Tuesday, September 1, 2015

ARDENT ALLEN WARNER


Ardent Allen Warner (NEW DYNAMIX, NINJA BOY) held court in the Recondite Pictures  commissary and offered us a peak into the rare and valuable mind of the great comicbook writer who treats everyone well!

Here's what Allen told us: 

How do you come up with characters?

I usually start with the overall story concept, and try to create a protagonist that best expresses the tone, world, and themes I want to explore.  Once I feel good about the protagonist, I'll create the antagonist to be the complete opposite, ideally to the point that everything he/she does makes the protagonist's life more difficult, and goals more unattainable.  After they're in place, I'll fill it out with supporting characters who complement or conflict with the protagonist in interesting ways.  The way I think about it is that every character should react differently to a given situation, and the protagonist should react (at least by the end of the story) in a way that best reflects your theme.  For example, if the characters in your story find a bag full of money, maybe one wants to turn it in to the police, one wants to take it home and stuff it under a mattress, one is afraid to even touch it, one wants to blow it at the strip club, etc.  You explore the theme of your story by following your protagonist's choices to see the impact on his/her life and environment, and the final outcome is the expression of your theme.  If any two characters have the same reaction, you either cut one, or collapse them into a single character.  It keeps the story tighter, fresher, and more fun to write.

For a lot of comic work I've done, the artist had already come up with the main characters, at least visually, so it's about respecting their vision while fleshing out the characters to best serve the story.  When I've worked with established characters in comics or on something like the game project I'm working on now, I try to dig into their personalities and abilities to try and find something new, and hopefully surprising, that hasn't been explored before.

No matter what, you have to write characters who are interesting to you, or at least find the one aspect of them that's interesting to you, because if they aren't interesting to you, your story won't be interesting to anyone else.

How important is plot?

In traditional mediums, plot is everything.  It's the hardest thing to get right because you're constantly facing choices that affect everything that happens moving forward.  Once I have the concept, I try to flesh out the protagonist, then come up with an exciting opening, then a powerful ending, then fill out everything in between.  When I first started, I sometimes ignored traditional structure out of ignorance, and stubbornness, and laziness, and figured I could just lean on my dialogue and some fun ideas, but I've definitely learned that tight outlines and composed structure are a writer's best friend, and make the dialogue and ideas better.  Crafting a plot can be time-consuming, and frustrating, and you can get the feeling that you aren't making any progress, but the reality is that taking the time to craft a detailed plot makes everything after that easier.

For most video games, I think plot is a little less important because of non-linear narrative, but the same rules still apply to even a short conversation between characters: you want to feel like things are different at the end than they were at the beginning, and you want to be surprised by how things changed.

What is your philosophy of writing comics?

I try to remember that it's a visual medium, meaning that I try to keep text to a minimum.  "Show don't tell" is always good writing advice, but I feel like it especially applies to comics.

I also try to cater to the artist's strengths.  I always talk to the artist beforehand about what they'd like to see happen, and what they generally like, and don't like, to draw because I want it to be as collaborative as possible.  To me, being able to create a fully realized story relatively quickly with a very small number of people is the greatest and most unique thing about working in comics.

I also always keep in mind that there's no special effects budget in comics.  In animation and movies and games, you're constantly thinking about time and budget, and pulling things back to make sure it can realistically get made.  In comics, it costs the same to draw a bunch of bankers in suits sitting around a conference table in a warehouse as it does to draw a bunch of zombie-wizards doing battle with a lava monster on the moon.  I try to take advantage of that, and push the ideas and craziness, and give the artist the biggest opportunity to have fun and show off.

What elements does every issue of a comic book need to deliver in order to satisfy the reader?

I think it's the same with every form of storytelling.  Try to give the audience something new, and something meaningful, and constantly surprise them along the way.   Cliffhangers are also crucial to monthly comics, so I'm always interested in the different ways that writers and artists flip that last page to keep readers hungry for more.

What do you find most exciting about writing comics? 

That personal, collaborative relationship between the writer and artist.  Watching awesome artists take your ideas and turn them into something amazing.  From the brainstorming, to pencils, to inks, to colors, to letters, to published comic.  It's so much fun, and it happens so much faster than any other medium.

That and being such a big fan of comics ever since I was a little kid, and being a able to hold a comic in my hand that has my words, and ideas, and my name on the front.  That never gets old, and always feels surreal and incredible.

What can writers do to give their characters emotional complexity without making them too whiny or weak?

