Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thirty In Thirty - Days Four and Five

Sorry I haven't updated the blog in the last couple of days. I'm transitioning from one job to another and bills are piling up fast, so until I can get back on my feet financially, internet is one of those things that I have to skimp on. Right now, skimping means "borrowing" a neighbor's connection. That connection isn't always reliable and for the last couple of days it hasn't worked well at all. Given that I've been busy with training at the new job the last couple of days, I haven't had a lot of time to get to a library or coffee shop to update. Have no fear though, faithful readers, for I have not abandoned the project.

As I mentioned before, I didn't have a lot of time over the last couple of days, so I dialed back the effort to script my own characters and put together a couple of quick established superhero things again. The first is a humorous Green Lantern/Green Arrow story that features an fun cameo at the end of the story. The GL/GA piece is six pages long, for those of you keeping count.

The second story is a one page piece about Robin and his pal, Ace the Bat-Hound. I recently rescued a black lab (with some hound dog in there somewhere too I think) and, given my love of all things Batman, decided to name him Ace. Inspired by his playful mischief (he, much like Batman, cannot be contained by cage or trap), I wrote an eight-panel spread featuring him and the Boy Wonder. The story features Robin (young Tim Drake) searching for his boots which Ace is playfully running around the Batcave with. Like I said, it's just one page, but it's fun and kid-friendly, which I love. Maybe I'll post the script soon.

I'll be back later tonight with some work from today, though technically, with the six-page GA/GL, I'm way ahead of schedule. How is everyone else doing?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thirty In Thirty - Day Three

Well, it only took me two days to decide to do something differently. I did some superhero stuff tonight, but it's my own character, not an established one. The character is called The Poet. I believe I mentioned him here once before, but I'm not certain. The Poet is a hero in the vein of some of the old Charlton characters and is most similar to last night's subject, The Question.

The Poet takes place in post-WWII New York City and is set in and around the emerging "beat" movement. The book mixes elements of magic and two-fisted justice with the historical, artistic and political developments of America in the 1950s. The book also serves as sort of the starting point (with one notable exception that I'll get to later) of the superhero universe that I created recently. You remember, the one populated with all the analogs that I mentioned in my "analog dilemma" post? Anyway, the Poet stories serve as the spine of that universe.

I only got the first page done tonight because, well, I'm exhausted. I start a new job in the morning and it will be the first time in nearly two years that I've had to drag myself up at the crack of dawn in order to get to work on time. For this insomniac, that doesn't sound pleasant. But the job is a good one with the potential to be great and it's a company I've wanted to work for for quite some time. Once I adjust to the schedule, I should have a lot more free time and energy to work on various projects. But tonight...tired.

So one page complete with more to come.

Anybody else have progress to report?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thirty in Thirty - Day Two

Tonight's work is a silent Question story. Anybody who knows me knows that The Question is one of my favorite comic characters of all time. From the earliest Charlton comics, through Denny O'Neil's iconic run, even onto Rick Veitch and 52. So when I decided to do some short superhero scripts for the Thirty In Thirty project, I thought it appropriate that The Question get some attention.

I did things a bit differently tonight than I have done them in the past. The story is three pages (two standard pages and a full page shot) and I thumbnailed it all out before I wrote the script. The thumbnailing process worked pretty well, though it was fairly simple for this comic since it's meant to be silent. I'm interested to try it for a story that actually has dialogue.

I like how this turned out. It's basic, but it's definitely got the right feel for a classic Question story. I love that there are characters out there that are so iconic, that have such natural force, you can tell a story with them in just a few panels and have it resonate immediately with fans. In my world, the Question is definitely one of those characters and I think this story does him justice.

How was everyone's Day Two?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thirty In Thirty - Day One

My first page is done, but it's not great. I think what I'm going to do with my end of the project is try and write a quick, 1-2 page story with established characters. I was extremely inspired by Mark Chiarello's Wednesday Comics project and I'm curious to see if I can do something similar with established characters. I may change my mind about this starting tomorrow, but right now, this is my goal.

