Monday, October 27, 2014

Some Additional Tools

There are a number of ways to strengthen your story. Some of these are straight writing, others require some assistance from the illustrator. Although they may seem a little subtle, you need to keep in mind that your dedicated fans will usually pick up on it eventually, and even start seeing it in places that it wasn't placed, at least not intentionally. I know you are told to not overestimate the stupidity of your audience, but that just means that you would be surprised when you give them a chance. Here are three ways to take advantage of that intelligence, and have some fun with it.

Running Gag: An example is that the good guys keep running across the same guy and kick his butt every time; eventually he joins the good guys. However, it does not need to be an actual joke, but it can also be just a recurring event. It's better when the event builds or there is obvious foreshadowing, such as someone tracking the group who keeps showing up just a few minutes after the group goes through. A good rule to follow is the Rule of Four: The first three times it happens it goes off the same way, but the fourth time it happens there is a twist.

[Yeah, I know about the Rule of Threes, where the limit for a recurring event is three times in one story. This is a modified version of that, where the event repeats three times, but here there is that twist on the fourth event.]

For example, A stalker keeps missing the group by a few minutes, but the fourth time it happens he helps the group out of a mess. Or the teenage romance: Two teens keep having problems on dates, but the fourth time the date goes off without a hitch. There is also when someone keeps screwing something up, but finally figures it out. This can be a great way to introduce characters as well as build up an event.

Recurring Symbol: Here's where you get to use that dramatic irony thing. If you want to build up some suspense, introduce a symbol that shows up but that only the readers really have the opportunity to see. Once the hero makes a good or safe decision, one that moves the story along, the symbol shows up. Of course, you can have another symbol that only shows up when the hero screws up. Your audience will have a different  reaction based on which symbol shows up, allowing you to ratchet up the level of suspense or relief from the audience. As long as you don't abuse it, you can actually have some fun messing with your audience a little while giving them information the hero doesn't, making for some interesting situations.

Color Palette: Each character and faction in your comic will probably have certain colors associated with it. Not only will they wear them, they are likely to decorate their territory with those colors as well. Your colorist can use them to define those same areas when it comes to the character, which gives you the ability to add some emotional relief or suspense to the situation. You can also add a character to the scene without the character actually being there just by throwing some of his colors around. If you're dealing with black and white, you can substitute shades if there are a few characters or factions, but you can easily substitute symbols of the character or faction for the same effect.

Between the Rule of Four, recurring symbols, and color palettes, you can create some interesting situations as well as have some fun with the comic. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tracking Down The Muse

Inspiration is one of the hardest parts of being an artist. It can happen so randomly and at any time; it's why we are encouraged to carry notebooks with us, or even recording devices. That cameras are part of our phones is a major boon to artists as it means that a means of recording something we see randomly so that we can explore it later. We no longer have to do with brief sketches as we can not snap a picture of something interesting, but download it quickly as well.

Sometimes a random bit of thought becomes something more solid, threatening our very sanity until we do something about it. Just watching a show because an opportunity for inspiration as we see something cool and want to give our own spin to it, or see a train wreck of a show and wonder how we could do it better, or wonder how a particular director would do a particular show. I feel sorry for painters watching the FYI Network who see some great stuff on something like Red Hot Design, where Shasta has some incredible ideas. Yeah, I think it would be funny to see Tarentino do something like a CW high-schooler drama.

We even get inspiration from our pets. I would love to expose an illustrator to Wolf Mountain, an MMORPG where you play a wolf, and you can see what your wolf smells. Are cats really all jerks or are they misunderstood? Do they care? Even if sentience is not assumed, a comic about the adventures of a hamster could be seriously fun to do. And that's excluding some of the other animals out there; I'm still waiting for a graphic novel of "Jonathan Livinston Seagull". Octopi are supposed to be one of the smartest creatures on Earth, rivalling dolphins; could you imagine what that perspective must be like, oozing from place to place, watching for prey, and avoiding sharks? There has to be some stories there.

All I'm saying is that follow your muse when she appears and stay as close to her as you can. When she appears know she is going to be fleeting despite your best entreaties, and will disappear quicker than she appeared. Grab a picture, take a note, discuss it with friends: When you see her take what she gives you as quickly as possible and have fun with it or you will regret it, and life is too short for regrets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Law and Making Your Comic More Realistic

Comic book law usually falls into two different camps: based of actual law and laws created to deal with specific issues. One word of advice: If you are doing any serious writing, eventually you are going to find that you need to know at least how the law works in real life, and that Introduction to Law class can be a great thing. Also, make sure you do your research when it comes to the law; nothing trips you up like not knowing something that should be obvious to anyone in the know.

That said, only create new laws for your universe as you need them. With a little finangling most current laws fit a lot or weird situations. Offensive powers, for example, can be handled by most weapon and assualt laws. Evidence gained by divinatory abilities, such as scrying and telepathy, are probably going to be inadmissible in court as they utilize abilities that while the effects can be proven the method cannot by their very nature. Morphing into someone else is likely to be handled as identity theft. An excellent treatise on the subject would be Trinity Field Report: Psi Law. The Shadowrun "Grimoire" supplement also has an excellent section on how magic and its effects are handled under the law.

However, this is not to say that you won't need some laws for some situations that come up only in comics...well, usually. In a society where werewolves are commonplace, for example, how they deal with those who intentionally obtain the disease would be an interesting situation. For those with traditional vampires, revoked invitations would make for some interesting problems, especially if they led to the death of a vampire who should have had legal right to the domicile. It may suck to be a knight depending on how nasty the Good Samaritan laws are. Heck, supers may even have to register their powers, creating a power registry that can be used for mandatory service or identifying a person from the power used.

Keep in mind that you want to try and avoid creating laws just for story purposes as it may lead to other problems down the road. When editors sought to eliminate Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), they introduced a law that allowed her to become a US Representative; although it worked okay for her, there are a lot of movies that show just how badly that law could have been abused ("Wild In The Streets", for example, as well as The Prez from DC Comics). There is also the issue that a new law can interact with an old law for some nasty ramifications; the "vampire invitation revocation" law could force landlords to register as deadly weapons if worded wrong, potentially limiting the pool of landlords.

The law can be a tricky beast, and so don't give it a chance to mess around. Keep your laws simple and to the point and you should be fine. By the same token, you can get away with some broad interpretations of the law as long as you don't get too broad. It may seem like a simple thing to deal with, after all you set the rules, right? but for some people making them suspend disbelief a bit too much by getting a detail wrong can snap them out of the story, and that is something that you want to avoid as much as possible. The reader can be lost if the details are wrong, so avoid that by getting them right as much as possible, and this can be one of those details that needs to be researched. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Clothing Is A Lot More Than Just Cloth

One of the weirder questions you may have to deal with is a clothing issue. Basically, you're going to make the mistake of asking yourself, at some point, what are the costumes made out of? And no; this does not apply only to super-hero comics, but fantasy as well as horror comics. If your characters have any kind of shape-shifting or size-changing abilities, or any kind of transformative abilities, then you may wish to ask this question.

Marvel Comics has a pretty good solution to this: unstable molecules. Clothing made of these molecules mimics the abilities of any wearer, allowing them to stretch, shift, or otherwise be immune to transformations of their wearers, such as turning to flame or even invisible. At the other end of the spectrum White Wolf had a ritual that convert one suit to clothes that would transform along with its wearer and would disappear when he changed to a non-human form (and appear back when the shifter returned to a humanoid shape). Some variant of these may great for your comic.

Consider also some of the more exotic options. Spider-man's symbiotic suit is a great one; prior to it becoming Venom, the suit could mimic any suit of clothes with a thought as well as mimic some of Spidey's equipment, such as his web-shooters. With Venom the suit allowed some shape-changing abilities. In the Trinity RPG, there is the bio-evacuation suit, or BES; this organically grown suit allows its wearer to survive in space, is comfortable enough to wear under another suit of clothes, and will even pop a helmet up if you end up in space while asleep.

You may have other needs to allow for. If you have energy-based races you may need containment suits so that they can interact with flesh-beings, either because of their radiation or lack of a body. Have a feral race? The outfit needs to be tough, form-fitting, odorless in and of itself, and clasps tools tight in case its wearer runs off. And then there are the Qin of Trinity, a race of worms who rely on their human-shaped body armor to hide their individual identities from the humans they deal with.

Keep in mind that you can have fun with armor as well. "The thicker the better" will always be a good general rule, but you can always develop some sort of special cloth that absorbs impacts or deflects energy attacks. For that matter, you can use cloth that emits a force field when a weak electric current is run through it. Obviously there are no limits to what you can do with clothing, so decide what you need it to do, and it will. So have some fun making up types of clothing and make it do what you need it to do. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Picture Transformations

Werecreatures present an interesting problem from the illustrator's perspective. Basically, the illustrator has to portray the shape-shifting at least once in the comic, and it requires some thought to properly pull it off. If it is going to happen a lot, then it needs to be discussed; after all, you want something that can be portrayed in a few panels. Fortunatley, there are a couple of ways to pull this off.

