Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Flash in the Night (Part 1)

He rides her hard into the night. The mare neighing, holding in the pain, bears the journey to Valhalla. Sog, a city of heroes, filled with empty halls and distant memories, is where the brave die softly. Dogs of war, returning to their vomit, they live out the transience of time, frozen in a glory that is not theirs. He rides her towards the city, and waits.

Unsettling the obscuring darkness, a beacon emerges. The watchman calls out to the stranger; the stranger answers cordially. Unequivocally, their concord commences, and they become friends once more.

Into the city, ride. Go where the men die a little, again and again.

Solomon walked Hekja into the stables by the bit in her mouth and tied her to the stall.

“Not a word from you,” he said in a low voice. “I will return soon. Make friends while I’m away.”

Digging into his money bag, Solomon grabbed an abundance of coin, too much coin for the boy in the corner who had fallen asleep at his post.

“For your health and my steed’s,” Solomon said walking towards the boy. He placed the pile of gold into the boy’s hand and closed the youth’s hand discretely around the mound. “As she lives, so shall you.” The boy quivered in fear, forgetting the money. Solomon smiled and pat the lad on the back forcefully.

Solomon did not care for Sog. It was a shallow hovel full of mischief and greed, one that retained the weight of travelers that settled as well as the bones of those that had departed. The games drew many. (That is the case with these things.) But the years had been slow. The Black were not bleak. The Fair had dimmed. The Bargainers bartered poorly. And the Valkyrja no longer sang the song of war. In stalemate, each team sat in their corner, lost at heart, and Solomon appreciated this. It would mean less distraction.

A lime-lit sign hummed above him like the burning lance of Archon, high lord of lights. Its twisted florescence illuminated his destination, The Craven Wurm, a den of thieves and malcontents. Inside, creatures stirred in the dismal formation of tables and chairs, some drinking quietly, others not so much. There in the center of them, under a crimson lamp, was uncle Mordechai.

Each embraced the other warmly, remarking one another with longing. Had it been ten years? Fifteen? But that did not matter any longer. They were here once more, together.

“Sixteen years,” Mordechai remarked. “Gods protect you. I had long ago imagined you food for the Worm.”

“I’m full of surprises,” Solomon replied. As proof, he placed his rapier on the table.

“So you’ve come for me then?” Mordechai said, sounding impressed. “I’ve been waiting for you. These old bones were getting tired.”

“All in good time,” said Solomon. “Why not have a drink first? To ease the tension?”

“Now you are speaking my language!” Mordechai exclaimed, slamming his fist down exuberantly. “Ne’er before in all my days… You remind me of him, my brother, your father.”

Solomon let the subject pass over him. Geniality, and its benign intentions, he desired most. Mordechai’s death could wait. Solomon produced a flask and emptied its contents into the dirty, crystal chalice before him.

“Whiskey?” Solomon offered kindly. Mordechai refused silently, his nose wrinkled with distaste.

“Isn’t that how this all started?” Mordechai whispered, perhaps to himself.

“I do not live in the past, but the future. I see things as they will be, and I prefer to be drunk. It will make my duty seem less egregious.” Solomon took a drink unflinchingly.

“And so it shall be...” concluded Mordechai.

“Now,” spoke Solomon, “tell me Uncle Mordechai, how it all began.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Writing Comics - Building the Script

I’ve been very fortunate to retain my anal retentive organization practices as I’ve aged. You’d think that, as one gets older, the ability to balance tasks and duties becomes more or less commonplace. Unfortunately, I’ve begun to realize that we grow lazy as writers, holding less to convention, often to our own peril!

Thankfully, comic booking has retained my zeal for precise articulation intact.

A script can be written in many different ways. Formatting is key if you want to submit to larger companies, or shop around your work to various illustrators and artists. I was lucky enough to learn one of these pat script formatting styles from a chance meeting with another artist at SDCC last year. Below is the basic outline for a panel, as seen in professional scripts:

Panel 3: Steve walking towards the door. He is putting on a jacket, with his arms out, fitting them through the sleeves.


