Sunday, December 23, 2007

How To Make Your Adaptations Work!

When it comes to your writing, you may be tempted to translate some story that's not your own into a script. Before you start writing, you need to keep in mind the audience.

The biggest problem with an established story is that it has a reputation, and that fans of the material want it to live up to that reputation. This can be good and bad, and you need to decide if that reputation is something you can deal with. Take a close look at “The Golden Compass”: When Phillip Pullman originally wrote the book, he wanted a book that would attack the Catholic Church (“undermine” was the word used). It's hard to read the “His Dark Materials” (even the title is evocative of anti-church sentiment) and not realize that the writer is anti-Christian; the Magestrium is obviously a stand-in for the Catholic Church and any dogmatic types are automatically bad guys. It also has everyone assigned a “daemon” that represents them, and the worst villains are those that seek to rend the daemons from their owners (in other words, dogma rips imagination and willpower from its adherents).

But, when it was made into a screenplay, a problem developed: In order to keep its fanbase, it needed to keep its atheist values, but atheist movies don't play well to an American audience. Thus, the message had to be toned down, but the atheist message is so intrinsic to the story that it ended up killing the movie. (Did you follow that?) What could have been a new franchise ended up flopping because the production company realized that it couldn't market a $180M picture about atheism to a Catholic audience; it's a gorgeous movie, but it has no heart. It needed to be done for no more than $75M, but that wouldn't have done justice to the story.

On the other hand, someone that paid attention to the audience is X-Men 3, written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn. Although a lot of drastic changes were made to the X-Men that ticked a lot of people off (such as the origin of Phoenix, the death of Cyclops, and more-than-cosmetic changes done to a lot of characters), those changes were accepted because the story itself was still strong and there was some great character development. Better yet, a lot of characters were given their trademark moments and sayings (such as the fastball special, X-Men vs. Sentinels, and Beast's “Oh my stars and garters!”). Because the changes made to the X-Men made sense, and the spirit of the original (that of an oppressed group in a world that is trying to stop them) remained, people were willing to trust that they would be entertained, overlook some major mistakes, and so it was a profitable movie.

Obviously, don't worry about making the adaptation match the original completely; compromises will need to be made and you should have no problems making them as the material calls for it. Just remember that you need to find a new fanbase while at the same time making the current one happy. If you can't do that, you will tick off the old base while forcing potential fans to shy away trying to figure out what you did wrong. But, if you can bear in mind the needs of the old fans with the new material, you will make everyone satisfied with your changes, and your product will be successful!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bad Business Practices and You

[What's that other word in my blog title? Oh yeah, business...heh...]

When it comes to business, keep in mind that you need to come through on any obligations. Your business dealings have an effect on your comic; anything bad that you do will be translated to your comic as well, and affect its fanbase.

Consider Pepetual Entertainment. They are in the process of releasing Gods & Heroes, a MMORPG based on Roman mythology. Although the game looks great, it was set for a general release in October (not an issue in and of itself, as changing due dates seems to be an unfortunate part of the gaming industry). However, they had a major push in the PR department, hiring Kohnke Communications to do everything that it possibly could, which would include press release, web design, and reviews that would make it seem like cyber-Heaven.

However, Kohnke isn't getting payed. For that matter, neither are Perpetual's investors. Perpetual's new owners decided to shift funds from Perpetual to another company. Worse, Perpetual had asked Kohnke to create marketing materials for G&H, even though the decision to cancel the project apparently came down on September 27. Worse, Perpetual had apparently promised Kohnke a bonus when the game was released. Suffice to say Kohnke is suing Perpetual for $290,000.

So what's the relevance? It's that when G&H comes out, it will need to overcome a lot of negative publicity. The gaming community tends to be tight, and tends to take issue when someone get screwed by a company; gamers in general are cut-throat, and have no problem with nailing each other, but even the worst PvP-killer dislikes when someone gives gaming a black eye. Regardless of how Kohnke felt about doing business with a gaming company before, it's going to seriously debate doing business with one again. Also, the suit gives anti-gaming enthusiasts yet more ammunition in the next go-round.

And it gets worse from there. Perpetual is developing another MMORPG, Start Trek Online. Although it's going to be popular, it's not likely to do well; it's business will probably be limited to hardcore Star Trek fans who will be interested in the novelty, but may not attract the hardcore gamers who keep games like that going. The Strek Trek MMORPG is going to need the best game ever in order to do well over time; it's going to be interesting to see what Penny Arcade and VGCats do to them.

Thus Perpetual's decision to not Kohnke (which was meant to save them money) will probably cause them loss of potential profit down the road. And, even though it isn't a comic, comic creators should take note: Regardless of the quality of your comic, your business deals need to be done with an eye to fairness and good business practices, or the popularity of your comic will suffer, and that can spell bad things in your future...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Guess I need to do the obligatory miscellaneous blog....

My apologies to the WiR site. It turns out that was wrong re: Alex DeWitt; she's the actual inspiration for the site. My confusion was based on reading the comic book in question (where Katma Tui died), and then not seeing DeWitt mentioned on the site beyond the clip of the comic. Again, sorry for any confusion created by my post.

It's Christmas, and time for presents. Please check out the sites attached to this blog (Lulu and SakuraCorp especially) and feel free to go on a wild spree. That said, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, and Fun Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year!

I'm also looking for an artist for Sex Percussions. If you're not interested in doing the 65-page script, would you be interested in doing a guest comic?

And since it's no surprise that I support the writer's strike, I guess I post something...so how about some fun stuff?

A World Without Writers

Voices of Uncertainty
The Office is Closed
Stop The Hollywood Writers Strike
Sandra Oh: How Greedy Can You Get?
Writers Strike: Unfair to Producers
Hollywood Writers Strike- Day 72
Videoblog of the Strike (one of the Colbert writers

Poor Colbert Show

[Thanks to Sam McManis, of the Sacramento Bee for pointing this out...well, some of it.]

--FR

Friday, November 30, 2007

Common Mistakes in Character Building

There are some basic problems when people build characters. Let's see if we can handle those, eh?

Mary Sue/Gary Stu's: Some characters have too much power on one hand, and enough psychological issues to pay off a therapist's student loans. Girls' comics are filled with these characters, because not only is empowerment considered a great thing (thus the sheer number of abilities), but so is sensitivity and admitting your problems (thus the sheer number of personality problems). Another way to look at it is that they are given so much, and so must have a number of things to make up for it. There was a reason that I suggested no more than four good things and no more than two bad things; it's a simple way to balance out your characters. You should always strive for balanced characters, and should avoid characters that have too much going for them in either side of the balance sheet.

Caricatures: At the other end of the spectrum are the shallow characters, those that are more caricatures than characters. The problem is that these characters aren't intended to be serious characters, and so the writer doesn't treat them seriously. It needs to be remembered that all characters need to taken seriously, no matter how silly they are; in fact, silly characters need to be taken seriously if they are to be jokes. Think about: If you are making fun of something, you need to fully explore it, and can you fully explore something if you don't fully allow for it? Thus, you need to make sure that all of your characters are fully developed, and that characters that are caricatures show themselves to be fulyl developed in order to make your running gag go to the next level.

Disrespected Characters: Some people just shouldn't write certain types of characters. This is usually most obvious when it comes to military or religious types, or even authority figures in general, but it can apply to any type of character. The obvious example here is the character who is treated as a caricature; the FBI agent that is far too official, harasses the main character while spouting arcane laws or interpreting laws in order to nail the main characters, and is basically not someone who you want to invite to Christmas dinner. More than any other character, this kind has the most possibility of taking your readers out of the book, and possibly ruining any scene that he is in. The only real advice I can give you here is that you need to be aware of those types of characters that you don't have any respect for, and try to avoid writing those kind of characters. If you do need to write those characters, then you need to make an effort to not treat the character respectfully.

Mandatory Characters: Every genre seems to have those characters that are mandatory, and that everyone seems to make sure that they are in stories of that genres, such as the barbarian in fantasy stories or the cool alien in science fiction. The obvious solution is to don't worry about omitting the character type, and be happy about it. However, if you're using the character as part of a running gag, then see the notes regarding caricatures above.

Love Interests, Sidekicks, and Villains: Always make sure that these characters are well-developed. One of the problems is that these characters are part of the story, but combine elements of various character types as mentioned above; sidekicks may be treated as puppies, love interests may simply be elevated trollops, and villains limited to the Snidely Whiplash version. Respect these characters, as they are the most important ones to your story, and the ones that pop up the most.

Remember this advice, and your characters will love you for it!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Character Build For When Quick Characters

When it comes to your characters, you should have a basic build system. For those that role-play, you know what I'm referring to; it's how you create characters. For those that don't do much role-playing, this should be an interesting entry...