The One-Panel Multi-Form: Pretty much the comics standby, the basic idea is to start with the original form, insert two or three transition forms, and then end with the final form. Although requires a lot more thought than other forms that work can be worth it. The problem is when either form has clothing and other items, as they need to be allowed for during the change, so this requires a lot of planning if those elements are involved.

The Body Part In Focus: In Panel One, focus on a particular body part. In Panel 2, show the body part changed. In Panel 3, pull back to reveal the changed form. This is a great and simple way to get the change over quickly and with little fuss.

The Focused Multi-Form: You focus in on one body part for several panels, and the part transforms a little more each time until it reaches the final form. This is great for when you need to be subtle and want to have some fun with it.

The John Landis Special: Warning: This may take a few pages. The first time you show a change you may want something a little more....dramatic. Show a few panels of minor changes, then start showing the major changes. Once enough of the changes have happened show the final form. This takes some work and some planning, but can be well worth it.

The Shadow: Instead of showing the transformation, show a silhouette of it. Usually a heads-only situation over a few panels, this is great if you want to have a little mystery in your story. This can also be great if you want to break up some of your other transformations.

The Bar-Pole Quicky: A pole or other vertical obstruction spits the panel into two. As the character moves past it, he transforms. It only takes one panel, and first part past it is the new form while the part that has yet to cross is the original form. Although a great time-saver, it is seen as a cheat.

The Magic Beast: The person transforms into energy form that happens to be a silhouette of the original form, then a silhouette of the new form, and then becomes the actual new form. Listed more the sake of completeness, this can work visually but is usually seen as a cheat.

Those should help a lot. The bottom line is that you will probably use a mix of these methods in order to spice things up as well as have some fun with the transformations, so don't feel as if you need to pick just one. Just go with whatever feels right at the time, and works for the scene in question. Just remember to have some fun with it and you should enjoy yourself. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Layers of History in Your Backstory

Something that can be fun to do is to really explore the past of your universe. There are some times when you just want to throw in some basic history to your world that adds some depth to it without really adding details that you need to worry about. Taking something from the real world, you may want to debate adding some former civilizations to your world.

The great thing about adding dead civilizations to your universe is that it adds some background to your universe without adding any additional story ideas. This does not mean that you may not feature quests for the ancient artifacts or that the civilization won't feature as part of a character's personal arc, but more that the civilization is there to add window dressing to the world. In essence it is something to just show that the world has been around for a while, that there is more than merely current events.

A dead civilization helps you with a lot of minor details. Obviously the characters that benefit the most are archaeologists, historians, and paleontology, but it can add some great details that other characters can have some fun with. It can add some mysterious sites, such as Stonehenge and Easter Island, some great tourist sites such as the Egyptian pyramids, or just some obligatory background puzzle, such as if Troy actually existed. Better yet, you can have a couple of them running around, just to have different races running around.

Even science fiction can benefit, as it can show that some of the worlds really do have a past. It can even show the inspiration for some ship designs or give characters a non-combat reason to explore a planet, as some ruins are bound to just be places for tourists to spend money. They can even provide time travellers some great vacation ideas. Not every civilization has to be one that contributes to current stories; sometimes you want pyramids that are just there for viewing and not for hiding some sort of doomsday device.

In short, occasionally you just want some dead civilizations that add flavor to your world. Have some fun creating them, basing them on real world civilizations or entirely fresh creations, and you should do okay. Just remember that they are supposed to add some local color and not another long-lost race, and you should do fine. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Charting Your Continuity

The best writers have a developed OCD. They tend to figure out all sorts of ways to keep track of their characters and stories, and some of those take advantage of technology. One of those is a continuity chart, where a writer tracks events using a chart rather than a bible. Although a whiteboard can be used, this is one area where a computer may actually work better, especially a tablet with a decent graphics program. Assuming you have a big enough whiteboard or a favorite graphics program, continuity charts are easy enough to develop.

The first thing you need to decide on which colors represent which kind of events. You can also shapes, but colors make them stand out that much better. Generally, you're going to have four or five types of events to deal with, and therefore you'll need four to five colors: major events, character arcs, romance, important but off-screen events, and backstory. A sixth event can be debated for some comics, future events, which need to be noted so that they can be lead up to. That makes for a total of seven colors and/or shapes, depending on preference.

Each time an event happens, you have two choices how to present the information. You can either cluster it, or link it linearly. Clustering events can be complicated, but can work for singular events that need to be noted, such as when a sword is forged or how a character trained. The preference is going to be for linear presentation, where the information is on essentially an x-y axis. The x-axis should be used for different types of events spaced apart just enough to allow for small paragraphs. In other words, all of your various arcs and storylines should be organized horizontally.

On the y-axis, events should be organized so that events should be placed so that they are organized by time. In other words, you should be able to be look down to see which events happen at the same time, and should be able to get a good idea what order events happened. If you can provide dates so much the better as the timing can get a lot more precise, making it perfect for murder mysteries and military stories. You don't need such precision for most stories, so there is some room for personal preference. For that matter, you can organize stories on the y-axis and times on the x-axis, as long as you are consistent with it.

When it comes to events, you need to remember to write as concisely as possible. The ideal is to combine with a bible; the event is noted on the master chart so as to get a feeling for where it belongs in the continuity while a fuller entry (containing details, characters in attendance, important details) is in the comic bible. You can provide character codes in the chart details, but the chart is there just to show you where things fit in the general continuity.

As this can get rather huge, it helps to be able to use a tablet or something else with a touchscreen. You will find rather quickly that the ability to expand or shrink areas and to quickly go from one area of the chart to another can be all sorts of cool, especially when you are exploring character histories. When you need to get a quick glance of the situation a continuity chart can be a real help, especially when determining where an event can fit in when you are writing something and know you want to fit it in, but are worried about it conflicting with other events. For time travel stories that can be a great feature. Luckily this is easy to set up and maintain, making life easier for even the most OCD-blessed writers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lettering For Fun and Profit

Lettering can be as much as an art as any other aspect of creating a comic. Not only can it be a lot of fun, but it can help you better define your characters, as well as provide a lot of bonus exposition and make things a lot clearer for the reader. If you have any doubts, let's look at what some basic plusses.

1) You can better differentiate between characters. If you have two or more characters that are basically the same, giving them a different font or even color of word bubble can help make the difference. Just giving two characters in the same panel a different color can help, and if you make that color consistent you can even have fun drawing the characters wildly different and they'll still be recognized as the same characters.

2) It allows you weirder characters. The obvious example is Deadpool and his multiple personalities, each with a different font and color, but this allows you to have some fun with other characters as well, such as showing how different an alien race is or having fun with that intelligent sword. You can even erase the link between alter egos by just changing details of the word balloon. There are just some characters that work even better when they have a visibly different way of talking.

3) You can make different modes of communication more obvious. Consider how the elves in Elfquest talked through telepathy or even the basic example of radios. It adds a little to your comic when the characters aren't limited to just talking, and it can really mess with readers when they realize that they just heard a character use an electronic means of talking when the character normally doesn't. It can also add potential clues to a murder mystery. Just messing around with the fonts gives you added dimensions.

4) For your dialogue boxes mixing up the fonts, colors, and even borders can cue the reader as to who is speaking, or the purpose of the box if you really run things complicated. When you start having fun with the editorial boxes, you can add a lot of exposition quickly without having to figure out how to make it part of character dialogue. For that matter, you can cut characters completely out of the exposition loop, which is useful when you want to tell the readers what is going as well as any necessary details while allowing the characters to remain ignorant of them. A little lame, perhaps, but sometimes it is nice to have options.

For those of you who keep to black and white, you can use different shades of gray as well as patterns for the boxes and word balloons. Just look at what they can do with manga, and you can have a lot more fun with them. Don't limit yourself to colors, and you can have a lot of fun. Lettering should not be seen as just a chore, but as a way to have some fun with the story and to better define characters. Just don't use it too much and you should be fine; it should be used like any spice and not overpower the meat.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Local Comic Shop: Your Bestest Friend

Regardless of whether or not you do regular comics or webcomics, it can only help to establish some sort of relationship with your local comic book shop. Not only can you get some great feedback on how to better market your comics, and they are definitely interested in promoting local artists: There is no narrative better than the local boy or girl done good, and being local it means that they help promote that work more effectively than someone that lives anywhere else. This is why it really helps to develop that relationship.

[Keep in mind that everything I say for comic book shops should apply to any book store. Comic book shops are just more responsive, and a more receptive setting. This should not be seen as a reason not to try it, and you should definitely try it.]

The first step for webcomic artists is to create links between the two sites, literally. Local comic book shops are always looking to promote local comics; they are willing to promote any comics really, but they really like local comics, especially if the shop is outside the usually roads, such New York or Los Angeles. The local creator wins by having access to someone who can sell his books.

Which of course brings us to the second thing, which is to discuss selling your books. Even if the shop itself doesn't buy your books directly, they may be willing to discuss commission, where they sell the books and give you most of the money back (stores usually charge 10%-15% for commission sales, though some stores charge more). Combined with some sort of display you should be able to sell more books than usual.

You should also debate holding an author day when you start selling at the store. This is something that you and the store should work (see previous entry for more information). It will take some work to set up, but it should be well worth it.

