the plot comes first and won't be changd. Character Rules groupies have no problem changing the plot to facilitate characters, but that gets annoying after a bit to readers. Thus, I go with the compromise to not change what I'm doing unless it feels right for both plot and character, with an edge for characters.

So...get plotting!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Plotting I

Okay. You have an idea. Now, write it down. Just the idea part! Don’t worry about plot details, characters, whatever, except those that are important to your idea. Don’t worry about length; that’s not the concern. Just write as long or as short as you want.

[Come back when you’re ready…]

Done? Good. Now, right down a logline for it. A “logline” is used in Hollywood as part of the decision-making step before a script is bought; it’s the simplest concentration of the idea. If you take more than 50 words to write it, then you’re not trying; think in terms of TV Guide entries (short, to the point, not really clever, but still manage to get the point).

Remember “Die Hard”? It became part of a lot of loglines. “Under Siege“? “Die Hard” on a sub. “Under Siege II”? “Die Hard” on a train. “Speed”? “Die Hard” on a bus. “Masterminds”? Die Hard” at a school. If you liken your idea to a popular movie it makes life easier, even if it’s a couple of them.

Example: “Sex Percussions”: “Cast a Deadly Spell” in Canada, with the detective backed by a band of capoeiristas.

Now, summarize it in about 200 words or less, bolding possible cliches. Variation on the above: If you can’t, you’ve either got too many cliches (in which case you had better start over or simplify things), or you’re just not really trying. Use a slash to separate phrases that are close together.

Example: “Sex Percussions”: A Mayan GODDESS has CURSED THE WORLD to be less fertile. A Vancover-based DETECTIVE has FIGURED IT OUT, and ASSEMBLES A TEAM of MARTIAL ARTISTS / MAGES to HELP him THWART HER PLANS and SAVE THE WORLD.

Once you have done that, the next thing is to start plotting it out. Now, if this were a movie, you’d need to do about 40-60 scenes (drama-40, action-60). As this is a comic book, that doesn’t really apply; with each scene at about 4-6 pages of comic book, that converts to roughly 160-360 pages. Figure out how many pages you are writing, and perform the following calculations:

To your main plot, add some sort of sub-plot (may or may not add to plot, or even parallel the plot. (for 1 page of subplot for every three of the main plot). For every 120 pages, figure you should have one subplot (so a good 300 page book will have 2-3 sublots), and for every 30, there should be one page of running joke.

Example: “Sex Percussion” is short: 60 pages. It has one subplot (Detective Tate and his romances), which is allocated 15 pages. It also has 2 pages of running joke (why Xquiq is a bad person). The remaining 43 pages are for the main story.

Don’t get hung up on page numbers, however, as 1 scene doesn’t equal 1 page. When you right the beats, figure one scene will equal (on average) about 3 pages (so Sex Percussion was planned for 20 scenes total ( 2 running joke scenes (always plan for at least two running joke scenes, or else it’s a one-time gag and not a running gag) and 5 subplot scenes).

But...You're not quite ready for plotting yet...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Which pidgeonhole is yours?

Too many beginners don't really know what a genre is and too many wannabe's think that a genre is "limiting." So, to help, here's how genres breakdown. Sort of.

After some quick notes: First, don't make the mistake that a genre is all-encompassing. Too many beginners think that a genre has to touch on every aspect of the comic. It doesn't. Just because your mecha comic has a running joke doesn't make it a comedy; it's only a comedy if the whole comic is supposed to make you laugh, not have points at which you laugh. And drama/comedies don't exist; if the comic has a lot of drama in it, as well as comedy, just leave that part of. ABC Networks tried "dramedies" in the mid-80's; although the shows (such as "The Wonder Years" and "Doogie Howser") were popular and critically acclaimed, and are even thought fondly of today, they quickly ran from the "comedy" aspect of the concept and became half-hour dramas.