“Character build” refers to how you create characters; specifically, it's a standardized process that allows you to quickly create characters, even if you need to create one on the fly. What you need to do is to create a system that allows you to create realistic characters smoothly and quickly. Although I could cheat and recommend the Champions system (which is complete (arguably too compete)), instead I'll lead you through my process.

The first step is to determine what role the character will be playing in the story. You can be as simplistic as hero, villain, sidekick, or bystander, for example, or work the character into the theme (“the character shows the hero that there is always hope”, for example). The more specific you can get the better, as the more specific you are at this stage, the simpler the other stages will be. It's important that you know what role the character will play; even if it amounts to a cameo, the character needs to do something or you're just wasting words, and every one of your words should be well-chosen.

Once you have established what the character's role is, you can then assign a power level. Even in stories where magic and superpowers aren't used, characters tend to have power levels defined in terms of the story; in a military story, for example, rank, experience, and access to weapons and vehicles would define power. In a high school setting, social status, skill sets, and grade level would be determined by power level (a senior with impressive hacking or athletic skills who is capable of asking anyone for favors would have a high power level, for example).

You should limit the number of god-like characters, however. If you have a lot of them running around, it quickly becomes a question of either why they don't take care of the problem, or why characters would want to know everything when they can't use that power. Tolkien had the right idea; the important action was in the background with Frodo, and the power characters were put on the front lines. Even Tom Bombadil was used to effect, even with his limitations of where he could go.

Even if the setting is exploring extreme powers, you need to keep in mind that the characters should not be the most powerful beings in the story. Even Superman and The Authority are not the most powerful beings in their respective comics; there are still entities that are more powerful than them. It's not a balance issue; it's more that, if they were the most powerful entities, there would be no challenges for them, and they wouldn't be as interesting. They would walk through any challenge and you would hard-pressed to come up with an interesting adversary for them, and without an interesting adversary your story would be boring before you even got out of the gate.

You should then determine the character's personality; combined with the power level and role, the personality will determine appearance, abilities, and other basic characteristics. You should define three personality traits, two good and one bad. That should give your character a balanced, three-dimensional personality. While you're at it, go ahead and give the character two to four advantages, things that he does that he does better than other characters, and that allows him to stand out. Also, define one or two negative qualities. Being an apprentice bears special noting, especially given the number of sidekicks and young heroes; an apprentice should be considered a negative attribute, but only because the character is sharing some of his uniqueness with someone else.

And that's my quicky character generation process. All other features should be easy to define; the broad strokes have been painted in, and you should just need worry about details. Hope this helps!

Monday, November 19, 2007

How Not to Put Women in Refrigerators

As a means of interesting things to avoid, let me point you to this site: Women in Refrigerators

[For those who don't like great sites, “Women in Refrigerators” refers to the detail that women characters seem to suffer more in comics than other kinds of characters (in fact, the term comes from John Stewart's girlfriend being killed and being stuffed into a refrigerator during his tenure as Green Lantern). For example, look at the women in Spidey's life: Gwen Stacy was killed by Green Goblin, Felicia Hardy aka Black Cat has lost her powers and had her powers mutate, Aunt May has died and almost married Doctor Octopus, Betty Leeds was the victim of abuse, and even Mary Jane was kidnapped more than her fair share of times. They also seem to be depowered, maimed, and killed more often as well.]

Although I would dispute the issue when it comes to the fate of heroines that are art of ensemble casts or have their own book, I really can't when it comes to the girlfriend situation. One of the essays on the site points out that the same happens to boyfriends as well; you can't kill off the main character, so someone else needs to suffer, and that pretty much leaves the love interest and the sidekick. And since the sidekick has to put up with so much abuse, anything bad happening to him just feels wrong. Worse, you're killing off the love interest because you want the visceral effect, and you just can't get that if you kill off someone who isn't important.

So, how do you deal with the problem? You can't keep introducing new lovers and friends just to kill them off, or do other nasty things to them; have you noticed that you can tell who is going to die on TV when some new love interest is introduced? If it happens too often, then your fans will start asking why your hero hasn't committed suicide or at least suffering from intense depression (“Every time I meet someone interesting, they seem to die horribly. I need a drink.”).

The solution is to make sure that you have a stable of interesting characters. You need to make all of your characters interesting, and not just those that will be getting a lot of screen time. All of your characters need to have interesting backgrounds, depth, and a little extra dialogue; they need to have just as much as detail as your main characters, even if you never explore that in the script istelf. It's not wasted effort; it gives you a much better handle on the situation when you write, and that's worth any effort you can give him.

If you do this, then you can spread the pain around; whoever you hit with the damage will affect the reader in the way you want them to be affect: Deep and painfully. Also, because readers associate with background characters more, especially if they have been well-written, you can get the same dramatic effect from one of their deaths as well. I imagine that if J. Jonah Jameson died, you can bet that there would be a lot of people not happy with the writers.

In short, if you want to be taken seriously, then you need to take your characters seriously. Do that, and you really have no limits to what you can do. Don't, and you're just writing the usual, boring pablum; do you really want to about baby food or a rich seven-course meal?

[And, yes, this applies to writers of kid lit just as much as it does to novel writers!!]

[EDIT: I've gotten a couple of comment referring to Kyle Rayner's girlfriend Alexandra "Alex" DeWitt, killed by Major Force in GL Vol. 3, Issue #54, (in 1999) was the dead girlfriend of a Green Lantern to inspire the site (and, in fact, it's a picture of that scene on the current front page). However, I was under the impression that the original Woman in a Refrigerator was John Stewart's girlfriend Katma Tui (who was killed in Action Comics Weekly #601 in 1988), killed by Star Sapphire). Given that a few of the articles predate DeWitt's death, I've sent off an e-mail for clarification...]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

When it comes to dealing with marketing you have several options to consider, and you need to debate their use when it comes to dealing with your comic. Keep in mind that not all solutions will work for every person; it requires a certain mindset and a lot of time to take advantage of all of them.

Forum Postings: Discussion forums are places where people meet online in order to discuss pretty much anything. Posting in a discussion forum is great; not only does it allow you to ask questions, it allows you to demonstrate that you are an expert in something, thus earning respect, but it also allows you to advertise you advertise your comic in the signature. Better yet, as long as you make sure that your posts are relevant, it's not spamming! Better yet, they can be archived by search engines, so that you can create more backlinks for your projects (and if the forum is relevant to your comic, or is one for comics, it helps your search engine ranking!). Keep in mind that it works best if you post a lot, so limit forums to only those that you know you can post with some decent frequency.

Blogs: Better known as ways you can post whatever you want to, they can be tailored to create relevant backlinks to your comic, and demonstrate your incredible knowledge of something. Keep in mind that you need to post with some kind of frequency in order to make it work, and you need to know about what you are writing of, or people won't go to your site, thus voiding its use to you.

Advertising: Keep in mind that you need to advertise occasionally. Keep in mind that you may have to actually pay for it, but it can be a great way in get people to come to your site. Project Wonderful and Speechbubble are your friends here. Really debate advertising on Penny Arcade; they have a special term for what they do to servers (“wanged”) as they send a million visitors to your site and scare search engines.

Word of Mouth: Don't forget to advertise your site in the real world. If you're at a comic book dealer, let it drop that you have a webcomic, especially if you have collected it into a printed form. Not only can you possibly sell more of the printed version, but you may get a link out of it. Also, you can place posters as well as advertise on bulletin boards. If you can design a decent press release, you may even get local news to sit you down for an interview, which not only adds to your ranking as an expert, but can make you a local hero. In short, there is a practically unlimited potential out there; use it!

Merch: Besides the obvious profit potential, finding ways to create merch(andise, if you really needed it spelled out) also spreads the word, especially if you provide a link back to your comic. I recommend working with “print on demand”; these programs only create the merch when it is ordered, so that you don't need to guess at how much you will need and they will also ship direct to your customer, simplifying your life. Some places to look at are Zazzle, Spreadshirt, and Cafe Press, for general usage and 4imprint and CustomInk if you are getting ready for some sort of special promotion or conventions.

Fan Art: Draw a picture of your favorite characters from a webcomic, and send that art (with a link and a thumbnail) to one of your favorite sites. If they have a fan art page, and they list your art, then you get advertising for your webcomic. You can also do link exchanges as well...

Viral Campaigns: The hardest campaign to pull off. You need to be subtle, and create a buzz without it getting out that you are the one creating the buzz. Obviously you will need to hire someone, or a group of someones, in order to pull this off, as well as create some advertising in other areas to drag people in. Not advised for newbs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rose or Wallflower: Which describes your site?

