Sunday, November 11, 2012

Some More Tips on Writing Comedy

Yeahyeah, more tips on writing comedy. I hope you find them useful. The usual caveat: Your mileage may vary, so don't hung up looking for exceptions to any of these basic rules. I already know they exist, and I may even provide some exceptions. Consider this not so much iron-clad rules but a beginning with which experience will help you find additional paths.

The oft-quoted "Brevity is the soul of wit": Keep it short The longer a joke is the more likely people will just run from it; patience may be a virtue, but if your target audience has to wade through twenty sentences to get to the joke, it had better be one heck of a punchline. Mark Twain and Lewis Carrol are the obvious exceptions, but then even their set-ups were pretty funny.

Keep it simple, stupid: Keep in mind that one of the limits of illustration is that there limits to portraying motion,and this can limit some of your jokes. If a joke requires movement keep that in mind it may not work as well as you would like it to, and it may take some redoing to make it work. Slapstick will usually work, but something requiring a Busby Berkeley routine or complicated gears really takes some planning to pull off.

Obscure References: The more obscure a reference, the less likely your audience will get it. This can be fine sometimes, such as coming off a con and you want to give them a shout out, but keep in mind that in general the fewer people that know about the reference, the fewer will get the joke. This also compounded that they miss the joke even if they know the reference, unless you prime it somehow; sometimes if you are not looking for a joke it you may miss it, especially if you need to think about it.

Political/Religious Humor: Looking at some of the political cartoons recently brought home the point that this is a hard nut to crack. If you do it right, such as Daryl Cagle, then not only do both sides get it, but they both smile. If you do it badly, then you just tick people off. It's why when I see George Carlin quoted that I hopes someone is not using a quote after he was sixty or so; the guy had some brilliant things to say, but he became more cynical as he got older, and at a point it just seemed that he said stuff to tick people off. So, when you go after political or religious humor, have fun, but keep in mind that it requires a deft tough and not a sledgehammer.

Know and respect your subject: This is the hardest one, but the most important one. I love horror movies; because of that love and respect for the genre I can poke fun at the genre. BUT I recently had the misfortune to read a Twilight parody. The writer had absolutely no respect for the Twilight saga, and felt like she had never read the book or watched the movie. Suffice to say that the book was pretty solid drek. So learn the lesson, kids: Do not attempt to poke fun at a genre you do not understand and do not go near it if you have no respect for it. Note that I'm not saying you need to like it, but you do need to respect it.

Writing About Religion

One of those things that is hard to write about is religion. There is arguably no more contentious subject than religion, and for all of the right reasons. There is no question that I consider myself a deeply spiritual person, and that is just part of who I am. However, I do consider some people, even those that share my same faith, complete morons; ask me about the WBC sometime. At the same time, although I consider some atheists complete idiots, and I make no bones about lack of respect for Penn Jillette and Bill Maher, I do tend to respect atheists, especially those that respect me. Nonetheless, it doesn't mean that either side should completely rule a comic.

The problem is that we define ourselves by our beliefs, be they as religious or atheist. Admittedly in some cases a person's spiritual beliefs aren't going to matter; there are a number of great comics where the beliefs of the individuals doesn't matter and would actually get in the way of the comic, so don't feel like you need to feature it. This is not to say that people are amoralists or anything like that, just that the writer didn't feel like bringing religion into the situation. That's fine.

On the other hand, you have those comics where the pendulum swings too far one direction or another. Either it is extremely atheist and religion is a corrupt joke, or spirituality reigns and atheists are idiots. In both cases the problem is that, well, any extreme position is a bad position. I don't respect fanatics of any faith, including atheism; fanaticism tends to blunt any point that it's trying to make. From the atheist perspective, slapping down religion is bad because religion has, on the whole, done far more good than bad. From the religious perspective, religion does need to be slapped down and on a regular basis. In both cases, attacking just for the sake of proving your side is better is going to annoy some readers, and that limits your audience. [Oh, right, this is a marketing blog, too...] So if you are taking an absolute position, realize from the beginning that you had best be doing it right, or forget it.

By right, I mean recognize that both sides are essentially correct. I'm not saying that religion not get slammed; some of the best villains have been religious zealots or those that have used their position for power; how doesn't hate Cardinal Richelieu? But, if you are going to have an evil church, show that there is a reason that people follow the church, and not just because they have large weapons pointed at them. There are a lot of good reasons people believe in a higher power, and not all of them are just because they believe that God is the bestest person ever; you would be surprised how many scientists like His works.

In general, any organization is going through periods where it does its job right and periods where it doesn't; there is no reason that this cycle should not apply to a fictional religion any less than in real life. Another thing to keep in mind is that ambitious people love corruption; it means that there are plenty of chances for advancement, as well as ways for them make their own opportunities. This means that there are two fun situations that can be the case: Either the local corrupt chapter is aiming for the top, or that the top is corrupt and the local chapter is ready to force a change. There are other permutations, but these are your best options.

On the other hand, there is no reason that atheists should be portrayed as morons, unless you are making a point about religion in general. In that case bear in mind that the idea that a leader does not necessarily represent his flock; sometimes the leader is just the one that get the others going in the same direction. The basics here are that atheists make easy enemies to simplify for the purposes of having an enemy, but generally you just want the leader to be an idiot and his followers are just following his lead. This brings up the question of why they are following his lead, and a church that has been downright silly. In this case you have a great set up to poke a little fun at both sides, and you should take advantage of it. If not, your comic will suffer for only considering one side the better one.

This pretty much applies to any comic that has two sides; a fair perspective on both sides will bring a lot to the comic. Don't get me wrong; I love an enemy that is plain evil, and that's why I like using demons and devils as enemies. But I do throw in the occasional good devil just to mess with people, and the bad-alien-turned-good should be a familiar trope. So have some fun with your bad guys, and don't make them too one-dimensional...

Sunday, November 04, 2012

How violent should your comic be?

Violence is a sore subject with comickers. Too many of us are gamers or love the occasional horror movie, and violence is a part of that entertainment. However, you have those that think that exposure to any form of violence will cause the person to be violent as well. Because of this writers make a conscious decision to be either non-violent or ultra-violent. That needs to stop.

When you decide on how violent your comic world will be, you need to be make without worrying what other people says. I'm obviously ignoring satire and parody here, where the consideration of others is pretty much the point, but you need to make the decision on what level you want it to be, where it feels good for the comic. So let's talk violence.

There are two basic ways of looking at the level of violence in a comic. The first is your audience. For comics that are interested in younger audiences, the so-called "family comic", you usually want to avoid violence; it just doesn't really fit with the genre. Although one could argue that strips like Garfield would only improve if there was some bloodshed, in general seeing a family comic with violence would just feel wrong; although it is no doubt a fun concept to think of Charlie slapping Lucy around because of a certain football incident, violence simply does not work in that genre. The same applies if you want to appeal to an older crowd; comics are seen as an escape from reality, including the all-too-real issue of violence. On the other hand, if your target audience is adolescent, then go for it; violence has a visceral appeal that appeals to the crowd, both in its rebellious and that life is cheaper than the adults say it is.

The other is whether or not violence works for your world, even if that world is a subset of your usual world. Consider Wolverine's World versus that of the X-Men in general; Wolverine's is far more violent, with characters having no problem killing, maiming, or otherwise injuring each other. This is because everyone can heal, and those that can't are just too weak to survive. Life is cheap, and this is represented through the violence; it works rather well to differentiate it from the Marvel Universe in general where, even though there are lots of fights, there are rarely injuries. When someone shows up with a shiner or we see blood fly, it is a Major Event, and noted. Life is precious, important, and violence is thus something that really doesn't happen.

I'm obviously not saying that there should be no violence whatsoever, or that every fight needs to result in massive bleeding. You as the writer need to determine how violent the world is, and why; just like any other element you need to decide if you are going to have it, and what its absence or presence says about your world. So have fun with it; just have a reason for it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Using Creatures from Myths

We have all wanted to take a creature from mythology and warp it to our own needs. There have been good ideas and bad born from this, and so I suppose I should mention some of the considerations of making this work.

