Heads-up warning on two more photosets that I just posted to my Flickr page.
Featuring visits to Chris Cooper’s studio, the South Coast Plaza, the giant tombstones to the past at the former Tustin air base, the Warner Brothers backlots, a collection of (in)famous vehicles, the original Bob’s Big Boy, and of course, neon.
Featuring the Art Deco beauty of the Orinda Theatre, sushi, videogames at the High Scores Arcade Museum and antique shopping in Almeda.
Quick update to let you know that I’ve posted the best of the photos from my recent(ish) trip to Seattle to attend the Emerald City Comic Convention a couple months back.
THE NEW BLACK
Time for a change. And this is an easy one to make.
Let’s us be honest for a moment. Blogs aren’t something done to build an audience with these days. They’re value-added. So when folks can’t get enough of someone’s work, well, blogging is a pretty good substitute for doing more work.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. If I was in a position where I was using this as a platform to get more readers for my prose and comics, I’d keep on with it. But whatever this is, it’s not that. That’s been true for quite some time, like since the first time I put FULL BLEED on the top of a column page and kept at it for a year and then two years, without pay both times. This, of course, was back in 2003 when it was reasonable to think that a column at a decently-read comics site might actually get some more eyeballs on your comics project (all it ever did was get me nods at Journalista! and others.) Satisfying to the heart, perhaps, but not much in terms of moving the needle.
Sure, I got two books of non-fiction writing out of it (you can go buy this one or the other one at Amazon if you’re so inclined, and most of you aren’t — not a complaint, but a fact.) Still, they’re there on the shelf and they look pretty good with all the Futura bold on the spine. But back to honest, this isn’t a destination on a regular basis for many readers. Nor is this the important work. Hell, it’s not even just blowing off steam. This is talk about the work from just another of thousands of writers out there trying to ply their trade.
But it isn’t the work that matters, is it? I’ve already said a piece or three about comics and what works/what doesn’t. And that’s just for me, mind you. I’m not delusional enough to suggest that because I see a thing and pick on it that it’s a problem for anyone but me. I’ve only ever hoped that doing so would kick a thought or two loose in the reader’s brain. There are, however, more productive ways to do that.
You know, that whole “don’t complain in reply to art, but instead make art” trip. And I’m not able to convince myself that writing say, a takedown of 2014’s GODZILLA is actual art worth spending time on (though I’m awful proud of that title and only wish the move had half its guts). Originally this week’s entry (which should’ve gone out last week) was going to be about genre labeling, but that’s a dead horse and I’m done beating it. I can only do the work at this point. That’s what matters and that’s what’s should’ve mattered.
Just that it was awful tempting to find a back door into my work getting acceptance by going with a column and getting my name on everyone’s lips like that. Didn’t work then, not so much more effective now. Not that it wasn’t fun, either. But things change over time.
So expect a different sort of thing over here from now on. I might even talk process again (but right now the process is in the outlining phase, arguably the hardest thing for me to do, particularly as I haven’t had to outline a new project from scratch for several years) but don’t hold your breath. Much more likely to just post interesting research bits here and there and reblog some stuff that I’ve found elsewhere. But its well past time for the work to do the talking.
Now if someone wants to offer me a paying gig to lob pearls of wisdom into the maw of a waiting populace, well, you know where to find me.
So last week was the whole preview for THE LAND WILL KNOW, right? Yeah, I know. I should keep better track of what goes on at my own weblog, but the fact is that I have Twitter, several Tumblr blogs, a minor Facebook page as well as what goes on here at highway-62.com. I should probably consolidate, but instead I’m moving in the opposite direction and diversifying, or intensifying. Something.
This week has been split between the day job and getting things rolling on the many-linked-projects project I’m calling SMOKETOWN, in particular the chunk of it called MY WINGS ARE BLACK, which I’ve advertised as old-testament horror/noir. That’s as good a descriptor as any. Specially since it’s really treading a whole bunch of other territories, just using the wrath of god as a hook. I mean, who wants to hear that it’s actually about balancing out the Gnostic and Manichean views of the Creation while bouncing off concepts of creation and authorship and mixing in a stew of variously-broken characters who play off one another? Nobody wants to hear that. If you told them that’s what they were reading, they probably wouldn’t want to read it, either.