Here's a fun question: What would you rather your webcomic be, a rose or a wallflower? Roses are popular, make all of the top parties, and do well; wallflowers are shy, stay home, and don't really do well. Being a wallflower is easy; how do you become a rose?

You need to know how a search engine prioritizes the sites that it finds in order to fully appreciate the situation. When it comes down to it, there are four major criteria that determine how your site does in the rankings: Links, popularity, duration, and organization. Of these, organization is the most straight forward; the better your site is organized, the better your site will do in the rankings. Keep in mind that this also considers your meta tags (the more direct and appropriate the better; don't waste time on words in your description that just add words) and alt tags (those things that replace pictures for people that don't load images that they don't need), as well as any text that you put on the page. So, when you are designing your page, make sure that you use meta tags, alt tags, and text; search engines will love you for it.

Duration is something that you have no control over. Search engines look at how long your site has been around, and the longer it has been around, the better. When an SEO person talks about “sandbox”, he's referring to how long the site has been around, and will usual point out that it takes about six months for it to “get out of the sandbox” (most search engines want to make your site has been around before they rank it very high). Keep in mind that it also means that you should seriously debate completely re-doing your site, as it may put you back in the sandbox, and thus lower your ranking for a few months. As a side note, this also means that any changes to your site will usually take a few months to make any difference in the ranking.

Popularity is something that you can increase through successful marketing, and why you are debating link exchanges in the first place. The more uniques that your site gets, the better you do in the rankings. However, if your numbers suddenly spike and then go back to your previous uniques, the search engines will slam you; they don't like it when you play with your numbers, and a spike means that you are doing something interesting with your numbers. Therefore, you need to do something that increases your numbers slowly and surely, so that you don't set off any warning lights. This is the one area where link exchanges of any sort will definitely help you.

Links to your site are cool, with a caveat. In order to do you any good, links need to come from real sites and be of the same kind. Links from link farms (sites that have a large number of links going to a lot of practically random sites) are considered low quality, whereas links from sites that have something in common with yours are considered good links. So, linking to other webcomics and blogs about webcomic and forums about webcomics good, but linking to sites that sell Indian rugs are bad (unless your webcomic happens to be about Indian rugs, in which it's good).

What does this all mean for your comic? The sandbox will hurt you if you are constantly redesigning it, so design your site so you just have to change the images if you get bored with it and make it well-organized with meta tags and an alt tag for every image. Plug your comic as often as you can, creating backlinks to it. Debate link exchanges; if the sites are of the same kind (such as dealing with webcomics, or anime, or some common theme).

Design your site well, spread the URL in good soil, and your site will do better in the ratings. Do otherwise, and your site will be extremely lonely. Rose or wallflower, the choice is yours.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sidekicks and Appropriate Use

Sidekicks are the most abused characters in comicdom. As such, I need to re-iterate that they are useful.

The bottom line is that your hero can't be everywhere, and can't do everything. Worse, he can't talk to himself. Yeah, he clone himself and talk to himself, but that doesn't work from a dramatic perspective; without limits your character can get very boring very quickly, and insane characters can't really be understood (and if they are, are they insane?). In an ensemble setting, a group of characters that can do everything will definitely get boring quickly.

The sidekick takes up some of this slack. The sidekick can do things that the hero can't, and allows the hero to think things out when things have gotten rough. The sidekick can also act as a medic or seamstress, for those characters that regenerate or have self-repairing costumes. He can also set needed appointments, and remind the hero of those appointments. He can also make sure that the lair is clean and equipment maintained. Like the apprentice of old, the sidekick is capable of many things, and not just in the sense of super powers.

At the same time, the sidekick needs his own maintenance. He needs the slap on the back, the dint of recognition, and it helps to be paid every so often. The sidekick has his own goals, which, just because they align themselves with the hero, doesn't mean that they are the same or that they don't diverge. The sidekick has to be allowed to pursue those goals, and even have a live of his own that doesn't involve the hero.

And that's an important point that needs to be considered here: The sidekick has to be able to go to college, have a significant other, or just go to the local Indian casino every so often. Their existence need not be defined by the hero, and that serving as a sidekick may just be some form of community service, a way for a would-be hero to learn the ropes before becoming a hero themselves, or as a way to help someone do something that they could not. Some of them do it for baser reasons, such as revenge, lust, or even pay; those motivations need to be considered just as much as higher motivations.

The sidekick can also act to add drama, but I highly suggest you debate putting the sidekick in danger more often than you really need to. The sidekick may be an easy target for the villains to kidnap and endanger, but if it's more than a few times then it loses its punch. Not only does it question the competence of your hero and what the sidekick has learned, but it also questions your own skill as a writer (if the only way you can make things more interesting is to imperil the sidekick, then the question of your competence comes under fire). And this definitely applies to girlfriends!

The sidekick should be used to show why the hero does what he does, but he should also be used to plumb the depths of your world by occasionally getting away from the hero. The sidekick should be something that you have fun with; if you can't, then don't bother having one...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sidekicks Aren't Just For A Villain's Target Practice

The sidekick is another major character that needs to explored. As an extension of the hero, the sidekick acts as an interesting character, especially if handled correctly.

There are three basic types of sidekicks. There apprentice heroes, who are trying to learn how to be a hero from a hero (Robin is obviously the stereotype here). Then there is the “accidental” sidekick; this sidekick always seem to be able to be in a position to help the hero, even though he definitely shouldn't be there (Penny and Brain, for example). Lastly, there is the character that could be a hero in his or her own right, but is somehow tied to the hero (Supergirl (aka Matrix, and the one that's an earthbound angel), when she was employed by Lex, for example).

Each type fulfills a different need, and by exploring that need you can determine which sidekick you should strive towards. The obvious quicky note: You don't need a sidekick. They fill very specific literary needs, and so they aren't right for everyone. Also, don't make the mistake of assuming that everyone likes the idea of a sidekick; when sidekicks were introduced as a sort of avatar for the boys that read comics, the concept was despised (everyone wants to be Batman, no one wants to be Robin). Bear that in mind when you debate one.

The apprentice is the sidekick of choice, especially among male heroes. The apprentice provides a continuation of sorts, and represents the hero's legacy. He is responsible for training the sidekick, and the sidekick becomes an extension of the hero. This doesn't mean that the sidekick can't evolve; rather, that when the hero evolves, the sidekick will be the physical manifestation of that. For example, when Batman was finally able to let go of his past, Dick Grayson was allowed to become Nightwing and become a hero in his own right. Of course, it was quickly realized that Batman needed Robin (without Robin, he became depressed and focused too much on his work; he needed Robin to keep him balanced), and so a new one was quickly found (of course, Jason Todd didn't work out, so Timothy Drake was brought in).

The apprentice is best used when the hero needs to have some sort of symbolic reminder of what he is fighting for, and has some deep issues when it comes to legacy or family. The sidekick is the physical manifestation of the hero's dreams of the future, and provides a link to the past. In short, this particular sidekick is best used as a symbol, but with a conflicting personality to its hero, and abilities based off the heroes (to further enhance the symbolism).

The annoyance is straight comedy relief. The hero keeps getting himself into weird situations, and neds to either be rescued or has to have some luck fall his way; the annoyance provides that escape or luck as needed. The idea is to demonstrate that the hero isn't the end all/be all, and that he has some definite flaws. Penny and Brain are the examples here; Inspector Gadget is always getting himself into danger, and being extracted or rescued by Brain, even as Penny solves the case and provides back-up for her uncle. In pulp, Tonto is probably a good analogue, as he is there to merely provide an extra set of hands for the Lone Ranger. As noted, only use this sidekick when you need comedy relief; it sucks if used for serious reasons.

The equal is the weird one. This character is the hero's inferior only in rank; in all other ways, she is the character's equal or superior. There's a lot of reasons for this, such as some sort of binding spell, the hero has something she needs, or that the sidekick is being punished; the bottom line is that the sidekick is subservient to the hero. Although it can be used for comedy relief, the best way is to show that the hero is still learning his way around, and that the sidekick is going to show him the way; a shaman or pathfinder if you will.

At any rate, have fun with sidekicks; used correctly, they can add so much to your comic. Used wrong, however, and they tend to kill it. So use them appropriately...

Hillary/Obama: Threatened by their own community?

Today, we live in a fascinating period of time. In just a few months the primaries will be upon us yet again, and we will be deciding who will represent the great parties of our nation. And those choices are most interesting for the Democratic Party.

The two front runners are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and present some very interesting choices. However, of especial note is that they are being attacked most often by those that you would think that would have supported them the most: Hillary by women, and Obama by African-Americans. Although I have no problem with anyone being able to have their own opinion, it scares me when people are finding reasons to not vote for someone based on gender or race, and it especially scares when it has the feeling of running from their own gender or race in order to demonstrate their solidarity with the opposing side.