The first is finding the creature. You need something that fits your comic, and adds to it. The usual temptation is find something really unique and go from there, but that usually doesn't work as well as you would think. There will just be something wrong about your use of it that strikes readers as wrong, and so the creature somehow just work as well as it should. On the other hand, using a variant of an established creature will also usually fail if you try to make it unique; you are trying to cash in it on its brand, but wanting something unique, which is just really weird. Either create something unique, or strive to get the creature right; this is one of those areas where there simply is no real middle ground.

You then want to research the creature. You want as much information as possible on it, both to make sure that pre-existing fans of the creature will not be too mad at you and for the sake of the illustrator. You want something that the illustrator can sink his teeth into while at the same time making sure that you are doing right by the creature. Although I can understand that iconoclasts would prefer to just wing it, you'll find that nine times out of ten your research will give you some additional inspiration, usually some minor bit of trivia that is incredibly interesting, making it easier to get your mind around the creature, and making it really come to life.

You also need to get the iconography of the creature right. Just like in an ecosystem mythological creatures fit a niche, and by staying in their niche they can add a lot to your story. This applies from something as simple as werewolves and people's fear of change and predatory animals to school ghosts and kids' fears of the unknown. Obviously they can come out of that niche once in a while, but using a monster in a non-traditional way needs to be seriously debated, and should be avoided if it is just for the sake of being cutesy. If you need to, do not be afraid to come up with something new just to feel a niche in your story if it looks like a bad fit.

Lastly, just have fun with the critter. If it isn't something you can have fun with, then either create something new or go with something else. If you are having problems breathing life into something, then the problem is either that it doesn't fit with your plans, or it just isn't something you like. Keep in mind that it does not need to have a unique personality; sometimes a monster just doing what it does is more than enough. Sometimes you do not need a new character so much as you need a plot device, and plot devices just do.

Make sure your monster fits the strip, and you should do fine. Don't just pull a creature from the encyclopedia, but summon it from your imagination and it should work out fine.

The Importance of a Good Bible

Organization is key to setting a comic universe. No matter how whimsical or random it is, having a good basic underlying skeleton can allow you to accomplish a lot. It allows you to decide on what is happening next, see what holes exist in your organizations, and get inspired by connections you would not be able to see otherwise. All told, laying it out gives you insight into the big picture of your universe.

A good bible should have three parts. The biggest part is how your universe works. This means that you will need to create a quick history of the world, especially if it is substantially different than our history. You also need to define how science and/or magic works, pointing out major advances and interesting anomalies. You also need to show how common it is; if everyone has a watch that doubles as a supercomputer or magic items are common, this is the place to note it. This section should also detail any major organizations and their rivals, especially if they are important to the story. In short, this should be the biggest section and one that is constantly being added to as you discover new things about your world.

The second section should be character descriptions. This should include not only brief descriptions of the characters, but also artwork showing them in static and dynamic poses. Characters with smaller roles can get briefer descriptions and single pictures, but major characters will need as much space as you feel comfortable giving to them. In general, the more history a character has, the more space that character should get, especially if that history is important to the comic. Yes, there is always the possibility that a character with an incredibly detailed backstory may not get so much a mention, but it's always better to have a lot of information rather than too little. This section should also include any important places or items; that really cool mecha or sword deserves to shine, and this is the section for that.

The third section should be for your plotting. Consider this a continuity dump; any strip you do should get a brief synopsis and tat synopsis put here. This section allows you to plot ahead, and see where your plot has already been. It also helps you keep things straight for when you start getting complex, and that will happen. Better yet, it can also act as inspiration for when writer's block happens; you can comb through looking for loose ends or small threads that can be further developed. It can also allow you to make major changes in the plot, as you have a jumping off point and can easily link it to events that happened in the past.

In short, a bible may seem like an awful lot of work. But it has a number of advantages, not the least of which is that it can serve as inspiration when you need it the most, and it can help you decide if a plot thread is worth it or not. As long as it is properly maintained, you'll find plenty of use for it. It can serve all writers well, especially if you are looking for a great new toy to play with.

Writing A Mood....sorta

A writer has problems establishing the mood of a piece. That's all on the illustrator. If you doubt that, track down some Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and then visualize the dialog as if it were being said by normal cute and furry animals. Or super-heroes. Or as part of a soap opera. The dialog still works, but the tone has changed; it has gone from being basically morbid to being fluffy, or serious, or even angsty. In order to establish mood, the writer has to be able to communicate that to the illustrator. To get a really good feel for this, track down the movie "Poison", where three entirely different film crews took on the same 30-minute script and came up with three entirely different movies.

The problem with communicating how the mood of the piece should be is the limits of the script format. The writer is limited to defining basic actions, dialog, and captions, and sometimes panel lay-out beyond the number of panels. If he's lucky, a writer can also define camera angles. That's a lot of information, but it provides little more than a skeleton on which the illustrator can hang any skin he wants, making it up to him to decide what the mood will be like.

I point this out because writers sometime forget how collaborative comics can be. When writing a script, it can be easy to forget that the way you are visualizing the script can be radically different than how an illustrator can visualize it. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, just that the writer can really be put off when what was drawn is too different from what he wanted. There are some ways around this, but they all take actually talking to the illustrator in order to get the right mood across. This is why there are so many different meetings set up before a comic is really started; the entire crew has to be on board with whatever is going on.

Another way to do this is to set up a bible. A good comic bible comes in three parts. The first pat will be a description of the universe in general, along with any notes on physics, such as whether or not magic works and how, as well as important things to note, such as large organizations and a general history of the world. The second part should contain character descriptions and sketches, along with how they interact with the world and each other. The third section should be the continuity section, a brief history of the comic itself with notes on where the plot is going, acting as a road map for the action.

By setting up a bible, you can have a lot of input into how the world feels. Once you have set things up and things are going, you can have a lot of fun with the world. It is just a matter of setting things up right. And we all know how important those establishing shots when it comes to creating just the right mood.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sex and Nudity: A Precaution

Sex and nudity. Airgh. These are two things that I'm really getting tired of seeing over-used. I get that they are part of a natural relationship, and I'm not trying to prudish here. I just think that there can be too much. The problem is that they are used primarily to shock people. After the twenty-seventh orgy, what will shock me is a couple kissing. So let's see if we can set some ground rules for better use.

[Note for morons: These rules do not apply to erotic comics, or comics where the idea is to have fun with sex and nudity.]

Nudity is best used symbolically. There needs to be a reason for the nudity that works best for the story. If you need to show characters at their most vulnerable, when they are in an area where they do not need to pretend, such as among friends or in an intimate moment, nudity works. But it also works for showing the wounds of someone who has been attacked. If someone needs to wash herself of some sort of spiritual crud or to clean herself, then have her go swimming or take a shower. The same applies to ironic situations; putting a gay boy in a shower with straight males where he simultaneously enjoys the view but is afraid of getting an erection is stereotypical for a reason. It can be used rather well to show someone who has no fear; nothing says "I am not scared of you" as walking past them naked.

Don't use nudity just for titillation. Yeah, I get that forcing someone to be naked in public can be a show of power. You can also use nudity for humor, as long as you understand why someone would want to hide their secrets. A woman flashing her breasts is also great for comedy, especially if it's directed towards authority or a virgin. And we won't talk about the mercenary who decided to streak as a way of diverting everyone's attention away his escaping friends. But...having a character walking around naked just to have the character be naked is a waste of time. Make sure that there is a reason for the nudity; just like any other costuming choice, make sure that there is an actual reason for it.

