Little catching up to do here. Meant for this to be a weekly update thing, but I’ve already botched that. Maybe I’ll talk about my trip to the Lush show in San Francisco and how it’s nice to be a grownup sometimes. Of course, you have to put up with a lot of unrelenting bullshit, at which this week has excelled.
Said bullshit often originating from quarters that you have precisely zero control over. And that’s often the most unrelenting kind, because you get to feel powerless over and over again. No, I won’t bore you with the details. I will instead talk about getting back to work. Remember the broken arm? Still broken, still got a plate in there, but I can sit and work at a computer for a couple hours at a time without things getting too bad. Still can’t play guitar for more than a minute though. Something about the angle. Maybe I should play lefty. There’s dumber ideas.
So now that I can sit and work, I’ve had to actually do it. Considering I basically spent all of last year planning things that didn’t amount to much more than plans and dealing with a long chain of personal/family brush fires and *not* actually writing, this is a daunting prospect. Particularly when you’re kissing the Qliphoth half of the time, and that’s some dark, seductive stuff. If you’re weak-willed, you might even get to believing what it whispers to you on those sleepless nights.
Wrestling out of that takes some doing. Like, you get to believing that nobody wants the work that you do (and I could/did make a compelling argument for that thesis for too long.) Nothing will suck the air out of you faster than that. And I’d love to say that this is done and behind me, but I’m going to be smarter than that. It’s there and I just need to know that instead of letting it drive the goddamn bus.
But this week, I actually sat down with my notes for THE FUTURE AMERICA and wrote five script pages for it, really in the last couple days. Earlier this week was consumed by the aforementioned torrent of real life. Hell, last night, too, but only after work had gotten done. So yeah, five pages is not a fucking achievement, I’m aware of that (at my best, I put down seventeen pages of script off of notes when I was writing MURDER MOON). It’s not an achievement, but it’s a start.
Gosh, that sounds like the kind of optimistic note to leave things on. Which is why I probably will keep going.
The plan is to arrange a pitch package with the script pages (and far too much background material) which needs to be boiled down hard and the work of the guys from Estudio Haus to try and sell publishers on the book. Shouldn’t be too hard, given that sci-fi action is a good place to start in comics. Granted, it’s not a natural to be adapted into a cheap TV series so there goes the Hollywood interest. I’m really okay with that. It’d be pretty expensive to shoot as I’m seeing it in my head, and depending on good design to cover up lack of big sets is a pretty bad bet, in my book. Sometimes that friction generates interesting results, but not enough to hold my breath over.
At any rate, the pitch is finished up and in the hands of a capable editor right now. Hoping to learn more about pitching itself, since I know fuck-all about it. Been far too worried about the final product and how to pay bills with it than learning the actual process of selling it. Cart before the horse, that’s me.
I did want to talk about one other thing while I’ve got your kind attention. That thing is fear. See, when you’ve worked for a long time at a skill, one that’s judged subjectively rather than objectively, particularly when it’s a skill that relies on the audience’s ability towards abstraction, well, that’s kind of like being in solitary. You get so you don’t know up from down after a time, go groundless. Especially when you feel like you’ve been treading water for years (this is the part where I remind everyone that STRANGEWAYS, regardless of quality, has yet to pay back its printing costs, much less art costs.) Them’s the breaks. Nobody cares how hard you tried (as reminded by friend Alex de Campi, indirectly, perhaps). The process isn’t the issue. The result is the only thing that matters.
So, yeah, fear. See, since I hadn’t written much of anything more than notes in the past year, I got to wondering if I could even write original stuff. Yeah, it’s dumb. Because writing doesn’t leave you. You might leave writing (like I did) but if you come back to it, things start rolling again. This doesn’t mean that the machine doesn’t need oiling or that the first few batches of work out will be all sideways and misprinted, spindled, folded and mutilated. But the machine starts up again. Which maybe I shouldn’t have been afraid of. Maybe.
Back to work now. I’d say put the childish things, like fear, away, but I’m not sure that I can. I’ll try to keep them out of arms’ reach so that they’re not such an easy distraction. When so much of life is up in the air and the floor seems to be lined with spikes more than nice comfy carpet, it’s pretty easy to anticipate that slice when you come down. Once cut, twice shy or something like that. Sure, I could go all swami and say “Welp, that’s just out of my control and deal with it as it comes” but I’ve never been good at swami and zen just makes my anxiousness, usually disguised as irritability, bubble right up to the surface. I’m allergic to the void and the calm it brings, I guess.
Out of arm’s reach, though, maybe that I can manage.
Nor is this an ask for assistance on this particular front, just a statement of the current situation. My sins against the various avatars of the creative act no matter how you define or name them, are legion. Primary amongst those is the dependence on others to confirm whether I’m doing good work or not. Now I’m not just talking editors or the market, because both of those are whimsical humans and beasts, respectively. Honestly, editors like what they like and if they knew what would sell as opposed to what they liked, we’d only see million selling books from the publishing houses that employ them (or whatever passes for success these days.) But yeah, I’ve sinned.
I’m talking about depending on myself, yourself. I guess that’s what it all comes down to, has to come down to. Cut through the bullshit and that’s what is. You get to save yourself. Sure, some folks are there to lend a hand, but that’s all that is. A hand. It’s not the whole thing, just a step. But the validation that you’re craving, that I’m craving, that ain’t even a hand, not even a step. Easy to think that it is, but that’s a lie. A pretty lie, maybe even thirsty in the desert mirage kind of lie, but still just as empty at the end of the day. The only thing that ends up being real is the work.
Folks’ thoughts about the work, those opinions? Well they’re just that. Remember, the work is there for someone to read, reflect on and maybe bounce something off of. You don’t get to control that as the author/artist/whatever. It’s not yours. Nor is the string of rejection letters, y’know? Or the indifference that the work spawns. That isn’t yours, nor should you or I dwell on it, no matter how strong the temptation, because that’s pure kissing the Qliphoth.
Remember when I repeated the line “nobody cares how hard you tried”? Well that’s both true and false, my sisters, brothers, fluids and non-identifiers. It’s true that world at large doesn’t care.
