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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Time...never enough

Yes, like so many others, I've been lax about updating the blog. It seems with Facebook's immediacy, that it's tough to maintain the blog. It's been a hectic summer and even though I don't "work" during the summer (I take it off from teaching college Biology), it seems like summer is already over...which it is as in just a couple of weeks, my classes resume. That's part of the busy-ness that's tying me up. Some of the classes are using new textbooks and that's always a challenge in re-tooling the existing lectures to fit into the new text and redoing the powerpoint lectures to match up with the text. Plus, the lectures are updated every semester. Biology, and oddly enough, especially for my Evolution class, things are changing so fast that it is hard to keep up. Further compounding the problems is that my computer died. The motherboard went so at least I could pull off the files from my hard drive. But I lost all the programs and had to re-install a lot and that meant buying updated versions. One of the most frustrating aspects was that Front Page web designer, which was discontinued by Microsoft with the 2003 version, is not able to work very well with Windows 7. I picked up Dreamweaver but the idea of redoing all the sites (there's about 7 and some are over 100 pages) in a new design doesn't sound too appealing. Plus there's a learning curve. I certainly am not a web designer. I figured out how to use Front Page and Photoshop as I went along but I'm thinking of taking a class on Dreamweaver. At some of the colleges I teach at, I can get free tuition. I've found through the years that there is a lot of basic stuff that I don't know in programs like Front Page and Photoshop as I never learn anything until I need to. Maybe with taking a class on Dreamweaver, I'll learn some of the shortcuts and obvious things that I was missing on previous programs. I also got involved with a new convention in the Detroit area called DETROIT FANFARE. I was asked to assist in helping to get some guests and in discussions with the organizers, I slowly became more immersed in it. The con is shaping up really well and the Guest of Honor is Stan Lee. Lots of other very talented folks will also be there. Of course, the writing aspect which I plan my summers around is going in unexpected directions which is actually probably the norm when I think about it. It's been slow going on the two novels I was working on as I was unexpectedly directed towards two all NEW Deadworld graphic novels. One will be in full color which is a first for Deadworld. I also finished up the Sherlock Holmes Reader: Murder at Moulin Rouge graphic novel and that one is now available and got most of the work done on another graphic novel, Subversives, which I should have more information about shortly. I did manage to sneak in a vacation with my wife on Lake Michigan and also had a chance to visit my oldest daughter in San Francisco. so it wasn't all work. So, if you're in the area, make sure you check out the convention and in the meantime, you should see some new websites that I do...I hope.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On Writing

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

Summer's Here!

