Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
I remember a while ago, my uncle and I were discussing a project that I was thinking about writing. It was one of those ideas that had a seed to build on but in thinking about it more in depth, I realized that it really wasn’t much of a story. It was just a scene. He suggested that I do it since I was “such a good writer”. Compliments aside, it struck me as an odd thing to say as I’m pretty sure that he has never read ANY of the stuff I’ve written. I can understand that he could look at all the books I’ve done and he’s likely glanced at the reviews…but still, he hadn’t read any of them himself. So, how could he say I’m a good writer?
It was all based on perception. It made me realize how many other writers out there also have a perception about them. I remember reading on a message board about a writer who has had some success in comics, but certainly nothing to build a career on and he definitely couldn’t hope to live on his writing income. However, he does do quite a bit of self publishing as well as working on projects which undoubtedly make little if any money. Now, I’m not equating income earned with being “good”, but the point is that a lot of the forum members tout him as a good writer yet it’s obvious that many, if not most, don’t actually read his stuff. Yet, they call him good writer. That’s the perception.
Sometimes, a writer is a writer simply because he calls himself one. I know of a few writers who constantly critique output from other writers, mainly in the vein of spouting off of where they veered off course and in turn, offer their own take on the project. In other words, how they would have done it. I seldom, if ever, do that. When I read someone’s work, I may not agree with their direction or style, but I figure they did it the way they wanted. I accept what they have done and base my decision on whether I liked it or not simply on that. That’s why I’m such a lousy editor sometimes. I follow their direction instead of trying to instill mine into their work. It seems to me that many of these writers would be better served critiquing as a critic instead of doing imaginary re-writes in their heads.
It seems in the comic business that everyone that is not an artist, wants to be a comic writer. This is true in the book market as well…all you have to do is to look at the enormous number of books that are written that go unsold except to family and friends. One person said (and I’m not sure who originated the quote but I think I heard it from Paul Storrie) about how so many people say that “one of these days when I get the time, I’m going to write a book.” The implication is that the only thing holding back all of these would be writers is time and not talent. I’m asked often about writing and I have to say, I usually have very little to say about it. Yes, part of it is the old adage that if you want to be a writer, than write. It’s a simple statement and much truer than most people want to accept but it’s not the entire picture.
One thing I see quite often is how many would be writers like to discuss the story they’re working on. They outline the plot, discuss the narrative structure, develop scenarios, and even throw in some of the dialogue. I can’t do that. I may jot down a few notes about something (in fact, I have files full of these jotted down notes) but I can’t even think about a project until I’m doing it. To me, part of the experience of writing a story, whether a novel, short story, or comic story, is to unveil everything at the time of writing it. If I work in advance, then the story is told. It may not be in publishable format, but I’ve told the story and seldom do I have an inclination to go back to it and retell it by directing it into its final form. The story is done.
I get asked quite often to contribute to various writer conferences or even just forum discussions. I find them to be a waste of time…for me. Perhaps they’re useful for other people. Far too many people write about writing instead of just doing the actual writing.
Now, I’m not suggesting that I know what works and what doesn’t. I certainly am not burning up anyone’s sales charts or anything. But overall, I’m very happy with what I’ve done with the caveat that I still have a long way to go and have a lot more tales to tell, hopefully better than I’ve done in the past. Writing is a very subjective thing…not just to the writer himself (or herself), but to the audience as well. I sometimes find it difficult to accept that I have fans out there and am embarrassed when I meet them at conventions or online. The embarrassment comes from the fact that I’m accepting I have fans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great feeling yet somehow, I feel conceited accepting their praise.
But my fan base is limited. I understand that. For one, in comics, I don’t write what would be considered traditional fare. Yes, some writers succeed without doing that but most of the comic audience is geared for the typical superhero market and even though many of today’s top writers manager to twist and turn the genre on it’s head, it still starts with well known characters and established profiles. I give them all the credit in the world for doing what they want to do and succeeding at that. I don’t know if I would be capable of doing that. I had a good friend who landed a job at Marvel and while working for them, I was privy to what he was going through. I didn’t see that as writing…it was just putting words on a page. Granted, the “big names” at Marvel and DC have a lot more latitude and undoubtedly a lot more freedom to do what they want but it seems at the entry level, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.