The local comic book can be one of your biggest supporters, and they can help you in a lot of great ways. Let them know you exist, and see how they can help you. Expect them to ask some requests, as they are a business after all, and it would e a bad businessman that would do something totally for free. Nonetheless, it can be a profitable exchange, and one that should happen for the benefit of both of you. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Convetions and Legal Issues

Ever curious where you can find the Black Market? Try Artists Alley.

Artists at a convention have always had a fun relationship with the law. Although a lot of artists are there selling products that they own with images that they wholly own, including the characters, you have a lot of others that are using characters that they have no real right to. You can break it down to three issues: fan art, counterfeiters, and unlicensed printers. I'm going to ignore fan art; we all acknowledge it's illegal but it's ignored as long as it stays small. It's the other two that make for some interesting conversations.

Although there are a couple of famous ones, there are a lot of counterfeiters in any given convention. Counterfeiters are a particular evil at a convention because nothing sucks more than putting a lot effort into finding what you thought was a really cool souvenir of someone you really wanted something from only to find out that it wasn't. A person who illegally forges money only creates an inconvenience; a person who forges a signature ruins a life so heavily valued are our memories. It gets worse when artwork from a famous artist is forged; the person deserves to be run out of the convention, and they usually are. Before buying, make sure you do your research on both the seller and the items being sold. When buying, avoid the high pressure and "recently unearthed artwork"; great art sells itself, and artwork with mysterious origins should always be questioned. Just remember that you have no one else but your own self to blame if you pick up bad artwork.

I'm really not sure where to stand when it comes to prints of fan art, however good it is. POD publishers have pretty much given up on it, leaving it to the rights owners to police; most companies don't mind it as long as it doesn't become too big as it works for some great advertising. The probem is that there some gray area, as there is some debate as to whether it is considered derivative artwork or copyright infringement. The latter is patently illegal and opens up the seller to some serious litigation, while the former is allowed under a number of jurisdictions; the idea is to provide a reasonable loophole for smaller sellers to provide a non-competitive means of providing competition in order to keep local markets thriving. Although there are some issues with originality, there are some incredible fanartists out there, especially among the furry community.

Derivative works were originally applied more to crafts than artwork. Local craftsmen would develop a variation on a major manufacturer's invention and want to sell it; the classic example is a boat with a slightly different prow that would work well for the local waters. Lawmakers listened and so derivative works laws were born. Eventually artists would figure it out and apply the concept to their individual art.

There's been some great stuff coming from derivative works. Probably the best example I can think of are the T-shirts combining the TARDIS with Disney Princesses. The problem is the old issue when it comes to forgers (and I'm not comparing them to forgers): These are usually people that have some serious creative talent, and it would be interesting to see what they could to do if they attacked the art world with their own ideas. So while I think that there is a lot of cool stuff being done as derivative works, I would love to see them do a lot more of their own work. Obviously the derivative works, just like the fanart, is way too profitable to ignore.

So with that said, encourage your artists, with your dollars going to the best artists regardless of the origin of their works and beware the fakes. Now I need to go find a T-shirt...Meridia would make a scary Companion. But then again Romana was my favorite. Hey! There it is!

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Difference Between Pastiche and Parody

An interesting issue from a legal perspective is the question of pastiche versus parody. The problem, from a writer's perspective, is that a pastiche can be grounds for a legitimate lawsuit while a parody is protected by law. Knowing the difference between them and an actual standalone character can save a lot of potential frustration.

Let's pick on Superman, who is arguably the most copied character out there. While it's not exactly a unique set of powers, there are a number of other characteristics that identify him as "Superman": He is usually the alpha male in his universe, and represents that universe's perspective regarding what makes for a noble fighter. From the perspective of DC's perspective, there are a large number of different characters that could qualify as a trademark infringement on that particular character. Although DC has backed off a bit from their defense of the character, it is still within their right to defend their copyright.

Image's Supreme is arguably the best example for a straight parody, as is Marvel's Hyperion. A parody does not need to be funny; it just needs to be an honest exploration of what makes the character tick and how that character works within society as a whole. There is some allowance for critique within the definition of parody. Supreme explores Superman as if he was more divorced from his humanity, but was still interested in defending Earth from threats. Suffice to say that he is more violent and less likely to let the villains escape or merely let them return to jail; he acts as judge, jury, and executioner. Although Hyperion is now a bad guy, he was part of the social commentary that was the Squadron Supreme.

On the other hand, a pastiche is a loving tribute of the character in question, a celebration of what makes the character cool and an exploration of why the character is important. Astro City's Samaritan is a good example of this, and all of the details are there, from the job as a reporter to his heroics. As Astro City is look at superheroes and how we look at them, it is a fun look at the stories as they develop. It avoids being a commentary because it has some fun with the idea, developing a world that is unique on its own. Yeah, there is some carry-over, but in general the idea is to mimic the stories rather than make any sort of actual commentary, but to do so in such a way as to add to the mythology rather than merely mimicking it.

From a legal perspective, parodies are fair use and therefore acceptable, while pastiches can be legitimately prosecuted. The issue is that there is no social commentary in a pastiche; while it can be an otherwise fun exercise, the goal is to celebrate the concept while at the same time taking it in a different direction than the creators may have wished. Although comic book companies are less likely to go after pastiches, this should not be seen as permission; comic companies are just less likely to go after them as long as they don't threaten their trademarks and copyrights. There are some groups trying to include pastiches under protected speech, but they have yet to have any luck.

So where does this leave you as a comicker? Have fun, and try to include some social commentary. This may not really protect you, but at least it can make it harder to prosecute you. So get in there and get in some good licks while you can!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

AUTHOR'S DAY IS HERE!

Every writer should be forced to deal directly the public at some point. Novel writers have a circuit of appearances; besides appearing on shows, they also show up in libraries and bookstores promoting their works. The same should apply to comic book writers as well, and illustrators as needed. If the idea of getting a little public attention appeals to you, you may want to try booking an appearance.

Ironically, comic book writers forget that people are visual-based, specifically that they prefer faces over names, and so they like it when they can associate a face with a name. If a book has a face associated with it, that book tends to sell more; this makes public appearances worth the time invested. Book lovers love a chance to meet writers; some just want to meet the people that write the books, other want to talk craft with someone that has been published. Either way, providing a chance o meet an author can be great for business.

Bookstores try to encourage this, as personal appearances also help sales of other books in the store where the author makes an appearance, so they rarely turn down an author looking for an appearance. It also gives them something to advertise as a happening, especially if the book is at all interesting or the author has any kind of reputation. Keep in mind that the same applies to comic book stores as well as regular book stores; either are usually extremely happy to see an author. Other venues can work as well, such as a restaurant, as long as they work for the work in question. Don't be afraid to try other venues; you never know what will work until you try it.

When you get something booked, work with the venue to maximize the advertising. Make sure that you let your readers know, both through your own website, any allied sites, and through any social media. When the day comes, make sure that you arrive early so that you can set up without crowd interference. Also make sure that you have extra books, especially if you are at a bookstore or comic book shop so you can leave some behind, assuming of course that the manager is copacetic with it.

Have a great day, and have fun. Remember to be reasonably polite, and you should have a great day!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Weapon Design 101

One of the fun things about fantasy comics is that you get to design some of the coolest weapons. However, I think I've gotten a little annoyed at the Final Fantasy school of weapon design; I really think that if you are going to design a weapon the phrase "Freudian compensation" should not come to mind. In order to help designers here are my thoughts:

1) Fit the weapon to the character. A sword should not be the default weapon for all characters, even if the series is about swordsmen. Every weapon has a history and an associated symbology associated with it, and you should take full advantage of that. A scythe, for example, is great for a scary character that you wish to associate with death, just as nunchucks are good for a martial arts character. A more pensive character is more likely to have a ranged weapon, while a more action-based character will have a melee weapon. A character who considers himself an artist will have a more exotic weapon. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the best example of this: Noble Leonardo has a katana, scholarly Michaelangelo has a staff, aggressive Raphael has sais, and goofball Donatello has nunchuks. There are weapons associated with peasants (most martial arts weapons), military weapons (spears and pole arms), and even nobles (swords and fans). Take advantage of that to build your characters.

2) The look of the weapon says a lot about the character. A sword can be a weapon of nobility or savagery, it all depends on how it is used. The look of the sword emphasizes that point; a sword with smooth lines represents a more noble characters than one with barbs. Throw in a blood groove and the character is a sadist. A rusty sword is for someone who hasn't fought in a while, and shiny sword is for the novice. A fancy hilt is a show off, while a bit of gold makes for a rich character. And that ignores any symbols on the weapon itself, such as waves, runes, or even no decoration at all when everyone else has symbols all over their gear...All of these little details can tell a lot about the character who wields the weapon.

3) How the weapon is carried is important. A character who is sneaky and should not be trusted carries weapons that are small or are easily hidden. An upfront character has obvious weaponry, and usually no more than one or two. A well-prepared usually carries several weapons. A character more interested in comfort may carry his weapons more as an accessory while a battle-ready character ties them down in easy-to-access locations.

4) The weapon doesn't need to fit the character as long as it shows something about the character. The obvious example is the young character who is wielding his dead father's weapons; he needs to grow into them over time. Another fighter may be wielding the weapon of his lover, while a group of soldiers may wield the same blade in order to show solidarity. If the character is wielding a weapon that obviously doesn't fit him you need to have a reason, and that makes for some interesting stories in and of itself.