Well, there’s some who would. But not enough of them. That’s why you’ve got to head-fake with genre dress-up at times.
Okay, that’s probably more harshly stated than it was meant to be, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The best entertainments, much less the best examples of whatever media you choose, are always head-faking. It’s the sugar-coated pill, right? That’s one of the handful of critical tools I grabbed on to in all my college lit-crit and theory studies. Pretty simple. Serve up spinach wrapped in bacon (or kale, whatever) and people don’t know that they’re eating spinach. Dress the story well enough and readers move along with things, even when they slow down just a tad. That whole subtext thing. For instance, you watch THE MATRIX and you don’t realize that you’re being given a Cliffs Notes crash course in Gnostic studies and the dangers of the Demiurge. You’re just watching stuff happen and only sorta paying attention at the talky parts, but enough of that just may get through, maybe even a new idea or two sticks. Maybe the next time a similar story comes along, you’re better primed for it.
I won’t dwell on this too long. In fact, I’m probably done already. See. That wasn’t so bad.
So at this stage of the game, it’s all about the research. As I probably said last week, SMOKETOWN has been kicking around in my head for a long time. Remember, it’s not the ideas that are valuable, but the development and execution. If someone comes up to you and wants to collaborate, saying “I’ve got this great, million-dollar idea and all you need to do is just write it out,” well you just run away. Or stay and laugh. Whichever.
The idea is the easiest damn part. The development is where stuff actually happens, and you get to differentiate your work from the hundred other variations on that same idea that have come along already. See? I told you the idea wasn’t the good part. The idea helps, particularly if you can weave it into a good, snappy title. But the truth of it is that it’s already been done. It’s probably being done even as you sit there and try to make things happen. Trick is to do it your way.
I’ve had the idea and a rough story outline for awhile, some early research, mostly to work the story spine into something that can carry a little weight. Now it’s time to build a world up. In this case, the city of San Angelo somewhere loosely between 1935 and 1945. Where’s San Angelo? Coastal southern California, Los Angeles but not.
Since comics are a vastly different medium than prose, my research has to go in completely different directions than it ordinarily would. It’s 99% visual at this point. Architecture, fashion, faces, atmosphere, everything. Since San Angelo itself needs to be a character in this piece, it needs to be nailed down, or at least enough signposts need to be set up so that Luis (Guragña that is) has what he needs to get there. And since I can’t guarantee he’s had the same experiences/media upbringing that I have, I’ll need to sketch things out.
To that end, I’ve set up an online research library via Tumblr. This may bite me on the butt, but I’m willing to put some time into it. Mostly because San Angelo, if things work out, is a space that a lot of stories will be running around in and through. So it matters to get the bones set properly and early.
Here, you can see for yourself:
You’ll have to go a couple pages in to get to the meat of the research. Up top is a whole bunch of esoterica, which is related, but not the actual setting/space for the story. Go ahead, dig around some. Most of what I found there was as a result of spending time here:
Which is a tremendous collection of both public and private photography/history of the greater Los Angeles area, going back as far as 1875 and right up to the current day. Honestly, I’m in debt to all the contributors here. Sure, I could track this stuff down on my own, but they’ve been generous enough to put time and effort into this, not only putting up the images (or finding them in archives) but making connections and giving things context. It’s not quite as good as having a time machine, but by the same token, it’s not very far off from that.
So, working my way (partially as of now) through this, I’ve pulled a bunch of images of not just workaday Los Angeles, years 1925-1955, but some really unusual and distinctive pieces. There’s pieces that are marked up just for atmosphere, some for nuts and bolts details, some for fashion and others just ‘cause they’re too cool not to look at a second time. The only trick will be to not overwhelm any artists I might end up working with, but if they need it, well, it’ll be there waiting for them.
I’ve got a bit more visual research to do, some in the field of esoterica/occult, but a lot in fashions and the day-to-day look of things. Of course, I’m going to be slippery about the exact timing of things, so there’s some fluidity in fashion. Mostly I just want to get the right vibe caught on the page. Then I’ve got some actual fine art research to tack down. Some of it in Art Deco design, but also I’d like to spend some time on the Futurists and integrate some of that multidimensionality/energy into some of the designs of the fantastic elements that will be part of MY WINGS ARE BLACK. So yeah, I want to do angels as part of this, but I want to have them done in a way that isn’t just a rehash.