I am often asked why I have never written for the Big Two. The first reason is pretty obvious. I’ve never been asked. The second reason is that I’m not sure if I could. I don’t know if I could work in a manner where I would have to suppress my writing to fit into that on an editor’s or a convoluted storyline/crossover. I’m not saying that I’m “above” that, I’m really saying I don’t know if I could do that. To me, the major incentive for working for the “Big Two” is money but if its not something that’s enjoyable, I don’t know if the money is worth it. Of course, the recognition would be nice…not so I could the cover of Wizard (if its even around any more) but using that recognition to direct people to my other stuff.
Putting words on paper is a term I use a lot...internally. Sometimes when I’m reading someone’s work in an editorial capacity, I wonder why they’re just slapping together words. Even in novels where the word count can be exceptionally high, every word counts and has to contribute something. I see far too often, especially in comics, that words are just fodder to fill up space to move from one scene to another. I think that writers need to take advantage of those interludes to reveal something more about the characters or to help establish personalities, settings, etc. No word should be wasted.
Ironically, this idea is used in many motion pictures nowadays and it has sort of backfired. If you watch movies, virtually every character and every scene in the beginning is actual foreshadowing for the end of the movie. The economy of words actually work against the story as the script has been gone through so many times, that the flesh is cut away and only the meat remains. You can almost always tell who is going to be the bad guy or what is going to play a role later in the movie because they were introduced in the first act. That’s why independent films often have so much more of an impact. There are wasteful characters and scenes and so by the end, you don’t necessarily see everything get tied up in a nice final ball. Of course, this didn’t apply to the conclusion of Lost and a lot of people were fine with it so maybe that portends well for the future…until we get a slew on unanswered finales.
I do believe that anyone can write. And everyone should. It doesn’t mean than someone else will find it appealing but that’s a different thing. Even writing for oneself can be a cathartic experience for a lot of people and sometimes, it’s a way of just getting it out of your head. It’s funny in that most writers have certain ideas or storylines rolling around in their heads that they can’t get rid of. Often times it isn’t a “great” idea that’s a sure seller or anything but just something that doesn’t let go. Perhaps when it is finally done, it goes nowhere (in terms of publishing) but still, it has to be done. I’d imagine it’s the same way with songwriters.
In today’s market with the incredible exposure of the internet, there seems to be a lot more people getting their stories out. Whether it’s a web comic, fan fic, self published work…whatever, I think that the opportunities have never been so prevalent. Yes, it does lead to some incredibly bad writing out there but also some really interesting stuff. I believe that some people may only have one compelling story to tell and then everything else after that doesn’t work, but at least they got the chance to do that one story. How many comic creators end up being one trick ponies. When I was running Caliber, I saw quite a few of those.
My usual response when people ask me about writing is pretty simple. If you want to write----write. Don’t spend your time rewriting someone else’s work and write for the sake of writing. Worry about the publishing later.
Remember, artistic expression should never be based on sales.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
Saturday, February 6, 2010
A lot of people talk about what a bad year 2009 was. For me, it wasn't a bad year...not a good year...it just was. I've certainly had worst and of course, better. But one thing that becomes apparent as you get older is how much everything blends in together. When I look back at my "career", I can't really look at it in terms of years but rather periods. And the reason I put career in quotation marks is because the term career just doesn't seem to fit. I guess I never figured what I was doing at the time was going to grow into a career.