But you do.
I gotta work on that, still. Believe me, I’m trying.
Yeah, there haven’t been any updates for the last six months by my or anybody else’s reckoning. Sue me. No subscriptions to fulfill, no contracts to honor and who even reads plain old blogs anymore? Gimme that branded content!
So in the time that’s passed, I’ve watched my 48th come and go, tried to keep the kids on an even keel, make everyone’s Christmas wishes come true and held out hope that the new year would be better than the old one (which had some high points, but was marked by a constant and grinding great that they would not). I broke my arm (almost my wrist, which would have been infinitely worse) and had surgery for that, involving me being doped up on painkillers and ice-packs. Now I’ve got a neat scar and a permanent plate to hold my radius together. PT is continuing for that, and the fact that I’m even typing this anywhere near as fast as I used to is a good sign.
I missed both the big conventions I’d normally have gone to (ECCC this week, Wonder-Con a couple weeks before). That’s probably a good thing as my energy and focus level were right in the hole, even way down in it. Which is a bummer, as I like to hang out with people in real life much more than I do on Twitter. But I had stuff to hold together here as well.
My old web host became an intractable mess, after suspending my account for spam operations (looks like a php script got hijacked) and they were less helpful than a box of kittens with regard to the problem. That sucks after nearly ten years of service. Oh yeah, they refused to run a standard https:// certificate and that was the last straw. You don’t just ignore the major (if not imperfect) security standard for the interwebs and expect me to be happy with it. So I had to get a new provider and migrate the files over, which were still infected and thus my account was suspended until I nuked everything and managed to restore things without having to lose all of the stuff here. I may get around to changing the theme here, but first things first.
What else? I’m slowly getting back to work, having spoken with an editor to look over things on THE FUTURE AMERICA, which I’m hoping I’ll be able to have a pitch together for later this year. I really need to get back onto STRANGEWAYS 3, have a lot of lettering (which means rewriting) to do for that. Then there’s the day job which has been largely on hold while I recover.
Oh yeah, and my wife’s condition, which I’ve talked about here, most notably last summer, has continued to worsen. This isn’t a surprise, other than perhaps how sharply and quickly it took place. She’s still working as much as she can (which is too much if you ask me) but has finally acknowledged that the current treatment plan isn’t sufficient to cover things. This means there’s a surgery in our future, perhaps in a month, perhaps three. Unknown at this time, but I hope to find out pretty soon. Given that her condition is Parkinson’s, this means brain surgery. And while it’s as gentle a surgery as one could have there (and is reversible), this is still a situation that has everyone on edge. So things might be weird.
But I’m optimistic about the outcome. We’ve promised ourselves a nice vacation once she’s recovered (and should see s major reduction in both her symptoms and the amount of medicine which she has to take). In the meantime, it’s tough to plan things right now. That said, it’s been hard to plan things for the last couple of years, not knowing how bad she would be on any given day. Yes, it’s that serious. Some days she’s not able to go to work at all or do anything much more than take care of herself and rest. Part of that is the medicine (sometimes it overdoses, sometimes underdoses, never really predictable.) So it’s been hard to figure out what is happening this weekend, much less make big plans other than treading water and keep up the holding action. That’s exhausting.
I’m not saying this out of any sense of self-heroism (I’m not, I’m barely coping) but to give an indication as to how things are.
I’m very much looking forward to her successful surgery and her getting much of her life back. No, it will not be a cure and there are no cures (yeah, single examples of stem cell therapies are promising, but I want to see actual trials, not private clinic proof of concept) but it will be an improvement. Also looking forward to getting back to work and maybe even putting a package together for that DC new talent trawl that they announced awhile ago. Do I have any expectations? Hell no. Is it even a good idea? Who knows.
Nobody knows. All you can do is keep pushing forward.
Forgot to add, in the time I was away, I put out THE HOWLING PIT, which is a little of me peeling back the onion of authorship and writing in the social media age of the internet, happily pointing out logical fallacies and taking away closely-cherished notions of all kinds. You can order it here.
I also had a story of mine, “Chunked”, published in TOMORROW’S CTHULHU from Broken Eye Press. I’d tell you what the story’s about but I already wrote it. You may pull out a completely different meaning. Order it here.
Yeah, I’m not good at listing my successes. I’ll try to work on that.
I was born between the assassination of JFK and the Apollo moon landing. That’s usually how I mark myself by American events. I could get a little more specific, but this covers the bases, both high and low. Granted, these happenings don’t have the punch that they once did. When I was younger, it was smart to have a conspiracy theory on JFK but we for damn sure landed on the moon. Well now we get to distrust everything. Hooray. Good work, dudes. Fight the power.
So I turn forty-eight today. Just close enough to fifty that it looks like inevitability. I know. I probably shouldn’t be revealing my age. Editors at comic companies trying to court younger readers are going to shy right away. Is the joke on me for worrying about it or them thinking that they can get the same methods and books to magically skew desirable millennial male reader demographics? Oh, it’s on everyone. Plenty of humor to go around, just that it’s pretty dark. Like last page of the MAD magazine parody of HOGAN’S HEROES dark (art by the master, Jack Davis and I’m surprised it ever got printed.)
What’s weird is that don’t feel particularly older than I did when I was say, 33, to pick a number. Yeah, the eyes are getting worse, but I know folks who’d be happy to have even my degraded close-up vision, as I can still drive without cheaters just fine. But is all this kidding myself? Yeah, maybe. Though I do drive what could charitably be described as a midlife-crisis car (at least it’s not my favorite color, cherry red). Yeah, there’s an old reference slipped in there to show you how old I am. Classic rock, doncha know.
But the world does catch up and run right past anyways. No matter how much the Boomers and their offspring might want to dilate the present to grotesque proportions. But that’s an old view. Radio and TV still stuck in those modes when the world is being driven by sharable moments in social media like motes amongst Roy Baty’s tears. He’s seen things, you know.
Continue reading FULL BLEED: NINETEEN AND SIXTY SEVEN
Good news. I’ll spare you the kind of entry that I’ve been doing for the last several months. Tell your friends. No serious issues here. Nope.