Still got my work cut out for me in terms of the story, but immersion in the visual side of things will help give me some frame to hang things on, inspire a setting or two or three and try to get things placed in a way that the location not only becomes an interesting component, but essential to the events of the story. Sure, that’s important in prose stories, but even more so in comics (and a part that often seems to get short shrift, particularly because so many comics take place in an ostensible here and now that shorthands a lot because it’s supposed to be our world.) I’ve always wanted my settings to be crucial to things (something which I didn’t always get a chance to do in STRANGEWAYS, though there were some moments of it). Hoping to make the work now pay off in the first SMOKETOWN stories and for a long time after.
Honestly, I wanted to talk about story weight/structure in comics and television narratives this week, but it got away from me and there’s too much other stuff to do. But this is a subject I’d like to get back to and spend some time on. In many ways, the Netflix series adaptation of DAREDEVIL is a pretty perfect example to look at, how it does some things better than the comics and *why* it can do that because of how the show itself is structured. Let’s just say that 13 episodes of 50 minutes apiece makes for pretty dense individual chunks of story, and monthly 32-page comics issues have a very hard time competing directly.
Oh, one more thing. Ran across (speaking of ideas and originality) an acquaintance’s work this week which, on one level, reads almost exactly like SMOKETOWN. This was frustrating and kinda daunting, honestly. But I also thought about it a moment and knew that he and I (as well as our respective collaborator artists/colorists/letterers) would approach this from completely different angles and ultimately write very different works. Mentioned it to him in passing and instead of laughing or getting defensive about it, all he said was “make it your own” which is all I’ve ever tried to do with anything that I’ve worked on. So that was good to hear from someone not me. Working in a vacuum, as I’ve said before, sucks.
Back next week.
Different flavor of update this week. Here’s some art from Luis Guragña for STRANGEWAYS book 3, THE LAND WILL KNOW. Still pushing for this to be completed this year for a release early next year. There’s a whole host of artists, as the book is composed of a group of short stories all bound together by a unifying bridge (with art by Gervasio and Jok from Estudio Haus, who like Luis, have been with STRANGEWAYS since the beginning.)
In addition to the above, there’s art by Gabriel Hardman, Tom Fowler, Reid Psaltis, Alex Sheikman, Tony Morgan, Tom Neely and others.
Also bringing this up as Luis has signed up to do some further work with me, likely under the name SMOKETOWN. I’m envisioning stories connected by place, that being the city of San Angelo (more often known as Smoketown). The first storyline we’ll be working on is the old-testament noir I’m calling MY WINGS ARE BLACK (which I’ve talked up before, at least in terms of research, etc). I may resurrect some of that as a look into the process, but mostly I need to write the actual thing.
I don’t plan on self-publishing this. Not wholly, anyways. It’ll still be set firmly between genres (horror/drama/noir/other) as is my way of doing things. Not that I hate genres. I like ‘em. I just hate trying to live by genre boundaries when they’re mostly used to sell the work. I’d rather be inclusive than exclusive, dig?
Lots of other work to do in the meantime. Day job, be dad, be a good husband (and Mr. Mom), take care of myself (if you don’t, nobody else will) and try to keep sane by posting macro photographs of comics on Intrapanel. Trying to balance this is tricky, specially since this is at pitch stage (aka “pipe dream” and not actually paying as of yet.)
So, anyways, editors, here we are! I guarantee it’s not going to look or feel exactly like anything else on the stands. Come get us before we become hot property.
Back next week.
I managed to trap myself yesterday, pretty bad. Not gonna bog you down with the personal details that you’re not really interested in, but last week was no damn good. This week not so much either. Let it all catch up to me, or I guess you could say I jumped into the cage myself. Whichever. Little of both because the truth of it is that it takes energy not to jump into the cage and pull the door shut behind you.
A lot of this, work-wise comes from the push and pull of trying to validate all this work by making it sell. Figuring out what’s going to work and second guessing yourself is bad enough. It can cripple as badly as being hit by a car. But when I (and maybe even you) start hamstringing myself with what’s got a chance of selling, much less working, and I dwell on that for any length of time? Yeah, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Truth of it is, knowing what will sell is a misnomer (at least on the onset — in theory one gets so well known that they can do pretty much anything and it’ll sell to an audience). Ain’t nobody knows, and anyone whose telling you different is lying, else we’d see nothing but best-sellers from every publisher, record company and movie studio forever and ever. That’s not how this works. Still, the work has to work.