Tonight's page (actually, its two pages, four panels and a full page shot) is a Wolverine story. It's the kind of fun, all-ages comic that I'm a big fan of. Not that I can't enjoy the pages of Milligan's Hellblazer or Aaron's Scalped, but anyone who knows me knows that I think superhero comics appropriate for all ages are extremely important to the industry. Sure, some of you are probably thinking, "Wolverine? Safe for kids?" Fanboys know that Wolverine is a cold-blooded killer, but that doesn't stop him being one of the most recognizable characters in comics, complete with his own film franchise. So when it comes to characters that comics writers can utilize to get kids interested in the medium, Wolverine is near the top.

I'm not sure if I'm going to post the script because I'm prouder of the concept than I am the execution. Of course, getting better at the execution is part of the point. I'm going to finish watching Monday Night Football and then I'll probably tweak it a bit and post it in the morning.

What's everybody else working on?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thirty Pages In Thirty Days

I turn thirty in just over a month (October 21st) and to be honest, it's got me a little rattled. I'm not having an early mid-life crisis. You won't see me driving a new sports car or going on a "bro's only" ten day trip to Las Vegas, not that I could afford those things anyway. But to say it's not having a similar effect on me would be a lie.

When I was younger, thirty seemed far enough away that I just assumed I'd have my entire life worked out by then. At twenty-nine, I can safely say I'm nowhere near having everything figured out. Hell, there are days when I don't feel like I have anything worked out at all. Almost a month away from this milestone year and I'm unemployed, broke and at times completely directionless.

When I left high school, I thought I'd be in college for four years and after that I'd just, well, BE a writer. Sure, there'd be hardships, pitfalls along the way, but it was nothing a genius kid from the sticks couldn't handle. It turned out to be a hell of a lot more than I could handle. Or maybe it was just more than I was willing to handle. Let's face it, to know me is to know a picture of ennui. I can be one of the most pessimistic, cynical and, well, lazy people on the planet at times. I get frustrated, I get discouraged, I let myself believe in the worst possible outcome in all situations.

Okay, so, I'm being hard on myself. I'm not always like that, though I am capable of falling into some pretty long stretches of self-doubt and inactivity. Like, say...21-25. That's a pretty long stretch, right? Over the years, I've probably spent as much time talking about being a writer as I have actually writing. That has changed in the last couple of years, as I've taken a more active stance on making this writing for a living thing actually happen, but for years it just seemed like a pipe dream, or, maybe just something I'd get around to eventually. I always wrote, but it was mostly for myself.

A couple of things shook me up lately though. First, a friend told me that the stories in my head weren't for me, that they were for everyone and that I'd be cheating everyone by not allowing them to see these stories. That hit me pretty hard, because its correct. All these notebooks full of worlds that I've built, all these google docs full of half-written pitches and unfinished scripts, what is their purpose? What's a story that never gets told? Worthless, that's what. It's not helping anybody or inspiring anybody just sitting there collecting cobwebs, virtual or not.

The second bit of posterior fire-lighting came from another friend, who essentially told me, while drunk, that I had to shit or get off the pot. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that my pitches are great but that my scripts were not. Not that he was being mean, he was just being honest (maybe a bit more honest because of the inebriation). I have a knack for world-building, but I am still so green that I need to hone my chops. I need to be able to tell a story in this language of comics, and that means scripts that just knock the shit out of an editor and make he or she say, "Yes, grab this guy an artist, pay this man a small sum to do something awesome." Right now, I can speak this language, but I'm not a master of it. Anything less than a mastery means I'm just a fan for the rest of my life.

I'm not okay with that.

So here I am, staring down the barrel of THIRTY YEARS OLD like it's a nickel-plated harbinger of doom. Maybe it's not though. Maybe it's like the Death card in a tarot deck, ominous to be sure, but not necessarily a signifier of bad things to come. So in the interest of appeasing my constructively critical friends and making serious strides toward being the creator I want to be, I've decided to challenge myself.

I've got just slightly more than thirty days before I hit the big 3-0. In that time, I'm going to write thirty pages. Sound easy? Maybe it will be. Maybe it will be frustrating, terrifying and hard. Maybe it will be fun. I'm certain, no matter what, that it will be constructive. The thing about this is, I don't want to do it alone. So I'm not issuing this challenge just to myself, but also to any creator out there, professional or otherwise, that wants to give this a shot.