The same applies to sex. Sex is based used for intimate moments, and expressing moments when you want two or more characters to demonstrate an intense attraction to each other. From a writer's perspective, sex needs to be treated as more than just a natural function; it needs to be treated just like everything else, and to have a reason for its use. Again, not trying to be a prude; you'll note that not everyone feels comfortable going to the bathroom in front of others, but there is no better way to show that the person simply doesn't care about what others think or is willing to break conventions than by defecating in front of others. Sex shows that the person is willing to do whatever they want, and they only care about the pleasure or the politics and they don't care what others feel about their doing so.

Don't use them just to shock the audience. In all honesty, if the only reason that you are including nudity is to shock someone, it probably won't shock anyone. Sure, your artist friends will say it's shocking, but odds are they are either bored by nudity or just want to see boobs. It's unlikely that prudes that will even see the sex or nudity. So if the only reason you are including sex or nudty is to shock someone, don't. It's not as artsy as you think it is, and only beginning critics, the ones you should be ignoring, think it is.

If the only way you can make what you are doing fun for you is to add sex or nudity, do an erotic comic instead. I am so tired of seeing something that is pretty much drek if you take out the sex or nudity get critical acclaim and popularity. I love training scenes; they show what the character goes through in order to do what they do. But if the sole reason you are including a training scene is so that you can have the character shirtless, then find another way. I'm all for pin-ups, but putting a pin-up as part of your story is just a waste of time, and it breaks up the story in a bad way; you should never do anything to take a person out of the story, and nothing better than having something that is nothing more than eye-candy. Do pin-ups, just not as part of the main comic. Use it for voting rewards or something that donors get, but do not use it in the comic itself.

I'm obviously not saying don't do it. But, like everything else in your comic, have a good reason for doing it.

Avoid The Disney Witch

Why does everyone do Disney witches? The problem with most modern witches is that they seem to be more plot device and less character. If they are evil, they cast spells that curse, transmogrify, or blast their target, and are interested in taking over the world, or at least a significant part of it. At the other end of the spectrum, the white witch heals, cancels out evil magic, and gives out good advice like lollipops. You can also tell the good from the bad based on physical appearance; the good are attractive and the evil always have some flaw with their appearance. We can do better.

The problem is that somewhere along the way pagan rituals changed. Originally, they had nothing to do with any Christian concepts whatsoever; the pagans practiced human sacrifice, celebrated their priests, and basically had a lust for life. Then paganism died off as Rome died and the pagans converted to Christianity. The problem is that somewhere along the line, the Old Time Religion, and by this I mean paganism, was resurrected, but without the teeth of the old paganism; too much of it just seemed rebellion against organized religion and industry rather than a celebration of life, and it became a bastion of feminism, celebrating the ideal of the feminine. Suffice to say that any mention of human sacrifice will be met with glares. I'm sort of in the weird position that I respect a lot of Wiccans that have found their version of the divine, but too many of them seem stuck more in the political rather than spiritual.

The problem is that this changed the perception of the witch as well. The witch became a victim of history rather than villain; rather than the deaths attributed to really bad ideas of the era, people looked at the deaths because of the Inquisition (yeahyeah, I'm again in a weird position here; yes; there were a lot of innocent deaths, but at the same time there was also a lot of bad medicine; a look at medical books of the time show a lot of deaths due to those trying to save people, and a lot of witch cures were based on poisons). Thus the witches of the fairy tales went from being creatures of evil to comic figures at best, and this has affected how we perceive them now.

I sort of wish that the old witch would make a good comeback; I want a woman who is powerful enough to take on a group of adventurers and kick butt in her own right, and knows exactly what she wants. Give me another Morgan Le Fey, and not that whiny version in the show "Merlin", but the witch of legend. I want someone who is not afraid of a little human sacrifice every so often, and is more than willing to put her own interests ahead of any of her followers. Sure, she can be after some personal revenge, but I want a woman with serious spell power who is willing to use every tool in her toolbox to make a serious attempt at world domination.

Either that, or the master manipulator that is Glenda. Here is a woman who got the shoes of power, got someone else to kill her rivals, and came out looking like she was not only innocent, but was acting in the interest of Oz. That is some serious spin control. Has anyone ever questioned the origins of the tornado that brought Dorothy to Oz and squished the "wicked" witch of the east? She just took advantage of the situation and acted quickly; she is not someone that you want to tick off.

I even do not mind the Cinemax witches that use glamours and charms to bend men to their will. They are not afraid to take some risks, deal with competition as it comes up, and have an actual plan to take things over. I appreciate that the main reason is that they are cheap to film and keep up the fine Cinemax tradition of sex over art, but at least they are fun to watch. As opposed to, say, the Disney version where they just seem to be a plot device. There are exceptions, such as Ursula, who wanted revenge, but it's just way to easy to think of the witches in just about every Halloween movie that Disney puts out.

So when you are thinking about your witch, have some fun with her. She needs to be evil, has to have access to some reasonably powerful magic, and has to have an actual motivation for what she does beyond "this is what the plot needs me to do." Do that, and you will have a witch that people will love to hate.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writers Versus Illustrators: Finding Common Ground

One of the more infuriating issues when it comes to writers versus illustrator is the issue of writers paying illustrators; specifically, that illustrators want to be paid right now and writers usually want to work out a split profits deal. Unfortunately, this is an area that will always be a bone of contention. I foresee this problem even if we switched to a moneyless situation a la Star Trek.

Part of the problem is that illustrators feel, rightfully, that they deserve to be paid for services rendered. Even at the most inexpensive, illustration is an expensive art, especially in the digital age. A decent computer is just a step or two below a decent gaming computer, and that can be an expensive monster. The software isn't exactly cheap either, with software packages running into the hundreds of dollars. This excludes scanners and tablets on one end, and the cost for art supplies on the other. There is also the issue of time spent, which can mean that even a black & white comic with only two or three updates a week can involves hours of work; multiply by huge factors if it is colored digitally. With that huge of investment and time, it's hard not to understand why someone would want some assurance of payment.

But...there is the writer's side as well. Writers will always be the red-headed stepchild of the art world; on one hand we are needed for any project to get off the ground, but on the other we have the least respect of any profession. Our skill is just considered too common. The problem is that people do not understand there is a difference between being able to write, and being able to write well, and that subtlety is generally lost on people. There is a lot of skill required to make a decent script, especially when it involves humor, science fiction, or a large cast of characters, especially if it is to be done well. Because of this almost total lack of respect for what we do it is hard not to get some sort of Little Man Syndrome going.

It is also not allowed that writing a script takes a lot more time than one would think. Before Word One goes down, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of research, character design, deciding on the plot, how the characters will interact, so on and so forth. Attach a corporation to that design process, and it gets worse, as you need to allow for the corporation's needs and execs that want to put their fingerprints on things. Putting this into perspective, a movie production lasts fifteen months from the moment a producer orders a script made to when the last edit has been okay; of that, writing the script alone can take nine months. For television shows, production averages two weeks, of which one week is just writing it. For comics, it usually takes three or more months just to get the concepts right, and the actual script can take another month to get right. There's a reason most writers don't write more than two or three books a month. However, because the writing produces so little, it's easy to argue that it took very little time do.

The other big problem goes back to that red-headed stepchild problem. When you start looking seriously at the process, you start noticing some really weird things. The biggest of these is that illustrators usually get hired; they answer an ad or get called in, but there is an actual hiring process. That is, an illustrator is given a project and is paid for his work on that. On the other hand, writers most likely submitted a script, someone liked it, and now they want to buy it, but the writer was lucky enough to get a contract. In short, the writer had to put all of the effort into writing a script, and THEN someone pays him IF he is lucky enough. For the comics, movies, and book industries this is something that works for them, and so is unlikely to change any time soon.

Put another way: Writers get used to doing things on spec, and they have a problem seeing that others simply don't. For even professional writers, this is just the way things are done, mainly because it gives them the freedom to do what they want even when they are doing something to get paid. This is also unlikely to change any time soon; there are so many spec scripts out there, companies know that they can get away with this process. There are some exceptions, granted; Disney, for example, has a number of writer programs where graduates get hired on. But...they are exceptions, not the standard way of doing things. Crawling out of the pit of anonymity is just the way writers make a name for themselves, and it is unfortunately necessary to the process.