When it comes down to it, a weapon is a major investment in the character's time and energy. Even if he inherits or is assigned it, he needs to train with it, learn its intricacies, and be able to defend himself with it. It makes sense that it tells a lot about the character given that it will easily be one of the biggest trademarks about the character. It's also a great way to get into the character as a writer as you need to worry about why he's carrying it. So put some serious thought into what kind of weapon he wields, and what it means to him, and the character can only benefit. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sound Effects in Your Comic

Something that needs to be used more often are sound effects.

Sound effects were extremely popular in the action-heavy comics of the 1940s to 1950s. They started falling out of favor in the 1960s, and virtually disappeared by the 1990s. There are a number of good reasons for them to have disappeared; they were pretty silly, they took up visual space that could be better used for pretty much anything else, and they felt a little anachronistic, a throwback to an earlier age. For webcomics, too many illustrators simply didn't learn how to do them, as their education was usually in a different field. This is not to say that they have completely disappeared, just that few comics take advantage of them.

Not only do they make an excellent way of adding a little visual flavor to an otherwise staid strip, but they also add something fun. You can either have the sound effect as somehing extra in the panel, or as the panel itself. Software has advanced significantly so that you can have some real fun with the effect. If you really want to have some fun, multiple sound effects in the same panel or string it out among multiple panels.

I know it's a little weird for most strips. Nonetheless, I would really like to see some more sound effects in comics. I think it would make some strips really fun....

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Notes on Some Basic Comic Book Fights

I belong to a group on Facebook that has a "Versus Wednesday", where they take two characters or teams and put them up against each other. Understandably, certain combinations keep coming up, and I keep seeing the same silly logic applied. Here are my thoughts on some of the more common ones:

Superman vs. Goku: Superman wins. Goku is super-strong and super-fast, as well as having a high healing factor and martial arts skills. He can also charge up, either to "evolve" into a more powerful form or for devastating energy attacks, if he has several minutes to charge up. Admittedly Superman is hardly in his league as a fighter, but he is faster and stronger, and he doesn't need to charge up. This means that he shouldn't have to deal with any of Goku's advanced forms and only some of his chi attacks, and he is, based on what Goku has been observed to do (his feats), stronger than a baseline Goku. As such, Superman should win consistently.

Superman vs. Hulk: Superman wins. Even allowing for his slap, Hulk really doesn't have ranged attacks, and Superman has both greater speed and mobility. Hulk also needs time to get really ticked and therefore really strong. As such, as long as Superman acts quickly he should be able to easily defeat Hulk.

Superman vs. Superman Clone: Sentry, Gladiator, Hyperion, Supreme, Mister Majestyk: Superman has been parodied and cloned in just about every comic book universe. In general, Superman should trounce just about everyone. The three notable exceptions are: Superboy Prime, who has the SIlver Age levels of Superman's powers; Mister Majestyk, who essentially combines Superman and Batman; and Supreme, who lacks Superman's code of honor.

Superman versus Magic: Superman may be vulnerable against magic, but it depends on the precise nature of the manifestation. If the magic affects his area or manipulates or creates matter or energy, it affects him as per the limitations of those materials; in other words, his usually strength and invulnerability applies. If the attack is pure magic, such as a spell that changes his form or imprisons him, it affects him like any other mortal. If it is a mental attack, it still has to deal with his tremendous will. Chi-based attacks are special; direct chi attacks, such as Iron Fist's Fist of Iron attack, would do serious damage against him, while chi attacks that manifest as energy, such as Goku's various ranged attacks, would have to deal with his invulnerability. Keep in mind that he also has a noble spirit, making him immune to certain attacks and allowing him to lift Thor's hammer.

Deadpool vs. Anyone: Deadpool has some pretty good fighting skills, as well as a serious healing factor as well as apparent immortality. However, given that you don't need to kill someone to defeat them in combat, and that Deadpool's skills are formidable but not completely awesome, he tends to get his butt kicked a lot.

Batman vs. Anyone but Superman: Depends. Batman's main ability is as a long-range planner; if he has time to do some research and build something, he can defeat pretty much anyone. However, it needs to be realized that while he in one of the best combatants, there are a lot of fighters better than he is. As such, Batman can and does have his butt handed to him on a regular basis even in his own book. Against other great planners, keep in mind that he does have some pretty good resources to bring to bear, and that he has compiled a list of strategies for dealing with a wide range of super-powered beings, so he should do pretty good. In general, he should do pretty good against most opponents, lose to most great martial artists, and generally win if he has any kind of prep time.

Keep in mind that he usually wins against Superman, even without kryptonite, battle suits, or prep time. Fights against Spider-man and Iron Man will always be interesting; Spider-man may lack resources, but still adapts to most situations well, has a number of actual powers, and has been known to prep as well, while Iron Man and Batman are basically equal.

Thanos versus Anyone: Thanos will usually win. With the Infinity Gauntlet he is essentially the superior of anyone from his universe, including abstract entities such as Death and Eternity; there is the limit that it only works in its home dimension. However, even without the gauntlet he is still a scary opponent; he can ard has prepared for just about anything, has a lot of resources he can take advantage of including a fleet of warships and armies, and can go against teams of the most powerful heroes with ease. Suffice to say that while he was based of Darkseid, he has far succeeded him in power.

Doctor Strange versus Doctor Fate: Both of these characters have had varying power levels over the years do to various situations, however it basically comes down whether or not Doctor Fate has access to Nabu; if he doesn't, such as the current version, Doctor Strange will defeat him easily. Even if Nabu is in charge, as he usually was, Doctor Strange should still be able to defeat him, as Doctor Strange tends to actually do rather well against extra-dimensional beings, which Nabu is as a Lord of Order. Strange should win against Fate in most situations.

John Constantine: This is a pretty special case. While Constantine is a decent sorcerer in his own right, he is actually rather middling; he can hold his own against a number of mages and even some power beings, but once someone with any real power shows up Constantine is pretty much screwed. Constantine's main power is the ability to con everyone into thinking he's pretty powerful and thus cow that person into not fighting. Strangely, he also acts as a supernatural cheerleader, in that he can make any group he is part of act in unison just by his presence. As such, he may win against most mages, against any being or mage of real power he is likely to fall.

The Godhood of Thor and Darkseid: This is sort of where it becomes obvious who listens to the hype. Although both of these characters have been called "gods", they aren't in any real sense. While Darkseid has been around a long time, and is called one of the "New Gods", he is merely pretty powerful; he is not one of the characters that are recognized as "gods" in the DC Universe, and is not even on the same power level as the various angels. Thor is an Asgardian, and while pretty powerful even among the members of an already powerful race and has been worshipped as a god, he is still not a god in the Marvel Universe. As such, their respective fights should not include their supposed "godhood".

Just some thoughts...expect some updates when I see some pretty repetitive fights...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Distribution via Tablet

Just as a tablet can be used for a good part of creating a comic, it can also be used to help distribute your comic. It all depends on how you usually get the word out.

Keep in mind that you should be able to upload your comic from your tablet. This means that you can draw your comic, upload it when you are done, and then let everyone know about it. However, there are some ways to take advantage of tablets when it comes to getting it to readers both new and old, so let's look at some options.

The biggest way to get readers for your webcomic will be to take advantage of the various social media apps. Tweeting and posting that your webcomic is the easiest way to get readers involved. You want to develop your own hashtags for your comics so that they are easy to find, as well as post to as many groups that will let you. This is also why you post a link to your own accounts on the webcomic homepage; it ensures that if anyone likes the comic they can easily follow you. You should also cultivate friends on the social sites so that you when you post a link it has some additional reach. Putting this into perspective, the Facebook limit of 5000 friends can give you an effective reach of 100,000 or more. That's something to consider when you are setting up your network.

You also need to have your own app. There are some apps that let you build a comic app out of existiing comics, and This can work well for advertising purposes.You just need to decide if you want to give it away for free or sell it. The basic advice is to give it away to build up an audience, and then sell it for a dollar or two once you hit a critical mass. Assuming you have a number of collections by that point, you want to start charging for the oldest, and then as you add more collections charge for more of the older collections. However, you will need to figure out what that "critical mass" is for you, as well as how many of your collections you will charge for, as no two webcomics have the same demographics and you will want to have some collections available for free. You need to figure that balance out yourself.

You can use your tablet to get the word out, an other people's tablets to get new followers and possibly make some money from your webcomic. You need to do a little extra work, but it may be worth it for the success of your comic.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tablets for Comic Creation

The tablet has become part of our lives, for better or worse. The best thing about a tablet is that it can go anywhere and easily fit into a purse or backpack; although it lacks the processing power of a true computer, it is nonetheless capable of doing a lot of the things you would expect from a laptop or desktop, especially if those tasks are relatively simple. For a webcomicker, however, these tasks should enable you to do a lot.

An obvious caveat: If you're trying to do a full comic, including coloring, laying it out for publication, and making it look pretty, you're going to need an actual computer. Not only has the software yet to really catch up, but most tablets lack the processing power (although it is worth noting that there is a Kindle app for turning your comic into its own app). While I'm they can be used for a lot of the production, there are some things that an actual computer is still needed for. Nonetheless, a tablet can really kick some butt.