Summer's here! For me, summer begins when I give my last final and post all the grades. It feels like freedom that will last until late August. Last time I mentioned about the convention season and discussed the potential for C2E2. I seem to be in agreement with most people that the show was a bit disappointing and as with most of those same people, that was probably due to unrealistic expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really good show. Some people had some set up problems but I wasn’t aware of any of that at the time. The venue was great, the attendance actually was pretty good (the reported number is around 27,000) and the vibe of the show was centered around comics. There’s advantages and disadvantages for being at the McCormick Center as opposed to the Rosemont and all in all, I guess they end up as a push. The expectations were high, since the NY show was such a phenomenal success and I plead guilty expecting something similar possibly happening in Chicago. It didn’t. But if you were to look at the show itself without doing any comparison with the NY show, it was a really good show. I think most attendees (fans, guests, dealers, etc) would at a minimum, compare it favorably to the competing Wizard show although most I talked to would place it above Wizard. One of the main reasons is that Wizard is much more of a media convention rather than a comic show. There were some complaints that being “downtown” limited the get togethers of the attendees---it seemed as if the Hyatt was the happening place, although I just stopped in one time. I spent both nights I was there with Rafael and Amy Nieves as my dinner companions and that was preferable to hanging out at bars. I guess I didn’t realize just how many conventions there are out there. Right now, I have offers to attend 5 shows as a guest and of course, that doesn’t include any of the bigger shows where I would have to buy an artist alley table or a booth if I went as Transfuzion Publishing. There’s a lot of creators who travel the convention circuit and hit many of the shows and when I had Caliber (and my stores), I also did a lot of conventions. But I actually don’t like doing conventions that much. I usually dread going but that’s balanced out by enjoying myself once I get there but overall, I still prefer not to do them. It seems I am always short on time and conventions really take a lot of time away from doing other things. I usually anticipate having lots of free time since I take time off of teaching in the summer but have found I never have as much time as I thought I was going to have. I look at my hopeful schedule and I already feel the weight of deadlines pressing against my brain, so not likely to do too many conventions. I know I’m not a big name and certainly not going to be a big draw for conventioneers so when I do get an invite and offered accommodations, I almost feel like I have an obligation to go since they extended the invite. Perhaps it’s the ego stroke, I don’t know. But I have to limit my convention excursions even though I really appreciate the gesture. One thing that will take up some time this summer is a trip that I’m taking to California in the next couple of weeks and since I’m driving, that will take awhile. From Michigan to California is something like 35 hours drive time and I’m one of those drivers that can only do about 8 hours a day so I’m looking at 4+ days of driving. Later in the summer, the wife and I have a similar trip planned to Texas so I will be doing some traveling. I’m going to California as I’ve lost another daughter to the Golden State. Now I have one in San Diego and one in San Francisco. The clan is typical of what’s happening in Michigan it seems. With both of my parents passing in the last few years and most of my brothers moving out of state, the family get togethers are getting quite small. I have one brother that moved to Florida, another to Las Vegas, one to Texas, and then another one that sort of roams around the country and last I heard, he was in Colorado. My last brother here is planning to move to either Texas or Florida. I’ve got two of my daughters in California now, another one that is planning on going there and then one that has taken a shine to New York instead. Pretty soon, there isn’t going to be any family here but me and my wife. So, we’re actually considering a move. We both like Colorado and North Carolina but we’re planning to explore other areas. Just coming out from Transfuzion Publishing is SIN ETERNAL: RETURN TO DANTE’S INFERNO which is the collection of the Sinergy series from Caliber but there have been some changes in the different levels of Hell. This was a really fun project to do all those years ago and it was great to have all the different artists each drawing a different level of Hell. Coming in about a month or so are some stories in the SHERLOCK HOLMES READER including the title story, MURDER AT MOULIN ROUGE, illustrated by Michael Zigerlig. He really crafted a unique style to the story and the always dependable Wayne Reid illustrated another all new tale that deals with Sherlock Holmes in retirement and how he spends his time. No, it’s not bee-keeping but rather with dead bodies… Even though I’m not officially a creator on the early issues, IDW will be releasing the first volume of DEADWORLD CLASSICS in July in association with Desperado Publishing. This is all Vince Locke artwork and it’s amazing to watch a teenager ply his craft. Of course, Vince went on to many bigger things (Sandman, for example) but it was Deadworld where he learned on the job.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Conventions aren't all the same