2 STEVE:                I heard you the first time.


4 STEVE:                I... I slept for...

5 MORRIS (OFF):         2 days.

6 STEVE:                Woah... I feel like shit.

7 MORRIS:               So, uh... What's going on?

8 GREG (OFF):           Come on. Let’s go.

A script, most importantly, emphasizes separation of actions. This serves two purposes. First, it aides your artist, being able to identify how many text bubbles are in the panel and also being able to see the description clearly laid out. Second it is a text aid to the letterer and editor, who can digest how the characters are speaking and interacting. Are they shouting, whispering, or speaking at a normal volume? Are there sound effects to be laid out? Where are the characters emphasizing their speech? These are the things to keep in mind when submitting scripts. Clarity helps to keep your story front and center and easy to read for all the parties soon to be involved in your work.

Understanding the proper format of a script, laying out the story comes next. I use a “beats” system to plot the narrative as it develops in my comic. This looks something like a rough outline arranged by conversations and looks something like the following:

Steve wakes up 1 (splash)

Eating Breakfast at a diner and reading the paper (monologue) 2-3

A lecture at UCSB, Steve teaching a lesson and taking questions 4-7

Faculty meeting. Steve confronting his rivals and antagonists. 8-10

The layout follows a beats structure by assigning action to particular events in the comic that are particularly episodic. Imagine a film. Scenes make up a film showing an period of extended action that comprises a conversation or the development of a plot line that progresses the narrative. A comic, much like a film, follows this logical methodology. Continuing this analogy, an Act would comprise an issue, which is a complete narrative unit that is self-contained.

Everything that follows depends now on you, the writer. Use this shell to develop your comic and contact me if you have any questions and concerns. Best of luck!


Saturday, July 26, 2014

SDCC Continues

If you are wondering where I went yesterday, well... I was at Comic Con. Technically I've been there all week so far, so my posting schedule has been strained. But bellow are some reasons why I have been a little absent minded as of late...

Me and the Venture Bros. Guys

WIRED Cafe (I missed out on seeing Nathan Fillion!)

My Portrait, courtesy of Dave McKean

So... forgive me. It's been a bit too long. Next week the routine will return. 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comic Con: Preview Night

You are probably wondering what happened today...

This Happened.
Needless to say I'll be a busy man these next few days. Forgive any lapses in judgement!

Also I can mark meeting Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade off my list.

I hope he loves the Sequart single I gave him.

Those are the highlights. Sleep calls me home.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Writing Comics - The World Map

The World Map.

I play a lot of video games still, or try to. (Where does the time go?)I enjoy them for their aesthetics and immersion. Very few acts of entertainment are responsible for extended periods of interactive fantasy. And, over the years, the industry has developed a keen awareness of the need for players to get lost in the sprawling landscapes and urban jungles that represent simulated reality. My perspective on comics, in regards to video games, is, “why not attempt the same immersion?”

Every video game has a “world map,” a large canvas of locales that represent the scope of where the narrative events take place. It’s important to have something akin to this in comic booking. It doesn’t have to be a traditional map, or even something that that public has access. But you need to see it!

I drew my own world map. (One doesn’t need to be an artist to attempt this.) Drawing this layout on your own is really important. The world that you are creating needs to be yours, and I feel, personally, that if the map is the handiwork of your own fantasy that the subsequent stories will be more immersive. Building a world creates a connection that draws you in. It also helps the writing process ease along. If someone else is creating the world, half of the time spent writing is investigating what should be the product of your own imagination.  

How does one draw a map? Well, it doesn’t take an artist. My original attempts were very forced. I “tried” to draw a map. So I looked at some world maps for reference, particularly areas that I wasn’t familiar with. Google Maps is very helpful for this. Zen speech and Yoda-like aphorisms aside, returning to the map, I was able to draw realistic landscapes by remembering the basic layouts that I saw on the maps. Peninsulas, archipelagos, coves, and desert landscapes seemed to jump onto the page. Even though my graphic novel doesn’t take place in our own reality, I was able to draw on it for inspiration. Rocks and valleys are rocks and valleys no matter where you go in the universe.

The world map helps build cohesion to your world, at least as far as geography is concerned. It also serves as an introduction to what you will ultimately describe in your panels. It helps factor out what could amount to a considerable effort by laying the groundwork ahead of time.


Friday, July 18, 2014

That "Wedding" Feeling

My friend, and Creative Director/Designer of my book Spirit Of Orn, spoke prophetic words to me some months before my wife and I were married, saying something along the lines of this: “Getting married doesn’t really sink in until you get your first RSVP.”

He was totally right.