So...when a writer offers you a split profit deal, don't get offended because you want to get paid. We get that. We've just gotten so used to doing things on spec that it's become second nature. So just politely refuse the script and go on your way if it doesn't interest you. Unless it's another ship script based on vampires; I'm not a lawyer, but I believe you can put those people down without problem.

Paying For Your Illustrator

So, you're a writer and you've just finished your script when you remember that your drawing teacher gave you a "C" on the condition that you never EVER take a drawing class ever again. This means that you need to hire an illustrator. You then check your wallet and bank accounts and quickly find that you just don't have the funds for a bowl of ramen, much less an illustrator. So, what can you do to afford an artist...?

Find a college student. All right, let's get the obvious one out of the way. The sad reality is that there are few illustrators that can also tell a story. Sure, they can draw a pretty picture, but story-telling requires an entire different kind of artistic sense; you are juggling an entirely different kinds of metaphors, relationships, and issues, and not all illustrators can juggle those at the same time as the more visual ones. However, the industry requires portfolios that not only come with gorgeous pictures but also a decent story. So, with a little luck you will find an illustrator who is looking for a writer and you can team up.

Discuss split profits. Before the illustrators get too ticked off me (again), a proven writer can pull this off. It means coming up with a marketing plan as well as a killer script, and approaching an illustrator with all of this. It means that they had both better be darn good or the illustrator will probably ask security to do something about getting rid of your sorry butt. So make sure that your script really is top notch and that your marketing reflects reality not fantasy.

Max out your credit cards. This is a time-honored tradition in the movie business. All you need is a great credit rating and a few decent lines of credit. If you can pull that off, you just need to determine how much you need, and then arrange a loan via your credit cards. How much does a comic cost? Figure $150-$250 a page (depending on if it is colored or not) and go from there.

Barter. Find out if the illustrator has any particular needs and promise to fill them. Ignoring anything illegal, this can mean room & board, a studio for other projects, repairs on his home or vehicle, or some other need that has to be filled and you can take care of. Feel free to be imaginative if necessary, but if you can find something he needs you may be able to get him to exchange artwork in exchange for it.

Kickstarter (or equivalent). Write up a proposal, determine how much you need, decide on some basic incentives (such as a printed version of your comic or guest spots), and then find a way to advertise it. The idea is simply to find an investor and then make sure that the investor is paid off. If you can pull that off, you should be good to go.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Going To The Underworld...

I guess I should mention the afterlife really quick, and then run. Before you throw your characters into the afterlife, either temporarily or permanently, you need to make some very basic decisions. These decisions are: If it is punishment/reward/both/neither, how long characters will remain there, what the rules are, and what its purpose is in your story. Let's deal with the last first, and then proceed in the normal fashion.

A sojourn into the afterlife needs to be a momentous event. It should not be chosen just as an interesting background, but because there is an actual reason for it. If the characters are living, the obvious reason is because they need advice from someone long dead and standard summoning just doesn't work, or there is an item or material they need for a special plot-needed item; they need to have a really good reason to be there. It can also be a reward of sorts, such as seeing a long-dead hero or relative in order to work things out. If the characters are dead and they are exploring the afterlife, there needs to be a reason, such as exploring the idea of final chances or to take a look at their lives, that they have yet to pass on to their final reward.

Once you have determined that, you need to decide if the afterlife is a punishment or reward, both or neither. It can be just way station on the way to another location, or way to deal with things before the person can rest, go to the next stop, be reincarnated, whatever. There just needs to be a reason for it to exist within the cosmological framework, and it needs to work with the purpose you need it for. Keep in mind that if the characters are living, it will serve as a preview of their own fates, and what they are ultimately fighting for, so keep that in mind as well. It needs to be more than just another place or you are just wasting it; it is sort of like using a tactical nuke to take out a fly, and that's just stupid.

It also helps if you decide how long the dead stay there. Sometimes it can be the final resting place after a single life or when enough reincarnations have happened, or it can be very short, like a depot as the souls wait to go to their next stop or must do something in order to leave. You can give them an actual time limit, a limited time, or somewhere in between. That time limit, if you have one, must be enforced somehow, so that's another consideration.

Once you have decided all of that, you just need to define what the rules are. It can be its own world, a parallel world of sorts, or even the regular world, but the rules of how the characters may interact with it needs to be defined. There is even the option of having the spirits interact with the real world but having their own world, making you need two sets of rules. The big one is whether or not the characters can be killed or not, and if so whether or not it is a permanent death or just an inconvenience.

Once you have thought all of these things through, you can start thinking about writing, but at least you have a better idea of what you are doing.

The Proper Use and Abuse of Ghosts

Ghosts are being abused, and this needs to stop. Although ghosts can make for some great comedy, they can also make for an even greater literary device. And since it is the season for a few scares, let's discuss how to spice up your ghosts.

The classic ghost is a great bogeyman. When used as an elemental force rather than an actual character, the ghost can make a great element in a mystery or a horror story. The ghost can scare the characters onto the right path or punish the transgressor of a crime in grand allegorical style. When used as the girl who helps solve the case and then disappears at the end of the case, it can add an a-ha moment. Make sure you end the twist, but don't oversell it and it can actually work.

However, the ghost also makes for a great symbol of change. A lot of people seem to concentrate on the Death card as being final, when in reality it is a sign of change. Ghosts can be used in the same, to show a definite changing point. I know it's a bit schmaltzy to use ghosts as helping the living adapt to change, it nonetheless works really well in the right story. I definitely suggest avoiding the other side unless you have a mythology built as travels to an ultimate resting spot doesn't usually work all that well, but they do seem to work decently as coping mechanisms.

[Yes, I'll be handling the afterlife on its own terms, just not right now.]

I would suggest you keep ghosts to their minimal powers: telekinesis, phasing through walls, possession, and possibly flying and teleportation, as well as invisibility, and possibly some form of fear-based attack. They also have a limited number of weaknesses, such as can't penetrate some mystical substances and cannot penetrate magic circles and salt barriers. Writers tend to get into trouble when they add to what ghosts can do for the sake of originality, but a ghost's power in a story isn't based on its actual abilities but what it symbolizes; remember that and you will do fine.

What I am trying to stress here is that a ghost as a character should be avoided unless it helps the story. The best of Neil Gaiman's characters is Death; the reason for this is because she is used sparingly. When she shows up, she does what she has to do and then goes right back into the woodwork. She's a brilliantly realized character, but she actually gains in literary utility because she is not over-used; she makes for a brilliant character to underscore a point when she makes an appearance, and that's exactly how you should use a ghost. A ghost should pass through your story, make an effect, and then disappear...

Monday, October 08, 2012

Why Illustrators are prima donnas.

Before we get too far into this, understand that I mean no disrespect to illustrators. I appreciate how much work they put into projects, that it takes a full day to create a page, on average, and that is a day of work and stress. However....

There's two parts to this rant. The first is that writers are every bit an artist as an illustrator. The problem is that somewhere along the line illustrators got called "artists" and the name stuck. I'm obviously not saying that illustrators do not deserve to be called artists by any stretch, just that so do writers. Writers are usually the ones that are responsible for what you read, as we establish a lot of the rules that a universe is based, from the rules of science (or magic, depending) as well as the various relationships between characters and organizations. The twists and turns that you enjoy are because the writing, not because of the illustrator.

As an illustrator, you need to keep in mind that comics, like film, are truly best when everyone is collaborating. This is not to say that the jobs need be kept separate; there needs to be some overflow between the two. An illustrator with a cool costume design should be able to con the writer into including the character, just as the writer should be able to suggest a cool idea for the artwork. There needs to be a certain flow between the two. This includes the inker and letterer, to some degree, where they are present, but in general the majority of decisions should be between the illustrator and writer.

[This is not to say that there are not a lot of great of writer/illustrators, especially when it comes to webcomics. I'm just trying to point out there are differences between the two crafts, and that a writer/illustrator who does an incredible job really deserves a pat on the back.]