If you notice all the coverage and announcements, you can tell what time of the year it is---no, not baseball season but rather convention season. It seems every week there is another convention to announce exclusive news from the various sites. If you’re a creator who attends a lot of conventions, the gauntlet has already started. Coming up next week is the new kid on the block, C2E2. For years, Chicago was the con, second only to San Diego in attendance but for many, had more alluring aspects. San Diego had the city and the trade show associated with it, but Chicago was the con that professionals loved to attend. Of course, then the con moved and soon after was taken over by Wizard and well, things have never been the same since. The organizers of C2E2 have picked up on this. They aren’t really promising much for this con but instead, hint more that the convention will be like the “old days” when Chicago was one of the Big Two. I really don’t know if moving the convention into the city itself is going to aid the convention. A lot of people going to the con may not want to deal with the headaches any downtown has plus for attendees and exhibitors, there’s a lot of extra expenses and hassles. Rosemont may not have had the flavor of a big city but it was a nice isolated little pocked with inexpensive rooms within walking distance of the con and you had the Hyatt bar which was sort of the con hangout. Not sure what’s going to develop at C2E2. It should be interesting to see how the aura develops for the con. However, I do think that this convention is going to be big. The people running everything seem to know what they’re doing and so whatever doesn’t work out this time, you can bet that they’ll fix it for next time. I believe that C2E2 will be one of the top 3 conventions and maybe after this inaugural event. One of the things I like is that they’re directing most of the attention to the comic aspect of the convention. Comic cons are beginning to delineate into different patterns. You have the “small” shows which focus on the independent publishers, self publishers, independent creators, and for lack of a better term, the “web” guys. But it’s all comics. Maybe the dedicated Marvel or DC fans may not enjoy them but it’s still comics. Although these small shows may feel like a niche market, they seem to do very well. The fans and exhibitors all have a good time. Then you have the media shows which have some comic guests but are structured around old TV celebrities, walk on cast members for big event movies, wrestlers, old playmates, and a celebrity or two who has ventured into the comic world with a title named after them but has no other connection. Many of the Wizard cons are like this judging from what I hear. I can only go by the one in Chicago and it definitely had that feel. Of course, you also have the conventions which cater primarily to the comic audience but are big enough in those areas to branch out to the media aspects without sacrificing the integrity of the comics portion. Shows like Heroes Con, Wonder Con and others. This is what C2E2 is shaping up to be as well judging from the guest lists and panels. Personally, I hate the media shows. If you’re involved in comics, I think that they actually hurt the comic aspect. Because of the media guests, the prices for attendance is usually pretty high and a lot of comic fans shy away from that cost. I find at Motor City for example (a media show) that most people wander over to the comic section simply because they paid their $20-$25 to get in, got the celeb to sign a picture of themselves from 40 years ago, and now the fan doesn’t have anything else to do. They want to find some way to use up their time since they paid all that money. They flip through the books on the tables, often dog-earring them, and often engage in what they will hope is a conversation about the merits of the original Battlestar Galactica versus the remake…or maybe this year, it will be V instead. The number of people attending the convention is irrelevant. I did a small show in upper Michigan (Cherry Capital Con) and it had maybe 10% of the people that Motor City Convention yet it was far more enjoyable and engaging. Again, it’s not the number of people that come through the door but what their interests are. I’m not trying to blast Motor City Con or even Wizard Conventions for that matter. It’s fairly obvious by their attendance that more people prefer their approach since the number of tickets sold is much higher than most of the “comics only” smaller shows. It’s just not for me. After running conventions in the past, I know you gotta do what pays the bills...I can certainly understand that. And many of them are not devoid of comic talent, obviously. A lot of shows that get blasted for being media cons have been running a lot of years so they’re appealing to somebody…just not me. I’m actually looking forward to C2E2 which is unusual as I look at most conventions with dread. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them once I get there but the time factor involved is always something that seems impossible to juggle. But once I get to the con, I find myself having a good time whether on the floor or after hours. I’m setting up in Artist Alley under my own name rather than for Transfuzion. I had planned on getting Transfuzion as part of the Indy Island but because of a miscommunication, that didn’t work out. But the folks at Haven Distributors will be on hand there and they will have all the Transfuzion books. I’ll be at Table E-8 right next to my Transfuzion co-hort, Rafael Nieves. So, in all but display, Transfuzion will be there. I plan to have most of stuff there and surprisingly, I think I’m up to about 22 books currently. I’ll be debuting the SIN ETERNAL trade which collects the Caliber series and I also have copies of the DEADWORLD: SLAUGHTERHOUSE graphic novel. I have a few hundred copies of the Image run of Deadworld that I’ll be giving away at the table for anyone that stops by and for anyone that buys anything at my table, they will receive a FREE copy of my young adult novel, SPIRIT OF THE SAMURAI, that is superbly illustrated by Rick Hoberg (of Star Wars and Spider-Man fame). I’ll also be signing at the Comic Related booth on Friday and Saturday and working with them to provide FREE copies of titles such as SAINT GERMAINE. Looks like it will be a busy show.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Working Through Life

A lot of people talk about what a bad year 2009 was. For me, it wasn't a bad year...not a good 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 midnight job remodeling a supermarket chain around the Detroit area. My brothers and I took turns working and we'd go in at 10:00 at night and work until 6:00 in the morning and then head off to school. It made for some tough days at school but we didn't care. The money was good. That lasted most of my junior high and high school years. As I said, we didn't care too much about school as about half the people didn't graduate anyway. There were too many jobs in factories that would pay big money (this was Detroit's auto factories still running strong). Most of us were applying for jobs while still in high school. If no openings, well, then you remained in school and waited. I remember standing in long lines to get the premiere jobs at the factories but luckily, I never got hired.

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 University of Michigan (she was a smart kid) and so we moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor. That was quite a culture shock. I worked during the day at various jobs and went to school at night while she was a full time student and she would fit in teaching piano to earn money. It was during this time that I made a decision which seemed very small at the time, yet would take me into a completely new direction.

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 Ann Arbor, I discovered so many used book shops and I thought they were the coolest places. With a little research, I found avenues where you could buy books in bulk and I figured that it wouldn't take much to operate a store. I opened it in a suburb of Detroit and when kids came in asking for comics, I decided to add comics and that brought me into a whole new world.

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, Hollywood activity, or preparing them for digital exploitation.