Making something, building up from the ground, is frightening. So many things can go wrong. I think many of the little victories in our lives are co-opted by the modern marvels that so vicariously sync with our lives. We forget that achievement comes at a cost, always. We sacrifice time, money, security, even relationships to taste the fame. I’ve had to avoid building an idol out of my book (as the Christian idiom goes). Even “good” things can become “ultimate” things, and when they do our identity buckles under the expectations. I had a nervous breakdown, accrued variable medical expenses amounting to almost two thousand dollars in the past few months to learn that writing a book and running a website isn’t everything.  

That said, not all is bad when it comes to guerilla publishing. Looking back, whether or not Spirit of Orn is received well, I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. I can say, “look at what I did,” and I’m okay with that.

But the hour approaches soon; the dawn nears. I have to autograph a thousand of these bad boys. Hopefully you can come by and see me at San Diego Comic Con to pick up your own digital advance copy of my breakout Sci-Fi Fantasy epic!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ms. McGrath's Hanging

Continued from last week.

Deep is the strain.

A river of blood and sweat.

But justice cries out: retribution.

“These folks are lyin’ to ya’,” Susan called out over the crowds. Heavy ropes burned her wrists, bound and tensile, as the men hoisted her high above the crowd.

“You don’t know what you’re doin’! Stop! Please!”

The mayor, at the head of the mob, his arms wide and welcoming, lifted up his voice over the cauldron of dissent. “Ms. McGrath, we are getting tuckered out by your stories. Has it really come to this?”

Susan shook in anger, glancing up at her binds, squinting, straining.

“Ugh! You people are dumber than rocks, all of ya’! He’s a liar and a thief. I saw it, the trees, the birds! They have birds up there! You traded it all away, all for nothin’!”

“I think we’ve heard enough from the reb,” the mayor said motioning to the guards behind him to come forward. He looked tired, the mayor, taxed in his soul. Susan saw his fear, deep down, running like a river to the source.

So the crowd watched avidly as two lowbred, husky gentlemen clumsily tied a gag over her mouth. Old saliva, salty in her mouth, made her cringe in disgust. The people before her were enraptured by her silencing. It was a fate foreseeable, a common bond of dissidence they all shared, but were altogether too fearful to show it. Forsaken, she rose towards the firmament, dying for their sin.

“It’s a might inconsolable it had to be this way Ms. McGrath. No hard feelings?” The mayor, a bug, spoke into the cavernous vault, a whisper in the miry black.

Her eyes wet with tears, Susan felt the ropes release. One with the air she plummeted.   

She saw the ground fly toward her.

Then all was blackness.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Writing Comics - Documentation Orientation

I think I got too excited last week.

Writing comics is all about original ideas, but that’s a given right? How do we actually write comics? Unfortunately, writing comics is a challenging enterprise, especially if you are doing it by yourself without an editor. I like to organize my thoughts, get them down on paper. This will come in handy later, once you’re in the thick of it, twenty issues deep, forty characters and expanding.

There are a few documents you’ll need to start up in MS Word or Open Office:

Plot outline – It’s always good to know where your story is going, even if you are still up in the air on who will betray who or who will die in the third act. The plot outline is an ongoing draft that you will be constantly be updating, so don’t feel like you are committed to the arcs that you laid out at the story’s conception. In fact, stressing the adherence to previous plots will crush your creativity, so treat your layouts gingerly, like guidelines. Generally, I structure my plot outlines with scant details and fill in the blanks. I set up what I want to happen at the time, the little things first. Where will the characters go? What cameos will come up? The big reveals and plot details come up as you write—they will come. So it’s better not to worry about the big things. My plot outline for my upcoming graphic novel is very short, and I hardly refer to it anymore. I don’t need to, because I feel inspired and trudge on despite not having a road map. Though I still keep track of who met who in act 2. That will happen. Getting there though is the fun part, and I ty not to cheapen it.

Character Manifest – Who is in your book/comic? How many characters do you have? I have at least 35, and I’ve only written up to 5 issues.

This is a document that acts like your own personal Wikipedia page. It’s a massive reference to every character you make. In my manifest I have the name, physical description, and origin all available to my artist for reference. This allows your scripts to be much less heavy on character descriptions. Use the manifest as something to refer to in this respect. It’s far more efficient.

Be sure, as well, to include other details other than just characters. I mine I have a catalogue of regions and factions, as well as capital cities and deities. I do this so that in the coming years, after working on this comic for so long, I can use ctrl+F to simply locate any one of my many characters.

