DIG, IF YOU WILL, SOME PICTURES
...0f you and I engaged in a kiss?
This week has been all about the comic books. In addition to finishing up the first draft of volume II of a series I am developing, I also wrote an original five-page "romance" story for an Oni Press submissions stunt. Essentially, four different writers (or, in one case, a team: my pals Chynna Clugston & Ian Shaughnessy) will write short scripts focusing on specific genres that Oni specializes in: action adventure, romance, horror, and comedy. Artists interested in working for Oni can download any of the four and create a tryout sample. Then at the San Diego Comic Con International, they can have their tryout reviewed. There are also provisions for mailing the samples in. Full details are here, as well as the scripts themselves. Mine is called "Me & the Cat Own the Lease on the Flat." IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS REGARDING THIS CONTEST DO NOT E-MAIL ME OR POST ON MY BLOG; RATHER, FOLLOW THE LINK, READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE, AND THEN GO TO THE ONI PRESS MESSAGE BOARD.
This contest stemmed out of talks I was having with James Lucas Jones. The germ was that maybe we should send out the word I am looking for a collaborator, but I balked at my own suggestion because I didn't want to add to my commitments at the convention. It's been a decade since I was able to attend the show and not be tied to a table full-time, and I am looking forward to the freedom. The small suggestion was all James needed to get going, though, and he ran with it.
As a writer moonlighting as an editor, I always tried to be sympathetic to the plight of the writer in comics. It's always been tough for new writers to break in because it takes time to evaluate their work, whereas you can pretty much tell an artist's skill in about five seconds just by taking a glance at their pages. Writing requires reading. I am not a fan of the verbal pitch. It's pointless to me if you can talk a good game but can't put that material on paper. So, face-to-face meetings between writers and editors can only do so much.
But beyond that, a writer is always at the mercy of his collaborators. In prose, you are the be-all and end-all; in comics (or any visual medium), you need other people to come in and carry it through. This can be maddening for someone like me who has spent most of his life trying not to rely on anybody. In comics, you always have to rely on somebody, and since my cynical approach to life is often "People will fail you. Always," the wait game that comic book writers must play is enough to send me back screaming into the arms of prose. Naturally, there are many fruitful partnerships that work very well, and one hopes my future output will be a testament to that, but I remember even as a young reader, when Steve Rude's schedule was forcing him to stray from Nexus for the first time, I couldn't help thinking, "Man, Mike Baron is screwed! What if Rude leaves and insists the book stop?"
Obviously, I am not going to take a cowardly duck out of comic books, but if you're going to work in the field, these are things you must think about.
The whole concept of short stories in comics is one that has interested me for some time, as well, starting way back when I was editing Dark Horse Presents. I will quite harshly state that most comics professionals don't understand short stories, while also consoling them by telling them most modern prose writers don't either. The comics problem is that they tend to fall back on some kind of twist ending, which does not a story make. If the lead-in to the twist isn't any good, it's like a roof with no building. I blame my beloved Twilight Zone, because they did the twist so well, and the airwaves that broadcast this fantastic show have seemed to infect all genre fiction. People often miss, though, that Twilight Zone episodes gave a larger importance to the humanity of their situations, no matter how bizarre, and the stories were about human behavior, not about being weird. Producers of later bullshit versions of this show seemed to miss that memo, too.
In the literary world, the twist ending is replaced with the much more high-minded epiphany (note: I say that with a little bit of la-di-dah, self-reflexive sarcasm). The epiphany is where our main character discovers everything that is wrong with him, the crucial piece of information he is missing--and yes, that can be a twist, too. A lackluster short story usually comes about because the writer hasn't had that epiphany himself, he's just as clueless as his character.
Having worked on several comic book shorts in the recent past, what I've come to realize is that the main problem a writer has to overcome in this format is one of space and the technique of expression. Given that epiphanies are largely interior, even when motivated by some outside action, they are better suited to prose, where the writer can take a paragraph to explain exactly what his character is thinking. In my tryout story, I could say, "It was then that Brett realized that he was being selfish and unreasonable;" however, on a comic book page where there is no interior monologue, unless we want to rectify that with some heavy-handed captions, we have to choose what is said and what is shown on the character's face carefully, fingers crossed that it will convey the desired effect. And while it might be there on the script page, we must tangle our digits even tighter that the artist will recognize it. Verdict is still out on how this might be handled on "Me & the Cat...."
Current Soundtrack: The Tears, Here Come The Tears (great double meaning to that title, yes? referring to the band and to the act of crying!)
Current Mood: sore