And that’s where I’m killing myself. Thinking too many moves ahead. That’s just as useless as thinking about how the best work is all in the past, whether it be books, movies, music, cartoons, etc etc. Or that your best work is in the past because if it is, well then why are you bothering, right?
Of course, those aren’t the problems that I’ve been having. Mine has been more just connecting, which is a frustrating process when in the best of times, I’m only able to do about 30% time on work. Yes, I know. That’s not acceptable and if only you were devoted enough to do 100% work time you’d be successful. That’s also not a reasonable expectation in my situation.
So yeah, frustration boils over and you lose a day doing nothing, hating everything you do, feeling boxed in and that it’ll always be this way. That last one’s the killer, the real crippler.
I know. “Abloo! Abloo! Life’s so unfair!” Got it.
So, for real work update? Hah. It’s all pitch revision and in some cases, creation. Unfortunately, pitches and storylines are where all the work is front-loaded. It’s the hundred pages of stuff that nobody sees, and an editor might see five pages of. Think about that again. A hundred pages of work that nobody sees and the editor I’m pitching to sees a distillation of about 5 pages, maybe. That hundred pages still has to get written before a thing gets done. Character arcs, worldbuilding, aesthetics (this is comics after all), plot arcs (both initial plotting and have enough to continue from). At least the whole of a novel gets seen, right? Not development stuff. Which is done solo, in my case, I suppose others have a group to bounce things off of. I don’t. And I have a lot of other stuff to do, so building the mountain that has to get carved into Mt. Rushmore seems like a daunting task, particularly when the success rate of your earlier works is what mine is. But enough of that. Just know that a pitch isn’t something you dash off in an afternoon even when you have the smoking hot idea for it. The smoking hot idea, by the way, is the easiest part.
Working on further revision of RAGNAROK SUMMER, which is about 2/3 done. Probably one final pass on top of that. I realize it’s not going to reach perfection, but I’ve got no use for that. I do need to finish more.
STRANGEWAYS grinds along. I’m tempted to post a page from Luis’ Guragña’s story just to show you all how good he is now, but the one I want to show is a massive spoiler and that ain’t fair. Still have one story that needs an artist assigned (and it’s a challenge so, I don’t want to hand it out lightly) as well as a cover. Cover’s kinda important. Need it to be eye-catching, hint at the story, but keep in the tradition of a graphic style, so those make it a tall order to fill. I’m still optimistic for it to be finished this year and released next, but optimism is the opiate of the artist or something.
Still doing creative unwinding work over at Intrapanel. Taking macro photographs of comics beats alcohol as a way to ease down.
Also spent part of last weekend at the San Jose comics fest known as Big Wow! and I’ll have to write that up another time. Oh, and some thoughts on the Netflix DAREDEVIL series and the nature of serial entertainment structures with regards to television and movies and comics (mostly not movies, but a little bit.) Again, those will have to be separate entries. Gotta wrap this one up.
Well, I went this far without blowing a deadline.
I’ll get an update this week. Kinda grim all ’round, really. String of rejections, some more polite than others. Really the phrase “perhaps with some time and an editor you might be good enough to write for our-non-pro-level-pay anthology” sets me off in several ways.
One day I’ll start feeling like I’m not in a transitional state, right? Maybe that’s the deal. Always changing. Or always moving away from another burning wreck to another as the hull finally slips below the waterline, just in time for the engine room to catch fire. Rinse repeat.
Been thinking things over since the Emerald City show, as written up last week. For all the talk about the third STRANGEWAYS book in there, I’d basically walked away from comics, putting THE LAND WILL KNOW out for sheer cussedness more than anything else. It’s not a money-making proposition. It’s the third book in a series that precious few people have read, in black and white, an anthology and based in a genre that (while enjoying kind of a minor revival) is on the outs.