Instead I’ll talk a little about my experiences going to three different, even very different comic shows in the last month and a half or so. Long Beach Comic-Con (hereafter LBCC), Rose City Comic Con (RCCC) and the Alternative Press Expo (APE). I’ve gone to all of these shows for some time, and they’ve all undergone changes, some more extreme than others.
Let’s start with LBCC, at the lovely Long Beach Convention Center. Originally, this grew out of Wizard’s LA show (which was actually good once). And yes, they called it an LA comic con, even though it wasn’t. But still, they managed to put together pretty good shows. DC would table and bring top-shelf talent (Grant Morrison, for instance, in 2003 or 2004, whichever was the last of these shows). Remember, these were still dark days for comics shows. Marvel didn’t go to these shows (nor SDCC, nor any other show, at least not in a big official standing, sometimes if a merchandiser had something to show, Marvel would have a tiny little presence.) Then there was something of a split between Wizard and the organizers of this show. The Wizard show went to LA (and it was TERRIBLE, often feeling like it was in a venue far too big, drawing people who were only there to see Marvel and DC and Top Cow folks) and the Long Beach crew started their own show.
LBCC has continued along for several years now. I’ve shown there a couple times (once did decently well and once did pretty poorly even after shelling out for a more expensive publisher table). But I don’t know that the show has really improved all that much, and some outside forces are probably working against it. Most notably, the move of Wonder Con (once in SF, once in Anaheim) to Los Angeles. That and the rise of several smaller shows which does split up the potential fan base (Comickaze is apparently making a big run of it too, though reviews on that show are definitely mixed). People are in a position where they can’t afford to go to every show that comes along; they’re having to choose.
One thing you’ll notice at LBCC is there’s a lot of cosplay. A. Lot. Cosplay is fine and wonderful and creative thing and not what I go to shows for. Sorry. I go to comic shows to talk to friends and look at art and junky old comics to take pictures of. Oh and to talk to the cast of LAND OF THE LOST and then be asked to take a picture of them with a tyrannosaurus cosplayer, which yes, did actually happen and was as surreal as you might imagine. Got a chance to talk to Don Glut, who wrote a comic that I read to pieces when I was in fourth grade (a digest issue of BORIS KARLOFF MYSTERIES) and bought one of his copies of said comic digest. Bought a copy of the BLACK METAL OMNIBUS from artist Chuck BB (and it is indeed METALEST). Chatted with friend (and fellow Speakeasy Comics survivor) Josh Fialkov. Talked with Keenan Keller (half of THE HUMANS, alongside Tom Neely). Those were the highlights.
Honestly, there wasn’t much else for me at the show. I’m impervious to the charms of most nerd/geek/whatever merchandise. Variant covers don’t do a thing for me. Cheap trades are nice, but I knew that I was about to head into the belly of the beast at the Last Book Store in LA and would have to be careful because I only had so much room for books. There were plenty of merchants selling things that I wasn’t into, someone selling beef jerky, a malaria charity. You know, the usual? Or not. Just not a lot on the floor for me. That said, there seemed to be plenty of other attendees having a good time. But it didn’t feel like an amazing comic show, not for my purposes. I’ll also be the first to acknowledge that if you’re making a comic show to please me, you’re probably losing money on it.
Next up on the show roster was RCCC, which is a show I’ve been attending/exhibiting with for a long time now. The first ashcan previews for STRANGEWAYS were sold there, so I have a little attachment to the former incarnation of the show, that being Stumptown Comics Fest, which used to be held at the Doubletree hotel in downtown. Back then, it was very much an indie comics show: cheap to get tickets for, crammed full of artcomix and non-superhero fare. I liked it because the crowds were always looking for something to read, not stuff to put up on a shelf or into a toy collection (again, those are fine and wholesome hobbies, but hold very little interest for me). It also helped that I have a friend in Portland I can reliably crash with to keep costs down (thanks Jeff and family for putting up with me, as always).
Stumptown only stayed in the old venue at the Doubletree for a couple years after I started exhibiting there. It moved over to the Portland Convention Center and ran into some growing pains. Going from bustling (and too-small) conference room to a cold and formal (and too big) convention floor did the show no favors, even though it had the same quantity and quality of exhibitors showing there. The tone of the show had changed, which can be death for an indie show. The last one I’d attended previous to this was a solid middle-sized show (or perhaps a big small show is a better way to describe it.) Either way, you could walk around comfortably, go up to Burgerville up the block easily to grab a bite.
Then the folks from ECCC took over. Now this paragraph break and first line are ominous, right? Depends how you look at it. RCCC went from a big small show to a big show in the space of two years. Thirty thousand attendees over the weekend. Try to walk to Burgerville? Don’t. It’s Thunderdome in there now. This is great for the show and attendees, but keep in mind that the infrastructure directly around the convention center can’t really handle it. Not yet anyways.
But that’s not the important thing, is it? How was the show? The show was good to great, depending on who you ask. Well, at least it felt great. The merch side of the floor was very busy. Though I did wonder how the individual science fiction authors selling their self-published books were doing. I never saw big crowds around them. Of course, I notice this since I’m a guy with self-published SF (and other) books, but I tell ya, I’d never show up at RCCC trying to sell just those. Plenty of stuff to see and pass right by (I’m not one for crocheted headwear or intricately-embroidered fezzes). Some stuff that drew my eye (twenty bucks of junky comics which I’ve yet to start really digging through for Intrapanel). An army of full-size R2-D2 replica robots, you know, the usual.
Much more interesting was the creator’s side of the floor, which had a range of top-flight talent from the Big Two as well as middle-tier and full independent creators/publishers. I don’t even want to call it artist’s alley because it wasn’t just a tiny little section, but fully half of the show floor. That’s what comic shows are for me. Talking to Paul Gulacy about SLASH MARAUD. Finding new artists I’d never heard of before. Trading copies of MURDER MOON for horror comics or watercolor dinosaur cards. Getting caught up on SHUTTER and getting those signed. That sort of thing. I’ll throw an shout-out to the programming as well. Solid on both the production and the community/fan side (at least for me).