Second, don't feel that it's limiting: Genres are wide open spaces and you can always make up new genres. You can even go Chinese menu with. Have fun with it; there have been mecha westerns, medieval magical girl horrors, even futuristic magical soap operas. My personal favorite has to be SF/Action/Adventuer/Detective/Cannibalism/Independent Film/Disco/Post Apocalyptic/Greasers/Hippie/Satire; "Radioactive Dreams" (Tagline: "Just your typical action-adventure-science-fiction-musical-fantasy in the post-nuclear world") is a great movie!

Realize that genres are extremely general classifications, and that they are more for marketing than anything else. All it takes to be considered a "western" is horses, frontier, and a lot of desert. And even those are negotiable. So, without further ado, here are twenty-four genres for you to start with:

Sci-fi: Involves technology and the isues created by technology.

Fantasy: Involves magic and the issues created by magic. Usually b&w morality, but not mandatory.

Historical: Could have happened; happens before the present day. Has no magic or tech that didn't exist at that age.

Modern: The majority of the action happens in today, or around it.

Pulp: Generally, modern but exagerated. It's darker (no one is innocent and life is cheap), more violent, and heroes are more gray than white.

Comedy: The basic idea is to poke fun at conventions or just have fun. Not as easy as it sounds, and too many people try anyway...

Drama: Serious. Shakespeare/Greek Tragedy serious.

Romance: Comic where most of the challenges and drama are based on two people finding each other and looking for a long-term relationship.

Hentai: Comic where most of the challenges and drama are based on two people finding each other in weird positions and looking for a short-term relationship.

Mystery: Drama with an emphasis on solving some sort of crime.

Horror: Comic with an emphasis on unnerving or scaring the reader. Generally allegorical, and can be lovecraftian (psychological horror featuring other-dimensional beings), splatter (fear-factor depends on intense and messy physical violence), or thriller (straight psychological horror).

Action/Adventure: Generally B&W morality with an emphasis on action. There may be some philosophical musing, but the final showdown is on how survives, not who ascends.

Martial Arts: Action Adventure, but the emphasis is on martial arts.

Racing: Action/adventure based on racing.

Super-hero: Action/adventure featuring characters with psuedo-scientific abilities.

Magic Girl: Generally a girl with special abilities who has found herself under a boy's authority (Urusei Yatsura or Oh My Goddess).

Magical Girl: A girl or group of girls with magical abilities that require some sort of transformation in order to become powerful.

Shonen: "Boy-style." B&W morality with an emphasis on overcoming challenges. Ironically, as it believes that there are no useless characters, if females are present they are in a command position or occasionally take center stage, making it less sexist than you would assume.

Shoujo: "Girl-style." B&W morality with an emphasis on, ironically, combat; generally has romantic elements. Generally, has to be done well as it borders on parody.

Mecha: Specific sci-fi sub-genre that features human-controlled robotic vehicles, generally human-shaped.

Post-apocalyptic: Take world. Do a lot of damage to it. Technological comes in hi-tech/scary and low-tech/not as scary flavors. Add mutants to taste.

Western: Generally, looks like the American Southwest, with a B&W morality (or at least, evil actions have nasty consequences), and emphasis on story-telling rather than violence (although it can be highly violent, the emphasis is on story and symbolism). Technology generally limited to transport and ranged weapons.

Game: Comic with an emphasis on video/computer games; in essence, the emphasis is paralleling various game universes and not really caring about the fourth wall.

"Real Life": Comic with an emphasis on realistic reactions and either parodying real life or attempting to simulate it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Top Ten Worst Offenders II

Guess I'd better finish...

5) Team Comics: Teams can be good and bad. The good is that you can split up tasks, have a range of personalities, have intra-team conflict, and have an easy excuse for some exposition.

These are all great things. Splitting up tasks allows characters to define who they by what they do. A range of personalities allows people to pick someone they like to root for. Conflict is always good, and if you make it natural (such as five people living together in cramped quarters) rather than forced so much the better. And it's only natural that you need to explain things to someone in the group that wan't there or isn't following along.