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

Onto 2010

2009 was a bad year for a lot of people. For me, another year, not necessarily good or bad, but generally okay. I think 2010 will be a better year for most people, including myself, I hope. I mean, one always wants things to get better. It looks to be a year of catchup. Deadworld: Slaughterhouse which was scheduled to come out last year as a mini-series, has just been released as a hardcover. Outside of a few printing snafus which are not major, the book looks really nice. Sami did such a fantastic job with the art that it overwhelms any printing deficiencies. It should be in comic shops any day now. The schedule of Deadworld books coming from IDW has been figured out and the first one up is the Deadworld Classic which is a compendium of all of Vince Locke's artwork. As a writer, I contributed a little to the last portion. There will be additional pages from Vince including some surprises such as the very first Deadworld story he drew that has never seen print until now. The Sin Eternal book, again a supposed 2009 book, is near completion. Dealing with a return to Dante's Inferno, it was a book from hell (pun intended) as far as production goes. There are others but I'll wait until they come together. Of course, there is lots going on with Transfuzion Publishing. I don't know if I mentioned it before or not, but I keep up with the Transfuzion stuff on the Comic Related website in a column called Talking Transfuzion. I use that to discuss what's going on and spotlight creators and books. I expect quite a bit of this year to deal with exploitation of the digital format and there should be some of my books appearing from Kindle shortly. More announcements are expected but again, I'll wait until it's a reality rather than a possibility on most of the stuff. There was one aspect that did bring 2009 out in a downer. Some of the Caliber creators may remember and certainly customers of my Reader's store. Kathy Wolfram, who in addition to being a clerk at the store, handled all the accounting for the first few years of Caliber, died after Christmas of cancer. It was a rare form of cancer as it originated in her appendix. She left behind her husband, Mike, who used to be the store all those years ago, and two children. Her dad was an amateur photographer and he shot all the pictures of the King Kon conventions I used to put on as well as special events at Readers. I hadn't seen Kathy for awhile but of course, remember her well and fondly. Kathy was involved in Caliber mainly in accounting but she did have her opportunity to be part of the creative process. In the first few issues of Baker Street, it was her handwriting that appears as the journal notes of the Sue character. She said her children were impressed that she had actually worked in comics. Just very sad. I hope by the time I put up the next blog, I have some information about the Deadworld movie which is moving ahead even though there isn't much to report. It's just the way the system works.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