Obama has been slammed as not being “black”, and that, while he may be African-American, he is not black. Because his family hails from Kenya, and because he is a second-generation immigrant, it has been said that he has not had an “authentic” black experience, and even at the Youtube Town Conference, one of the questioners wanted to know if Obama considered himself “authentic” enough to be considered black. Obama is being judged twice: Once by his race, and once again by his background.

Because his father comes from Eastern Africa, and not Western Africa as most slaves did, and because he comes from the wealthy rather than the inner cities, a number of black columnists have debated his ability to represent the black cause. Rather than looking at his record, and using that as the means of judging him, they are looking at his race, and his background. I find the semantics issue amusing; you would have thought that the black community would have used Obama as a rallying point, but the black community has decided to tear him down, as he lacks what they wish in an “appropriate background”. And the viciousness of those attacks is beginning to foster a new generation of racist sentiment, as racists are now able to show that the blacks are just as concerned about race as they are, and that it's thus acceptable.

Hillary represents a weirder issue. Even feminists that supported her first as First Lady and then Senator, are not supporting her for president. Although some are doing it because of Hillary's voting record, and other because she would effectively be another “dynasty” president. It's interesting that Hillary is being held to a higher standard, not by men, but by women, and she falls short of that standard. Some are against her, in fact, because she is a woman, and feel that they shouldn't be forced to vote for someone based solely on the person's gender.

The thing that truly shocks me is that feminists dislike that she is playing by the same rules that the guys are, and winning with them. Rather than winning using some sort of imagined feminist ideals, she is kicking butt and taking names just as the guys do. And that's offensive to a lot of them; personally, politics is a game, and you win by playing the rules of a game rather than making new rules. And if the only way you can win is through house rules, then you may as well stay home. Hillary has not only played the game by the rules, but has kicked butt in them. And for this, she has been derided.

This is not to say that blacks should vote only for blacks, or women solely for women, but it feels somewhat incredible that they should feel forced to tear someone down because of a shared race or gender. And that's probably the scariest aspect of the next primary...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Villain As Supporting Cast

The basic truth to any hero is that he's only as good as his villain. And as such, he bears some serious consideration. There are basically three kinds of villains: Failed love interests, Arch-rivals, and Elementals. Let's explore!

Arch-rivals are the meat of the relationship. The hero needs someone who is capable of testing him, and is going to make the challenge seem interesting. Sometimes the rivalry goes way back; Dr. Doom has been challenging Reed all the way back to their college days. Other times, it goes to when they first clashed; Lex Luthor wants to slam Superman because Superman sent him to jail when they first met. And then there are those that simply represent different perspectives; Ra's Al-Ghul is Batman done Evil.

However, the basics of the arch-rival will always be the same: The villain needs to challenge the hero, and a have a reason for the grudge. The challenge is the fun part, and it doesn't mean that the villain has to have the same powerset as the hero, or even have a powerset; Lex Luthor has done rather well, and he usually doesn't even have a powersuit. Luthor challenges Superman by threatening his ethics; Luthor is a womanizing, plotting, unrepentant bastard, and proud of it; he has fun doing what he does, and he's pretty good at it. But...he represents a threat that the Blue Boy Scout can't handle easily; he can't physically attack Lex, and Lex is a far more complex problem because he is part of the power structure of Metropolis. Lex has always been a fun villain; he's evil, he knows it, and he's always steps ahead of Superman.

And the grudge is just as important. No matter how multi-dimensional your villain is, if he doesn't have a grudge against your hero, then the villain just doesn't work. When you think grudge, screw the logical side of your brain; apply the angry side of your personality. And I'm not talking merely being anti-authority; I'm talking the villain has been arrested or humiliated by the hero, or thinks that he has been. Dr. Doom has gotten a lot of mileage out of Reed embarrassing him back in college, when Reed tried to point out his math error; he's seen every defeat since then as further humiliation. Batman slighted Ra's Al-Ghul by not marrying his daughter and wanting to take over his organization.

And, even though I'm using a super-villains, this doesn't apply solely to them. It can apply to high school (the Supreme Jock and Ultimate Popular Girl are the obvious cliches), the office (the backstabbing secretary and the sadistic boss), There is almost no limit to where you can find the arch-rival!

The Failed Love Interest can be downright fun. Besides revealing part of the hero's psyche (what kind of woman the hero likes can reveal a lot), it creates an interesting character that can sometimes annoy, sometimes support the hero. The FLI can be anything, from a stalker, a radical (getting into trouble by proving how good he is, for example), ethical rival (loves the hero, loves stealing more), or even obligation (needs to marry the hero in order to fulfill some personal quest). Anything that applies to the normal love interest applies to the failed one; after all, the FLI could have been the love interest except for some “tragic”mishap. Except, of course, that the FLI is just a bit twisted; she may be out to kill the hero, humiliate him, or even just be doing what she is doing in order to get the hero's attention. And, even more evil, she may team-up with the hero in order to save him; nothing ends a romance like the death of the romanced.

A special note on this one: One of two situations can really mess up the situation. The first is that the hero could represent the one way in which the villain is a potentially good person. This is great for tragic storylines, or when you just want to make the villain a bit sympathetic. It can even be used if you eventually wish to redeem the villain, and this is usually the first sign of that.

The other is much nastier. In essence, it's a version of the Arch-Rival, but nastier; the FLI is trying to prove herself, and the easiest way to do is to be the center of his universe, which is naturally enough his arch-rival. Or, the “failed” part could be humiliating to the villain, and forms the basis of her grudge. This can get really tragic...

The Elemental is something that is intrinsic to super-hero and fantasy comics. It requires a focus of mind that just doesn't work in other genres. I'm not referring to characters made of some elemental force; I'm referring to characters that represent some aspect of the universe. Consider The Joker for a sec: He represents the evil, insane, twisted part of the human psyche. He and Batman clash more because they represent opposing forces (Sanity versus Insanity) more than any mere rivalry. By representing some aspect of the Dark Side of the Universe, the Elemental allows you to play with the fundamental forces that make up your universe, and show that it can fight back on its own terms.

Sort of makes The Joker scarier, doesn't it?

By using these three kinds of villains, you do something weird: You give the hero something to do. You give him a chance to show why he's a hero, why he fights, and what he's willing to do to win. If you look at the support staff as providing the reason for why the hero does all of that, then the villain is ironically the best support a hero could ever have. Keep that in mind, and you will do really well!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Why Love Needs To Be Of Equal Partners

When it comes to the love interest, the big problem is the power issue. In essence, the love interest is either more powerful or less powerful than the main character. This is a mistake.

Consider the TV series “Charmed” for a moment. As the series progressed, the power level of Leo (Piper's love interest) rose, hit a plateau, and then disappeared. He began with the power to teleport (in the series it was called “orbing”, but let's call a spade a spade, okay?) and heal. He then became an Avatar, becoming practically omnipotent, and then lost his powers completely. He still had his knowledge, but he was pretty much secondary to his wife. Although he was still a great character, it felt as if the character had been emasculated. Worse, what made him important to the team was taken away and his involvement in the team became more passive.

Although an interesting feminist statement, part of what made the Piper-Leo coupling interesting was that Leo was Piper's White Knight, the man who would come to Piper's defense no matter what. However, as the series progressed, Piper became more independent of Leo; this was great on the level that women shouldn't be dependent on the male in their life, but we had already had that in the season after the Avatar arc. However, Piper also tended to abuse Leo a lot; in a real-world marriage, they would have been forced into marriage counseling by The Elders early on. By diminishing Leo's power, they not only forewent making an even more important statement (that marriage partners should be equal), while at the same time creating a third-rate character.

At the same time, consider Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon. Because Tuxedo Mask was more powerful than Sailor Moon, it was easy for her to come to depend on his timely arrival, while resenting him if he didn't rescue her. In essence, she may have received top billing, but she was a secondary character every time he showed up.

The power level issue is one that needs to be seriously considered; after all, if the lover has a lower power level than the loved, then the relationship has a built-in conflict: Is the lover in an actual relationship, or is he or she just a pet? This is most obvious in super-hero and vampire stories; what does Lois Lane offer Superman? Worse, with vampires you have the problem that the current lover merely reminds the vampire of past days and his humanity; the vampire isn't necessarily in love with the person so much as the idea of being in love. The greater the difference in power, the more you need to justify the relationship.

So, how do you justify the relationship? You don't. Once you start justifying the relationship, you finish it; by exploring it, you remove the mystery that is inherent in any good relationship. Instead, go with the romance; a few surprise gifts, making sure that the lover is called no matter where the call comes from, and giving the lover some space. If necessary, give the lover a signal device or bodyguard, but she should have something in case she gets in trouble.