However, too many writers (beginning and advanced) learned too much from the sentai (think: Power Rangers) school of teams. This means that the team has the following types:

Leader: This is the guy in charge. He's only wrong when it's dramatically right, he can do whatever he wants and no one cares; he is the hero, after all. The older brother of the group and the guy who the Lone Wolf usually rebels against. If there is a long-term romantic relationship, he's usually involved somehow.

Lone Wolf: The rebel. The guy who everyone likes because he's straightforward and does what he wants, something that they can't do. He's the perverted older cousin who's probably into whips and chains. Whatever the leader aquires, he wants. Usually.

The Geek: He knows everything except how to deal with social situations. Usually the least liked character because, well, no one likes the group brain. He's the most dependable of the group (except when it comes to shooting the 300'-tall monster directly in front of him). He's the little brother of the group who is sex-obsessed and the group mascot. If the group has a fanboy, The Geek is usually it.

The Brick: He can lift pretty much anything, punch through pretty much anything, and take pretty much anything. Usually the group mechanic. He's sorta the fun friend of the family; the guy who kicks your butt at Mortal Caliber VII, makes you cringe through his puns, and is the guy you go to for advice, or tickets you can't get yourself.

The Girl: She points out the obvious, is the love interest of The Leader, temporary goal for romance of The Lone Wolf, defender of The Geek, and grudging friends with The Brick. If it's a unisex team, change "love interest" to "best friend" and "of romance" to "of assassination." She is yin to the team yang, and is usually the most effeminate. Aggressively effeminate. Usually the best shot in the team. And the richest, especially when there is no monetary system in the universe.

Now, it may look good, but EVERYONE uses the blueprint without thinking about making changes. When they do, it's the leader that gets in the shorts. If they take characters away, The Brick goes first followed by The Geek. It's a working cliche, but be aware of it anyway, and try to change it.

4) Elemental Powers: This is starting to get ridiculous. Change that: It is ridiculous. The default is: Fire, Earth, Water, Air, and either Heart or some psychic ability (usually Precognition). Each character has abilities that stem from their respective element, and personality traits that stem from their element.

When the elemental base of any powers are changed, it's usually to weather (thunder, lightning, wind), sound, some other psychic ability (cyberkinesis, telekinesis or telepathy), teleportation or desolidification. Although these are visually interesting, they are sorely lacking for imagination.

Just be aware of the problem, and plan accordingly.

[Just out of curiosity: Why is it that the oriental elements are wood, metal, fire, water, and earth, but you only see the Greek elements of water, fire, earth and air? And why rarely (if ever) those from the periodic table?]

3) Angsty Hero: O Woe is I! I accidentally killed my best friend, my lover commited suicide because I was a day late coming home, and my dog has worms. Oh, and my house is trying to kill me.

Today on Oprah: Angsty heroes and the fangirls that love them. Note: These people would not survive Dr. Phil.

I understand the attraction: Girls like guys that need them, and this guy needs something alright. I know that the angsty hero is an old literary tradition (yet another thing we can blame on Ancient Sumeria: Gilgamesh, anyone?). And I know his existence validates that of the artistically dark.

But...give the guy a good day once in a while! Gilgamesh let his hair down! Elric did smile every so often. King Richard cracked wise. Even Macbeth had fun!

But this hero has nothing good happen to him without cost. If he a million bucks, he gets sued and ends up owing money. His new car is possessed. Just let the guy have some fun without cost every so often.

2) Avatar/Sprite Comics and Doujinshi: For the three individuals who don't know what any of those are:

Sprite Comics: Take a video game, take the characters and use them in your own comic.

Avatar Comics: Take avatars from Gaia Online and use them in sprite comics.

Doujinshi: There are many translations, but the one in use here is fan comics using the characters that the fan likes. Included here because, well, if sprite and avatar comics are examples of someone being a lazy illustrator, doujinshi are examples of lazy writing.