There is still some work to be done in terms of managing growth. Granted, I don’t think the organizers expected this kind of turn-out for the show (and it was basically inconceivable for the old Stumptown organizers), so that will be something to watch out for. But it’s a good problem to have, at least.
Blew off the Dark Horse party (which I heard was mostly open but might not’ve been anyways) in favor of taking pictures around the Hollywood neighborhood and munching on a fried pork cutlet sandwich (which was superlative) then heading back to the house and working on not one but two ideas that need to be hammered into shape. Seems like an endless process.
Second day was pretty much like the first, though I was actually able to talk to an actual human editor (thanks to Paul for the kick in the pants and Jeff for the introduction) so we’ll see where that goes. I’m not holding my breath. Good advice for me. Went back to the house to decompress and pack then off to a food cart court (which is a thing, and quite a nice one at that, in Portland.) Ordered the viking soul food burrito (potato lefse, meatballs, goat cheese, red cabbage and a little too much gravy) with an actual bottled Coke and that was pretty good. Visited the most amazing video store I’ve ever seen, packed full of old movie props and costumes (mugwumps in the ceiling) as well as a stunning collection of DVDs and VHS tapes for rental. Managed to be almost late for my plane.
Skip forward a couple weeks and it’s time for APE. I’ve been going to the Alternative Press Expo since 2003 or so (at which time, I think it was being run by Comic Con International, who also ran Wonder-Con and SDCC). The show has grown steadily from taking about 1/4 of the venue (the San Francisco Concourse, now demolished) to just about filling it. Of course, it drew a lot of only tangentially-comics stuff by that time, some of which was great (like RE/search publications and the anarchist publishing houses) and some of which was not (lots of indie swap-meet stuff which belongs on Etsy, not at a comic/press show.) But these are part of the charm of the show.
2013 was the last year that APE was held in the Concourse (which is in downtown SF, and is pretty easy to get to, though there’s not a lot of activities for post-con entertaining in the immediate neighborhood.) Last year, the show was held in the Fort Mason Center (and was also the first year that the show had reverted back to Dan Vado’s control, he of Slave Labor Graphics and the creator of APE in the first place.) Last year’s show was fine, seemed to be decently attended (and I got to shake Robert Williams’ hand, so that’s a bonus.) Lots of indie publishers there, Fantagraphics, AdHouse, Drawn and Quarterly and the usual suspects. Like I said, a solid indie show.
This year, APE went back to its roots in San Jose. I joke about the venue itself being called the “Bug Tent,” mostly because that’s what it looks like. I’ve had occasion to exhibit at shows held there (Big Wow in 2009-10, for instance) and the place got awful warm in San Jose late springtime, awfully muggy, too. So I was a little wary. Luckily, the climate control was keeping the weather at bay (and the weather was cooperating, barely cracking 80).
When I got there on Sunday, sorta midmorning verging on noon, the show was just moving along, pretty relaxed. This isn’t unusual for a Sunday show, especially early in the day. Thing is, the crowds never really picked up after that. Aisles were always easy to navigate (which is one of those bad-good things, like commodity prices being too low or unemployment ticking down or the stock shooting up after a company lays off five thousand employees.)
My first stop was to talk with one of my STRANGEWAYS collaborators, Alex Sheikman (who’s really great and has done work for Archaia/Boom on both creator-owned and licensed projects). He’s the only artist actually signed up to do two stories in the third volume, which I’m really trying to get out next year, but I can’t guarantee anything like that anymore. We went over layouts for the second story and picked at the storytelling and generally made it work, which is one of the great things about comics (and something I really don’t get to do too often, as my primary collaborators are on another continent.)
Second stop was with Marty Davis, whose work I’d seen on Tumblr (davischino.tumblr.com) and has just put out his first funny book called FUME (which I haven’t gotten a chance to read over yet, but the cartooning looks *great*.) He even did a brush-pen sketch of me which you can’t see, ever. Well, maybe. And we talked comics and doing the new circuit of shows and that sort of thing. So keep an eye out for his work.
Most of the rest of the show was catching up with friends (of which I had several there; no, really, I have real human friends) and looking over other artists’ work to see if anyone’s up for collaborations or just wants to talk shop. Oh, and I got a copy of DEATH SAVES from Josh Trujillo which I’m looking forward to reading, right after I get through the rest of the giant stack of comics (mostly trades) that I’ve picked up after three shows. Did some early birthday shopping for me at the Last Gasp booth (mostly because my wife probably wouldn’t ever look through a Last Gasp catalog). Picked up a couple cheap old magazines/comix from a dollar bin. Looked into cheap overseas printing for a possible Intrapanel book. I said *possible*. Don’t get all exercised.
Unfortunately, the only publishers at the show were Slave Labor and Valiant, which seemed a little strange. Sure, there were plenty of self-publishers there, but that’s a different beast (and before you get all mad, remember I’m a self-publisher, too.) But there was no Fantagraphics. No Oni. No AdHouse. No Drawn and Quarterly. No RE/search. No a lot of what I go to APE for. Now, I know that the Comic Crossroads Festival had its inaugural show the same weekend, and maybe folks were stopping in Ohio on their way to NYC. I won’t argue that move. Publishers have to choose where their books are best going to play. Especially in indie comics where every reader counts.
That all said, it sure seemed to take the wind out of APE’s sails. But then so did the fact that it was back in San Jose and couldn’t pick up a lot of the SF-based publishers/creators who weren’t willing to drive down. Making the transition to a new venue 50-odd miles away is never an easy proposition. And maybe next year there won’t be as much competition for publishers to showcase their works. That’s the other end of things. You’re not just competing for attendees, but for vendors. For a long time, APE was about the only game in town and now that’s simply not the case. But then for a long time, aside from SDCC, Wonder-Con and APE (and slowly, ECCC and Stumptown/RCCC) were the only game in town aside from hotel-sized local shows.