Now, if you think the romance is fun, imagine what happens when the romance is over! You have someone who knows the loved one's secrets, limits, and psychology; that could be one heck of an enemy...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Movie Star Ratings Uncovered

[And now, for something completely different...]

Back when I was in junior high, I noticed that certain movies tended to get the same stars, unless they were incredibly good or incredibly bad. I had debated never publishing the list, but then I was watching a special on VH-1 on how the stars got started and I figured I may as well as write it up for comparison...The basic point to the system was that some critics were easy to predict how many stars that they would give certain movies; because of this, I basically decided that no critic should be allowed to be a paid critic for more than five years, unless they signed a contract that allowed a mob to tear them to bits after ten years (exceptions, obviously, would be allowed, but I think it would make reviews more of a “Should you see this movie?” as opposed to “Is this movie good for you?”, and eliminate words like “doyenne”, “zaftig”, and “mise en scene” from the review section and keep them in the arts section...

Oh, and don't worry about the system if it seems that an Oscar Award-winning movie seems to be short-changed; try a few examples and you should see that it works out okay. Also, any movie that gains more than five stars is considered five stars, and any movie that gets less than zero stars has zero.

[BTW: Where does VH-1 find those people? They kept pointing out that you can't get any real career going if you have done a horror movie, any kind of sex or nudity, or have been in a music video; yet, it seems that almost every star, especially the mega-stars, have done it. If you doubt it, pick a name and then do some research (start at the Celebrity Nudes Database (www.cndb.com) for some very illuminating information). They also spout off the stupidest things (may favorite has got to be that Japanese companies sign contracts with American stars that specifies that the commercials can never be seen in the USA, AS THE COMMERCIALS ARE BEING SHOWN; if it were true, how can show the commercials on an American program? Personally, I just think that the stars do it because the commercials are just so fun to do, and they just can't do them in the states because of idiot publicists....]

First, type the movie in the least favorable genre. The types are drama, historical, horror, westeren, comedy, sci-fi, and fantasy. This determines the base number of stars.

“Horror” movies are pretty cut and dried, but come in three types: Gore, Comedy, and Young Star. In theory, the idea is that someone is in danger of being killed. Gore movies are fun, kill the entire cast (or most of it), and tend to have an allegorical base (ie, there is a definite theme); Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Comedy horror movies make fun of the genre, generally ignoring their own premise (comedy horror movies tend to ignore the established conventions of horror movies, relying more on what non-horror fans consider the conventions): Scream. “Young Star” movies are those which publicize the cast more than the movie itself, and in which, ironically, no one really dies: Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer. Critics don't like movies that are fun to watch (even though you would have thought that they would love movies in which jocks get killed), but like it when the genre makes fun of itself. Base Stars: Gore: 0; Young Star: .5, Comedy: 1

“Fantasy” is any movie that features magic (even if it has some sort of pseudo-scientific explanation), regardless of historical era. It can also feature non-human races, quests, and medieval organization, but the magic is the key part. Critics dislike fantasy movies because they believe that they pander to some base instinct (the movies do tend to feature violence, idealism, and the ethos is black/white; critics tend to hate fun movies). Note that this includes any movie that features mythological themes, “everyday magic” (like wishes that come true), or religious themes where miracles occur (critics tend to be fanatic atheists for some reason). Base Stars: 1

“Sci-Fi” is any movie that features some sort of scientific mumbo-jumbo. They can also feature non-human races, military or pseudo-military organizations, and missions with big rewards, but it's the cyborgs, big ships and chrono-cataclysms that are the featured element. Critics apparently hated science class back in school, as well as movies that explore the human condition without depending on regular humans. Base Stars: 1.5

Comedy: These are movies wherein you are supposed to laugh. In general, however, critics place most humor at the low level of interest; they tend to forget that making a comedy requires a lot of skill from the writer in order to work once you get past the body fluid and burlesque stage. By the same measure, movies that make fun of the movie business or are based in dark humor tend to do really well (this is where it starts to get into the dividing line between what normal people are looking for in a movie, and what critics are looking for in a movie). Base Stars: Scatological/Drug Humor: 1; Funny: 2; Dark Humor: 3

Western: Hollywood in general seems to have a love/hate relationship with movies; they love them because they're fun and easy to produce, but hate them because of the perception that they are too simplistic. For this discussion, a “western” is any movie that features the Old West (Alaska or the states west of the Mississippi from roughly 1860-1915 (ie, between the Civil War and the WWI)). The emphasis is on anti-heroes doing good, however incidental. Critics dislike them because they are a remnant of Old Hollywood, and rarely seem to be done right or seem to sappy. Base Stars: 2

Drama: Dramas are movies in which people talk, get slapped, and die tragically. The basic point is that it's not funny, and the science stays within the realm of what most people can understand. This is also a catch-all category; any classical material (Shakespeare, anything Greek, even Jules Verne) counts here as well, regardless of whether or not the material fits better somewhere else (note Jules Verne). However, there is a difference between cheesy drama (think something that you would see on Lifetime or as a movie of the week) or serious (virtually anything else). Base Stars: Cheesy: 2; Serious: 3

Historical: In essence, it actually happened or could have happened. Critics invariably like these because they can do research and find all the trivial ways in which the movie is right or wrong. Base Stars: 3

The first modifier is the cast mod: Look at the IMDB listing of only the actors/actresses that appear on the movie poster and average the stars from the last movie and divide by 4. Do the same for the director, screen-writer, and producer, for each category. Then total the four and subtract 2, adding 1 if this is the one of the first four movies for more than half of those involved). It may seem like a bit of math, but it just makes the star rating more accurate. If they don't have anything prior, assume 2. If someone is in more than one category, they count for all possible categories, with an added 1 if the director and writer are the same person). The formula is:

((Average of Actors/Actresses)+(Average of Writers (+1 if also directing))+(Average of Producers)+(Average of Directors (+1 if also writing)))/4-2+1(if most of those are new to the movies).

Now look at the country of origin: Add another +1 if it's European (critics love European movies, on the idea that Europe invented it, so they obviously know what they are doing), and -.1 if Australian or Asian (silly newbies!).

And then there is subject matter: Rape gains +.5, graphic sex +.5, assumed sex (ie, just thrusting and maybe partial nudity) -1, and kids/animals -1. Violence comes in two flavors: Extreme violence that is meant to demonstrate how cheap life is or that violence is ridiculous gains a +1. If it's otherwise just violence, no matter how nasty, it's a -1 (note that this applies to most Gore horror movies and Fantasy movies).

Enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Who should be in your pit crew?

The pit crew's composition is important, as it defines what is important to the character. The character is a rebel? Then you need a strong leader for him to rebel against. He's fighting for the people? Then don't forget to include a sidekick as a representative of those people. Here are your basic five pit crew members, and what they can do for your hero(es). Oh, and I'm going to pick on Batman, simply because he has arguably one of the largest pit crews of just about any hero (ironic considering his, “I work alone” status).

Love Interest: Romance is good; it provides a reason for the hero to do something (protect the love interest, get something for the love interest (to heal or to prove something, or just to show off), can provide conflict (either romantic issues or because the couple is having problems), and connects the hero to the setting (the love interest should not only be representative of the locals, but can also provide updates on any crisis that you have going on and provide an added poignancy. Bruce has a long list of romantic interests, and they have provided their own fun, ranging from hiding his secret identity (Vicki Vale), conflict of interest (Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman), or even your basic “Her Dad's a Villain?” (Talia).

Superior: Arguably the weakest pit crew member, the superior is whoever the hero reports to and who tells the hero that where he will be going. A great character in the right circumstances, too many weak writers create a total nimrod; in essence, the superior is there mostly to show why the military or corporate sucks, and I refer you to my segment on military and religion on things to avoid (note that I'm not saying that a superior can't be used to show how dark the world is, just keep in mind to keep a fine line). However, if used correctly, the superior allows for visible character growth (in terms of promotions, awards, and raises/bonuses), but also things like fun or more important assignments as well as respect. Mostly useful towards the beginning of the comic, and should be shifted to mentor at some point, but can also be a sidekick or love interest, or even a retainer (weirder things have happened!). Although it could be argued that he has no superior, Commissioner Gordon was effectively one at one point (as the Batman was obligated to uphold his status as deputy), or whoever was in charge of the JLA/JLI (as a member (depending on the situation), Batman is somewhat obligated to put in some time helping out).