I am also starting to really hate that writers are basically considered second-class citizens when it comes to the art community. It's just weird to me that the reason that most comics succeed or fail is because of the writing, and yet I'm willing to bet that people can name more illustrators than they can writers. I understand why, especially when you realize that writers tend to be introverted and illustrators tend to be extroverts; guess who's more fun at conventions? Worse is that you get the occasional illustrator that forgets that everyone serious about their craft goes to school, tries out new things, and gets degrees; not saying that writers don't brag as well, it just seems more obnoxious from an illustrator, or that a writer has to show that they've taken a class or two. The problem is that people can only judge by what they see, and writers tend to be ducks versus the swans that are illustrators.

By ducks I mean that there is a lot going on that you simply don't see. When you see a page of written script, you don't see the reams that a writer has done as for as figuring out how things work in the universe, and setting things up so that things work. If the illustrator has done research so that he can pull some really cool stuff off, imagine the research that a writer has done; odds are that some of the research that the writer has done gets shown to the illustrator. The writing process is entirely different than the drawing process; it's most research, make notes, and then decide how you want all of that information to manifest as script. Sure, any writer can do more pages of script in a day than an illustrator can, but that doesn't mean that I'm doing less work.

Put in a slightly different way, an illustrator needs to know what Captain America's appearance is and what he represents to get it right. A writer needs to know his entire history, his friends and enemies, hist rogue gallery, and a lot of trivia about Cap. This is not to say that an illustrator gets off easy in this, just that the information required to do the job right is entirely different, and I'm not sure how many people realize that.

The bottom line is that sometimes it gets irritating to be a writer because we get no respect. I keep seeing people that think that there is no room in comics for people who write because comics are visual; they apparently have no clue how much writing is needed to make a great comic great, and only look to the artwork. To those morons I would humble submit that they really have no clue how much the two crafts influence their enjoyment of a great comic, and that each requires respect for their contribution to the comic. I just wish some illustrators wouldn't forget that...

How much should you pay for art?

Something I'm sort of tired of seeing is that illustrators should be payed like plumbers. Why?

The problem is that illustrators think that they need to be paid. How much should you pay? The quick version is: It depends. Assuming a reasonably new artist, you should pay about $100 for a page (8.5"x11") of black & white art, or $250 for colored, regardless of medium. That assumes a piece of art that is finished; if it's just the rough art, where someone else needs to ink it, more like $50-$100. On the other hand, if you want the person to letter it, add $50; lettering may only take a few minutes, but there is some serious graphic design skills involved. So, assuming a full page of art, a person should be charged $50 to $300 minimum. If, on the other your project is bigger or smaller, pay appropriately; a full comic (assuming 20 pages) is easily in the neighborhood of $2000 to $5000, while a quarter-page (4"x5" or so) should be $25 to $60. For a seasoned artist, or even a famous one, that number really starts to escalate, so that keep that in mind.

However, that's the quick version. Here's my problem: An illustrator is not a plumber. A plumber does something specific that you need done, and without which life gets very complicated very quickly. Try not taking a shower for a week or realize that you cannot do something as simple as keep your house clean because of a lack of water. I need water; I don't need art. More to the point, if the plumber does not do his job, I can sue him and he is likely to get fired. However, an illustrator is hired in the hopes that he will do the job and make the comic come alive; an illustrator is hired on speculation of his doing a great job, whereas a plumber isn't. This should not be offensive to illustrators; art will always be based on how people like it and not how they do it as long as someone continues to like it. Seriously: If you saw a plumber pull out anything but a snake and a wrench and start working on your pipes with a large club, how long would that plumber be in your house? So stop with the plumbers and illustrators analogy; I get that illustrators need to get paid. But that's the only thing they have in common with plumbers.

The other problem is that writers and illustrators look at things differently. Screw the education factor; I see one more illustrator complain that he should be paid because he has a single Masters degree I will seriously debate putting out a hit on him. If you compared writers to illustrators, you would quickly find that writers have taken more classes and picked up more degrees than the average illustrator; most illustrators have pretty much just the art degree, whereas writers usually have a degree in something else, and then have to go back to school for the writing classes.

The problem is that writers are used to doing on spec. Illustrators are truly fortunate; they can find someone hiring, take their college work in a portfolio to the interview, and possibly get a job where they are paid for what they are told what to make; that is, you have a contract for work. "Spec" is where you put a year plus into something and hope someone pays you; let's just say there is a reason authors love print on demand. It gets worse when you realize that, in order to get some of the best writing jobs, you need to go through some pretty weird hoops. Try to become a decently paid screenwriter; in order to get paid even scale, you need to write AND get paid for a motion picture script (or equivalent, such as four half-hour shows) before you can join the Writer's Guild of America, and you have to do this in an industry where to have to be a WGA member in order to be able to even write a movie script. The same applies in a number of industries, such as comics. Getting paid is cool, but pretty much optional for most writers.

Now keep in mind that there is a part of us that think this "if you're going to make it in an industry, you need to be known outside it first" mindset applies to all artists. Ergo, we have no problem looking for illustrators stressing that this can be great exposure; if we're doing something for exposure, and that's how we get into the industry, why shouldn't you? Making the case for us is that this is how the comics industry actually works; you need to draw a decent comic before someone in the industry will take you seriously. There are exceptions, such as Kubert grads, but in general you need to show you can do a decent comic before someone takes you seriously. Now, if you happen to be one of the few decent writer/illustrators out there, this is not a problem, but if you're just an average illustrator you're going to team with a decent writer in order to create that decent book in order to be taken seriously; you can't just put something together and hope, because if the writing sucks, they'll likely toss the book quickly, and there goes your chance. The logic is pretty basic: omics are still dependent on the story, and great artwork only gets you so far. If you can't put together a decent book, which means a decent story, then the artwork, no matter how great DOES NOT MATTER.

So...where does that leave us? Oh. Right. Illustrators need to get paid. But...there can be times when you need the exposure in order to show that you can draw a decent book if you want to be a comic book artist, and a free job MAY do that for you. So, when you are presented with a writer looking for free art, debate it. Only if the story really grabs you should you go for it. IF (Note: Big if, not a little one) you decide to go for it, bargain hard for half the profit, and then go for it. But don't get into the habit; do it once or twice, and then stop. I mean, you do need to get paid, right? Right.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How To Do Dark To Effectively

Something that I'm getting tired of seeing is the dark series that comes so close, but royally botches it. Worse, you have this great series but it doesn't just jump the shark; it gives the shark lasers first. Want to know how to have a dark series and keep it good? Easy...

Avoid angst. Okay, so this why people in general flock these series. I'm not saying that it's necessarily a bad thing, but you do not want your story to literally drip the stuff. It helps to keep a light touch, and keep the emotional turmoil down as much as possible.

Clean things up occasionally. When it comes to noirish tableaus, messy works. However, sometimes it feels as if the way people are dealing with the garbage crisis is to occasionally throw the stuff into the streets. Keep in mind that people don't like living in filth, and that, even if the government completely dies, there will always be some way of keeping the streets clean as long as people are driving on them. If nothing else, keep in mind a great way of showing which areas are under control is to show them with clean streets.

Not everyone has to be a secret agent or vampire. This is probably one of my least favorite cliches. Look at the bond franchise; all things considered, less than a third of the characters are spies, assassins, or even thieves; they are relatively normal people whose skillset Bond needs at the time, or someone who just happens to cross path with Bond. Everyone having the same occupation does not work as well as you would think, and eventually asks the question of what kind of training program a given country has when there are all of these spies.

Ninja suck. Not everyone has to have martial arts training. Or even weapon training. Sometimes all you need to escape trouble is a fast car or a good subway. It just gets annoying when every encounter between two people results in sex, death, or combat, and usually all three. Even if your characters are thousands of years old, it doesn't mean that they all develop combat skills and abilities; someone is bound to realize that being the best researcher and keeping a few envelopes around is sufficient to keep them alive.