I'm sort of in a weird spot on this one. On one hand, I appreciate not having the ability to draw/write and having a cool script that you need to see done. But...this isn't the way to do it.

Besides the obvious legal issues, there's just a lack of imagination here. I mean, you're taking someone else's characters, throwing them into situations that their creators never intended, and then claiming that you're creating something original. Worse, I see it justified because it's a great way to get started!

The issue is that to be a good writer you need to be ableto stand on your own two feet. You can't rely on the crutch of using someone else's creations as the base of your own. It's fine to be inspired; it's lazy to copy. Find the difference, and you begin to walk.

[I'm including this under cliches because cliches are just lazy creating. It just fit...]

1) One-Dimensional Institutional Figures: Okay, this is my least favorite cliche of all time. I appreciate that a lot of artists don't like religious figures; there are a lot of reasons to dislike people that put a lot of limitations on what you do. And I understand why military types aren't exactly popular.

However, that shouldn't be an excuse to make them one-dimensional or explore themes that simply don't exist. When you make any excuse to have one-dimensional characters in your strip, you're wasting my time. I don't mind if you've decided to make a villain that's high-up in the military, just give him a realistic reason for doing what he does.

At some level you need to realize that any group has those members that aren't exactly shining examples of their organization; the more in the public eye the group is, the more likely you're going to see the dregs of that group. There are going to be priests that molest choirboys; but, that's because there are men that molest any boy that they get their hands on and this particular one happened to be a priest, and because he was the gaurdian of the morality of his community the sense of betrayal cuts all the deeper. Priests are ultimately just men, with all the weaknesses thereof. Not trying to mitigate the situation, just trying to say that you need to be avoid stereotypes at all costs.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Top Ten Worst Offenders, Part I

Some cliches can be stopped. To help you avoid cliches, here are the Top Ten Worst Offenders:

10) Vampires. They're dark, angsty and supernatural. Perfect for artists that are trying to explore their dark sides.

Unfortunately, few think vampires all the way through. They look at the angst factor, mostly the night-onnly existance and the parasitism, but not the advantages of being a vampire. Once you get past the need for blood and darkness, you don't have to pay taxes, the money you were paying for most bills and food becomes disposable, and you can concentrate on what makes you happy. Okay, so you can't have kids either, but that's sorta plus/minus.

On the flip side, there are those that try to find psuedo-scientific reasons for vampirism. Obligatory: Huh? They haven't thought one major thing through: Vampires only work when they are mysterious, and they end up not working as well when their secrets are grounded in reality. Not saying you can't do it; just be aware of the problem.

If you are going to use vampires, don't get drowned in the angst, and consider that they would revel in their advantages (such as their heightened senses, the ability to pursue things for a longer period of time, and immmunity to a wide variety of things). If you can't, just remember that not enough people use werewolves.

9) Collector Comics: This is a corporation's favorite: A comic with a built-in collectible. Although there's only two major offenders (Pokemon and Yugi-Oh), there are a lot of minor ones (Digimon, for example). However, it goes far behind just toys.

The basic idea is that a hero (or group of kids) are looking for a group of objects or animals in order to solve his (their) quest. Although great in that success is measurable, and tension is guaranteed to mount with each piece collected, it starts getting monotonous as battles start to mount, especially if every fight is the standard "old trick gets negated, hero almost loses, finds a new trick, wins" formula.

This is great if there are just a few pieces (Dr. Who's Key of Time only had seven pieces). But there's a reason it works great in games, and not so great in comics: Each goal accomplished limits the time left. However, try to avoid this one unless you have a good reason; the reason that it's on this list is because (besides being used a lot) is because too often authors use it as a crutch (by setting measurable goals, you feel good when you have accomplished one, and feel better if you know the path has been that much more finished), and there is the temptation to add/reveal "just one more" collectible.

If you can keep to the objects that you have revealed, and have fun with it, go for it. Otherwise, avoid like the plague!