The convention game has changed a whole lot since I first started selling ashcans of STRANGEWAYS at Stumptown back in 2007. Conventions have really become a sort of second distributor up against Diamond, especially for back-of-the-catalog independent comics publishers/artists. Yeah, it’s an expensive proposition and sometimes you don’t even make table much less profit, especially with just one or two books to sell. But it’s still a way to get hooked up to readers who want physical books as opposed to digital comics. And now there’s booths where people are announcing/advertising their Kickstarter campaigns without even a product to show (not a path I’d take, myself, but I’m a weirdo.)
Ultimately this year’s APE wasn’t that great a show. It went fine for me, and I’m glad I went. But it wasn’t a big show. Most of the vendors I spoke with indicated about the same thing. There were some sales made, but had to work hard for ‘em. I think people like Last Gasp and Stuart Ng, storefronts with a large catalog to choose from, probably did okay (especially since Last Gasp was premiering a new James Jean import book from Japan that weekend) but I didn’t get that feeling from a lot of the smaller publishers. I’m not even going to make a guess as to what the future holds for the show or offer a weaksauce “We’ll see” last line. Things have changed so much that doing so would be foolhardy at best, stupid at worst.
Will I go again? It’s more likely than me attending another LBCC (or another Wizard show, which I did this summer in Sacramento and wow was that largely a bust but for a couple highlights). But it’s not an event that I’ll be looking forward to as I have in the past.
That being a thing that pretends to be another thing in order to find itself some benefit. Doppleganger, mimic, cuckoo, what have you. A thing that pretends to be another thing. Like the dog in Carpenter’s movie of the same name.
It’s tough to pretend to be a thing that you’re not. At least it is for me. And I got paid pretty handsomely to be something that I wasn’t for several years, or rather to write material that really wasn’t me. I did the best I could, which was pretty good, I thought, even though I didn’t get my name on it (but the checks cleared.) Then the job came to an end, which is probably for the best even though it stabbed for awhile.
A long while. Honestly, too long, but I’m coming to understand that now. This is something I’ve allowed to interfere with me since the beginning of the year. Doesn’t help that it’s been a bad year, again, for reasons outlined in the BLACK PHASE earlier this summer. Staring at a birthday next month, with all the attendant physical reminders of participating in the Only Game in Town, my wife’s health issues are precisely what they are, and a looming sense of real failure. How real is up for some debate, but when you’re down in the hole, it all looks deep, dig?
Which was one of the reasons why I took some vacation this last couple weeks. I know. Vacation. Pure selfish decadence. Five days in Los Angeles, capital of the West coast and dream-city that’s loomed large in my imagination since I could imagine. Glitz, glamor, Uber cars from here to there.
Or, instead, walking solitary around Broadway in DTLA, pre-dawn on a Saturday morning when it was already muggy and sweat-close before the sun could grace the blue tile of the Eastern Columbia building. Yeah, you dodge piles of excrement that are too big to have come from any dog, but you get to see razorwire silhouetted against the Rialto marquee and crawl right up against the molded concrete fantasia of the Mayan Theatre without anyone bothering you or fighting to get a shot clear of humans.
It’s funny. I was watching the BOSCH premiere and beginning to grit my teeth at it, when I got to a scene of Bosch and lady cop drinking in a nostalgia bar and him bemoaning the fact that “Old LA is disappearing” and I swear, I punched the stop button and closed the window right then. Got tired of the lies. ‘Cause the bones of old LA might be harder to find but they’re right there for anyone who gets out of their car and takes a walk. It also helps that I’ve got no patience for Connelly, I suppose. But that’s who and what I am. Can’t be a tulpa and pretend to be something else.
Got to see a lot of friends while in LA as well and realized the degree to which I’m isolated up here. This isn’t a woe is me. You’ll know those when you see them. This is just a fact that up here there’s not a lot of people who are, well, weird in anywhere the same neighborhood that I am. LA, luckily, is lousy with those folks. And it’s good to talk with them, to be reminded that you’re not the only one who isn’t quite figuring out what’s going on, struggling for a little recognition and maybe being able to sell enough books (or records) to keep the home fires burning another month. ‘Cause those folks? They can’t be anything than who they are, too. They’re not pretending.
Pretending is exhausting sometimes. All the time. You get to thinking about how best to blend in and what happens when the jig is up. Maybe that’s why I’m bad at it. Probably. And like I said, I’ve got enough that’s exhausting in my life (say hello to my two kids, who I love very much but if I have to break up another five and three year old-style tiff between them I’ll punch a wall) to have to worry about this. I can’t be anything other than what I am. I can’t do anything other than what I can. These aren’t even sub-Berra (RIP) tautologies, but they still work. Like Popeye, there’s some yams lying around and that’s what I can do.
Flipside of that is I’m the only guy who can do them. Good, bad or otherwise. Love it or hate it, and those are not things that I have any control over, my work is mine. The writing, the photography, Intrapanel, Identify 9 (and that’s just the creative stuff — not to mention the actual work: husband, father, owner of an increasingly neurotic dawg, Mr. Mom). All that’s mine.
And for too long a time, I was trying to be someone or something else. Trying and not really succeeding. The life of a tulpa isn’t one for everyone and it sure as hell isn’t for me.
This is not to say that the work I’ve done in the last year is bad or substandard, just that there hasn’t been a lot of it (that’s visible — doing so much development work that nobody gets to see) Even that was all under the shadow of “I’m trying to do it like this so it will get accepted” and that’s one of those toxic and seductive thoughts that you put on and somehow are unable to so easily remove. Worse is that you trick yourself into thinking that it’s nice, that you might even belong in it, all the while it’s threadbare and cold comfort when you actually need it.
None of this is heroic or self-hagiography. This is something that shoulda been self-evident years back, but I fought and fought and bitterly fought. Maybe it’s simply growing up? Or is growing up the ability to suck this up and go ahead and keep the tulpa-coat on? Suppose compelling arguments could be made for either one. But this stuff is a process, and when you’ve been down in the hole as it were, the crawl out is slippery. And sometimes you gotta take a break from yourself.