Mentor: The hero needed to gain his skills from somewhere, and the mentor is that somewhere. Besides giving the hero a reason to prove himself, the mentor also allows for serious character development (demonstrating that the character is growing from student to master to teaching himself). The mentor also provides an excuse for training scenes, which seem to be popular in comics with a martial arts them. The mentor can also send the hero on quests, either for the group that the character serves, or for personal reasons (and the don't need to be serious; Inu Yasha has a monk send his protege on a quest for a special kind of sake). The mentor can also get away with a special kind of exposition: The field report (a briefing on what is basically happening), which is probably one of the least annoying methods of exposition ever created. Although few of Bruce's mentors have been shown, he did learn those ridiculous skills from somewhere. It is worth noting that Alfred used to count (as he taught Bruce most of social skills), as would Commissioner Gordon (even though it's on a technicality; although Bruce is definitely more skilled, Commissioner Gordon has shown Bruce how to be human on more than one occasion, and Commissioner Gordon's tight relationship with Barbara has helped to keep him somwhat romantic, as it's an example of a normal relationship that has worked).

Sidekick: The reverse of the mentor, the sidekick is a character that the hero is training, or as a surrogate son or daughter. The sidekick is best used to give the strip a comedy relief and to lighten an otherwise dark strip, but can also be used to drop a note of seriousness as needed. Bear in mind that a sidekick usually acts as the hero's conscience, as well as someone to bounce strategy off of, and a set of long-distance hands. The sidekick usually has a diminished set of skills or powers based off the hero, but this doesn't always need to be the case (in fact, if you wanted to give the hero a shift in perspective, make his sidekick someone who is there to learn more of the attitude than actual skills, or to chronicle the hero's journey). And keep in mind that the sidekick doesn't need to have respect for the hero (especially at the beginning); it can be interesting to have a sidekick that actually hates the hero yet is forced somehow to be protected or trained by the hero. This includes any member of the Bat-Family (Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, Spoiler, etc.); the guy likes taking in strays.

Retainer: This covers a lot of evils, but the essentials are the same: The person has skills that are vital to the hero, that the hero doesn't possess himself (such as computer, healing, or administrative skills), skills or abilities that are useful enough to replicate (such as combat skills or super-powers (a lot of bricks start off this way), or even just a different perspective (a civilian in a military group, an observer who can't keep his observations to himself, or even a naïve or cynical character). Keep in mind that this includes soldiers under the command of the hero, people that the hero has hired, or even people that just follow the hero around (those silly friend and companions-in-arms things). Alfred is an obvious example, but so is Azrael (who was hired to take his place prior to going, well, bats). Also, the Sons of Batman (from the Dark Knight Returns) would definitely count as well.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

How To Make Great Art

Okay, I've been looking at a lot of galleries lately, and I think I've hit on some things that everyone is missing. In that regard, I present some things that more people should be doing:

10) Leave the anime at home. I'm seeing too many artists that have a great personal style, but, nonetheless, the 75%+ of their gallery is mangaka-wannabe stuff. Why settle for doing the same stuff as everyone else if you can do it better?

9 ) Dynamic poses. Anyone can do a pose of someone standing up and smiling. I want to see something fun! Crouching shyly, smiling over a shoulder, even jumping...but enough with the standing!

8 ) Human interaction. I'm not referring to sex; that's way too easy. I want something more subtle, like a head on a belly or a hand on a chest. Even just a basic handshake. It doesn't even have to be close contact; two guys glaring at each other. Something to show that the people in the piece recognize that the other person lives...

7 ) Non-muscular anatomy. I always look for geeks and fat guys; it's mainly because anyone can draw a guy that's got Olympian proportions or women that look like they stepped of a Vogue cover. But...can they people with realistic figures? If even movies and TV have figured out that portraying regular people is good (we've seen Eric Foreman's BVD's how many times?), then why haven't comics figured it out?

6 ) Kids. I'm not talking shota or pedophilia here. I'm a big fan of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; I fgure that a lot of people are. And yet...kids are really rare. I want to see more Norman Rockwell stuff where kids are playing, eating, and just, well, being kids...

5 ) Animals. Okay, I know the limitation is that animals are something that you won't see a lot of. Yet I'm at the point where I would like to see more 12-year-old girl stylings of pretty ponies just to see how an artist would do animals. Even with fanpics of Naruto's pal Kiba you don't see many dogs. I guess I should write more animal mascots; nonetheless, normal dogs and cats would be nice to see.

4 ) Anthropomorphs with muzzles. A cat boy needs more than just a pair of ears and maybe a button nose; they should have a muzzle as well. If you're going to experiment with the concept, have fun with it; don't just stop at the ears! Yeesh...

3 ) Monsters. Okay, so I'm obviously a big fan of Greek mythology. I like hydras, and dragons, and griffins (Oh my!). I would have figured that everyone would have. And yet...there are almost none of them in any gallery. I see angels, I see nagas, but where are the monsters?

[Silly PETA...Time to crank out those "PETA Unfair to Monsters" T-Shirts...]

2 ) Little details. I'm not referring to clothing wrinkles or tattoos; I want to see backpacks, watches, multi-layered outfits. I want to see spit curls, long hair, and even bald people with little bumps. And freckles; why do people in art always have clear complexions when no one in real-life does?

Spandex is fine; wrinkles are fine. But where are the plaids?

1 ) BACKGROUNDS! I see a lot of colored backgrounds with filters. I may see a bed or a torture device, but rarely where they are sitting. People do not float through space; why should your characters? Yeesh...

If it helps...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Pit Crew

In racing, the pit crew is the group of people that makes sure that the racer can continue racing: They make sure that the car is maintained, that the racer is fed, and that the racer never gives up. Without the pit crew, the racer might do well for a good part of the race, but can't possibly last the entire length without a pit crew.

The pit crew are a step up from your flavor characters. These are characters that do important things, and not just help define your setting. These characters are the ones that not only provide a service for the main character(s), but also act as occasional confidante, friend, and even lover.

Consider Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred not only helps define Batman's world (Bruce Wayne is rich, so of course he has a butler), he also makes sure that equipment works, deflects the occasional noseybody, and even helps Batman do research. He has also acted as Batman's conscience, and has been one of the few people that has stood up to Batman and told him off. Alfred is probably as close to an uncle as Batman has ever had.

Commissioner Gordon is also an interesting supporting character. Besides giving Batman a somewhat legitimate official backing (Batman has been deputized more than a few times), as well as access to some information that even the Batman has access to, Commissioner Gordon has also stood up to Batman (yes, it can be done!), as well as provided some plot hooks and a friend to Batman.

How about Mary Jane Watson? Peter Parker needs someone to keep him grounded; you can't go up against one of the nastiest rogue galleries in all of comicdom without having someone ground you. Mary Jane may not have many contacts, may not have any powers, and may be one of the weakest wives ever, but she does something that no other wife in the comics can do: She keeps one of the most average heroes average. And that's no small accomplishment when you realize that Spider-Man has arguably one of the most eclectic rogues gallery of any established hero (it includes psycopaths, heroes, shape-changers, magical beings, and true multiple personalities).

May as well through Lex Luthor into the mix (ever notice how many double-L's there are in Superman's life [Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Lex Luther, Lara-El]?). An unlikely supporting character if there was one, Lex has shown the weaknesses in Supes, as well as his strengths. By taking one of the most mercenary personalities ever and adding in ambition and a megalomania that knows no bounds, Lex acts as Supes' best foil; because he adds so much to Superman, it's hard to imagine Superman without his dark shadow. It's because of how tied the two of them are, as well as how much The Businessman defines the Boy Scout, that Lex is more of a supporting character than arch-villain.

In short, a supporting character can add another dimension to your character by allowing him to be human. They allow him to mess up, and be called on it. They become just as vital to our perception to the character as what they wear, do, or say, and even become our friends and examples of what we can do (I wonder how many police chiefs have modeled themselves on Jim Gordon or businessman wish they could be Lex?). They show that the hero has someone to hang with, and just be human (or as human as some of these people get!). Ultimately, they represent aspects of the character that they support, and in such a way that we gain some measure of respect for both.

Sort of makes for an interesting pit crew. Mary Jane Watson may look gorgeous in coveralls (of course, she could look gorgeous in a burlap sac), and Alfred and Gordon might find it a change of pace, but I would not mess with a pit crew that had someone as vicious as Lex Luthor. How could you lose with a crew like that?

And that's sort of the point...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Guess I'd better comment on it; everyone else has!

For the few that don't know: Todd Goldman recently sold a painting based on the artwork of webcomic artist David Kelly. Apparently, Goldman has stolen a lot of artwork, and even has a pipeline in the form of T-shirt design submissions to his company. He apparently uses the work to help him make fun of pop culture (he takes the work and then parodies it). I'd really like to see someone take him to court and see if his work would be protected by the Fair Use Act (which covers parody)...