8) Magical Girls: I'm not trying to be anti-feminist, but heroic girls set the feminist movement back by ten years each time they show up. ("Super-Sailor Charon, let's defeat Masculinor and then go to the mall! Magnifence Cherry Beam of Cheeriness!"). Yuck.

I'm sorry; this is just a genre that needs to either mature or die. But, since it comes up, how do you deal with it?

First off, make sure that none of the girl's involved are Mary Sues (almost-perfect with special abilities, flaws that are more dramatically appropriate than real, and worry about their perfection). If you do have them, kill some of their specialness, and give them normal issues, not hyped-up petty ones (she needs to defeat the bad guy quickly in order to make a date, not because he messed her hair-do).

Second, make the guys real. I like WITCH because the recurring males are realistic guys, not merely foils for the girls. Even without powers, Caleb (the rebel leader), Blunk (the "pet"), Matt (Will's love), Martin (their fan), and Uriah (Caleb's friend) are just as vital to the fight as the girls, albeit in far different capacities. I could have an episode with just those characters, and it would be interesting. Contrast that with the guys in the Winx Club, who are easily replaceable. They have enough problems just being on-screen; there is no way they could sustain an episode by themselves.

Third, and last, don't try to be feminist. It invariable works against the story. Just let them evolve as characters. I cannot emphasize that point enough!

7) Game Comics: This is not to say that there aren't great game comics. Penny Arcade and Goblins are great examples. However, because gamers tend to be computer literate, and some are decent artists, they try too hard to relate what happens in games to others, and it just doesn't always work.

If you are serious about making a comic based on a game, do up a script, and then show it to someone who is not in your immediate circle. If they think that's entertaining, go for it. Otherwise, just put it down and either try something else, or just do it for yourself and your immediate circle of friends.

6) Conspiracy Theories: Every action has a reason for happening, right? And, as we're interested in looking for reasons behind why things happen, we're liable to assume that if we can't see the reason, then someone made the decision. Most people realize that some decisions are by nature arbitrary; a decision needed to be made, but several options were acceptable, so one was chosen.

Others, however, believe that there is no such thing as an arbitrary decision, and that every decision is made for a reason. The next leap of logic is that the reasoning behind the decisions is part of some struggle, and that there is some sort of war going on, making every decision important. Thus are conspiracy theories born.

A lot of writers like them, as they feel powerless in their own life, and seek to demonstrate this by showing how powerless the average man in a world where all his decisions have already been made. They then make the hero someone who rebels against the conspiracy, proving that there is free will in the universe.

The issue here is that it removes free will from the situation. After all, the easiest way to deflate tension is to make it obvious that any decision that's going to be made has already been made. Think about this for a moment: You have two organizations that have been going against each other for milennia, and they can predict the other's moves.

So, if I belonged to one of the big organizations and I knew someone would be making a choice, and I knew how the other organization was going to react, then why not give him some sort of information that affects his decisions, and then affects his decision towards my preferred result? Thus removing any actual choice, and gaining an ally against the enemy organization because he feels so good that I allowed him a choice, even if he thinks that he's acting against mine as well.

There is the question of whether or not there really is free will, which is rather depressing. The ironic thing is that the writer usually says that he is an atheist because he thinks that God has a destiny for everyone, and that there is no free will. And then he then proves himself that everything is, in fact, pre-destined.

Just pointing out that when you start down the path of conspiracies, you remove a lot of dramatic tension from your comic, which rely on dramatic tension.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What exactly is "cliche"?

The biggest problem you will have is the cliche problem. Far too many people will use it as an excuse to hate yoiur comic, and so this needs to be discussed.

A cliche is anything that has been over-used. You know: magical girls, card games with living monsters, giant ships with bigger guns. Something that you see way too often.