So back to LA. I went and didn’t pretend to be much of anything for five days. Went to a comic show (not a great one, sadly, and probably the last time I come down as anything but a pretext to visit LA again), sat and talked with friends, avoided open-mic comedy, got stuck in traffic, walked the 6th street bridge before it got demolished, ate too many chilaquiles, bought too many books, got stuck trying to get around cars in the Hollywood hills, drank coffee and flipped vinyl in Atwater Village, drank bourbon at a hipster bar in Los Feliz, stared at neon and razorwire, tried to map a place that didn’t exist (that being Smoketown), talked strange LA with friends while a Russian dude and his girlfriend did coke at the table next to us, and generally took a break.
But it’s back to work now. And back to trying to make things work. The trying and not succeeding wears. (Yes, just completing the work is a success in and of itself and my family thinks I’m a good writer, but neither of these pays the rent, or for artists to do pages.) Still, I’m trying to be at peace with my own limitations (assuming they are even such). Like I said above, I can only do what I can do. Can’t be anyone else. Gotta give a fuck about that, even if it’s tough to get anyone else to.
Just look at the sales on “The Black Mass Variations,” right? Well actually, don’t. Though I wonder what the other options are? The Howling Pit or indifference from paying markets. Pretty sure that submission to zero-pay markets aren’t going to do much to convince other outlets that my stories are any better. The CV doesn’t sell the story, you know?
Pitch development for THE FUTURE AMERICA and MY WINGS ARE BLACK continues, as in getting pages drawn (which means they need to be scripted—and choosing a sequence to illustrate the whole thing is crazy hard). And DEPARTMENT OF LIGHT AND SHADOW. And I really need to finish rewriting RAGNAROK SUMMER sometime. And the day job, which is difficult for completely different reasons. And everything else.
And everything else.
Well, that was fun, I guess. Looking back on that takedown of the first episode of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.
Fun but pointless when you get down to it. No value to it other than lancing a boil. Probably should bear my own admonition to do better in cases like this.
Been behind on posts here. Busy trying to get enough done so that I don’t feel bad about disappearing for five days back down to Los Angeles (yes, I did live there for a time, so I can say ‘back down to’). Looking forward to it. Just had to get enough done at the day job (mostly didn’t) and on my own work (kinda didn’t) so guilt wouldn’t have me working when I was supposed to be not working. Yes, I’ve taken vacations this summer, but they largely weren’t relaxing (for reasons discussed in that post entitled ‘Black Phase’). I won’t belabor them here.
I’ll be hitting up the Long Beach Comic Con when I’m there, trying to make professional contacts, in my wonderfully awkward and fumbling way. I’m fine when I have a keyboard in my hands. In person with folks I don’t know, not so very much. And then I’m supposed to pitch these people the projects that I’m working on and either want them to work with me or for them to publish it? Yeah, that’s a whole order of magnitude more slippery and daunting than I’m good with.
But since we live in a world of author as product it’s something I’d best get better at.
So let’s see. Finished up the story treatment and notes for the first arc of THE FUTURE AMERICA, a little story entitled “Benign Neglect” which is about fame, revenge and figuring out who your friends actually are in the face of the other two. I like the storyline well enough, and it’s got enough characters who aren’t the same old thing that it could really go somewhere. But it’s easy to say that when you don’t have to structure everything (which will be the next step.) I’m thinking six chapters, though I’ve been told that if I want to pitch it to publishers, it has to be five or fewer, which really isn’t a lot of room.
I’ll say it again. A hundred and ten script pages isn’t a lot of room. Especially when those are comic pages and time gets eaten up very very quickly. Honestly, comics writing is the most carefully structured work I’ve ever done because if the page doesn’t work, and you’ve got a sequence of pages that don’t work, well, you don’t have much. Prose you can get away with a lot, even scriptwriting you have a lot of flexibility, but comics have a rhythm that you can’t break. You can mess with it a little, but if you’re out of step, it just won’t work. So I never know what I’ve got until I start making page beats (and even then those are easy to goof up when you call for too much or too little of weight to happen and it will show.)
Just like sequential art is the most demanding art form, it’s the same for writing (even when that writing is submerged but for dialogue.)
Spent some time re-reading the first stories in the early 2000s relaunch of CATWOMAN and was reminded how they’re some great comics. Trying to get a sense of rhythm from those, but that’s also like trying to get basic tips on guitar technique from Billy Zoom. The bones of it are there, though you have to know enough about it to understand what to actually look for. Reminds me that way back when I was first writing about comics, I did an interview with Ed Brubaker which you can read right here. Some interesting stuff in retrospect.
Also been reading X-STATIX and I’m sad I didn’t read this back when it was an ongoing, but glad I waited for the giant collection (which I poached from a half-price sale, so yes, I’m killing the industry.) It was the kind of X-book that I’d liked to have read (and I’d burned out on them long before, though Grant Morrison’s take on the team was one of the things that got me reading superhero books again, if not comics in general.) Aside from that, INVISIBLE REPUBLIC is a favorite right now. Scary good, really, playing a different game than most science fiction comics, which is still a strangely under-represented genre. Never understood quite why. Sure. There’s lots of science fiction action out there, but precious little actual SF. INVISIBLE REPUBLIC breaks out of that form, though, and mixes in political thriller, mystery and even detective noir (if I am permitted to stretch that term some). It’s not flashy though, which probably works to its disadvantage, at least in the marketplace.
So, Los Angeles. Get to see folks who I only usually see online and get to go take a lot of pictures of settings that might show up in SMOKETOWN or LOCUSTS or even in another thing I’m tangentially involved with that isn’t comics at all but goes out under the tentative title of DEPARTMENT OF LIGHT AND SHADOW (though maybe BUREAU is a better first word in that — will work on it.)
Not sure I mentioned this here, but I did make a short story placement over the summer. “Chunked,” which is unusual in that it’s overtly Lovecraftian, is scheduled to appear in an anthology called TOMORROW’S CTHULHU which is weird and exciting. Weird, well, because it’s a story that is if anything an unsentimental take on things, certainly not reverent towards HPL or his creations that others have endlessly reworked. Should be interesting to see how its received (and I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s been accepted for this anthology.) Trying to place a few more stories because I’m honestly really tired of working on things that will either not have my name on them (as was the case for the lion’s share of writing I did in the last five years) or won’t be seen by anyone.