The bottom line here is to have some fun, and avoid too many cookie cutter origins. If the only real difference between two characters is their physical characteristics and weapon of choice, it's going to get really boring really quick. Please keep us readers in mind....

Selling Swag

Okay, so you have some great shirt ideas, or whatever, and you want to sell it. What are some great ways to sell it?

[For the purposes of this post, "shirt idea" means any kind of swag that is related to your comic. If you are selling Frisbees with character heads on them or key chains with logos on them, it counts as a "shirt idea"; this just saves me time when it comes to writing, so go with it.]

Print On Demand: This comes up a lot in this blog, but here we go again. Print on demand allows you to create a wide variety of shirt ideas, but not have to print off huge numbers of them. You make the design, upload it, and then decide what kind of shirts it looks best on. Each one has something that makes it unique, such as a wide variety of potential merchandise (CafePress), buyer personalization (Zazzle), or the ability to put the design into the general pool (Spreadshirt). If you like the way the design is put on the shirt, then go for it, but there are a few different ways to do it. For those looking for something entirely different, try Wodans.

Auction Sites: Once you have your shirt idea done up, now you need to sell it. This is where sites like Ebay, Bonanza and Amazon come in. What you need to do is develop a dropshipping system; in essence, you sell something, and then use the funds generated to buy the item and mail it to the person. There are a number of problems with this, and it is best for when you are starting out and can't afford to print off a number of shirts; when you can afford to, print and ship your own shirts. But this is the best way to do it. Word of advice: Make sure you have a bank account or actual credit card (PayPal card doesn't count, people!) or you may not be able to play.

Mini-stores: Some POD sites let you set up mini-stores. This is a widget that allows you to sell stuff straight from your comic without having to go to an auction site. This cuts out the middleman, means you don't have to worry about shipping, and greatly simplifies your life. Just a consideration.

Shirt Sites: There are number of sites, such as Threadless, that do nothing but sell shirts. Sometimes you need to qualify to for the site, such as Threadless' competitions, but they can be worth it. There are number of sites out there, and some of them even support webcomics, so it may worth checking them out.

So, if you are looking for a way to get paid for your artistic vision, this may be the way you do it...

The Levels of Comedy

When it comes to comedy there are a number of different levels. Understanding these levels should help your writing. These are the six basic levels.

Level 1: Scatological Humor. You'll not that as we go through these, there's a plus/minus to humor: The more specific the joke's target, the funnier the joke. However, that also means that a smaller crowd will get it. Body fluid jokes are pretty funny to anyone; that's why you see so many of them. Because almost everyone has experience with sex, urination, defecation, and flatulence, and because they are considered just a bit embarrassing and intimate, they make for some great comedy.

Level 2: Slapstick. Violence is, unfortunately, part of the human condition. At the same time it is deplorable and we all recognize that; no one wants to be the victim of violence himself no matter how tough they may act, and so it's very presence makes us nervous. This is why slapstick works; we understand that it is a way of dealing with a subject with which we are nervous and makes fun of it. Understand that, and you can make this work.

Level 3: Puns. Okay, now we start getting more specific. Puns are reliant on language; if you don't understand the language, you aren't going to get the joke. The best puns are those that make fun of the orginal in meaning, poking some fun at them. After that are the more absurd ones, that we know the original saying, but have nothing to do with it. This is an area to have fun with, but not too much or you will be tracked down and lynched.

Level 4: Parody. Parody has some issues with it. The problem is that it needs to be on target to work; a parody that is on the beam can be absolutely hilarious, but one that is even off a little will die horribly. Look at Mad Magazine or Saturday Night Live; the sections and sketches that work well kill, but there are also a lot of jokes that die horribly. A good humorist needs to keep that in mind, and not be afraid to try anything; yeah, you're going to fail miserably a lot, but when you succeed you are king of the world. At least until the next joke...

Level 5: Satire. Parody makes fun of a specific subject; satire attacks an entire society. This is one where you really need to know the subject or forget about it. Satire walks a very thin line between humor and boorish, and it's a very easy line to cross. "Gulliver's Travels" is the prime example here; you want to make fun of the target and be respected for it, especially when the target has some actual power. Satire is the power of education; it needs to teach what is wrong about a subject so that the problem can get corrected. This is why jesters were kept around; a good jester could warn the king when he was being too big the fool. By listening to the jester, a king could be more effective. However, keep in mind that the jester had some fatal occupational hazards before you decide to be a satirist.

Level 6: Dark Humor. This is the one that is so specific it does not always work. For those who do get it, it can be very biting, very nasty and very funny. This expresses are very fears and pokes fun at them in order to make it less threatening. These are the jokes about 1984 and Cthulhu, about Ayn Rand and religious governments. This makes satire look like a walk in the park. Keep in mind that, in order to be funny, someone has to get it; if you are the only getting the joke, then it probably isn't that funny, so go down a level or two.

Some Clues on How to Write Comedy

Henny Youngman said it best: Dying is easy. Comedy? Now that's hard. Although you would think it's easy to write a joke, it's actually a lot harder than you would think. Because it is a lot harder to write than they would think, a lot people flub it, and flub it hard. In hopes that someone will benefit, here are some basic tips on how to write a joke.

Puns are your friend. Don't be afraid to try a pun. Yeah, I know; it's low-brow, but a good pun at the right moment can make a great punchline, especially if it's one that you spent some time building up. They may cause a certain groaning, but that's exactly why they work; the reader realizes that it's a bad joke, but still appreciates the humor. Just don't use them too often or people will find a way to lynch you.

Slapstick is an ally. Too many comickers forget that they are in a visual medium, and one that uses action. As slapstick is based on visual action, this means that you can use it to tell a joke. Better yet, because so many people are familiar with it, you don't need to complete the action, creating just a little suspense that helps sell it even better. Let's put it this way: What works better: seeing someone hit by a pie, or about to be hit by a pie but realizing that he's about to be hit? Yep. So use some slapstick.

Memes are your enemy. Although I'm as guilty of this as the next person, keep in mind that you do not want to overuse a meme more than absolutely necessary. A meme only works for as long as it works, and that is usually a short time. Your job as a writer is to use the meme a few times, and then drop it. If you're using too many lolcatz jokes, for example, people will start to wonder why they just aren't going to the lolcatz site, so you'll be losing for not just stale jokes, but because you've become a pale imitation of a funnier site.

The more intelligent the victim, the funnier the joke. So I owe this to Shortpacked, but Batman is the perfect victim. He's smart, way too serious, and far too paranoid; he is exactly the person to poke some fun at. We all like to deflate an ego that has grown out of control, and it always seems to be the person most sure of their skill that needs to be deflated. Add in a pie attack, and it really works.

Debate the parody. Although parody is protected by the Fair Use Act, you need to realize that you walk a fine line. On one side, if you paint the parody too broadly it backfires; too many people making fun of Superman tend to concentrate on the powers without understanding that it's the drama and code of honor that makes him tick, so their portrayal of an ultra-powerful character falls flat. Make it too subtle, however, and you can be sued for copyright infringement. In short, if you don't know the subject that well, your parody of that subject will probably be too broad, so don't bother.

These tips should do for now. Hope they help!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why Werewolves Bite [ducks]

So, I guess I'm obligated to make fun of werewolves as well, as well as other changers, just for the sake of fairness. So...

The Psychological Were: In a surprise twist, the were is not able to actually change shape but instead regresses to an animal-like personality, becoming a lot more fearsome, capable of doing harm to others, and generally acting like an animal. This can work, but the writer makes the mistake of allowing some human mental processes into the mix; familiarity with someone is fine, but memorization of passcodes and advanced strategy is a definite issue. If the point is to make a statement on the human condition by showing that we are all animals, then it gets undone by allowing the animal access to his human abilities; all you have is a psychotic human who is using his animal urges as an excuse to commit evil, and that really does not make the point.