Cliches tend to be used either by beginners or commitees. For beginners, cliches allow them to stay in a safe area, roughly akin to bunny trails and shallow areas. There's very little danger, and they know the curves. For comittees, it means a guaranteed success; after all, the idea has proven itself over and over and over, and works as new viewers who haven't seen it but saw the old generation like it. Yes; an entire generation that hasn't seen Card Captor Sakura, and to whom the magical girl show is actually new! Weird, but true. And it's that new audience that allows cliches to be perpetuated.

So...how do you avoid cliches? Think it through and plan. If the idea is that you will fall back on cliches when you need something safe, don't put yourself in a position where you need that fallback. By planning ahead, and taking an honest look at your script, you can avoid the vast majority of cliches.

Also, know the industry. Before you get really interested in your idea, take out a piece a paper and list every comic you can think of that even looks like your idea. if there are more than a handful, then odds are you're dealing with a cliche. Another way is to go to your favorite comics spot (like Buzz Comix or Comic Genesis), and use keywords that would apply to your comic and see how many comics pop up.

I point this out because far too many beginners replicate almost word-for-word ideas that are just a few years old, and then get quickly frustrated when a number of people point out that their great original idea is already cliche. The best way to avoid this, obviously, is to know what has gone before you.

Hmm...Guess some examples would help....

Let's Start With An Idea

You know, instead of giving an instruction guide, I think I'll just show you how to make a comic, and reference the workbook every so often. If you don't like it, deal.

So...Where do you get an idea from?

Better question: What do you want to do? Make a list. And don't be afraid to put titles of anime, comics, TV shows, movies, or even books. Heck, even put in random word if that works for you.

Or you can ask a question.

Oh yeah: Don't be afraid to steal.

You need to be aware of the originality issue. There are two sides to it.

The first is that there is nothing new under the sun. On the other hand, everything is new under the sun.

Consider Romeo and Juliet. Basic Plot: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They find out that their families are at war. They get married. They commit suicide. Everyone is happy.

Now, more importantly, consider the variations. One, both or neither die at the end. It can be a boy and girl, two boys, or two girls. Marriage is an option, or can happen after the final act. Heck, replace "fall in love" with "fall in hate" and save the romance until after the onflict. Or they can continue to dislike after the conflict.

You can even change the conflict. Instead of "different, warring families", make them of different social classes (he's poor and she's rich, or vie versa). Or they belong to different gangs. Or he's a geek and she's a cheerleader (wait, that's different gangs...). Or even ideological differences. Or one's an alien and the other's human. In essence, as long as the conlict complicates the romance, you're good to go.

You don't even have to start with a conflict. Road trips movies are always fun, as the trip changes those on it. Or you can compare societies and show that they are the same. At this stage, you can be as specific or as general as you want. Here's my scripts, and what started them, if it helps:

Miner's Glory: I just wanted to do a Western. I'm a big fan of A Man Called Horse, and I wanted a gatling gun. I was in South Dakota, and so it's Gold Rush and Native American culture fitted in. Also, I wanted a woman avenging her slain fiance.

Ogre's Pendant: I wanted something fantasy. Also, ever notice how easy it is for someone who has never met anyone in the party can become friends so quickly, betray them, and the party never blames the new member? Wouldn't it be great if they had protocols in place to deal with it?

Chinese Chess: Don't you get tired of seeing dragons slain or gone to as sources of wisdom? How about making a treatu with one for self-defense?

Hinami Neon: I'm a big BubbleGum Crisis and Blade Runner fan. Plus, I wanted to see just how nasty I could get. This answered a lot of questions in that regard.

Sex Percussions: Someone entered a title contest with this. I had to steal it. It started with a group of performing capoieristas, and degenerated from there. Now, I am using to systematically make fun of everything that I can...

Brass Ring: The basic idea was that there is always a another chance (some carousels have a brass ring that you can toss into a hole for a prize; you have a chance at the brass ring at every pass). In the Champions RPG, it's mentioned that the worst enemy a hero can have isn't the most powerful villain in the universe, but a detective with obscene skill at observation. So, what would happen if a telepathic detective went after super-heroes' secrets, and used them to make them play fair? And what would happen if those secrets were released?