That said, a tablet can be a very useful tool for creativity. With a Bluetooth keyboard and a wordprocessing app you can easily spend all day writing scripts. I personally suggest going for landscape mode and then expanding the page so that the margins are just barely out of sight to make things a lot easier. Just remember to save every two pages or so, and you should be fine.

For illustrators that use models, there a number of great modelling apps. Some of them do require a certain amount of work and the learning can be ridiculous, but it can be worth it. They can be used to model people as well as buildings and objects. Just like other software, do not be afraid to spend some money; the good news is that apps cost a lot less than certain suites. The camera atached also allows you to grab pics of great sites and people should you see anything that you want to use for the comic later. Between the two you can explore how something looks before you draw it and have something to reference later.

You can also use the tablet for the drawing. Although it can feel like using Paint, there are some reasonably sophisticated graphics apps out there that can allow the use of layers, copy/paste tricks, and even basic coloring. For most webcomics this is more than sufficient, as well as for some comics. Combined with a decent stylus and possibly a piece of tracing paper to give the feel of drawing on paper, and you can do a lot of great artwork on the tablet.

The major advantage to a tablet is that it's cheaper than a computer, and the software is also ridiculously cheaper. That software can also be downloaded, installed, and ready to go in minutes. Also, if something happens to the tablet, you can be back up and running in the time it takes to replace it, as most of your files are stored on the cloud, provided you allow the tablet to access it frequently. In some cases you can even deregister the tablet, which effectively deletes your files from the old tablet. You may lose some files permanently as well as some upgrades, but at least someone else won't have your files. All of this makes looking into getting a tablet for business purposes a pretty good idea.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thinking About Technology From A Design Perspective

There are any number of ways that technology can look, from alien and organic at one end to hard and metallic at the other. As an illustrator, one of the hardest problems to deal with is the technology. Before settling on the look of it, you need to ask the writer some very basic questions. These questions will determine how the technology looks in the comic and what kind of models you should be looking at. These three questions are:

Before we get going it needs to be noted that the level of technology is superfluous here. Once you have established something as a laser rifle, all that matters is that it fires a laser ray; there are a practically infinite ways that it looks. The same applies to almost any kind of technology, allowing two crossbows to have the same function but look completely different. It's just important to decide on some basics before getting to the design phase.

1) What is the tone?
The tone of the piece needs to be reflected in the technology. The more geared towards horror it is, for example, the more likely it is to be more organic in feel, while a more clinical story requires hard tech. On the other hand, something for kids or comedy will have more curves, brighter colors, and look more plastic. The tone helps define a lot about the look of the comic, so that decides need to be defined first and foremost when it comes to designing even the basic appearance of even the small details of your comics.

2) What is the genre?
Different genres have different expectations, and those expectations should be reflected in the comic. This should not be seen as a limiting factor, but more as giving your audience what they expect. You can't do a superhero comic without having a lot of glowing tech with Kirby crackles, just as you can't have science fiction without clean lines. If you are doing something dystopic your technology should be dirty and gritty. If you are doing something in a fantasy vein, you should have a lot of glowing things. Your readers are coming in with certain expectations, and you should try to honor those expectations.

3) How much technology is out of place?
Let's look at some real-life examples here, such as smart phones at an Amish farm; Amish kids are not as out of touch with today's technology as it may seem. Consider cargo cults, and how much of the technology from airplanes are on some islands where they crashed. The same applies to just about any genre, such as Klingon knives in Federation space or a katana wielded by a barbarian. You're going to have something that doesn't fit; you should decide on how prevalent it is and then run it through the other two questions.

Those questions should help you decide on the look of your technology that looks the best for your comic and give it a nice, consistent look. So ask the questions, no matter how embarrassing they may seem. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cosmic Realms: DC vs. Marvel

There was a thread that asked who had the better cosmic comics, DC or Marvel. You know, the Big Big Leagues, with the Darkseid and the Green Lantern Corps on one side and Thanos and, well, everyone on the other. Although I thought DC had the better potential name for a band, I went Marvel. Another poster provided the reason when he pointed out that there was a hypocrisy in that people were liking the cosmic while liking that Marvel kept things grounded.

Suffice to say that I didn't see it that way.

The one thing that Marvel has gotten right for a while is that they have a cohesive universe. It can adapt to just about anything, and if you scratch it you find that there is some depth to it. Once you get past the mages and mutants and guys in fancy armor, there's a lot of regular folks. If "Marvels" didn't sell that point, then "Damage Control" definitely did. Marvel could probably tell the stories of regular people for years and it would be fun. Sure, you'd see Spidey swing by and sometimes there would be stories of the super-hero groupies, but you know they exist in the Marvel Universe.

Put another way, they have down time. We've seen super-heroes play football, get married, have kids. We've seen teams settle a friendly rivalry with a baseball game. The bad guys keep switching sides as we get more of their stories, as we see why they are villains, and it has nothing to do some cosmic balance. It's really hard to not root for Thanos sometimes because we respect people that think big and do things for love, both of which describe the Mad Titan to a tee.

Marvel doesn't just tell stories. It lets us see what would happen if we gained powers and what we would do.

DC doesn't bother. Superman does't really revel in being a reporter. Sure the Kents keep him anchored, but it's easy to see him moving on from the Kents. Batman is a great hero, but you need to seriously suspend belief for him to work; he needs to learn to take some time off every so often. More to the point, he needs to reveal who he is to Lucious Fox, or whoever his vice-president, and leave Wayne Enterprises way behind; Bruce Wayne is merely a mask at this point. Few DC heroes have any real grounding elements; sure it's great escapism, but it just feels like so much sizzle rather an actual steak.

And this affects its cosmic stories.Marvel has developed its alien empires to the point that they tell their own stories, and having cosmic-level heroes make sense; with Galactus, Thanos, space pirates, and empires threatening to take over the universe you need someone with some serious power out there. Marvel's universe has been developed to the point that Earth need not be the focus of the story, and there have been entire comics that have avoided the planet. More to the point, if there is a problem in the Kree Empire, heroes go there rather the battle spilling over on to Earth.

On the other hand, DC's cosmos has been seriously underdeveloped. They fridge entire planets: Krypton was but the first example.You just know that if DC introduces planet it's going to end poorly for the planet, and that assumes it's not in the process of blowing up at the time. Past that, from a story perspective, there's no real reason for the story to be set on Lovely Terkla; it's just a set and may as well be a desert in Nevada. Worse, any so-called cosmic threats usually threaten Earth as well so the Earth heroes can do something about it. It's just hard to see DC doing a story that doesn't involve Earth.

So is there some contradiction in loving Marvel's cosmic stories and that it seems grounded? I don't think so, as one leads to the other. You can't have a truly cosmic story without there being a universe, and the more realistic that the universe is, the more grounded it it, the more you can throw it at. And that's an important lesson comickers need to learn. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fulfiling Kickstarter Orders

When you start looking at starting a Kickstarter, one of the problems you're going to run into is fulfilling it. You're going to have to deal with getting bookmarks, posters, and even books to those that will invest in the project. You need to start debating how you will deal with all of the different orders.

Let's deal with postage first. You have two options: You can send it out one unit at a time, or do a bulk mailing. When it comes down to it, one unit at a time is going to cost a lot more than you delivering all of the books to yourself and sending them out, so you need to look at bulk mailing. You need to start by looking into media shipping, as that will save you a lot over time. Then you need to get a postage meter (usually free for the meter itself even though the stamps will have an extra charge) along with software to print shipping labels. You just need to make sure you have the right packaging and you should be good.

For the rest you're going to want to find a decent POD. To deal with the posters and books, as well as any number of other needs, a print-on-demand printer may be the way to go. Originally, there were these things called "vanity presses" that would publish books for a price; they have been replaced in general by print-on-demand publishers. The advantage for you is that they offer a discount for bulk shipping (the more you order the better discount you get) and you can keep the shop up after the Kickstarter is through for other other potential customers.

Because you are not likely to just be interested in printing just books, you may need to check out several sites. Your ideal is place that allows you to set up shop with the item in question, offers a bulk discount, and allows you to set things up for free. You can also look at local shops as well, but keep in mind that there will sometimes be a set-up fee and they may not offer bulk discounts. Either way, make sure that you get a sample item to look over before you start sending them out.

One last thing: You may want to look at local regulations. In some cases you may need to obtain a tax identification number just to cover your butt in case someone starts looking at you too closely. The state of California, for example, requires it of any retailer, and you qualify as one.

For books, you can start with Hulu and Createspace. For anything else, start with Zazzle and Cafe Press. And note that I said "start"; I would also suggest looking at 4Imprint and Customink, but you should keep looking until you find what you are looking for. No matter how you decide to do it, good luck!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why Women Should Not Wear Clothes

One of the major ongoing controversies in comics is the drawing of women. Apparently some people have a problem with how women are drawn, and I think we need to explore why women are sometimes drawn the way they are drawn; it's easy to slap something down based on our perspectives, but that's ignoring the reasoning of the illustrator in the first place, and sometimes there are some good reasons for that. So here are some of the reasons illustrators do what they do.