Some of my favorite characters are whiny or weak.  Steve Buscemi in "Reservoir Dogs."  Bill Paxton in "Aliens."  And there are a lot of stories where a character starts out whiny and/or weak, and either finds a way to get stronger, or just trudges through it and survives when "stronger" characters can't.  I wouldn't want to read or watch something where every single character is whiny or weak, but I love those characters because they're relatable.  Everybody feels like that sometimes.  We love a badass action hero who never complains and isn't afraid of anything, but we all know what it feels like to be faced with a seemingly insurmountable, terrifying situation, and either want to complain about it or run the other way.  There are few better feelings as a reader or audience member than watching a weak character finally step up, and find their strength, and beat something they were afraid to even look at when the story started.  An emotionally complex character can be weak or strong, they just can't be one-dimensional.  Every person loves something, hates something, is afraid of something.  You create a well-rounded character, and try to put them in different situations that reveal different aspects of their personality, hopefully in a way that surprises the audience.

How do you write interesting character relationships?

I just try to make them dramatically different so that they constantly challenge each other, and bounce off of each other in interesting ways.  Then I try to find places for them to surprise me.  If they hate each other, I want to find that weird thing they didn't know they had in common.  If they seem like the perfect couple, I'll test them as much as possible to find that thing that might make them break.  Basically, create deep characters, and put them in challenging situations.  They'll take care of the rest.

How long does it take you to write a regular 22-page issue? Please walk us through the process.

If it's an original series, I start by writing a series bible that includes a paragraph to page summary of each of the main characters, a page or so on the world and its backstory, and a bunch of pages laying out the entire run in prose.  After bouncing that off of the artist and editors, I break it down by issue, writing a paragraph or so about what will happen in each issue, making sure to note what the opening and cliffhanger of each issue will be.  After that, I take that summary, and make a list numbered 1-20 for each issue, writing a sentence or two about what will happen on each page.  After that, I start writing the first issue script.  I write dialogue and panel descriptions, mostly because it helps me get a sense for the pacing if I know what's happening in each panel.  I try to limit the descriptions to only the most critical information to the story because I want to give the artist as much freedom as possible.  After the script is finished, I do my own couple rounds of revisions, and then send it to the artist and editors to get their feedback.  After that, I'll usually make one more pass, unless the editors ask for more.  All in all, it usually takes about four days to write the script, and another day for revisions.

What should newer writers do to strengthen their comic book writing skills?

Write a lot and read a lot.  Sorry if that's generic, but that's the truth.  I read books on writing, books specifically on writing for comics, interviews with writers, and as many comics as I could to try and break down how other writers do things, why those things work, and why they sometimes don't.  And not just comics.  Plays and screenplays share a lot with comic scripts, and novels force you to exercise your visual imagination.  Read comic scripts online or in the back of some TPBs, and then read the finished book to see what's similar and different.  Every time you learn one tiny piece of information, you're getting better and smarter, and that inevitably makes you more confident and creative.

For every writer in every medium, you have to write, and you have to show people what you wrote.  Talking about writing, or reading about writing, isn't writing.  A lot of people think they can write, but not very many people actually write anything, and not all of those people ever show anyone what they wrote.  You have to write.  You have to finish what you started writing.  You have to show it to people.  You have to let them criticize your writing.  And then you have to start all over.  It's hard, but if you're serious about being a professional writer, there's no other way.

If you want one pure writing tip applicable to comc writing, edit your dialogue down as much as possible.  Keep cutting away word after word until you have the absolute minimum amount of words to get the point across.  Then take that amount of words, and punch it up.  You will end up cutting great jokes, and heartfelt speeches, and it will make you sad, and make you feel like you wasted time and energy writing them in the first place, but it will make your script better.  And that applies to all writing from movies to games.

What is the most challenging thing for you to write when writing a comic book and how do you overcome the challenge? 

I think the hardest thing is balancing the art and the story.  It's taking all of your ideas and your story, and widdling it down as much as possible, so that the art has as much room to shine as possible.  I love seeing what artists do with a splash page, and I try to put at least one splash page in every issue I write, but it's hard to fit very much story in a splash page without a lot of exposition, and I hate a lot of exposition more than I love a splash page.

What inspires you to write?

I love reading and writing, and movies and games.  I love stories, and they have, and continue to have, such an impact on my life, that I want to see if I can provide that for someone else.  And as you, and every other writer knows, it's ridiculously gratifying and exciting to take a crumb of an idea and turn it into a fully realized story.  It's addicting, and you start to realize that a good idea doesn't count for anything until you make it into a story.  I basically feel like I have no choice but to write stories, and I want those stories to be good, so I never stop trying to get better at writing stories, and the only way to do that is to write.

Please take us through a normal day for you.

I work at a video game studio, and I'm involved in everything from the marketing trailers to character concepts for an upcoming game, so that means a lot of meetings in addition to actually writing all of the stories and dialogue.  Outside of that, I spend as much time as I can with friends and family, while writing some personal projects that are far removed from what I'm writing on a daily basis to try and stretch my writing muscles.

