Monthly Archives: January 2012

Quick Review: DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O’Neil

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of writing texts. I don’t remember who, maybe Peter David, said that it is important for a writer to continually learn new things about the craft of writing. So, without further ado, lets get to the book review.

The book is geared, obviously, for writers seeking to write largely for superhero comics. However, the book can be adapted for non superhero comics or even non comics in general.

The text is interesting and easy to follow. The style of writing is easy to understand and is quite engaging. It is almost like Mr. O’Neil is just talking or teaching a class. Which is a strong plus, if you ask me.

One thing that separates out this book is that there is a focus on older styles of comic book writing (namely one issue stories) that can build one to writing longer and more involved works.

Another strength is the second section in which various formats of story telling is explored. From miniseries to graphic novels and ongoing series, all of them are explored.

There are some problems, though. One can’t help but wish that there were some exercises included in the text to help novice writers more fully hone their crafts. That and there is little advice given on how to break into the industry.

If I were pressed to pick a single writing guide for comic books, I think I would go with Peter David’s Writing for Comics. But I would still recommend DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics for anyone looking to learn how to write for comic books.

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Fantasy Beyond the Feudal: Bas-Lag and Earthland

I’m an idiot. As I was working on this draft, I suddenly realized there are two series that encapsulate my argument that fantasy can exist beyond the common feudal setting: China Mieville’s Bas-Lag and Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail.

Yes, its steampunk, but the Bas-Lag novels are more fantasy than science fiction. And just because something is “punk” does not mean that it is science fiction.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous work on Bas-Lag, New Crobuzon, and other parts of the world, have a technological and cultural basis inspired by the later Victorian era. This is ameliorated by the many different and weird states that exist alongside New Crobuzon. And, or course, New Crobuzon itself is a city-state (which seems to be the dominant political form). Given the insanity of the environment, the city-state is likely the largest a state can grow without losing itself to some strange natural phenomenon.

In Michal’s post about black powder fantasy, the problem of magic in an industrial setting is brought up. I think Mieville solves that issue splendidly. Thaumaturgy has been industrialized. It is a foundational branch of the universe of Bas-Lag that can be studied. Thaumaturgy is a key part of many professions: Issac uses it in his theories, Bellis uses it to learn languages faster, and Judah Lowe made a fortune with golems.

Similarly, Earthland, the setting of Fairy Tail, is inspired by steampunk and is clearly more magic heavy than Bas-Lag.

Starting with the politics, the only country that the readers have familiarity with is Fiore, the home country of the Fairy Tail Guild. Looking at the world, it is pretty clearly inspired by a somewhat retro 20th and 19th centuries (it is mostly 19th but the clothes and some of the tech is later).

The thing about Earthland is how the problem of magic is dealt with. Here, wizards join guilds and perform various tasks for rewards (although other uses of magic in an industrial capacity is also obvious). If a person has a problem that needs a wizard, then they go to a guild to hire one.

Anyway, these two series show, I think, that fantasy is not exclusive to a feudal setting.

George R.R. Martin and Black Gate

I know, I know. I should have a post up on fantasy besides the medieval. But, I’m still not sure how I should approach it. Should I rattle off a list and give ideas or should I give one or two specific examples of non feudal fantasy? I should have it figured out by tomorrow or Saturday.

Anyway, on to a quick defense of George R.R. Martin. Over at Black Gate, Scott Taylor has a post up arguing that the perceived decline in quality of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons is attributable to Martin’s age. He is, according to Taylor, past his prime. He points to sports where most players start to decline after their early thirties as an analogy. To prove his point he lists eleven writers, their “best” work, and their periods of best writing.

As has been pointed out by Matthew David Surridge and Sarah Avery in the comments, there are a lot of problems with Taylor’s argument. Surridge is right to point out that most famous does not equal best and provides a longer list of writers who do not seem to have an “expiration date.” Avery points out a brilliant reason why Martin’s output on A Song of Ice and Fire is so long.

The reason, and I happen to agree with her, is that Martin has a huge amount of information to keep track of. While most readers may not catch mistakes, some readers will (and make a stink about it). Yes, Martin can hire assistants and utilize fan made reference works, but the onus is on him to get it right. There is also the issue of the Merrenese Knot. That and the abandoned time skip has likely caused much of the problems that Martin has faced in the past ten years.

Now, I won’t deny that A Song of Ice and Fire is out of control as a narrative and needs some serious pruning. The series has likely expanded far beyond what Martin had originally intended it to be, and it will be an interesting test of his skills as a writer to get everything back under control for the final two books. And maybe he’ll actually start killing more pov characters. I mean a wholesale slaughter.

Now, this post has brought to mind other recent posts by Black Gate bloggers that have bugged me (and not all of them by Theo). Sometimes, I wish the magazine would focus more on fiction on their website rather than review and criticism. If there is a huge back log of fiction submissions and the print magazine only comes out maybe twice a year, then maybe it would be wise to include more fiction online (rather than just excerpts and the single complete story from each issue).  Many readers have pointed out a desire for more adventure fantasy, and Black Gate could reassert its position as the paramount magazine of this form of fantasy by publishing more stories and less criticism.