To that end, I released “The Black Mass Variations,” which is also a Lovecraftian story, or at least has a Lovecraftian hook, though it’s not about squirming Elder Gods or anything like that, except in only the most tangential fashion. I’ll include a picture of the cover below because it’s one that I’m pretty proud of. Best of all, the whole thing is only .99 for your Kindle device (and Amazon exclusive for now, sorry.)
I will say that working on pitches gets draining because it’s like building the scaffolding for a play that maybe people will get to see one day (but they’ll never see the structure behind the sets). It would be nice to work on a thing that will be read in its entirety. Yes, I know, I can self-publish, but then there’s the whole howling void problem. Publishing is the easy part. Getting noticed is damn near impossible.
With any luck, though, I won’t have to think about that for the next few days. Just taking pictures and smog and eating Mexican food and maybe buying some cheap comics or hitting real actual bookstores (Barnes and Noble kinda doesn’t count). Oh, and there’s that Jack Kirby exhibit at Northridge. And Taschen is supposed to be having an exhibit of Mick Rock’s photographs of Ziggy-era David Bowie, so that should be fun. And just driving around poking at the exposed bones of history in LA. There’s still plenty of them around no matter the cliché about old LA being long gone and only half-dead homicide cops too burned out to have a family but still mean it man when they talk about how old LA is all that really matters and gimme another drink whaddya mean I can’t smoke in this bar?
There might be an update from the road, but don’t bet anything important on it.
Just slap this on while you read. Trust me.
I sat down with my son last night to watch the new WALKING DEAD spin-off show, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD which is really not a good title, but what are you going to do? You’ve got to invoke the mother franchise or people might not know that this is another show on AMC following THE WALKING DEAD which is also about zombies is really another WALKING DEAD show? I mean, come on. You gotta lead the horses to water, right?
My issues with THE WALKING DEAD are pretty numerous and insoluble. After a really outstanding first episode (right up until the time our hero met the other humans trapped in the department store and then Wang Chung) we got treated to sometimes zombies and an ever tenuous grasp of morality. Yes, I know. It’s the end of the world existential struggle and what would you do? Well, I’d try to look at the possibility of building something. But that’s not in the DNA of this show is it? We dance around the teased origin story of the zombies because that would be the key to stopping them but really the humans who are the walking dead are much more dangerous both to continued existence and the characters’ sense of humanity. Eat or be eaten, beat or be beaten. Hobbes would have loved this stuff, right? We play all kinds of music: nasty, mean, brutish *and* short.
So yeah, I don’t make time for it anymore (tried for a couple weeks this last season and I guess I’ll watch it when it hits Netflix because I’ll watch any damn zombie thing — well, most any) but I’m not waiting on pins and needles about it. Continue reading FULL BLEED: TOMBE DELLA CITTÁ
Ready to put summer well behind me. The last several months have been asphalt on the tongue rough, and seemingly unending. When you’re in a grim situation and it seems like it’s always been that way and like it will ever be this way? That’s exhausting in a way that’s tough to describe.
That said, the heat’s breaking and the angle of the sun has swung back around leading to Fall. Feels like that corner’s been turned. Kids are back in school, though it still takes deadly force to get them up in the morning, which is getting old.
So as the day job and dad life allows, it’s back to work on things. STRANGEWAYS still simmers, still need a cover artist for it, too. Would like to do something special given that’s this is likely to be the last STRANGEWAYS book, but I do need to accept reality. SMOKETOWN is still going, in theory, but very slowly.
Of course that means the best move I could possibly make is to start something else, right? Yup.
20XX: THE FUTURE AMERICA is another of those concepts that I’ve had floating around for awhile, just as a handful of notes and half-realized story ideas, bits of background and inspiration. You know, a mess. But let’s focus in on a bit of that mess and look at that word “inspiration.”
If I call out a movie as an inspiration point, say, 2001. What I’m looking for is that same sense of gracefulness and vastness and ultimately strangeness. I’m not asking for the space suits to be constructed exactly the same way or for there to be malicious computers (or cavemen and monoliths for that matter.) I’m looking for something that vibes the same way, or maybe not even the same way but gets to the same kind of place.
Only not by outright copying things. Sure, you can get a lot of traction in today’s marketplace by just filing off the serial numbers and offering someone else’s work as your own. Or if you’re really clever, mashing two things together and fitting the pieces into a kinda sorta new thing. Only the original parts usually show through (often by design so that you know you’re supposed to like this new thing because it’s like two other things you already like.)
THE FUTURE AMERICA comes out of a lot of different sources/inspirations. I won’t deny any of it. The trick is knowing that and using them as a starting point, not a destination. And, as the title suggests, it’s sort-of science fiction (though purists will call it ‘speculative fiction’ and dismiss it on that basis — but then the same thing happened with MAX HEADROOM and that show has proved to hold up a lot better than more celebrated SF from the same time period, so, nyah.) I also have to tackle the fact that a lot of the same themes are going to pop up, but can’t just lean on the stuff that’s been done before. If anything, it’s an opportunity because you know and I know that these stories have been told before, so I have to push past the expected.
Which actually makes things easier in a way. Yeah, it should be harder, but it’s not.
The hard part is stringing together a story out of all these disparate pieces. The world-building is good and all, but that’s just the maze for the critters to run around (and it’s not really a maze because the actions of the characters should change the walls around instead of just hem them in).
I’d talk more at this point, but think I’m about done. If you want to get a look at some of the source/inspiration for THE FUTURE AMERICA, head on over here:
Some of the roots will be pretty obvious, others less so. I mean if you could predict it all, it wouldn’t be any fun, right? Don’t answer that, because sometimes I look around and it’s like people want the same thing rewarmed. And sure, there are moments where only watching ROBOCOP again will scratch that itch, but that’s like the nice china. You can’t eat off that every day.
So yeah, it’s clear that THE FUTURE AMERICA, which starts in the year 20XX on what may as well be Earth-VHS comes from many sources. You can be sure that I’ll do my best to make sure it stands up as its own thing and not just as by-the-numbers anything else. And I’m pretty sure that Jok and the rest of the artists at Estudio Haus, who are working on series, wouldn’t be interested in working on anything generic.