The Teenage Werewolf: There's an obvious analogy between puberty and lycanthropy; the sudden growth, the increased strength and body mass, the rampaging hormones. It has not been lost on horror writers. When it's used well, it works out great; note the difference between Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf 2. However, the problem is that werewolves are being used more and more as replacements for vampires, including the supernatural boost to angst. Although the angst is understandable, given the chances of accidentally killing someone while transformed, it still feels awkward; the point of being a werewolf is the temporary lack of restraints and to saddle them with all of the negative human emotions will always be weird. They just need to come to grips with who they are; a few counseling sessions would improve this character by leaps and bounds.

The Were of Vengeance: Okay, so I get this one: A guy finds out that he can turn into a werewolf and so decides to take advantage of his were form to kill people, possibly becoming more animal-like in human form. The idea here is to explore those little wishes of revenge that we all have and why they aren't necessarily good for us. The problem is that the writer goes overboard on the idea at some point, and makes the were virtually invincible, possibly to suggest the need for revenge can be overwhelming. The problem is that if you're going to show something as a problem, you also need to show it has a solution, be it forgiving your targets or getting killed because you have become worse than those you prosecute. The irony here is a variation on the psycho-were; you are using an animal to express higher mental functions, and once that happens your story invariably goes off-track. End it quickly, or transform the person into a defender of the weak; either way find a resolution before your readers want to put the were down.

The Out of Control Alpha: This is a relatively recent modification, but one worth noting. The alpha of the pack becomes so invincible that no one can do anything about him, and he rules his pack with an iron and ruthless fist. The pack either takes over some major crime ring or becomes a force for anarchy, and although some of the pack wants to do something about him they are too scared of him. This character is usually meant to show that either mankind is no better than animals, that leadership can corrupt, and/or absolute leadership is a bad thing. The obvious problem is that the writer forgets that he's dealing with humans; any solution to a threat works, and, unlike our animal brethren, we are not limited to hand-to-hand combat. Yeah, a basic hunting rifle will solve the problem just fine, or even, in extremis, a slingshot with a silver marble. You can argue that the pack won't respect someone who wins this way, but the winner does define the rules after all, and the usual rule is to honor the new alpha, and any threats from the old, DEAD alpha should evaporate with the wind as the new political structure solidifies. There will be chaos in the wake of his death, but that should work out well for any decent writer.

The Funny Were: Okay, this is cute, and can work out really, really well in the right hands. The concept is that you are taking a random animal, one that people do not usually associate with lycanthropy, exaggerate the traits, and then make a humorous statement on the human condition through satire. The catch is that it takes a really fine control to make it work, and someone with a very definite point in mind, or else it comes off as more silly than humorous, and the point may be lost. The key is to not make the point too broad, while at the same time applying it to humanity in general; a fine balance point, to be sure, but if you can find it your story will really work.

The New Were: Sometimes people get tired of the usual suspects, and so create a new kind of were. They either research a specific species or come up with one to fill a niche, and sometimes a little bit of both, but any case a new changer is born. The key in all cases is to make sure that your new were fills a niche, or you will get a lot of weird looks from readers; an animal that is just there and doesn't bother fitting just feels like a waste of space. My personal suggestion is to avoid the trickster and warrior roles, as they have lots filling those spots already. Another issue to bear in mind is to not mess with existing too much; if you find a were-antelope that already fills a specific niche for an African tribe, for example, don't mess with it too much or you may offend someone who actually knows about it, and then you have troll issues. Basically, fill a niche or keep it to an established niche, and you should do fine.

Why Vampires Suck [ducks]

Halloween. Yay. There is a reason I've begun dreading this holiday: New vampires. It seems like the easiest way someone can prove how much they love Halloween is by coming up with some new species of vampire. Now, don't get me wrong, I sort of understand why people love them: The angst, the immortality, the power, the not having to do a regular job. I can live with that. But it's time to try something new: Do it old school. There's a good reason the old school vampire works; the combination of super-human abilities, fangs, need for blood, fangs, and weaknesses such as sunlight make a formidable foe with a reason to hide. But, if you need to change him, here are some ways people get this cool monster wrong.

The New Vampire: Someone gets bored of the old vampires and so decides to come up with a new one. He takes away a weakness or two, adds something new, and voila: New boring monster. Or hero. Whatever. However, there is a reason that the old school vamp works: If the vampires have no weaknesses, then they have no reason to hide; the more damaging those weaknesses, the more reason they have to hide. Look at this from a strategist's viewpoint: Give a vampire access to enough blood, and a small number of them can take on an army. Better yet, the vampire only needs enough blood to get started; those he slays provide him with replacement blood. If you attack the right places, the vampires can take over the world in a few short years.

Not enough people write about vampires taking over. Give the vamps some counseling, combat training, and just tell them where to strike. For some ideas, check out Kate Locke's "God Save The Queen."

The Scientific Vampire: This is even worse. An author does his homework, and finds out how to scientifically explain some of the issues with being a vampire and explains away other details as folklore. This can work, but it requires some thought beyond wanting to debunk the supernatural; you need a desire to tell a great story. The British TV series Ultraviolet works great, but that's because they also use some the weaknesses to come up with some great weapons, and they keep what makes a vampire fun, namely that they have to deal with their longevity somehow and that humans outnumber them, so they have to keep hidden. Read: The keep the drama and keep the horror coming. Too many scientific vampires have had all of the fun drained out of them along with the mystery, and they become just part of the background. That should never happen with a monster with a vampire's pedigree.

PS: Energy vampires suck. It is an attempt at creating a bloodless vampire. Although it can work in superhero and SF comics, it usually comes off as, well, lacking a certain sanguineness. So don't do it.

The Omnipotent Vampire: It may sound like a great idea, but somewhere along the line someone comes up with a vampire that is essentially invincible. In a way, this is where Vampire: The Masquerade (the RPG) jumped the shark; once it allowed vampires to be really old and therefore powerful, there was really no reason to play anything else, and the game was no longer fun. The same applies to writing; a really powerful vampire either needs to rule the world or become a bogeyman, otherwise people are going to come after him. A writer needs a character who can be beaten, or it just becomes boring really quickly.

The Angsty Vampire: Last, and probably least. Usually combined with one of the above with the idea that it is a limiting factor, and it usually does not work that way. The theory is that girls like guys that are sad, and so want to cheer them up. Guys know this; that's why they use sadness to get chicks in bars. However, somewhere someone got the idea that a vampire should be sad about living forever, and the idea spread. Now, it works for some characters, such as when the vampire has a past he wants to work, such as Aiden in "Being Human", or Spike, but that's because they recognize the issues with being a vampire and make allowances for it. They have accepted that they can be murderers and they have made their peace with it. Edward is still hanging high schools banging high school girls, knowing that he either turns them, creating a problem with the local vampires, or they die. I personally believe that if your vampires are acting like humans after fifty or so years, other vampires are likely to kill them off. So just stop it...

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Supporting Your Local Comic Store

Every town has one. And yet for some reason most webcomic creators seem to have divorced themselves from them for some reason. The usual reason is that they do not read printed comics anymore, or that they are past that phase as a reader. Well, you need to go back and make friends. Now.

I am talking about the local comic book store. This is where the geeks hang out, swapping stories about their heroes, what their favorite villains are up to, and which comics are worse that month. It is a place that everyone knows everyone else' name, and the place you need to make friends with at some point in time.

Eventually you are going to want to do a dead tree version of your comic, and then you are going to do something silly like try to sell it. In order to do so, you are going to need to have a local ally. You are going to need someone to buy your book for the local store, and you need to know someone there. So go back there and make friends.

More importantly, it can can give you a way to talk to other comic nerds and explore what makes the stories and characters so important. Sure, you can do that online, but sometimes you need to talk to people in real life; you need to know that people really exist and aren't just some advanced artificial intelligence program. It gives you a way to discuss problems you may be having with a story, and see what they would do about it. If nothing else, you can smash someone's theory about how Superman should win against a particular enemy.