Strip Poker: Everyone that is a big fan of 80's movies knows that there were a lot of movies that featured the beginning of a strip poker game, the middle of a strip poker game, or the end of a strip poker game. I wanted a full game, darn it.

Shorn Wool: Ever notice in the stories of the Three Fates you rarely hear of where the wool comes from? What if it's a metaphor for beginning your life? (Yeah, I know it's from a herd of Apollo's sheep, but what kind of story is that?)

Hope's Last Stand: I wanted a sitcom pilot script, and all I could think of was combining my work experience (at the time I was working at Taco Bell), and T-NBC was sort of fun to watch. So you got this woman reforming a fast-food joint on the edge of the parking lot with a crew of teen-agers and a pair of misfits as her assistant managers.

So what ideas have you thought of?

Monday, December 12, 2005

How To Create Comic Books Handbook

[Remember I said I would be plugging my products? This is because I'm trying to help beginners (and some more advanced people) make their lives a lot easier. I'll publish an "instruction book" a bit later...]

With this handbook, you will be able to: ---Plan your comic; ---Be able to set up your comic online; ---Know what your characters look like, how they interact with your world, and possibly even why they do what they do; ---Have pictures of your settings, and know who hangs out there; ---Have pictures of your bases, vehicles, weapons, and other sundry equipment; and ---Have plenty of space for notes and drawing!

Cafe Press: $7 Lulu: $.60 (download)/$9 (book)

Publishing Info Making A Plot Character Info Group Info Setting Info Equipment Info

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Top Ten Tips

First off, my apologies; it also seems like something comes up when I start something I think is important. That said, I hope these help...

-------------------------

My Top Ten Writing Tips:

10) Take acting classes. It may sound weird, but having the ability to role-play characters is a major advantage, and doing it by getting into the character's mind is a major plus.

9) Study script-writing. Look at more than just the format; consider pacing, beats, and why the three-act structure works, as well as proper escalation.

8) Take some journalism classes. As a writer you need to learn that less is more, and this is probably the best way to do it.

7) Spend some time in a bar or a park. You want somewhere busy, where people are talking to another, the busier the better. The idea is that you're going to need to learn conversation, and where better to learn than where people do a lot of talking? There's a reason so many writers have a reason for being drunks...

6) Kill your darlings. If something is cool, but it doesn't fit with what you are doing, then don't be afraid to not use it. The cool scene may end up being the albatross that kills whatever you're working on. You can note it, and use it later, but don't feel obligated to use everything you write.

5) Character>Plot. Don't force your characters into doing things that they wouldn't do. If your plot requires that your villain make a really stupid mistake, give him a realistic reason for making the mistake, like his girlfriend is breaking up with him or he has some serious bad news to deal with.

4) Avoid gratuities. Always tip your waitress, but don't use sex, violence, and language unless you have a reason, and shocking people isn't an acceptable one. John Woo should be your role-model, not Quentin Tarantino. Now, if you're making an erotic comic, use all the sex you want, but otherwise try to avoid it.

3) Read and watch. Any arguments re: "but then you don't have any of your own ideas" are BS. You would be surprised when those bits of trivia come in handy. Also, you need ideas to get your own. And watch the bad as well as the good; you never know what diamonds you'll find in the mud.

2) Have fun. Don't do this if you see it as a chore; just remember to take it seriously.

1) To thine own self be true. If you're doing this to pick up girls, or impress people with your ability to write, this is the wrong place. Write because you need to do as badly as breath, not because you want to get rich or laid...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why Do You Write?

Before you sit down and start writing, you need to ask why you are writing in the first place. Different people write for different reasons, and some of those reasons don’t make for great writing.