Here it is: Thirty Pages In Thirty Days

Starting Monday September 13th (I'm aware this is NFL opening weekend and many of you won't pay attention to this at all if I start it tomorrow) I want to see a page a day for thirty straight days. I'm going to be doing this myself and posting my progress here at Surfing the Bleed. If you want to engage in this exercise as well, then you can e-mail me your progress and/or get in touch with me on Facebook or Twitter. Now there are no hard rules here. If you want, you can write thirty one page stories, a la Wednesday Comics. If you feel so inclined, you can right a 22-page one shot and an 8-page back-up. Maybe you're feeling ambitious and you want to write the first thirty pages of your epic graphic novel. Whatever you decide, I want thirty scripted pages before my thirtieth birthday. Consider it a present to me. You all love me, right?


So there's the challenge. Are you up to it? Am I?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jason Latour - Recording the Bleed

I interviewed Daredevil: Black & White contributor Jason Latour at this year's Baltimore Comic-Con. Below are parts one and two. I had to cut the second part a bit abruptly, due to YouTube's upload requirements. It's okay though, all you're missing is us going on about the Big Lebowski and professional wrestling.

Actually, that might have been the best part.

In all seriousness though, Jason was a great guy and he had some fantastic advice for young creators. It's a bit of a haul (twenty minutes?! what?!) but it's well worth it.

Now, without further ado, Jason Latour.

and part two

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Baltimore 2010

My terribly vague recap of the Baltimore Comic-Con, complete with firefighting midget leg retrievers, is up at Broken Frontier.

Baltimore Comic-Con 2010 - The Year We Make Contact...with Desperadoes!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Digital Comics Debate Heats Up!

Video uploading is taking longer than I expected (which is what happens when you are borrowing a crappy Clear Wire connection from a neighbor and are legitimately so broke you can't even afford to go to the coffee shop), but that doesn't mean we don't still have content. Okay, the content is technically borrowed, but hey, you get what you pay for.

A couple of very good editorials advocating the advancement of comics as a digital medium came out today, one from Comics Alliance and the other from Mark Waid via Comic Book Resources. Below are links to each.

Digital distribution and how it evolves is something the entire industry is watching. Expect to see more content about it here, as well as in my column at Broken Frontier, in the coming months.

Comics Alliance

Mark Waid

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Videos Galore!

I'm currently editing the Jason Latour and Jonathan Hickman videos I took at this past weekend's Baltimore Comic-Con. The Latour video should be up first thing in the morning and the Hickman video will follow shortly after that. Until then, tide yourselves over with the new trailer for Stan Lee's Soldier Zero, due out in October from BOOM! Studios.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Slightly Out of Date Yet Still Awesome Interview With: JEFF PARKER

Jeff Parker is the writer of Marvel's Atlas and Thunderbolts and is about to take over writing duties on Hulk as well. His style hearkens back to an earlier age of comics storytelling, when action and adventure were the order of the day and heroes weren't always the primary colored tight-dwellers we know today. He took a minute to sit down with Surfing the Bleed before this weekend's Baltimore Comic-Con and talked about his books, his process and his experience breaking into the industry.

Surfing the Bleed: Hello Jeff. Welcome to Surfing the Bleed. Thanks for taking the time to hang out with us today.

You seem to have a significant knowledge of the medium and its history. Does that stem from a love of comics as a child and was it always your goal to become part of the industry?

Jeff Parker: Before the internet made finding out about comics crazily easy, it was pretty difficult to learn how the books were made and about the personalities behind them. When Stan Lee would write his Bullpen Bulletins or Bob Rozakis would do his Ask the Answer Man for DC's books, they'd mention the creators and it would be a rare glimpse into these names as actual people instead of representing a particular art style. Then I found Comics Scene magazine, and eventually The Comics Journal, and I sucked up that info like a sponge. I devoured any history of Hal Foster or Milton Caniff I came across.

Do you remember the first comic you truly loved and how it affected your perception of the industry and your own personal goals?