10) It's just easier to draw a women with minimal clothes.
Given the choice between a muscle structure and clothing folds, most illustrators would prefer the muscles. An arm can defined with a few simple lines, and an entire body can be done in a relative few lines compared to clothing details. For an artist under a tight deadline, the simpler solution is usually best, especially when it saves a lot of time.

9) There's a certain mythic quality to nudity.
Comic books are about legendary characters, and you can't go more legendary than character designs based on the ancient myths. The problem is that they didn't apparently wear a lot of clothes back then, at least not when they were active. If you were attending a party or lounging around the toga worked, but not so much in the arena or at the gym. If it worked all the way to the Renaissance, it should be good enough now.

8) It is more functional.
Obviously putting a woman in heels for battle is a bad idea, and Spandex can have its own problems. However, for a character with martial arts who wants to use them a minimal costume works far better than even comfortable clothes. In fact, loose clothes can be a combat liability when fighting someone with large piercing weapons; the clothes can be used to pin the character down. Also, it can slow a character down; just ask Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse) about running through a bramble some time about those huge flaps of fabric.

7) Victorian dress is bad.
It may look pretty, but for a character involved in any kind of physical exercise all of that extra weight and encumberance can give the bad guy a serious advantage and add to the character's liabilities. Heat exhaustion also becomes an issue. Yeah, this is more addressed to those that re-design costumes with a Vctorian concept, but I feel it had to be addressed.

6) It's not the Victorian era.
Sorry; one of my major issues are people that complain about how Puritan Americans are, but the second an American draws a woman in anything that isn't straight from the Victorian era people complain. These are people that would die from culture shock if they ever stepped foot in Europe. You are the reason that we are laughingstocks in Europe. Get over yourselves.

5) If it's good for the gander, why not the goose?
It never fails to amuse me that you can have men running around in loincloths, but the second a woman shows up in a bikini feminists scream "SEXIST!" It's like the illustrator drew nothing but naked men so that he could get in that one naked woman. I like my Conan the Barbarian, and part of that means Red Sonja. I know it's a simple argument, but if skimpy clothes work on the men, they should work on the women as well. It's a consistency issue; if the men are wearing comfortable clothes, why should the women be restricted to clothes that may be comfortable but are pure bulk? Wouldn't that take her competitive edge? I guess you can dress for the occasion or win, but not both.

4) Sometimes you just want a sexy woman.
Okay, I've said it I just find it sort of weird that sexual liberation is part of the feminist movement, and I think it would be hard to argue that the Sexual Revolution was overall a bad thing as it was a major assist in some areas of the Civil Rights movement as a whole, but any expression of sexuality is considered bad BY FEMINISTS. Who started the whole sexual revolution in the first place. Seriously confusing when you think about it.

3) And what about the other kind of fun?
Sometimes you just want to parody the whole situation, and that means using a sexy woman who has been exaggerated. It's sort of sad that Power Girl (she of the boob window) is used as an example of the problem of how women are dressed in comics, and she's a satire of some of comic's...um...bigger issue. Someone aparently needs to get a sense of humor.

2) What about current fashions?
This sort of goes both ways, but I'm looking specifically at the tightness of current fashions. A lot of women wear tight clothes both on the street and in social situations, and that's ignoring the sheer number of bikinis on the beaches and near the pools. I just find it interesting that people want more realistic art in comics but hold illustrators to a Puritanical standard of dress that obviously doesn't exist in real life.

1) And don't get me started on the limited opportunities for women in comics.
Man in a shower? No problem. Locker room scene of guys after exercise? Cool. Adolescents changing into fighting uniforms? See it everyday. Guy in bed in nothing but boxers? That's natural. But the second you show a woman hanging around in a loose tank top and shorts, no matter how hot the weather is, and it's obviously an unrealistic portrayal of any woman ever.

Obviously I'm a pervert, but I don't think women should be limited to loose bulky clothing. But I can live with that....

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

BackTo Some Basics

There are some writing that everyone forgets about. Let's discuss these.

1) Kill your darlings. With a machete.
Every so often you write that really cool scene that you really love but doesn't really fit. So, of course you rewrite a few things so that the scene fits and you end up royally screwing things up. If you really want see this in action, watch the deleted scenes on the DVD and instead of doing the typical fanboy "Man! They should have used that!" figure out why the scene was dropped. Yeah, sometimes scenes had to be dropped due to time issues, but sometimes the scene was dropped for other reasons, usually precisely the reasons that you should drop your own really cool scenes.

2) Write the first chapter and then delete it.
Too many writers fall in love with their own writing and forget that sometimes writing is all about the slicing and dicing. Some people take a chapter or two before they really get into the spirit of things. Thus, if you really want to see the work as a whole improve really debate killing those first couple of chapters. That applies to any written form, including comics; take a closer look at the beginning part of your projects with an eye on what you can delete and you'll be surprised at how much you'll prune. That pruning usually only helps the book or script.

3) The plot is not the only thing that needs to go forward, part one.
Part of a well-balanced comic are the scenes that have nothing to do with plot. Look at Kitty Pryde of the X-Men. She's a cool character because we've grown up with her; we've seen her crush on Collossus and Nightcrawler, we've seen her yell down Wolverine, and we've seen her go shopping with the X-Women. Few of these scenes have advanced the plot; they were all character development. Sometimes they did feed back into the plot, but usually all they did was develop her character. Just look at the of X-Men football games; you just had a group of friends hanging out having fun. Remember to have some of those scenes and you'll find that people will care about your characters and they'll keep coming back to your comic just to see what's going on with their friends and/or family.

4) The plot is not the only thing that needs to go forward, part two.
I need to emphasize that you do not need to move the plot forward in every scene. It's fine to drop a clue in a scene that is otherwise about two people falling in love or ending a scene with klaxons sounding. All I'm saying is that sometimes you just need to throw in a cool scene just because you need a break. Or because you need to explore the world a bit. If those scenes feel right, go for it. But...don't throw those scenes in just because you feel there is a rule saying you need to. You'll note this contradicts the "kill your darlings" point. If you want to see this done badly, watch "Y Mama Tambien" with its scenes that are nothing but endless exposition that goes nowhere. On the other hand look at the newsstand scenes in "Watchmen"; you can omit them with no problem, but why would you want to?

5) The hero needs to lose every so often.
As much as people throw the Kobyashi Maru in Kirk's face, the reality is that he loses quite a bit. Sure, he gets the job done in the end, but sometimes he has to go through some really nasty territory to get there. And that's how it needs to be; the hero needs a challenge and you as a writer need to show us that he can fail. Not only is it great for character development, but it helps build suspense; sure, it may be the last fight of the comic but we've him lose twice to that guy, what right does he think he has to win? Failures should not be seen as the enemy, but as opportunity.

So basically have some fun when you write. Do that and you would be surprised how much better your writing will get. 

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Is Kickstarter for You?

A Kickstarter campaign is a great way to raise funds. It helps generate sales quickly, as well as establishing whether or not there is interest in the book. It also creates pre-sales, allowing you to cover the price of publishing the book. However, it may not be right for you.

If you are planning on selling the book in a brick and mortar store or at a convention, then a Kickstarter campaign may be right for you. Kickstarter is the most economical way of raising funds; you do need to set up tier rewards, but that can actually be sort of fun. If you do decide to go this route I'd suggest getting a calculator as you need to make sure that you can buy all of the books you want to. The base pricing should be at least twice the cost of publishing the book; this ensures that you can buy one book for the donor and one you can sell later on. For each tier you need to make sure that price covers all applicable rewards, plus at least one book per tier.

In other words, let's say that you decide on a total of six tiers: bookmark, book, poster, credit, honorary certificate, and press kit. Let's say that the prices to create respectively are $1, $5, $12, free (but ego appealing), $3, and $10, and bear in mind that each tier is cumulative. This means you should price each tier at $6, $11, $28, $33, $41, and $56 respectively and minimally.

Now let's say that you wanted to come up with 1000 books, or about $5000. If you sell nothing but Tier 2 (book+bookmark), well, you'll find that you miscalculated; you'll sell roughly 455 book+bookmark pairs, and have 455 books to play with. Conversely, if you sell nothing but Tier 6 (everything), that's roughly 90 sets, but you have 540 books to play with. Of course, that doesn't cover shipping costs so you may want to re-visit the tier prices with that added in. You can pay for the shipping yourself, of course, but that sort of defeats the point.

But...the bottom line is that you have X number of books, and they're paid for. You can do whatever you want to do with those books, but most people do sell them. Or at least try. However, because they are paid for this means that you can do whatever you want with them such as offer them for prizes. Also, it means you will feel the last hour con crunch less than others; when everyone else is debating how far they can discount their books versus the cost of shipping them home, you can give them away for free. Having paid-for books gives you options.

However, if you are merely trying to make your books available for readers, you don't need a Kickstarter campaign; you can set up a POD shop and sell your books that way. If all you are trying to do is sell books, then just giving them a link to where they can buy them works as well, and you only need to upload your books to the POD publisher of your choice to make that happen. No muss, no fuss, and it's a lot easier to sell a link.