Before I go I need to mention a couple junk box drawer items to consider:

Physics manifest – If your comic takes place on another planet, keep in mind that the regular work week doesn’t exist. You’ll have to create your own. The same goes for seasons and time measurement. A character can’t say, “wait a sec’” because a second is a measure of time and the phrase is colloquial to our particular means of keeping track of passing time.

Creature manifest – This is like a creature manual for all you D&D fans out there. Also a must for all fantasy comics, keep in mind that the creatures we know of do not exist in our fantasy world. Therefore, you must create them, catalogue them, and describe them. I actually enjoy this step a lot, because I can get really creative and find cool ways to work these creatures into the story.

That’s all I got for now. Check back in next Monday for more info in my series. Leave a comment too if you feel so inclined!


Friday, July 11, 2014

An Announcement...

It’s official, I’m published!

By “published,” I mean that I paid a website to do all the work for me. I already feel like some trust fund kid.

To celebrate me and the wife went out and got sushi at a nice restaurant in town.

Expect to find Spirit of Orn on (internet) shelves very soon. Or, if you prefer to read it sooner, I will be giving out free copies at the San Diego Comic Con. Find me at Sequart’s booth, or milling around the main drag shouting, “free book!”

Get ready folks! It’s almost here!


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Underage Miner

Sixteen hours of night and day.

A heavy pickaxe bows.

Cobalt alloy screams blue tears.

Miners don’t get much work these days. Talks o’ cave-ins and such send them away, the young ones. This is an old man’s game.

In the Underveil—that’s what we call it, our home—there are less places to dig, before surface worlds catch wind. We can go deep, deeper than hell, but there’s magma down there. Not too friendly for us, molten rock. Overhead surveys note the land is filled with what’s left, but there was a lot of building prior to the war. Stone is stone. Mass en masse.

There’s talk of going up topside, but I don’t believe it for a second. Mayor has his whole henhouse tied up in this mess. The people grow tired of his excuses, especially since Susan McGrath started getting people spooked. New Austin is big, but the word travels fast. She can cross her heart and hope to die all she want, but us miners work hard to be down here. It’s going to take more than a few fanciful words to get us on board. Daddy was always a union man, but not me. I’m my own.

We’s hirin’ kids now. Lord have mercy. Been a while since we had to resort to that, but they eager to please. It don’t help none when we have to bury ‘em—don’t help me none, shit. They go deep; follow the tunnels to monoxide pockets. Mint gas has been a problem in the fermentation rooms down near the iron quarry. They don’t even smell it, just feel tired, dizzy, then dead.

Simon screams bloody murder at me, like it’s my fault or something. I’m just doing my job. I have to tell the mam an pap anyhow.

Still, the outrage gets me thinkin’ all hours of the night space. Food’s running scarce and water treatment is nearly out of degradables. Soon we’ll all be drinking Scotty water—nothin’ but piss.

Us miners will stay out of it. I’ll make sure of that. We watch, that’s what we do. Ain’t no iron hot worth strikin’ yet.

But that Susan… she might be on to something.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Writing Comics – So You Want to Copy Someone?

It may strike you as odd that I would immediately suggest that whatever comic you have planned is a work of shameless plagiarism.

Get used to the idea, and feel okay with it. Really. It’s okay.

Writing comics, especially superhero comics, is problematic. There are very few “original” ideas left. Those that may seem original are really just reiterations of older ideas most of the time. Again, this is okay. We all steal from our heroes. Comics are nothing different.

The key to writing a good comic that draws on worn in material is understanding that, while there are always heroes with capes and mysteries with surprise antagonists, there are always variant mythologies that develop from the original stories. Superman, Batman, and Captain America have been rebooted many times, but every story has a fresh take, or a different philosophy. How different this take is will enhance or detract from the finished product. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how this is possible, but I can give you a tip or two to get you along.

When working off the template of a genre, it is important to understand that genres exist because they are schemas (blueprints) upon which conventions have been catalogued and archived. Science Fiction generally involves the fictionalization of science, spaceships, aliens, philosophical ramifications of human advancement, and so on. Likewise, were you to write a sci-fi graphic novel with spaceships and aliens I doubt anyone would give you a literary prize. How you tweak the universe will decide whether your story is hit or miss. Putting in a philosophy that is strung through the storyline would be a start.