The bottom line is that we all need that human touch once in a while. You need an excuse to get out of the house, and talking to someone is not a bad way to do it. Sure, there are parties and such, but sometimes just talking to another person with the same interests is a lot better than getting drunk and getting laid. Not often, admittedly, but it is something you can count on doing at least....

Guest Starring In Someone Else' Strip

One of the best ways to get people interested in your comic is to have your character guest star in someone else's comic. This is not as easy as it may sound.

The first step is to talk someone into guesting your character. This can be simple or complicated, depending on how well you the person. The ideal would be a reciprocal deal, where characters from both strips show up in the other, but that is something that can be negotiated. You may have to promise something, such as money or some special favor, but some people will do it for something as simple as a link. However you do it, do it; it's some great publicity for both sides and it can build some interesting links between the two comics.

You have to work out some sort of justification. The simplest is the “face in the crowd”, where the character just appears in a crowd of characters. The most complicated is the “multiversal cafe”, where characters from a variety of universes show up and either just meet or get assigned to some Grand Quest. This is not advised unless you have a story that works for everyone, and that everything has been worked out. Slightly better is the “quick trip”, where one character shows up in the other strip, does something quick, and then either goes back to original universe or recedes into shadows.

The one major detail worth debating is what similar characters will do when they encounter each other. There are a number of ways of joking around with it, ranging from the characters purposely ignoring the similarities even as other characters comment on it, to one character taking advantage of it, taking over the other's life and, um, sleeping arrangements. There can also be some confusion between the two, as well as one claiming to be the original. Conflicting characters can be handled as needed, but characters with similar designs need to be handled, and it provides for some comparison between the two strips, so have fun with it.

Do not forget to cross-advertise a little. The idea is to get some marketing out of this, and it will not help if it just happens in the background. Post a note on Facebook, tweet it, and let people know! This could be something fun, and it helps if you advertise a little. This can be a great way of getting two or more strips together, and having some fun with all characters and concepts involved. So get going on corssovers, especially if they make sense in the normal world.

Tee Shirt Design 101

Good T-shirt design needs to be looked at. Eventually you are going to want to get some money from your comic, and you are going to make the realization that, “Hey! I can draw! Time to design a shirt!” As there is nothing that I can do to stop you, I may as well give you some advice.

Keep the design simple. If you get nothing from this, get this: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. There are some great designs that are very complicated, but the best designs are those that are seen and understood at nearly the same moment. Sure, tour shirts break this rule constantly with that listing on the back, but graphic tees need to make their point almost as soon as you see them. That should be the first test of any design; if it does not make you think or laugh within five seconds of seeing it, it's time to scrap it and go for a different design.

I would point out that there are exceptions to that rule. However, those exceptions combine complicated graphics with a simple point. An Escher print, for example, makes for a great tee shirt design, even though they are all very complicated designs; this is because it conveys a very simply idea that can be grasped immediately and the complicated design emphasizes that point. All I am saying is that a “find Waldo” shirt is going to be a horrible design, unless Waldo is bloody obvious.

The same applies even more so to text. You do not want a viewer to have to stare at the shirt for more than a few moments to read the shirt; this is more of a courtesy to the reader, who should not need to stop to read a shirt, and to the wearer, who should not need to pause so someone can read his shirt. Now, I can see an exception for shirts that you want to draw attention to, but you need to make them the exception, not the rule. It works for some designs, do not get me wrong, but go as light on the text as possible.

Keep in mind also that there are more colors than black and white. White is great because it makes for cheap shirts. Black is great because...yeah, black is just great. But keep in mind that there are other colors out there that people like, such as neon colors. A great option is the baseball tee, which has short colored sleeves and ring shirts, which at least gives you a splash of color. You may not like them, but at least look into other colors and styles than the basic white and black. Please!

[Oh, and while I'm at it: Camisoles. I'm sure that your female potential customers would like something a little sexy and not something that is just a guy's design that has been modified to a camisole. Thank you.]

The last is to keep in mind that the price should be right. Hot Topic can get away with $40 shirts; this is because the people that buy that stuff are on some decent drugs. The price range for most shirts should be in the $10 to $25 range. Combined with simple designs, limited texts, and a few different colors, you should be well on your way to designing a great looking shirt.

Social Media Marketing

When it comes to marketing social media can be a fickle friend. Worse, there are no hard and fast rules for dealing with social media, so you need to develop your own rules. In that spirit, here are some considerations.

  1. Don't just advertise your comic. You don't want to be seen as a spammer, so you need to talk to these people every so often. Post funny pictures, make comments on other people's posts, and basically have some fun with the other people. Become friends with them in more than the sense that you have them on your friend/follower list; actually post things that have nothing to do with your comic. And comment on what you see; you want people to do the same for you, right? So do it for them, even if it's just a like every so often.
  2. Be aware that game friends are unlikely to pay attention to your non-game posts. There are exceptions to this rule, but your gaming friends are unlikely to do more then want your gifts. This is not to say that you should not have any gaming friends, just be aware that they rarely add to your ability to market your comic.
  3. Respond to friend requests as quickly as possible. The general rule is that you should respond within a day or two. This is just a matter of courtesy if nothing else. You can be selective; if I can't see anything in common with someone else, I am unlikely to reciprocate. This is not because I'm a mean person; I just have 5000 slots and I want people who I can talk to. Twitter followers are different; just because someone is following you does not mean you need to follow them, although it's not a bad idea, and it's not like there is a limit.
  4. The big fish aren't as good as you think. Just because someone has 4000 friends on Facebook does not make them any more desirable than someone who only has 40. If anything, I would prefer the one with only 40 sometimes; they are likely to be more active, and so are more likely to check out your posts. Also, they are unlikely to have many friends in common with you as the guy with 4000, and too much overlap is a bad thing. If we know the same 2500 friends, the remaining 1500 are unlikely to be interested in what I'm doing, and most of those friends are unlikely to be very active.
  5. Don't be afraid to drop someone who is obnoxious. I've been dropped a lot because of my religious convictions, and because I will defend my points, sometimes a little too strongly. I sort of expect to be dropped a lot, and I can deal with that. Social media should be people that you like to hang out with. Keep that in mind when someone starts putting a lot of posts on your wall that you find offensive.
  6. It bears repeating, so: You are not required to keep as friends or accept friend requests from people you find offensive. I have a wide variety of friends, and I really hope no psychologist ever sees my friend list; he's going to think I have some serious MPD issues. But that's me; I still drop people who are too strong about advertising their beliefs, I hate spammers, and I really hate people that friend me just to friend me. Sooooo...Yeah, I drop people all the time.
  7. Post new content. Don't just post the same thing everyone else is posting, but occasionally post your own content. And I'm not talking your own comic, but stuff from other sites you see. Or make your own inspirational images. Something. Just don't limit your posts to commenting on other's posts, sharing the same images, and your own links, okay?
  8. Don't feel obligated to share or comment on every post on your wall. If you have enough followers, it will drive you nuts. For that matter, don't feel bad if you occasionally miss a post or so. Heck, don't feel bad if you miss several hours of posts. If you worry about the missing posts, then you will go insane. So don't! If someone really wants to get in touch with you, they can message you. You are not Lucy or Ethel packaging chocolates! Don't sweat the small stuff.
  9. Join groups! I'm not saying join every club on Facebook that has even the slightest link to what you are interested in. Just a few, like half a dozen tops. You want to join groups for added visibility and to get messages out to people who are not on your list; groups also provide a forum for you to talk about topics and get advice. Groups rock! So join some, but not a lot.
  10. Go outside once in a while. My morning constitutional is just an excuse to get out of the house. You need sunlight for a number of reasons, like Vitamin D production. So get out! Your computer will be there when you get back, you can miss messages, and you can feed your addictions when you get back. Just get out now!

I hope these tips help calm nerves, and lead to a much healthier lifestyle. The next level up is suggesting you get rid of all electronics, and I really don't want to go that far....