Is Todd Goldman scum? Definitely. But only because he's an illustrator. If it had happened in the world of writing, the argument would be less cut and dry; being a writer means that you will occasionally be tempted to steal something that you see in someone else's writing. And you generally will!

You need to realize that there is a difference between illustrators and writers, and that the two worlds can be bridged, but never really be together. Those that write and illustrate can appreciate the difference; whereas an illustrator takes less organization, can really be done anywhere, and is considered really cool, writing takes tremendous organization, can only be done where you feel comfortable, and isn't cool. It's a right brain vs. left brain issue; writers are at their best when they are being analytical, whereas illustrators do better when they are in the moment.

This difference applies to how they do things as well. Illustrators that steal should be blacklisted; it shows a lack of imagination to steal someone else's artwork, and to just throw on your own special touches. Writers that steal, however, gain praise. Characters, plots, and concepts are treated as tools, and can be shared as long as you DO something with them. Consider how many characters with BIG swords there are. Besides making Freud nervous, they're fun to draw; they're also fun for writers to include because WE GET THE JOKE. Think about it: The Japanese are fascinated by the length of certain organs, and so it's interesting to see how long the swords will get.

But...other things are stolen as well. It's almost part of the craft to steal from someone at some point, and to see what you can do with it. It's not that writers are naturally dishonest; rather, we are highly competitive with each other, and the need to one-up each other is part of who we are. We like to push each other, and show that we can write better than anyone else. The easiest way to do that is by taking something that someone else has done, and show them what are take is. We recognize that we are at the bottom of the food chain; that's probably why we are so competitive.

We try a lot more, and we find inspiration easier than illustrators. It's almost as if we grab onto things, and then see what we can change about them, to make them part of our universe. Writers need to write, and we will write about anything that inspires us. So realize that being a writer makes you kin to gypsies, where property doesn't mean that much, and the group is more important than the individual members.

So steal, and be happy that the commandment about stealing is not your worry. At least, until somone catches you!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Extras That Return

If extras are those characters that are just there to provide filler, you will have those that perform specific tasks that show up all the time, but aren't part of the main cast. The perfect example of this is Nurse Joy and her infinite sisters from the Pokemon universe; every town has one, and her function is to merely heal pokemon and show how big of a pervert Brock is.

The “font” extra is just an extra; his or her identity changes each time, and the actual person doesn't matter. That is, it's a generic seer, a thug found in a bar, or just a random someone you pick every time you need a specific type of information dispersed. In this situation, the character doesn't matter, and so he's still just an extra.

However, you need to show that your characters have real effects on the world. By having a real person having been affected by the characters' actions, you show that your world has depth. And in order to do this you need recurring extras. If your characters eliminate hunger, you need to show that someone who was famished is enjoying a good meal; it really brings home the point that they have done something (eliminated hunger) and that it has had an effect (people are eating).

In cartoons, recurring extras are used extensively. You have the poor boy who the hero treats with respect who ends up saving the hero's life (usually as a sacrifice). There is the mother of six that has adopted the heroine, usually for succor. And don't forget the caravan owner that seems to be everywhere...

A recurring extra should never become an actual permanent character; occasionally you can highlight them, using them as a plot hook in order to get a character into the story, but the character should then disappear into the woodwork. They should only show up when you need someone from the world to show that your characters are having an effect; bring them up early in the story, and then when the effect has occurred. You can show the character as events change things, but don't get too crazy with showing the character; he may be a human being, but he's still just part of the background.

Keep in mind that he's there just to create some kind of sympathy and to show how important the character is; he's not there to add to your cast, but how your cast is perceived. Sometimes it's hard to create sympathy for your characters; they may be extreme anti-heroes, cold, or extremely professional and are thus unable to truly interact with other characters, and so showing the human side of your characters is difficult. By creating an extra that shows that the characters are human, and that the character is cold for a reason, you create a little more sympathy for your characters. Without that human touch, your comic just doesn't have any relation to your audience. And without that touch, your comic just won't become popular. And you want to become popular, right?

So remember those single mothers with large families, roaming caravan owners, and sacrificial urchins; you may need them!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Part V: ThoseThat Inspire

[Last one; sorry this is taking so long, it's just that I've been connection and work issues...Monday]

The last step in getting rid of racism is to show that every group has heroes that have contributed something to society, as well as have been around for a while. The link to history is important; the longer the roots go, the more solid the group. (Because of that, and to encourage you to look them yourself, I'm purposely not putting any dates in.) So...are there ten black heroes that have nothing to do with the various performing arts or athletics? Let's see...

Harriet Tubman: A conductor of the Underground Railroad, she ferried over 1000 slaves to freedom over 160 trips. Even though she was epileptic, illiterate, and having a reward for her head. Her career as a conductor lasted until the Civil War, when she was forced to retire. In her “retirement” she became a major voice for both the black and woman's equality movements.

Frederick Douglass: MLK, Jr., was not the first major speaker for black equality. That particular honor could be arguably given to Mr. Douglas. He struck up coalitions with other civil rights organizations, including the nascent women's rights movements; this allowed the small organizations to pool resources, and it made sense as members of one group sometimes belonged to others.

Mary McLeod Bethune: President of the National Association of Colored Women and the founder of the National Council for Negro Women, she is the subject of the first black OR woman to be placed in any park in the nation's capital. She also held one of the Top Twenty position in the New Deal administration. She was responsible for increasing the education opportunities for African Americans. If you ever complain about blacks not having opportunities, her ghost may just say hi in a very rude way.

George Washington Carver: The only person to have invented more than Thomas Edison; his inventions generally involved the peanut. His inventions include peanut butter (the formula is virtually unchanged since it was first invented) and peanut oil; he was single-handedly responsible for helping Georgia.

Jessie Redmon Fauset: The mid-wife of African American literature, she was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. She was also the editor of “Crisis”, a magazine published by the NAACP. She taught English, French (presumably practiced when she went to school at the Sorbonne), and literature, and wrote a number of books for adults and children, which were revived in the 1960s.

Crispus Attucks: Death makes all men equal. Born of Native American and black blood, Attucks was an escaped slave that became the leader of fifty men that advanced on a British unit, yelling, “Do not be afraid!”. The soldiers fired on the men, and he and four other men were killed. Over a thousand people attended the funeral.

Fannie Lou Hamer: From humble beginnings grow mighty things. Starting off as a sharecropper, she eventually became best known for the line, “I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Although beaten for doing so, she encouraged voter reform, eventually causing the Voter Reform Act signed into law by President Johnson. Her charisma and singing talent lent her voice strength, and she was a well-known speaker and it took diabetes, cancer, and heart problems to stop her. The Mississippi House of Representative passed a resolution honoring her activism at the state and national levels; the vote was 116 to 0.

Benjamin Bradley: Necessity can be the spirit of invention. Working at the Annapolis Academy, where he helped set up experiments, Bradley invented a steam engine for the warship. Unable to patent the invention (he was a slave at the time) he nonetheless was able to sell the plans and purchased his freedom.

Augusta Savage: I figure I need to keep slamming the education issue; Augusta is my last hope. She had but one talent: Sculpture. She went to Cooper Union in New York to study, and the school eventually sponsored her when she was no longer able to take care of bills. She was able to go to Italy to study (which she did for three years based on a single statue paying the tuition and a scholarship to get her there and back home). Although she did some political options (a rejection from Paris based on her race encouraged her to get into politics), it was her work for the Works Progress Administration and the 1939 New York World's Fair (the latter pieces were destroyed after the fair, but pictures remain).

James Van Der Zee: Photographers often see more than the light that comes through their lens; sometimes, they can see the soul of their of the subject and record that. Born to the maid and butler to Ulysses S Grant, Van Der Zee opened his first studio in Harlem, and photographed Harlem over the next sixty years. His photographs were eventually included in the “Harlem on my Mind” (1969) exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I figure these people should inspire anyone. I only hope that they did...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Part IV: Why Obama Won't Be Elected to President

[Sorry about the lack of updates...One more part after this, and I return to the usual silliness...]

The 2008 Election promises to be one of the most interesting elections we've had in a while. However, I think that the Democratic Party Primary will be even more interesting. If nothing else, that you have a woman and a black man that may be our next leader is probably the most interesting point. However, regardless of his other attributes, and what you think about them, Barack Obama's biggest problem is that he's not a black man.

Too many blacks have made the point that, whereas Obama is no doubt African-American, he isn't black. The problem is that Obama's heritage is that of Kenya, of Eastern Africa rather than Western Africa. As such, his ancestors didn't need to do deal with slavery and the subsequent racism; in other words, even though Kenyans had to deal with being slaves in their own country, and that subsequent fall-out, they lack the “proper black experience”.

I doubt that racists would make the same quibble.