Oh, and as for “Benign Neglect”? That’s the first story arc, which covers everything from the obligations of friendship to urban planning to reality television and the monetization of the other. Also revenge. Bloody revenge.
I’ll keep you all posted.
I didn’t come up with that phrase. Neko Case did. She’s a better writer than she’ll ever get credit for. At least I assume that. I don’t read record reviews or thinkpieces, though I’ve been known to read histories (oral and otherwise).
I mean, she wrote the line “I wanted so badly not to be me” and the first time I heard it, I got scared because I knew exactly what was meant by it because I was living in that feeling. I’d carved a little house in there, getting under the skin and hollowing it out so that I could hide. Of course, I wanted to hide from that self-alienation as much as I wanted to hide in it.
Some of the reason for that is probably evident from journals posted recently, no need to link back to them. If you’ve been reading along, you know what I’m talking about, if not, let’s just say that there’s some things that you wouldn’t wish on a person you hate and sometimes you wake up to find that that wish came true, only for you and your family.
And that’s not a thing you get to choose. So all you get to do is live with it.
Then continue on with the rest of your life because it’s still happening even if you want to go back and live in that hollowed-out place and make the rest of it go away. Maybe that’s what other folks call depression; I don’t know what name to give it but that one doesn’t seem right.
So I’m trying to get back into writing again. It’s been awhile. Yeah, that story I posted? That was written back in late 2013. I’ve written a couple of short stories since then. Then there was the novel which was best described as “tortured”, including a full draft, complete tear-down of that draft and re-writing and still not being satisfied with it, but having to turn in something. There’s more in there, but that’s enough to get the general feel of the rolling disaster.
Then there’s BLACK TRACE, which was re-written (after a not-cheap editing process), new chapters worked in and every page getting worked over. Of course, there’s not much to show for that, given the agenting process (no I don’t have one). So in a lot of ways it’s as if nothing happened with it, which is extremely frustrating given the amount of work that’s gone into it.
Everything else I’ve written has been pre-writing for a variety of pitches that I have to keep thinking will turn into something, though that optimism has begun to be in shorter and shorter supply. At some point, that drive turns into something else: a line of questions that demand answers. And sometimes the answers that are spelled out in those broken pieces and story notes and boxes of unsold books aren’t the ones you wanted to hear.
Mostly because it’s easy to read any kind of message into those spilled entrails. Without anything else to build on, though, those readings start to get pretty dark. I’ll be honest. I’ve been at this for awhile, and it’s not just in regards to BLACK TRACE that I don’t have much to show for it. I’ve written and put together two pretty good graphic novels, but (aside from a handful of positive readers, for which I’m more thankful than you’ll ever know) those mostly came and went without a trace. Even when posted on a pretty decently-trafficked comics website. If they were read by editors who I didn’t already know personally, I never heard about it.
The stack of rejection slips from science fiction outlets is pretty damning, too. Of course, I’m not submitting to non-paying outlets. Honestly if I’m going to do that, I’ll run off to the Howling Pit of self-publishing instead. Unfortunately, at least in prose, the dire predictions of self-publishing becoming a sea of slush are largely come to pass. Not only that, but we live in a world of text-scrapers and novelty erotica (sorry, but no raptor is going to be interested in pounding your virgin butt) and honestly stuff that just isn’t very good at all (but very earnest). But it’s all got an equal footing, right? Three cheers for the Long Tail!
So I’m working on a bunch of pitch ideas, primarily for comics. And I’m trying to be honest about what’s good and bad about them, but I have to wonder if there’s anything to them at all. Or any of the other writing. I’m grateful for the praise that my work has gotten in the past, but pride is tough and stringy and doesn’t get the kids fed. And I try to tell myself that the success isn’t an externally-granted condition, but my ability to continue to believe that is exhausted on a daily basis.
And when that fire gutters, you are well and truly cold.
I wish I had more wonderful writing advice for you, more incisive wit, more retweetable moments. But I really don’t, not when it comes to my work. I’m out. All I’m doing now is the stuff that I’m capable of. All I can do.
I’ll try for more positive news next week. Maybe something will break on THE FUTURE AMERICA. All I’ve done tonight is figure out that maybe the main character I thought I’d have at the center of things isn’t a good one which just makes me happy that I’m at outline stage instead of done with the first draft because I’ve thrown out the first fifty percent of a book before and it’s about the worst feeling there is. But then I’m used to a decent amount of outlining (at least on long prose — short prose I just form up the general idea and run with it) so the surprises aren’t major.
Of course, I used to think I was pretty good at this and then that fire lays down and disappears like the wind is blowing hard.
So awhile ago, I wrote this story for an anthology that had one of those open calls that you hear about, but never seem to quite work out. I don’t get it. I mean, they wanted stories about the Apocalypse, and boy is this one ever.
I know. They wanted some good ‘ol misery-wallowing, which is something I don’t do very well.
This may not stay up forever, so read it while it’s here.
This is just a preview, as the whole thing is going up on Amazon only Amazon is freaking out because the preview is available and if they don’t want it, maybe Smashwords does.
The world was perfectly deteriorated, every streak of weathering and wear placed with deliberation and thought. Stacks of emergency supplies were still wrapped in shiny plastic, red block lettering only half-visible underneath. Ross thought it was bags of rice and beans and maybe some clean water. It was stuff that someone else wanted, but they weren’t going to get. Not this time.
He cranked the safety off of the Armalite AR-15 and sighted along the scope. It wasn’t the best scope that he could get, but it would have to do. Not like he had a lot to choose from now. But at least he was going to keep all this food. He just had to hold these guys off a little bit longer. They didn’t have the guts for a sustained attack.
The sun was bright, too bright, the whole place feeling overexposed and washed out. Dust blew through the street leading up to the Chevroco station, and he was up on the roof now. The supplies were in plain sight below.
Yeah, not so funny picking on me anymore, is it?
Told you it wouldn’t stay around very long.
Don’t worry, you’ll be able to read it again sometime, just that you’ll have to buy it now. Watch this space.