Okay, that’s it for today. Any way, look to tomorrow for a post on fantasy beyond the medieval.

A Post of Serials: A Healthy Venting

I’m feeling a bit discouraged at the moment. As I’ve mentioned in several recent posts, I’ve become more interested in the potential of comic books and manga for my writing. Right now, I’m seriously reconsidering that direction.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think that some of my ideas could best be realized as a manga or comic book series. But there in lies the problem, too. Original English Language/ World Manga don’t sell particularly well and the industry is, honestly, in pretty poor shape. American style comic books would be a better fit, but there are as many issues there that make things complicated.

As Peter David points out in Writing for Comics, it is advisable to do work for hire before and during one’s work on a creator owned title.  Like video game writing, it is important to get one’s name out there, to build a reputation, and to form a fan base. And even then, as David continues, it is rare that the average comic book reader will move beyond one’s work for hire. There are some exceptions like Kirkman and possibly Snyder, but most readers will only know a writer from one’s work on the iconic superhero.

And that is not to mention the issues about artists. Many of the publishers in their submissions guidelines request both art and story combined. Therefore a writer/artist  or a preexisting creative team is best. The reason for that is excellently expressed by eigoMANGA. If either an artist or writer is selected alone, then the rest of the creative team will effectively be working for hire rather than being a coequal creator. So that’s stopped me short.

Now, I’ve been looking at alternatives. I could return to my original plan of a series of novels like Fleming’s James Bond or the Conan pastiches. In this case, a story arc would be contained within a single novel and the interludes between arcs  would exist within the anticlimax and flashbacks.

Another option is a serial. In a funny construction, web serials are also called web comics sans graphics. This could work, but I only know of one web serial, written by Matthew David Surridge. So, I need to do more research on this option and see what the possibilities of web serials are.

The creation process is fun, but equally frustrating. That’s what makes art so great. But, no matter what direction I go in, I can’t wait to introduce the adventures of Ulrich Vesper and Henry Jett to readers.

As a postscript, a few days ago, Michal at One Last Sketch had a post called “Black Powder Fantasy.” I’m looking to go one step further and look at the possibilities and pitfalls of non medieval based secondary worlds from prehistory and the ancient world to our own time and from Europe to the whole world.

 

What Am I Doing Super Bowl Sunday?

If you watch Mike & Mike in the Morning, you know that Mike Greenberg occasionally questions what the people who don’t watch the Super Bowl are watching. Well, as someone who is not watching the Super Bowl this year, I will tell him.

I fully plan on playing DC Universe Online for a part of the time. I haven’t played in a while, so I want to get back into the game (and create more characters). And I plan on writing and reading.

So, that’s my not Super Bowl Sunday plans, what are yours?

Although I must wish George R.R. Martin luck for his Giants. I could care less about the game, but I know he is in heaven right now.

 

Reading, Writing, and Comics

This is a second attempt at a post I was writing yesterday. But the more I though about it, the more it gestated in my brain, the less thrilled I was with the direction it was going.

Now, I was wanting to blog about my reactions to reading Paul Cornell’s Dark Reign Young Avengers. Namely, I questioned the reason why the Young Masters were even needed in the story. But the more I though about it, the more I realized that it played into the theme of the Dark Reign tie-in without compromising the heroic integrity of the Young Avengers.

The whole point about using the Young Masters is that it presents a dilemma of identity. Do these misfits, who could become one or the other, turn to heroism or super villainy? In this case, Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers play the role of the devil (not a very effective devil mind you) and the Young Avengers play the angels (as effective as they are).  And the series ends abruptly with no decision made. To be honest, I’m still disappointed by the arc, but I understand it better. Still, I would have liked to see the Young Avengers actually be tempted to villainy.

This also brings up my thoughts on Naruto’s theme. The achievement of power and recognition is only meaningful if it is used to protect one’s comrades and community. That explains why most of the antagonists in the series are missing  ninja- they have forsaken their comrades and community, broken the bonds that holds people together. In this light, Naruto’s feelings for Sasuke is more understandable (if not still annoying).

So, what does this have to do with writing? Everything one reads is inspiration. How would the heroes I create react to dark temptations? Does leaving one’s society ever constitute a good thing? One of the great and fun things about literature is seeing how different writers riff off of each other.

I will conclude this post with bit of a cliffhanger. I’ve been researching the various publishing options for comic books. While there are more options than I had thought, obviously getting in is still tough. I’ve been wondering if certain ideas demand on genre form or could be utilized in many different genres. That’s what I want to look at next time in more detail.

A Writing Guide Review Trio

So, I have three writing guide reviews on tap for today.

The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platen is a really good introduction and guide for writers, either novice or veteran, looking to move into video game writing.

The differences between video game writing and other forms of writing are laid out. Writing for video games often add another layer of complexity. This is especially true in more recent games where players have far more options in regards to game play. Whereas a novelist, comic book writer, playwright, etc. work in a single linearity, a video game writer must think of all the possible variations of an action. Now, the plethora of player choice is limited, but is considerably larger than in other forms of entertainment.