Jeff Parker: Probably the Fawcett Dennis the Menace books. I didn't connect it to any goals at the time- I was 5, but I could tell I liked some artist better than all the others (it was Al Wiseman). I think at some point you look at comics purely by character; these are Superman books- and then you hit the level where certain ones matter more: these are CURT SWAN Superman books. And you know a creator is making the difference. Then hopefully you're on the path to following the creators instead, because that will yield more satisfaction for you as a reader.

You majored in English Lit, changing from your original goals to receive a degree in illustration. You cite the realization that you wouldn't be able to do the sort of illustration you wanted to do in the program you were enrolled in. Were you hoping for an education geared more toward a career in comics and how was that program holding you back?

Jeff Parker: Yes. I hid out in college for a good long time. I went to East Carolina University, first as an art major and then realized that like most modern art programs it was gallery focused, not as much illustration as I had hoped for. There were good teachers in the program. But I really got into my English classes thanks to some excellent professors. And since that was constant reading of story, it ended up helping me enormously- of course, I didn't know that later I would do so much writing. Many of my English teachers enjoyed comics and didn't feel the need to deride them like many art teachers did. Or at least, I lucked out and didn't get the teachers who would have scoffed at them.

What was your first work in the industry and how was the experience of breaking in during those early days of your career?

Jeff Parker: I did some stuff for free, like everyone usually has to at the beginning. I drew a story that artist Nathan Masengill wrote adapting Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince, that was in a Caliber Comics book. Soon I got a job drawing a fill-in issue of Vampirella that never got printed because they went to a different format, but I got paid and that was exciting. A little later I got a couple issues of Wonder Woman to draw- a lot of people got to essentially audition at DC by drawing an issue of that. I finally got regular assignments from Malibu Comics when Hank Kanalz opened some samples of mine where I'd drawn the Fantastic Four. That put me on the book Solitaire with Gerry Jones writing.

Often times, it seems it is easier for an illustrator to break into the industry than someone who is only trying to make their way as a writer. Do you feel that your skills as an illustrator made it easier for you to break in?

Jeff Parker: That's true, but a loaded statement. "It's easier to break in as an artist, so go spend a decade or two learning how to draw, compose and do graphic storytelling. Then it's easy!" So it's a little silly for young writers to complain about how it's easier for editors to evaluate and hire an artist- it's a hell of a lot of work to even draw a story badly. But it is true that almost no one will read your script. No one has time to read your script, you have to find a way on your own to get it drawn. And that usually means Pay An Artist. If you think that's unfair, consider how much time you just shortcut by not having to learn to draw, and you'll feel better. Or look at all the much deeper investment almost anyone else has to make establishing themselves in another career. It's not like you had to pay your way through medical school.

Most of what you've written has been in the Action/Adventure vein. Your book Interman was a marriage of superhero tropes and Ludlum-style suspense, Agents of Atlas (now simply Atlas) feels a lot like an old pulp novel, similar in theme and style to the Doc Savage tales of old. Are you very familiar with those old pulp books and how big an influence were those early action/adventure stories on you as a writer?

Jeff Parker: Yes, back to college, when I started finding reprints of comic strips like Terry and the Pirates and Captain Easy, I was very happy. I essentially write everything more or less in the vein of those genres. Even when I'm writing an X-Men story, I'm thinking of them as adventurers, not mutants or superheroes. Probably the most clear homage recently I've done to that stuff is the new Gorilla-Man miniseries with artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo.

When you made your path into the industry, was it always your intention to sort of revisit that style of adventure storytelling and update it for a modern comics audience?

Jeff Parker: I don't know that I did it consciously, I think I just write to entertain myself first and everything else just follows. But I do generally try to poke away that idea that high adventure can only take place in the 1930s, there's no reason in 2010 you can't embrace that kind of traveling story of discovery.

Between X-Men First Class, Atlas and all the Atlas tie-ins, Marvel has given you the go ahead to write what feels at times like a living history of the Marvel Universe. You're really telling the stories that exist between the panels of some classic Marvel moments. How does it feel being the architect of that secret history?