However, it’s a story I wanted to do (a series of stories, really) and what’s more, I wanted to do it the way it’s being done (hand-picked artists for the stories, perhaps an overly-indulgent framing sequence, everyone paid on the delivery of their pages, no imaginary back end payments). It hasn’t been optimal, much of that on me being distracted by any number of other things that all have been more important than getting this book done. But it is happening.
And that’s pretty cool. Even if it’s exhausting, as is the reality of having to go through the promotional gantlet all over again (at least now it’s the age of people accepting PDF previews). And it was pretty cool being on the show floor, talking with artists who are working on the book and a bunch whose work I just know even if I’m not working with them this time around.
During all that, I began to come to a realization about a lot of my own work, the prose work that is. Namely that a lot of what I’ve been trying to work out as a novel isn’t working out because the ideas are just too visual or I couldn’t grapple with them properly in prose. So maybe they’re not supposed to be prose.
Which is not an inconsiderable conclusion to come to. Doing comics scripting is not nearly the same thing as writing novels. Duh. And it’s sure not the same thing when it comes to production. I can write one of them on my own. Comics? No way. Now that’s part of the fun of them, but it also becomes an expensive proposition. I’ve always paid artists on page delivery even when money isn’t coming down the pipeline until long after the fact (MURDER MOON went through a pretty long birthing process, as longtime readers will know.) This isn’t nobility, but common decency. If an artist wants to work for a limited page rate but paid on the back end, that’s great, but everyone’s got bills to pay.
Particularly rough when you’re self-publishing. Listen, it’s not all milk and cookies. Yes, you get to do the book the way you want to and hold all those rights. It’s also hard to get into the pipeline (by which I mean more than just showing up in the Diamond catalog). Specially when you’re self-publishing collections (though I’ll maintain that self-publishing single issues is a bigger roll of the dice since Diamond may elect to drop distribution if you aren’t making benchmarks, which are harder to reach when your book shows up in the back of the catalog).
Swimming uphill might be fulfilling, but it’s also tiring.
I know. Life is tiring, old man.
All of this is a meandering set up for talking about doing things differently. Some of this comes from the contract that I was on for the last five years (well-paid but otherwise a mixed bag) being up and realizing things aren’t moving while I’m swimming uphill. So I’ll take another turn.
Spent the first part of this year working on pitches for some fun things that I’m not holding my breath for. But they’re straight-out work-for-hire pitches, make no mistake. Yes, I’m still doing a bunch of creator-owned work, mostly on the prose side, but that also means prose turnaround times for short story market pay (ha!). And I’ll continue doing shorts for ideas that make sense (oddly, most of my short story ideas are specifically not good for comics but instead for prose) but long form fiction? Only maybe. BLUE HIGHWAY is still going through the submission process and I’m not yet ready to abandon it to the world of self-publishing. I still have revisions to do to RAGNAROK SUMMER, but time’s been scattered for that. Really need to shift it to the top of the pile.
Then it’s on to my first new comics project in a very long time. I figure it’ll be THE KING OF ALL THE DEAD, which is something that’s been kicking around for a long time (even announced work on the prose version at quiet times in the work schedule a couple years back, always ended being abandoned because it didn’t fit as a prose book). I won’t talk too much about it and instead actually work on it, though I’ve tagged some research postings at the Tumblr site so you can get an idea of what’s going on. There’s a whole bunch of background pulled together, a rough plot that needs some more shaping. Mostly I need to pick out a good 5-page sequence or bite the bullet and script the first issue and pull that together.
Of course, that brings us back to paying the artist (nope, not even picked out) long before anything like a cash flow is started. This time around, I’ve gotta figure out getting a colorist paid as well. Yes, black and white books get launched these days, but mostly they got launched years ago and have continued to the present day. I dunno, maybe I’ll stick to my guns and try to launch it black and white.
For awhile I was thinking of launching myself into a long-form series and then I came to my senses. Something with a limited run, beginning middle end, straight-up and self-contained narrative is a better exercise (probably a little easier to sell, too. Or at least to see through to the finish.) So yeah, not going to try to do a multi-year narrative first thing out of the gate. Ambition has its uses, but it’s also a heckuva a drug.