On the Holiday Movies

I usually don’t do reviews in my blog although I had discussed some of the comic movies previously. But two films out now seem to have been adopted by the comics community even if they are not derived from comics---although I found it ironic that Sherlock Holmes was promoted as being “based on the graphic novel” when it actually wasn’t. How’s that for spinning things in the opposite direction from a few years ago? Now, it’s a plus to be based on a graphic novel/comic. I used to be an avid Sherlock Holmes reader. I read all the original stories and probably over 100 pastiches and “source” books regarding Holmes. Although I still maintain my interest in Sherlockian lore, I don’t have the same passion for it that I once did. But I am still a fan. In fact, when my wife and I went to London, 221-b Baker Street was the first place we went. Yes, I knew it was an imaginary place of an imaginary character, but I still had to see it. I have purchased perhaps a dozen DVDs in my life and the only sets I have are the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes. So, I still have that Holmesian bug… I was not expecting much when I went to see the movie. My wife accompanied me, perhaps to offer solace if the movie was bad. We don’t go to the movies often, maybe 6-7 times a year. I had seen some of the previews and I was a bit worried about how they were going to treat Sherlock. Overall, I liked the movie a great deal. It was more action oriented than a typical Holmes tale, but I thought most of the action was incorporated quite nicely. Holmes was not a Nero Wolfe type who remained sedentary. In the stories, Holmes was always quick to get involved physically. I had heard a number of criticisms before I went about how the film destroyed the image built by Conan Doyle and that the movie departed from what made Holmes…well, Holmes. I don’t think those critics were at all familiar with the original stories as this story picked up a lot of references to the official canon. It was obvious that the scriptwriters knew their Holmes. It wasn’t a perfect movie. Rachel McAdams just didn’t seem enough to pull off being Irene Adler, someone who once bested Holmes. She wasn’t a bad choice, just not the right one. And it has nothing to do with her being non-British as even in the short story, she was listed as an American. Downey was good although I have a hard time letting go of Jeremy Brett as the vision for Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law was excellent. I though the overall “big crime” felt like a retread from so many other books-comics-movies. I had a gnawing trepidation when the supernatural elements began to build up in the story but even the mundane villainous plot was satisfying enough once the supernatural was explained. So, I’d give it a recommendation and high marks. Even my wife liked it and she is not a Holmes fan at all. I don’t think it was great but very good and would love to see a sequel. If nothing else, perhaps Jude Law’s performance will forever rid the image of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Watson as a bumbling idiot. I can’t even watch the Basil Rathbone films anymore because of the way they treated poor Watson. The second movie of the holiday season, and of the entire year, and who knows what else--- is, of course, Avatar. Most of the criticisms I heard centers on Cameron himself, it seems. People who hated Titanic were lined up to hate this one also. I happened to like Titanic…well, most of it. There were some major problems that I couldn’t look past but narratively, I though it was structured brilliantly. I made sure to see Avatar in 3D even though I hate wearing those glasses. I knew it was what they label an event film…something you have to see, but it had piqued my interest for quite awhile. I was worried that the idea of having an Avatar seemed so original some ten years ago was now becoming an overused plot device, especially since Surrogates had just been released. But who remembers Surrogates except some people in the comics market? People go to see movies for different reasons. Some like the big scenes…the battles, the car chases, the boom! Others like the story and characterization. If I told you that I thought Transformers was one of the stupidest things I ever saw and I felt like I wasted two hours of my life on it, you’d probably guess what I find appealing in movies. The special effects of Avatar…all of it…the designs, the color palette, the 3D, the careful consideration of the evolutionary trends developing on the planet…all of it was just fantastic. But you know what, it just doesn’t mean that much to me. When I see a movie, I go expecting that the effects are part of the background. I accept them for what they are, whether they’re the rich and lavish ones found in Avatar or the cheesy ones in a 1950’s horror flick. I just take it in as part of the package. I know that some people have compared Avatar (story wise) to Dancing with Wolves but I think the much stronger connection is A Man Called Horse. That was a Richard Harris movie and one of my faves when I was growing up. To me, Avatar seemed to be an updating of that film much more than Costner’s film. So, the special effects didn’t move me and the story was pretty pedestrian. I mean, after the first half hour, I think everyone in the audience could have recited what was going to happen. Maybe it was because I felt manipulated. Stirrings of Vietnam with the helicopters tied in with the obvious Native Americans suffering from the European colonialism. I think I was supposed to bring up pangs of guilt and shame for what happened in the past. Well, I don’t feel guilt or shame for the terrible tragedies in American history. Sure, I feel sorrow and am sympathetic but none of my ancestors were here, they all arrived in the Ellis Island era. I thought the characters were so one dimensional and very stereotypical. The motivations of the…well, just who were they exactly? Apparently it was some sort of corporation but obviously it was purely American and had U.S. marines. They were the perfect symbol of corporate greed and when the military commander took over, it was almost laughable in his logic, propped up by a terrorist speech. I get that Jake would find himself immersed in the Na’vi culture but find it hard to accept that he would go against his entire race to join them forever. Yes, I know he fell in love but it seemed too convenient for the story’s sake. Harkening to the pilot of Star Trek where he could be a whole man again by assuming a vision (i.e.-Avatar form) rather than remaining trapped in his broken body, wasn’t enough as it was indicated that with the right connections, he could be restored to his full human form. In A Man Called Horse or even in Costner's Dancing with Wolves, both men adopted their new culture...but they were still the same person. They could go back if they wanted to, even if it was just for a visit. Jake could not. I wonder how Jake will feel 5-10 years later while he’s eating the same fruit every day on how wonderful it would be to hop on a computer, watch a video, have a microwave pizza, or even go to a movie. So many people find the simple life alluring yet if you look at the past or even in foreign countries, those people are trying to get the modern toys that we have. There were a lot of puzzling questions as the movie was unfolding that bothered me. First off, when Jake initiates the defense, it sure didn’t seem like there was much of a plan. Offering a large percentage of only 2,000 natives as sacrificial lambs doesn’t seem like much of a leader. And why were there only 2,000 Na’vi? Were they a race headed for extinction? If a human body could be transferred like they attempted with Grace, why did Jake wait so long? When he didn’t do it immediately, you just knew his crippled body would be the culminating plot point. The whole transfer of the mind back to Jake when his avatar form slept seems like it would have caused all kinds of problems. Jake’s Na’vi form must have been comatose quite often as Jake was awake in his human form. Did he just hide somewhere? I know I’m perhaps nitpicking because actually I liked the movie. It wasn’t great, just bordering on good. I can’t rave on it and I wonder about those who claim it was the best film they ever saw…but we all have our preferences and I guess I can see how some people would find themselves immersed in it. I mean, look at how many people were so into the Lord of the Rings trilogy which I found boring and tedious in many spots. I’m glad for Cameron on one hand because I think he tried to do something daring and dramatic and I like to see him being rewarded for his gamble. But that’s not enough to say it’s a great film. It can rightfully claim to be a special film but that’s a big difference from being great.

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