Money: Let’s nail this one right off the bat. The odds of you making any money at this are slim to none. You may make enough to pay for materials, but that’s about it, and that’s if you are extremely lucky. The problem is that most people either don’t go in with a business plan, or they go in it specifically for the money. Because this is a business that depends so heavily on the art, you can’t really predict what kind of money you will make; the art will either be incredible or mediocre, and either a fan favorite or not. And neither has anything to do with the other.

Fame: This is most likely, but still not a good enough reason to start a webcomic. Fame in any art is fleeting; that is exacerbated in an internet-based art-form, given the web’s time dilation effect. If you want fame, try a rock band instead or an acting career instead; at least you will have something permanent to remember your fame by, not to mention some interesting stories.

Advertising: This is sort of debatable. The idea is that the website acts as an advertising panel for your art. The problem with this is that, because you are trying to run two entirely different kinds of business. The art business requires a certain kind of mindset; you have the same kind of self-promotion, but you can go for weeks or months without having to post something. A webcomic, however, requires a posting at least once a week. Also, an art studio can be dependant on just one type of art (photography, painting, what have you); a webcomic requires not only good drawing ability, but good writing as well. Even the best artists don’t have usually decent story-telling skills, and without them the comic falls flat. As it was your source of advertising, your business dies quickly. Seriously debate this.

I Needed A Hobby: NO. Just run away now. Don’t look back, and have no regrets. A webcomic represents a commitment. I know that a lot of hobbyists are capable of some extreme commitments, but this requires a long-term boring commitment; this is a marriage-type commitment. There will be problems, you need equipment and software that isn’t cheap, and this is not good for a momentary rush. If you need a creative outlet, take up painting.

Because You Have To: Now, we’re talking. The more passionate that you are about what you want to do, the more successful it can be. If you need to draw, and you don’t feel good unless you have written or drawn something, then that’s the best sign. You may see it as way to the Major Leagues (Marvel, Dark Horse, Tokyopop), and you need the training. But this is something you see yourself doing for a long time, just like you intend to breath for a long time, but you consider breathing optional; without the strip you are nothing. That’s what I’m talking about, and that’s the only acceptable response.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Writing. Where to begin…?

Anyone can be a writer. Ask anyone that frequents any kind of board that features webcomics or manga, and they’ll probably roll their eyes. They’ve seen virtually every plot involving college life, cat girls, and twelve-year-old saving the universe, sometimes in the same plot. Yep; anyone can come up with an idea.

However, not everyone has the skill or ability to write. I have seen so many ideas that were nothing but clich├ęs strung together that it honestly scares me. It’s nice to see people wanting to write, but I wish they had paid attention to their English classes. Spelling and grammar aren’t optional, and it definitely helps to know your material.

Aight. This is going to be a bit more informal than most books. This allows me to go off on rants every so often, and to have some fun with it, and really get my point across. So…My apologies to those that get annoyed, and definitely to those that don’t like someone tramping all over their dreams. Then again, screw it. If you can’t take some criticism and you can’t do the homework, you don’t deserve to get into writing. So…get over yourself, and be prepared for some hard lessons.

Shall we begin…?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Plugs

Guess I should get this out of the way as soon as I can.

My "home page": I do "creative services" for money. This means that I write, do graphic design, and even make simple websites. So...if you need any of those services, give me a few details, and we'll negotiate a price.

Sakura Corp Company Store: The obligatory CP store. Original set up for the Hinami Neon webcomic (that's not up yet), I've since then used it for just about everything. Feel free to stop by and buy something!

Sparrows Book Store: Just because I wanted my own book store. In it, you will find the Evil Mastermind Management Handbook, which is a great way to run your business. Check it out; there's even a sampler...

Enough plugs for now...Expect more!

First Post

First posts. Gotta love 'em.

After a long debate, decided I'd start this. There are a lot of things I'd like to say on forums that I can't say there, and some stuff I'd just like to say in general. Thus, this.

Expect the usual rambling you've come to expect from blogs, and a lot of interesting stuff. Odds are I'll probably find a way to use this as the HQ of my burgeoning internet empire.

Well, enjoy!