The idea of working has been with me as long as I can remember. Even as a little kid, my dad worked odd jobs and he would bring me and my brothers along to clean up. We even got paid. I remember in the 7th grade, I walked to businesses and asked if I could sweep floors or something after school. So, my first real job was sweeper at Fresh's Auto Parts. Of course as kids, my brothers and I would cut lawns during the summer, rake leaves in the fall, and shovel snow in the winter. Allowances were something we didn't get from my parents so if we wanted money, we had to get our own. The bonanza came when my dad landed a job remodeling a supermarket chain around the
So, I was one of the those who finished high school---of the five brothers , only two of us did. The idea of college was never really considered until the 12th grade. College seemed like such an odd idea but obviously, it had some appeal. I remember enrolling at a community college, and to me, that was college- the big time. I was put on probation. Looking back now, I wonder who gets put on probation at a community college? It was an intimidating experience at first as I expected everyone at college to be incredibly intelligent, worldly about all affairs, and have this sense of elitism. Of course, I found out college is just an avenue of opportunities, it doesn't magically transform people into cultured sophisticates.
Going to school, I worked a number of jobs. Landscaper, bank teller, vacuum cleaner salesmen, drapery hanger, carpet installer, alarm systems, tearing down houses, just about anything. I got married right when I turned 21, which turned out to be the best thing I ever did, and the two of us struggled to get through school. My wife was a good student in high school and had always planned to go to college which was something different as virtually all of her friends hadn't even graduated high school much less contemplated college. She got into
I opened a used book store. It was never a dream of mine or anything but I was always an avid reader....most of my family was. The library was a constant hangout for me. In
While still a student and earning my Master's Degree in Biology, I ended up opening a total of four stores and they'd all eventually become comic shops rather than bookstores. That was sort of my first career, that of a book store owner. Then I got involved in publishing and started up Caliber and that would become my second career. I never looked at either as a "forever" path, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The only "real" job I had during all this time is when I helped start Todd McFarlane's toy company as I, through a partner I teamed up with, was tied in with Todd as the toy company launched. I became the Executive Vice President and I handled the national TV advertising, hiring many of the employees for staffing, other promotional aspects, etc. It was a three year period where I had regular hours that I was expected to adhere to. I still had my stores and I still had Caliber so it was a hectic three years.
I sold off the stores and then years later, I closed off Caliber. At that time, I started evaluating what the future was in that direction. The comics field, which had looked so promising, now looked like a continuous cycle of superhero exploits. The expansion of hopeful directions on the heels of Watchmen, Maus, From Hell, Sandmen, etc. faded quickly. The "business" side seemed to swallow up the experimental side. Printers had knocked Caliber down with their mistakes which were a financial burden I still feel the ramifications from and even winning lawsuits didn't help. I decided to try teaching biology. I had my degree and the opportunity came.
So, that started my “third career”, that of being a teacher. I am an instructor at community colleges teaching courses in General Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Evolution, and others. I enjoy it immensely and it has given me a sense of normalcy as far as hours and schedules go. But with each step into a different direction, it doesn’t mean that the rest goes away. I still am a publisher although Transfuzion is on a much smaller scale than Caliber was. I continue to write, something I started at Caliber, and have written for Desperado, Penguin, Image, and other areas including a video game scenario, role playing games, and more.
Right now, I am transitioning into other avenues of writing. That doesn’t mean that I’m moving out of comics, whether as a writer or publisher, and I certainly am not going to get away from teaching. I currently am immersed in two novels that I’m writing plus a number of books dealing with biology. Whether it all actually leads into a “fourth career”, I have no idea but again, it just seems like the path to follow.
The beauty of today’s world is there are so many opportunities to express oneself creatively. The digital explosion, which may not have actually exploded yet, and the idea of print on demand and the avenues available there (such as Amazon) allow excursions into a lot of areas that were closed off to most people just a decade ago. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone can make money off of it. That’s the hard part.
Yes, 2009 was a bad year for a lot of people but people in “our” business of creating ideas have a lot of avenues to explore. The growth there was a positive area. Whether it is a creative outlet that pays the bills is still open to question but at least the creative side can be sated. I’m noticing for a lot of people in the world of comics, that seems to be enough.
The days of running a comic shop seem so long ago, as does the time of Caliber. The Caliber days, though, have constant reminders because of all the people I worked with that I stay in touch with and the re-visitation of the comics created, whether it’s for reprint books,
I’m not sure what the point of me going through all the above was exactly…I guess that one should constantly be looking for ways of expression…of creativity, and sometimes that has a merit all its own. The rest, if it comes, is extra.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010