This is yet another public relations strike against the black community. It seems that, every so often, the black community does something that actually sets the cause of equality back. Ebonics is probably the best example; in recent years, that any conflict involving a black person being called racist is probably the worst strike against civil rights. By defining conflicts as racist not only ignores the true roots of racism, but does nothing but provide more reason for blacks to treat themselves differently than others, and also being on the defensive against others. By splitting blacks from others, not only do you create a hostile situation, you also make civil rights harder to enforce.

Consider a black woman going into a store, looking for a specific tea, and she ends up looking at a number of different teas. A white grocery clerk, seeing that she is looking for something, goes over to help. The black woman tells, the clerk, “I don't need help”, and walks off. She then claims that the clerk was racist to all of her friends later on. Was the clerk really racist?

Look at “driving while black: seriously for a moment. You're going to seriously tell me that a policeman can tell a person's race, sex and age through tinted windows, or through window glare in a vehicle going more than fifty miles an hours, and can do so with just a glance? That's someone you don't mess with. I appreciate that blacks get pulled over more often, but why does it have to for some racist reason, and not just that blacks are simply worse drivers?

Heck, look at the current American Idol crisis: Racy pictures of Antonella Barba were recently leaked to the internet. Almost as soon as they were leaked, it was already hitting the blogs and op-ed pages that they were proof of American Idol being racist; after all, when Frenchie Davis' pictures were revealed, she was disqualified from American Idol. There's a huge difference between Davis' pornographic pictures, and Barba's pictures, especially considering that Barba's pictures weren't meant for public consumption. I'd love to say that there was a double standard here, but....No. Pictures taken while drunk that are of debatable taste are a universe away from pictures of simulated sex on a kiddie porn site.

Basically, if you want “racism” to mean something, use it when it applies, not just for when it's a problem between black and non-blacks. Otherwise, it just cheapens the concept, and makes it no longer relevant. Worse, it ensures that no one takes real racism seriously, and that benefits no one.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Part III: There should be more Black C&W Singers

Okay, I don't get rap or hip-hop, and yet I have no problem with that. I like that there is some experimentation going on with the music itself, but it just seems that they have hit the limit with the vocals. Worse, I don't see any changes involving the themes of the music since over twenty years ago. Just how many songs can you make about bad things, quick women, and the need to shoot cops? Would it hurt rap to be fun?

At the same time, rap is some emblematic of the problem blacks have with society in general. Your music tends to reflect who you want to be, and what kind of dreams you have. You seek out music that represents what you want to be, and listen to it, sometimes exclusively. Usually, this isn't a bad thing, as most genres seek to encapsulate life itself, attempting to explore every aspect of reality. You can usually find some song for any emotion or experience.

However, rap limits itself to a very select group of experiences. Rap rebels solely against those with authority. Women either are exploited, or use their bodies to purchase what they can. Celebrations are in the mode that Vikings would understand: Celebrate now, because you never know what tomorrow brings. And the world is a dark place, especially if you don't have light skin. When was the last time that you heard a rap song that celebrated life itself? How often does rap look to the light side? Why does it seem that supportive families, heroes, and just hanging out (without sex or violence) just aren't part of the rap repertoire?

It's been long argued that rock music is responsible for many of the problem of today's youth. Although I don't think rock is to blame, just as I don't think rap is to blame in and of itself. I do, however, think that rap acts as a medium, that kids are listening to it, that the attitudes of those that do rap music needs to change. Rap is being used to reinforce attitudes, wrong attitudes, and that needs to change. I appreciate that adolescents, and especially males, will always be entranced by violence; however, there is an attitude that rap represents reality. Rap singers are ranked by what they have done, and so there is a reason for kids to commit violent crimes in order to not just emulate their heroes, but to also gain cred should they ever decide to try rapping themselves.

Unlike rock music, where having fun is encouraged, rap encourages violence in order to get cred. Although a lot of rappers eat Thanksgiving at home and have great family lives, they tend to sing about the negative aspects of life and touch even innocent, fun moments with some corruption. The problem is that it reinforces stereotypes, and assumes that society in general looks on them like they did in the 1950's and 1960's, when blacks were oppressed. Now, when there are virtually unlimited opportunity for blacks is the norm, it's odd that such an attitude would be prevalent. You honestly have scholarships that aren't being applied to, grant money going unclaimed, and companies that are looking for talented blacks to fill spaces. At the same time, you have black leaders decrying that there aren't people claiming the money, filling the positions, and trying to escape poverty.

Rather than blaming some mythical institutionalized racism, why not look to your communities for a cause? Rap is spreading a poison that will kill the black community, by telling them not to succeed when they can, that drugs are the only acceptable business and pleasure, and that they will never be good enough to get out of the ghetto.

Is that really something that you want? Rap needs to change. It doesn't need to change into the mind-numbing pablum of bubble-gum rock, but it does need to borrow more from gospel and rhythm and blues. In a way, it needs to reach a balance, as country has, between the need to shock and the need to be the voice of the black community, and become something that fights for the uplifting of the black community, rather than keeping it back.

Seriously...there needs to be more blacks in country music. Toby Keith has tried rap; why should 50 Cent be afraid of a steel guitar?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Part II: Destroying Yourself From The Inside

[I decided to do a four-part series for Black History Month on each Friday of this month. Part I explores how far African-Americans have come, Part II explores the New Racism, Part III looks at things holding African-Americans back, and Part IV looks at heroes (with a weird twist). I make no apologies if this offends anyone; it is my opinion, and I refuse to apologize if someone feels I have stepped on toes when I haven't...]

The problem with the fight with Civil Rights is that it's been won. Unfortunately, the black community still needs something to fight.

Note that I'm not saying that the fight is completely over; however, the war itself is over. There will always be racism, but now it's an aberration not the norm. Opportunities abound, and the internet allows anyone to pursue their dreams. However, the black community is now eating itself.

The biggest jerk statement I'm going to make in this entry is this: Rodney King is the worst example of a police beating ever. If Rodney King had been white, the tape would have made the police chase shows, and that's it: A white guy that exceeded the design specs of his vehicle and then decided to take on the LAPD while on as much PCP as King was wouldn't have made a splash any other way. But because he was black, the drugs in his system and murder on his mind were forgiven; all that mattered was that he was black.

The riots afterward make no sense in any other context; only that blacks have had an adversial relationship with police allows any context at all. Admittedly, as enforcers of segregation, defenders of society in the days of protest, and with the occasional racist episode, police have deserved that antagonism. However, if the black community is to flourish it needs to start supporting the police. Police are there to stabilize society, which is why the antagonism exists in the first place. As both groups have a number of goals in common (elimination of crime, safe places to walk even at night, and making the neighborhood thrive), they need to work together in order to better serve the community.

The black community also needs to start looking for opportunities, not trying to destroy them. It needs to be realized that the black leaders do their communities a major disservice when they look for “institutionalized racism”; the problem is that kids are dissuaded from pursuing a further education, and in today's world, where education determines everything, that's a major liability. The surest sign that education isn't being pursued is that less than 1/3 of scholarships and grants available to students of color are claimed each year. Wouldn't it be great to see all of that money used up?

The word “nigger” definitely needs to be used up. Even though it remains as a racial epithet, it's also taken on a more familial tone: A black person can use it in any way he pleases without it being an issue. If any other person from any other race use the word, however,and the fight is on. This makes the word inherently racist; it segregates communities just as effectively as a brick wall. If segregation is to be destroyed once and for all, that word needs to fade into history.

The gangster attitude is another thing that needs to fade. Some rebellion is fine; when that rebellion affects the opportunities that a person can take advantage of, then it needs to be debated. It's fine to walk around with an attitude, but when that attitude doesn't allow you to back down or forces you into something that you would rather not deal with, then that attitude needs to be left at the curb with the other trash.

I appreciate that it's a refinement of the warrior code that any teen-age male holds as an ideal, especially with alcohol and women attached, but it's easily forgotten that warrior does what he does for the community, not himself; a warrior defends the community, not tells it what it to do. Also, respect is gained, not taken; a gangster takes his respect by demolishing his enemies, rather than gained by doing all that he can in defense of his community. A gangster is ultimately nothing but a bully, regardless of how it's spelled.

The need for conflict definitely needs to changed into one of compromise. Too many black people don't back down, even when backing down would gain them respect. It makes sense giving the fight for civil rights, but that need to fight and hang on no matter what can be a problem; it can make you hold on even when it could be hazardous to your health. It needs to be realized that that attitude, whereas once a good thing, is now going to be potentially hazardous to the black community. Conflict needs to be replaced by compromise if the community is going to survive.

I think that this sums up the changes that need to happen if the black community is going to survive. However, the community still needs ways to pull together and financial wherewithal in order to succeed. How and where will these come from? See the next section...