The same can be said almost about character driven stories, especially superhero tales, only with a subtle caveat. Consider the leading protagonist. Usually dull stories place the hero inside a world that serves as a sounding board for his opinions and thoughts. Consider the opposite: make the hero espouse an ideal or understanding of the world. Make the reader see through the eyes of the hero, in other words. How the character interacts with the world will create a complex narrative where the question will be positioned: “Who is this person? How do they view the world?”

Consider this a first step in writing good comics. Stay tuned for next week!


Friday, July 4, 2014


Once again I find myself getting ready to go on the plane to go up to my Seminal Fourth of July family reunion in Healdsburg, Northern California. My last experience wasn't as pleasant as I would've hoped but certain family circumstances have brought me back to the land of craft beer, winemaking, and fireworks. Drunk rants and awkward conversations to follow.

it's a shame that being a Webmaster isn't as glamorous as one would make it out to be, when you're wearing so many hats, which make you a big deal in the publishing and editing circles of the industry. Saying it out loud me feel like a kid living in his basement wearing oversize clothes that don't fit me. But as Internet grows so does the profession inevitably, thankfully.

The workload demands an attention to detail, precision, and fine tuning. One can make either the most out of it or take it at cursory glance. Either way it's a window into a new profession that can perhaps free me from the purgatory of post college aimlessness. Not that I don't enjoy the free beer and occasionally parties at my day job, I just enjoy comics more. Very soon I'll be living the Internet subsistence wage dream, doing what I love and one paycheck away always from living behind my local Vons grocers.

My ongoing prescribed substance-use of over-the-counter anti-depressants yields curious findings. I get panic attacks fairly
regularly now, only I seem to escape the worse effects of them. Instead they are more like periodic episodes of feeling tired and short of breath. It is irritating, but nice that I can go about my day without feeling like I am dying.

As opposed to last month, good things are coming up ahead. I will adamantly update you as things come up in the coming weeks. Until then happy United States birthday, sort of...


Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Continued from last week.

Some of us still remember the moonshine. 

Warm yellow rays, smiling down from the heavens.

"Once upon a time, little girl, there was a large city. It was bigger than any other city far and wide. Some said it was a megalopolis-- that's a fancy word for a city that goes on and on. And, in this city, there was people of all kinds, but some weren't like the others. Some of em' were pitch, dark things that didn't fare well for an honest days work, or truthful speech. Many of the kindly, upstanding folk had a right mind to leave, but where would they go? Couldn't go west, 'cause there was more of them. Couldn't go east 'cause the weather was bad. Couldn't go north 'cause they were equal and free. Couldn't go south 'cause then you'd right end up in the ocean! Things were tense in the large city. Something needed to change.

"There were these places in the city, places where one could go and amuse themselves: have a drink, play some cards, or whatever sin you preferred. I didn't care for them much myself. I was only a girl then. But the men, and the less respectable women folk, loved them. And all those poor folk that bothered the kindly ones? They couldn't go. They couldn't afford it. So things got better for a little while. 

"Sooner or later the problem got worse. Laws were passed, things were said in the capitol that made everything the kind folk did seem like it was all for naught! Very soon there was more black and brown than you could shake a stick at, I tell you what. The kind folk hated it. They hated them. 

"One day, a rich man came into town, spoutin' all kinds of nonsense, but the people listened. He promised them peace, sanctuary, a world that could grow and be free. He was a business oriented man, but fair. He charged us all a flat rate, and many of the people could go. It all started with one cavern, old indian land on his father's property, then he dug, and dug some more. Like a mole he tunneled under the large town, with none the wiser. In the cool darkness we found a new home and peace and quiet.

"Sooner or later the city officials found out. That year a cave-in happened. A tragic mess that was. Many died, many of them good folk with no grudge for us. But the high law of the land came down and told us to stop. The people were furious, but what could they do? The rich man had run out of his father's inheritance, and our plans seemed ruined. 

"Unknown to us the rich man had a plan. 

"He staged another cave in, one that would make it look like we were all gone and dead. After digging deeper, he made the entire cave collapse behind us. But we were safe, safe and alone. It was only a little while after that the people forgot about us on top. We were better for it, all of us were. There we grew and grew. The miners dug for us, helped us find new places to be. We were happy even though some had their two cents on the matter. And from that day on we lived free, free and alone."