So, summing up: If you are trying to sell to a brick and mortar, at a con, or just need a huge number of physical books for whatever reason, use Kickstarter. If you just want to sell books, go POD. The choice is yours. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Comics and the Lack of Zero Sum Credits

The problem with the idea of the illustrator having the "artist" title on a book always has a weird feeling for writers. The big problem is that we are just as big an artist as the illustrator, and we have just as much education, and we pour just as much into the project as the illustrator. It gets weird, however, when you try to define just where the line is between who did what.

In the Old Days, Marvel Comics had their style. The writer and illustrator would discuss the story, the illustrator would draw it, and then the writer would add dialog to it. The letterer would throw in the dialog, and it would be rushed off to the printers. This would be repeated every month until the late 1970s. All of a sudden comic companies found that that could tell bigger stories if they stepped back a bit and really worried about the scripting. Thanks to powerhouses like Chris Claremont, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller, writers started having a lot more fun and seeing what they could do.

Understand the shift here. Prior to this the idea was just to put out a book that concentrated mostly on the whiz-bang aspects of the books; they were the literary equivalent of wrestling matches. From time to time you would see something really cool, but no one really took the medium seriously. All of a sudden illustrators had to step up their game as well, especially as European printing and coloring techniques began to filter into American comics. Yes, you can blame Moebius if you so desire. But....this is also the era when cross-overs became more frequent, so you would have editorial conferences to decide where books were going; this is the time when Marvel and DC started dividing their books into families; it made continuity easier to track.

This made things more exciting for the writer. Characters prior to this merely had to fit a certain visual look, and so teams were pretty cookie-cutter. Now, each character had to fit a role as well, and they needed to have backgrounds. The writer and illustrator had to get together to decide what everything looked like; yeah the writer was allowed into the concept meetings. At the same time, the illustrator could define the tone of the book by how he drew things and what color palettes were chosen. Thus, although the writer came up with the idea for a book, and did a lot of the footwork, the illustrator put the finishing touches on it.

This means that even as the writer stepped up, the illustrator had to do a lot more, in essence showing that comics are not a zero-sum game; as things get more advanced there is more work that needs to be split. Also, rather than clearing things up on who does what, it muddies the waters a bit more: While the illustrator takes on more of the fleshing things out role, the writer is helping with the graphic design and costume design. In independent comics, the writer also tends to do more of the marketing.

Of course, this confuses the heck out of booksellers and cover designers. This means the writer is not necessarily the author of a book, while the illustrator is not solely responsible for the drawings. The obvious solution is to call both authors, and a number of comic book companies have been doing so for a while. But it also means that it gives the illustrator a little more tie to the "artist" title, and that means that the writer has to back off a little more. So it sucks a little bit more being the writer who wants to be known as the artist...Rassenfrassen illustrators, always hogging the glory....

Monday, September 01, 2014

Reigning In Your Wizards

Wizards suck from a story-telling point of view. The same point applies to any character that can reach into his pocket and grab what he needs, use a ring to create whatever they need, or go into a lab and come out with the perfect gizmo for the job. They just have so many options that a challenge either needs to be tailor made to deal with them, and the challenge would easily overwhelm the rest of the group. There are three tried-and-true ways of dealing with the character.

The Weakness: This is the lamest option, so really debate using it. In essence, the character has some sort of item/common situation/color against which he is weak. He has to overcome the challenge by dealing with the weakness first, and the only real challenge he has is when the limitation is in effect. Unless it is a reasonably common weakness, the character will breeze through most challenges. However, there will also be the question of why the weakness hasn't been dealt with before, or why it continues to plague characters. Of course, therein lies the potential for a great story, so you may want to think about it.

But...you need to always apply it. The time you introduce someone who is not affected by it like everyone else is you will lose a lot of credibility, no matter how good the reason is. So if you are going to use The Weakness, remember that you will be dealing with it for a while.

[On the other hand, if overcoming that weakness is a rite of passage, such as overcoming fear allows green lanterns to ignore the color yellow, that can make for an interesting story as well. You'll just need to come up with some other limiter...]

Yin and Yang: The character and his group are not the only ones to enjoy immense power. The obvious examples are the Jedi and the Sith or the emotional spectrum of power rings; in essence, the good guys are not the only ones with power. The bad news is that this means that any fight will cause a lot of collateral damage and needs to be allowed for; the good news is that it means you will be telling stories where even the minor events have far-reaching consequences.

As long as you can keep the civilian population reasonably safe during the battles you should be fine, but as soon as the battles start causing casualties, a new force will enter the fight: Those that can deal with the super-powered types while still being human. It's worth noting that a sniper bullet can take out most supers, so the balance between the two forces needs to be maintained with minimum casualties. Or else.

[On the other hand, wouldn't it be sort of fun to have a post-apocalyptic world based on the idea that not nukes but a few major fights between supers or wizards ruined the world?]

The Regular Foe: A good hero should not only have a rogues gallery that can challenge him, but also a few singular foes that give him a problem. In a way this is why Lex Luthor is such a scary guy: He has no power, but Superman can't deal with him directly. Rather, he needs to build a case against him and then pursue it. He also can't be proactive against Lex as Lex would sic an army of lawyers on him in a heartbeat but Lex has so many projects going on that Superman can't prediect what will hit next. This is a great villain if done right, so figure it out.

[Here's a weird thought for you: Ever consider that the Fantastic Four are Doom's rogue gallery?]

So there you are. They can be dealt with, but you need to lay down some serious infrastructure to keep them busy. But, do it right and there are so many rewards....

Monday, August 18, 2014

Strengthening Characters By Defining Limits

So, how strong is strong? An important question you need to debate is just how strong your characters are. It may seem trivial when dealing with worlds where strength seems solely dependent on the writer's whim, but it does help in consistency. More to the point, it gives you an additional tool when writing to play with.

Think about it: Once you establish a character's strength, it means you have established a limit, and limits, for a writer, are always a good thing. It means you can build a proper challenge for the character, and one that works for the readers. You need to establish that you will not add something just for the sake of making it easier for the characters, such as surprise new powers, as well as a reputation for occasionally allowing the characters to lose in a big way.

If readers know what the character can and can't do, and that they can suffer, then that creates a lot more suspense than if the character has the ability to grow new powers at will and you know he can never lose. That's fine is some comics, but those comics also buid suspense in a different way, by whettng readers curiosity as to what the character will do this time. That can work, but that's a different kind of story. Here, we're trying to build suspense through the character facing limits with the knowledge that he may not overcome them, and that's a great a tool.

Obviously a character can grow, and sometimes losing can provide that motivation. There is a reason that so many stories are pretty much lose-train-win; it's a working formula. If you have have a lot more room to play, such as with a novel or graphic novel, you can have the character find other ways to deal with his limitations, such as nifty new sword, upgrading his armor, or inventing a potion that allows him to overcome his limits. It's possible that one of his items can even become self-aware and start gaining abilities to enhance him or his familiar gain a more powerful form. Just try to actually define those abilities well enough that they are not either over-powered or a deux ex machina.

In essence, the better you define the character and what he can do, the more you can actually do with him. A simple point, but you would be surprised just how much you can get from it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How Far Should You Analysize Something?

People have got to stop reading into comics what they want and start looking them as they are. Too many people add intent beyond the original auther's thoughts. This school of literary criticism believes that the intent of the original author doesn't matter, and that the writing in question needs to be re-interpreted every so often.The good news is that this kind of thinking keeps the work alive and fresh, and allows everyone to put their own spin on something. It also allows a greater number of scholars to discuss the work and thus give it a thorough picking over.

The bad news is that ignores the work of the original author in constructing something through which he wanted to become immortal by sharing his thougts; re-interpreting it every so often without care shows a certain disrespect for the author. It also shows weak scholarship, as a lot of the writing depends on mores of the time it was written; without that added information a lot is lost in translation. But the worst thing is that it allows people to shape it in the form that they find more palatable; they feel free to read whatever they want into the story

And I say worst because too many groups have thus turned the meaning of a lot of stories around. This has been done the most in books such as "Huckleberry Finn", which has been interpreted as one of the most racist books on the planet despite Twain's attempts to make it a nail in the coffin of racism, and others such as "Mein Kampf", where it is used as proof of Hitler's Christianity despite how often it points out that religion should not be used as a tool of enlightenment but of the state.

It gets really interesting when that kind of thinking gets attached to comics. The most obvious example is the Sidekick Syndrome. When sidekicks were introduced the idea was to increase readership by having someone in the story that boys could vicariously adventure with the hero; they could actually imagine that they were in the story. It worked well with the times because the boy would quickly become the surrogate son of the hero, as well as his apprentice; this paralleled reality to a degree as sons took over the jobs of their fathers over time. It was a great way to have legacy characters. such as Bart Allen as Flash, who took the job over from Wally West as Flash, who took the job over from the original Barry Allen Flash.

However, in one of the few times I'll condemn a civil rights group, too many gay rights activists decided that sidekicks were signs of homosexuality wanting to express itself. Keeping in mind that by the 1970s most of the teen sidekicks were legal, he hero/sidekick relationshp represented the ideal bear/twink relationship: Two equal partners on a grand adventure able to be who they wanted to be outside of soceity's norms. They bought into Wertham's concept that Batman and Robin were living in sin, and thus they became gay icons.