Feels like I’m doing too much, too many directions. But that comes from jumping from wreck to wreck, right? Thing is, it feels more right than trying to decide which microgenre my prose fits into and sweat submissions. That’s one of the great things about comics (I mean outside the Big Two) is that there is a wider diversity of potential genres able to make it into audiences’ hands (okay, romance still has a ways to go) than there certainly used to be. And, like I said before, going to comics shows, I get the feeling that the audience is thriving in a way that it simply isn’t in the prose-driven (SF) shows that I’ve been going to. One’s fighting a rear-guard action and the other is pushing forward.
Yes, comics could still hit a wider audience, but it feels like it’s *trying* to, and given the growth at even non-media/celebrity-driven shows, more people are looking into comics now. Vocal minorities aside, there’s more freedom in comics now and a more vibrant audience to get stories to. No, it’s not perfect. Ain’t no system is. This isn’t an excuse, but something more like acceptance.
This has gone on too long. Wrapping it up. But I’ll bring it back to Adrian Borland, who gave me the title for this entry. Just remember: “From the safest places come the bravest words.” Talk remains cheap.
EMERALD CITY COMIC-CON 2015
So yeah, this whole get in a plane and fly to a show is kind of a big deal. And I wouldn’t even be doing that if it weren’t for Twitter (now real-life-) friend Rich Amtower, who got me hooked up with a 3-day pass (yeah, those sold out a little while ago). So thanks, Rich. But it’s also kind of a scary threshold to cross for a show, when folks have to line up to get their entertainment fix. I know that there’s nothing to be done to change that. This isn’t a dig on the management of the show. They’re confined to the available space, and they’ve just filled it up. Demand outstrips supply. Happens. Just means I need to be more on the ball.
And honestly, there’s no changes to be made to it. Yes, the show is going to a four-day format next year, but that won’t change a darn thing. It’ll still be just as busy (barring devastating meteor impact or retrovirus or resurrected dinosaur rampage) next year. Unless I’m exhibiting (yeah, it could happen), I can’t see being there for all four days next time around, but I bet most of the regular con-goers will find a way to make that happen.
Pretty sure that the last time I was here, the show was only using part of the main floor, and it felt plenty big. This year, it’s all of the main floor, several side rooms and the entirety of the top floor was being used as autographs/celebrity holding pen and a second artist’s alley (which I sadly did not get as much chance to explore as I wanted to.) The whole building is being utilized. Which makes ECCC #2 or #3 in comic con attendance, probably #3 now that I think on it more, behind SDCC and NYCC. Nowehere else to go except to a secondary building, which doesn’t seem to be a possibility.
Huge. Well-managed growth. Almost unrecognizable from the old shows at Safeco from what must be nearly ten years ago now, maybe not quite that long. Hats off to the team, ’cause I’d have driven the works off the end of a pier long ago.
Spent the night before the trip up not sleeping because that’s how I work. It’s fun. You should try it. You get to wander around in a daze even before you’ve had the first drink of the night. Read Peter York’s STYLE WARS on the plane ride up (and back). Can’t recommend it enough (and in turn it was recommended to me by fellow traveller Andrew Weiss). Anyone who’s interested in culture/class/fashion/music/history will have something to chew on there. Since I’m interested in all four, I was in bliss.
Until my taxi hit the Seneca turn-off of I-5 and was stuck in traffic for what seemed like an hour. Soul-destroying traffic back-up there. Always. Checked in at the hotel which was nicer than I deserve, I’m sure, but on the far side from the convention center (though there was an upside to that, as once you got two blocks away from Pike or University, the crowds disappeared.) Walked over to the Barnes and Noble to kill some time. Read over the wall of offerings in the SF section and was kind of appalled. Sure, there’s some good stuff. But there’s a whole damn lot of samey stuff that seemed to be selected and promoted on the same basis as we choose politicians: lack of experience, relative un-taintedness from time in the industry, ready made franchises that promise four books of the same experience over and over. Hell, I just want one good one. Doesn’t even have to be long.
Oh, and reading the magazine section made me feel like I’d fallen back in time to maybe 2003. All of these fancy publications carefully curated and offering content that’s weeks or months old already. ADBUSTERS felt positively quaint compared to my tumblr feed, and I tend to cull anti-establishment types (who aren’t entertaining) pretty quickly. Besides, where would I put any of these magazines once I bought them? The content’s already at the magazine’s site. Why buy the paper?
More on that later, I suppose.