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.