It did not help that they exercised shirtless together a lot and apparently slept in the same bed. The first was because the culture was different; men had fewer modesty problems issues at the time, mostly because skinny dipping was still the norm, school shower were still enforced, and larger families meant that everyne saw everything. Two guys, even a man and a boy, training together in nothing but shorts was hardly an issue. The sleeping together was seen as more innocent; boys from less affluent homes, the usual audience for comics, were used to sharing their beds, even with parents and older siblings, so seeing Bruce and Dick in the same bed was hardly unusual.

By the 1980s mores had changed. Boys and men didn't exercise together anymore and swimming naked was on the way out, and the smaller familiies and greater affluence ensured that boys were sleeping in their own beds. In short, the rules had changed. By then, however, gay culture had really started working out, and there was a simultaneous resurgence in Golden Age material; not only were readers into the simpler era of story-telling due to the deconstruction of the super-hero genre such as "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns", but Crisis on Infinite Earths made people interested in what had come before. It helps that this curiosity was being fed by retro series as "The Invaders", "All-Star Squadron", and "Batman vs. The Justice Society".

[Historical Clarification: "Physique mags" (where muscular men wore little more than loincloths) were already an established part of gay culture, as well as bath houses. In the 1980s, there was just a renewed interest in physical health in general, and in the gay community as a whole.]

As Batman and Robin were already the subject of a lot of homo-erotic humor and speculation, the pictures of them exercising an sleeping together helped fuel the fires. The problem, from a literary critique perspective, is that the gay culture was putting their own spin on the relationship, shifting what was a healthy father-son relationship to a slightly more perverted one. It didn't help that the older artists would subvert the Comics Code any chance they got, and so some additional material got tossed in that sort of helped obscure their relationship a bit, and Master Grayson's name did not help matters.

In essence, their relationship was re-interpreted by a new generation, and that re-interpretation changed how they looked at Batman, and super-heroes in general.

So...this puts me in a weird position. As a Christian I tend to get nervous about looking at a text without putting it into a historical context and re-interpreting it based on current philosophies, in order to fit the current mindset. I've seen way too many times when that's led down a dark path. As such, I think it's important that when doing a proper literary critique it's important to know the author's thoughts or at least allow for the era in which he lived. Basing a literary critique solely on the story feels like I'm missing half the story.

On the other hand, as an artist I love the idea of a re-interpretation, especiallywhen it works with the character in question. Not only does it lead to some interesting thoughts on the subject matter and the genre in general, but spurs creativity in other directions as well. In that regard, I fully endorse looking at things differently every so often.

So when it comes down to it, when we talk comics, if you're going to put a 1940s comic into a modern context, let me know. Otherwise, expect a hard glare followed by an eye roll; you may as well be making stuff up as you go, and that's not as much fun as you would think..

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Religion in Your Universe

Religion is always one of those more interesting problems. It's a hand that needs to be played strongly, but not too strongly, and can make or break a comic if played wrong. You need to determine if it's even necessary and then go from there.

Not all comics need religion, or can get away with the barest mention of it. Marvel Comics is probably the best example of that, as there are literally dozens of religious characters but not everyone is even aware of most of it; unless religion is important to a character's development it is hardly ever mentioned. On the other hand, religion can be intrinsic to a fantasy setting, especially one based on D&D, as you need someone to call on for divine favors. You obviously don't need to have it, if Conan has proven anything; it's a world with gods, but they don't seem to exist beyond someone to yell at most of the time.

Where most comics get it wrong is by over-playing the negative aspects of religion. Although that can be the point, it can also cost you readers, even those that are anti-religion to begin with. A compromise needs to be struck between showing the evils of religion and hitting the point where the message gets lost in the noise. Youi can show the local church as evil as long as there are characters within it that are still essentially good people. Obviously evil churches need to be portrayed as evil, and you can have as much fun with that as you want, but try to show the good church as, well, good. The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (the novel, not any of the movies) should be your gold standard.

Once you've decded on your religion you need to decide on what type and how it' organized. Youi can either have one religion or multiple, and they don't all need to be the same. You can have a monolithic monotheist church and a loose pagan religion even in the same city if they work for your comic. Also note that the gods and other mythic beings do not need to be organized like their temples; the Greek gods may have had well-organized hierarchy, but the same doesn't need apply to their temples.

You also need to decide how widespread belief is and how fanatic that belief is. The stabdard "evil cult" has very few members, but those members are extramely fanatic, while the Cathoic Church may be extremely widespread but had relatively few fanatics. It's important to realize that someone who has strong beliefs is not necessarily a fanatic; a person with a strong will is likely to be willing to die for his beliefs, but that doesn't mean that he is a fanatic. After all, any intelligent being can decide that dying for the cause is perhaps the most logical course of action. A fanatic instead does what he does not because it may be the most logical course of action but because he thinks that the reward in the next world is worth it. A group of fanatics is unlikely to make any changes in its policy while any other organization will make changes every so often, if they are by nature coservative

All of these decisions must be made about any religions that you choose to introduce orany school of thought. Ultiately it is up to you to decide what kind of religion(s) you want to include and what role they will serve in your story.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Darkness That Powers the Laughter

And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Comedy fulfills a number of functions in a society, ranging from a pressure valve to keeping egos in check. However, in order to work the comedian needs to be able to look at his subject in the most truthful way; a great comedian does not merely make jokes but exposes the reality of his target. If he's a truly great comedian he does it because he sees something good in the target; he wants to bring out the best in the target and he hopes that his humor will do exactly that.

And that defines the difference between someone who merely tells jokes and a true comedian. Jerry Seinfeld merely tells jokes; he thrives off the attention, but his humor lacks a certain bite. He has actually hit the point where he just mentions something and hopes his audience laughs. He tells stories, but those stories are generic; he puts in just enough detail that anyone can fill in the details with their own. Because he doesn't really offend anyone and let's them do the work he has become a sort of mac and cheese comedian; he's great for assuring people but he doesn't really stand out, just like yoiu reach for that bowl of mac and cheese when you need a comfort food rather than something that will actually fill you.

On the other hand, Christopher Titus is steak. He actually explores the subject matter; he doesn't just describe his decidedly dysfunctional family but he looks at what made them that way, how they could have been different, and what makes them both hero and villain of their own story; he shows that no matter how different families are they are still composed of people that love one another. More to the point, he's not afraid to offend, to just out and out tick someone off, and roll with it; he's not interested in sugar-coating things but getting to the heart of the matter.

Seinfeld is the comedic equivalent of a merry-go-round; sure, he makes you feel good about taking a ride, and sometimes it's sorta fun to take things slow, especially if you're on a date, you have the bond of a shared experience, but the ride itself is quickly forgotten. It's a pleasant experience, sure, but sometimes you need a roller coaster.

Titus is that roller coaster. When you emerge from one of his performances it's almost cathartic because you've undergone the full range of emotions. You become so wrapped up in his world that youi actually experience his memories, and get to explore his world, and that allows you to link to another human. There isn't just a small bond, but something tight and strong; after you leave, you have a greater appreciation for the people around you, and feel a greater connection to them.

But...in order to create that greater bond you need to be willing to take a long, hard honest look at the reality around you. Seinfeld just comes off as not having taken that look, and only have taken a quick look around. Titus, on the other hand, has taken that long, hard look, and it shows in his humor. That look is required for any good joke, as it is not just good enough to know why it is funny, but you also need to how it connects to others, so that the joke doesn't remain a mere joke but a glimpse of reality, and it's offering that glimpse of reality that makes the difference between a great joke that can affect who you are and a mere diversion.

There is a payment, however. Taking that long, hard look requires the ability to plumb one's depths, and to look at one's personal abyss. As everyone has that spot within them that they wish they could forget, and so by looking at that abyss, that one area we all share as humans, a comedian sees who they truly are and who those around him truly are. By exploring what it means to be a person he learns what it takes to be a human, and thus how all of us are connected. For a comedian this can be a powerful advantage.

However, sometimes that abyss looks back. If the person lacks any grounding or preparation for that look back, it can harm them, and if they do it a lot then the harm is magnified. It's entirely capable for one to become the best comedian ever, but the person needs to be willing to stare long and often at that abyss, and that gives the abyss plenty of opportunity to stare back. For someone without grounding or without those that ground him, that look back can destroy the person. Not necessarily in that moment, or that hour or even that day, but eventually that abyss will destroy him.

A comedian is capable of showing us our true selves, and from there affecting great changes in his audience and therefore the world. The power to create laughter means the power to allow us to laugh at ourselves and in that moment take stock of whether our behavior is acceptable and just part of being human, or whether we need to change in order to be better humans, and if we listen we can be better people.

As I write this Robin WiIliams has lain cold for two days, a victim of his own abyss. He was a true comedian, one that changed the world in ways even he may not appreciate. This is a man who explored the alien, the teacher, the friend, the eney. He looked at humanity from dozen of different angles, even from that of a frog. He showed us what we could be become, all of us diamonds in the rough that could choose to be rough or shine, but the decision is ours. He will be missed, but hopeflly his abyss has been relaced with something brighter.