For years, I had used a pretty standard character bio sheet that I got from a handout for my first creative writing class. Now, this handout is pretty good. But, the character (and organizational) creation chart that Dille and Platen introduce has quickly become my favorite. Whereas the character’s biography had been the key in creation, the new model is based on role in the plot with biographical information coming at the end. I have created several characters with it, and have found it greatly better than a standard biography.

On the whole. If you are interested in getting into video game writing, this is definitely a book to go after. And for those who are looking for newer ways of looking at one’s own writing, there are gems here that can easily be adapted to other forms of writing.

Making Comics by Scott McCloud is a highly entertaining and easy to follow guide in how to create one’s own comic books. The book follows both a general guide to how to create as well as looking at the form as a whole.

I really enjoyed the book and it did teach me a lot about how to make comics. Unfortunately, the book is mostly geared towards artists rather than writers. Much of the text is designed to give artists a foundation on how to work. Now, writers get some advice, but other sources would be equally or more helpful. That said, the book is really helpful in showing writers how to think like a director (which I will touch on in the last guide).

Another issue with the book is that while McCloud does focus a lot on the various options a young comic writer/artist has, he really does not expand much on that.

Writing for Comics by Peter David is the answer to what McCloud leaves out. Geared mostly towards writers who wish to focus primarily on superheroes (and other similar genres), this book is a great resource whether you want to write for comics or other forms.

The best parts of the book come from his explanations of conflict and theme, structuring the narrative, and how to actually script a comic book. The character creation chapter is also an extremely helpful one, though there is no chart or biography exercise given (besides a basic one).

And he even provides some insight into actually getting paying work with some companies.

So, in the end, Writing for Comics is highly recommended for anyone looking to write for comic books or even writing science fiction and fantasy prose.

There you have it. But if you want to write for video games or comics, check these books out.

A Random Potpourri

I have nothing in the way of reviews, attempts at criticism, etc. So, I’ll just post a few snippets of stuff and an idea or two.

So, DC announced yesterday that they are updating their New 52 titles, cancelling six and adding six. It is troubling to see Mr. Terrific and Static Shock go (given the dearth of African American led titles). But I am excited about one of the new titles: Dial H by China Mieville. That’s right Mieville is writing a monthly comic book series. Digest that. I am expecting awesome.

Speaking of comic books. I had entertained the idea for a while that an online comic book magazine anthology (sort of like a manga magazine) could be a good thing. But the more I look into it, the less enthused I am. Unless I’m missing gems, the web comics I have seen have been serious let downs in both art and story telling. Then again, at my core, I think am more enamored of traditional publishing than I am of online publication (even though online publications are much easier to access).

The next round of the NFL playoffs begins tomorrow. Like last week, I’ll try to catch all of the games. I do have several teams I like still in there, and football is very conducive to free writing.

Moving the focus to the blog itself, I’ve been thinking of doing more features. Adding polls, pictures, etc. I don’t know what I would poll about, though.

Like I said in my “Rambling Changes” post, is it just me or are the recent slew of criticism, writer advice, and assorted genre nonfiction been mostly disappointing? Maybe I’m just tired of it all. There are still gems, but most of it has just started to annoy me.

Finally, a preview of what I’m working on in the upcoming posts:

A review of three writing guides: one for video games and two for comic books.

A review of a slew of graphic novels and collections. And maybe a rant about the looseness of the term “graphic novel.”

And (maybe) a review of some Leigh Brackett novels. Man I love old omnibuses!

Oh and one last thing. I don’t remember if I mentioned it in my post on uneasiness/ rejection of author politics, but I have another suggestion. If you really like an author but cannot stand his or her politics, check their stuff out of a library ( I read most of Miller’s Sin City through interlibrary loan a few years ago) or buy it through a used bookstore (the author does not get any royalties through resale). And if you shop at a local used bookstore, you can feel good about supporting a local business!

A Map and a Story Review

Well, I managed to get a new, revised map of my baby world, Isfet, drawn yesterday and I have the basics of some locations. So, I’m very happy about that. I like how the map looks now.

Moving on to the story review: A few weeks ago, Black Gate posted a novella from Joe Bonadonna titled “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum.” Staring Dorgo the Dowser, the story deals with Dorgo trying to swindle a pair of murderers out of a thief and some demon spawned moonstones.

On the whole, I rather enjoyed the story. But, the story does have issues with pacing, tangents, and women that does annoy me. The pacing is okay but could be quicker. There are several scenes that could have been condensed or cut. And, the treatment of women in the story is problematic. Although the three female characters are strong, there is a misogynistic tone taken by the protagonist.

 

Three Hours of My Life Wasted

I want an apology. The BCS National Title Game was pathetic. It was boring and dull. Now, if you are an Alabama fan, it was probably great fun. You got revenge on LSU for beating you earlier in the year. But still, this game was a waste of three hours of my life.