Jeff Parker: I did get to do a fair amount of that too with World War Hulks when they let me write the villain collective The Intelligencia (and yes, I know how it's supposed to be spelled. I don't remember why we decided to alter it). That stuff is fun to pull off, but can be pretty difficult, trying not to change continuity. I prefer writing something I don't have to check with others on, like ATLAS.

You're part of the new guard at Marvel that includes creators such as Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and Rick Remender. How does it feel being on the crest of such a powerful creative wave? Is there a big sense of community amongst the Marvel creative teams and do you guys draw a lot of inspiration from one another?

Jeff Parker: I certainly like those guys and read their books. We don't sit around a huge table and push action figures around like generals, though we probably should. And I don't know how much everyone is on some level competing, but I know I feel I can never just phone a story in when others are doing such excellent work. I wouldn't anyway, really. It helps that so many of us live in Portland and often see each other at parties. To get more involved I should probably play X-Box games.

You did some time on Marvel's kids-oriented line, Marvel Adventures. How important do you think it is that the big publishers make an effort to reach that younger audience with quality material? And, in your opinion, do you think that the industry is doing enough to try and hook new readers and create a next generation of fans for our work?

Jeff Parker: I think it's ALL-important. Anytime this subject comes up, you get the same answers "Hey, there's Bone..." Really we should have a hard time listing all the kid-friendly books, there should be so many. No other industry lets the young market get away as much as we do, most entertainment tries furiously to cater to them. Just because some approaches haven't worked in the past isn't an excuse to not keep trying.

Considering you are both a writer and an illustrator, you likely have a unique perspective on the collaborative process necessary to create comics. What advice can you give creators from both sides of the equation on how to best work together to create a successful finished product?

Jeff Parker: Writers, even if you can't draw, try laying out your pages with stick figures and make sure you're asking for things that work. Remember that it takes about ten times as long to draw the thing as it does to write it.

Artists, do whatever is in the interest of telling the kind of story this is, don't force it into what you'd rather draw. Pay close attention to acting, bringing a character alive is everything.

Both of you- write back and forth a lot and do some give and take. You can make this a collaboration that breathes instead of a mere assignment.

Can you speak a bit about your own scripting process? Do you like to maintain a particular amount of control over the process or do you tend to leave things more open-ended for your collaborator?

Jeff Parker: I mainly have certain things I need to happen to keep the tone and direction of the story, and I leave a lot of room for the artists to be themselves- I hope. I have a fairly sparse descriptive style in explaining the scene. I like to chime in at layout stage, not to be a control freak, but to help keep things on message before it becomes too labor intensive for an artist to make changes. As an artist I prefer that too- ask me to make changes while we're in rough pencil, not later!

Does your process ever shift depending on the artist you work with? For instance, you’ve worked with a lot of different artists at various points in your career, but it seems of late that your most frequent collaborator is Gabriel Hardman. Given your level of comfort with Gabriel, do you give him more breathing room than you might with another artist?

Jeff Parker: Oh yes. I for instance won't write a tech-heavy script if working with an artist who doesn't draw that stuff easily. If I suspect an artist likes drawing animals, it will suddenly become a zoo of a story. Gabe can draw anything, anywhere, any way it needs to be done. All he cares about is that the story is intriguing. So yes, he gets maybe more breathing room than most, largely because the editors also trust him explicitly. We turn into a bunch of fans when his pages come in.

Lastly, what advice can you give new creators on their own path into the industry?

Jeff Parker: Don't try to second guess readers, what you think will sell or what the next big thing is. That's a cynical approach, and one thing readers can sense above all is sincerity. They can tell when you believe in what you're doing, and they'll respond to that by joining in with you. So please yourself first. Don't ever think "well my work is at least as good as Creator X and they hire him..." that won't get you anywhere. Set sights very high, too high. You'd rather fall short of something amazing than some average work you see a million of.

Here's a big one- don't try to start off with an epic. I don't know how many grand trilogies I've known that were to be coming out from talented people with lots of potential, and of course we've never seen any of these. Keep your first works short and achievable. Don't put the light at the end of the tunnel years away, put it weeks away. That's the way these kind of goals are met. I assure you, I am right on that!

Thanks Jeff! Best of luck with all your projects in the coming year!

Jeff Parker: Thanks Brett. Hey, what took you so long with this interview?