When I was working freelance, I would get up, get some exercise, and sit down to write for the day.  I tried to put in eight hours of writing, and I'd set myself goals so that each day I could keep myself motivated and feel like I accomplished something, while working toward bigger goals.  Some days I'd have the house to myself, and be on a roll, and I'd write for fourteen or fifteen hours.  Some days I just wasn't feeling it, but I'd force myself to bang my head against the wall for at least five hours.  Even on those days when I felt like I couldn't come up with anything, I'd try to be productive.  I might just go through an old script, and write revisions, so that even if I didn't make anything new, I at least made something better, and I could close my laptop feeling like I did something productive.

How do you make characters stand out?

Dig into them before you ever start writing them.  What are their hobbies?  What is their least favorite food?  What was high school like for them?  Who would they call first if something horrible happened?  If they had one wish, what would it be?  The more you know about your characters, the more real they feel, and the more they'll surprise you and the audience when they do things that you wouldn't expect at first, but completely make sense in retrospect.  Having their true selves in your pocket lets you reveal something surprising at opportune times, and keeps them constantly interesting.  Most people don't show their true selves to the world at large, and your characters shouldn't either.  You're the only one who knows what's really inside them, so you have the opportunity to continually play with the audience's expectations by teasing one way, and then revealing a truth that seems crazy at first, but ultimately feels right because you've done your research, and you know your characters inside out.

What are the themes of your work? 

I don't usually think about it that way, but a lot of stories I write are about the differences between what people show the world, and their true selves, and the beautiful and terrible things that happen when people drop their disguises, and reveal themselves for the first time.  Another thing is that nothing in this world has to be taken that seriously.  Even the darkest, dirtiest, most horrific stories I've written have a sense of humor.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

In comics, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Gail Simone, Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Rick Remender, Stan Lee, Ed Brubaker, Mark Waid, Ryan North, Grant Morrison, Jeff Smith, Greg Rucka, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Aaron, and a bunch of other people.

Outside of comics, Haruki Murakami, Laird Barron, Charlie Kaufman, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Thomas Ligotti, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, David Mitchell, J. G. Ballard, Donald Ray Pollock, Patrick Rothfuss, Ethan and Joel Coen, Tom Stoppard, Jeff VanderMeer, David Wong, and another bunch of other people.

Why do you like them?

Because they combine amazing imaginations with great technical expertise, and I love writers who can make me laugh while writing about weird and/or disgusting things.

What are a few specific back issue #s that readers should seek out to get a good taste of your writing? 

In comics, I'll always have a soft spot for "Ninja Boy," which was originally published by Wildstorm, and now DC Comics.  It features awesome art by Ale' Garza and Dan Norton, and is the embodiment of the comic that I wished had existed when I was twelve.  It was my first published work, and got my foot in the door in both comics and animation, so I have some practical fondness for it, but it was also just tons of fun.  I also really like a story I did with Carlos D'Anda in the "Wildstorm Winter Special" featuring Deathblow.  The art is incredible, and I think it has great atmosphere, and tells a punchy little story.

What mistakes do you notice most often in comic book writing? How can writers avoid these mistakes?

I don't know if they're necessarily mistakes, but I really don't like to see a lot of words on a comic book page.  I get it every once in while, but when the word balloons take more space than the art, I pretty much don't want to read it.  I also don't enjoy page after page of serious conversations between serious men.  Again, I get it every once in a while, but I don't want to read ten or more pages of somber guys in business suits talking about anything.  I don't go to the comic shop for that.  At least give one of them a yellow top hat or a forked tongue or a koala skin scarf.  Something I don't usually see when I go to the bank.  Another thing that bugs me are superhero books where everyone is depressed because they have superpowers.  For one character, that's great, but when every single character for consecutive issues is whining because no one likes them because they can turn into a monster or shoot lasers from their face, I start to not like those characters, and stop reading that book.  I'm not saying every story has to be fun.  I actually really appreciate dark and depressing stories, but if the characters are never enjoying themselves, and are never making an honest attempt to enjoy themselves, then I don't enjoy them either.

What comics do you have coming up? 

I've been working a lot more in games than comics lately, but the most recent comic work I did was two unannounced projects for DC Comics and BOOM! Studios.  The game I'm writing features a fun, fresh take on a bunch of iconic comic characters, and we're putting them in a unique setting featuring some awesome art and animation.  I wish I could share more, but the announcement is coming soon!


Scott Amundson writes LET ME GO, beginning November 2 in Aces Weekly, Volume 19

Friday, June 5, 2015

SCHOLARLY STEVEN GRANT

Scholarly Steven Grant (2 GUNS, THE PUNISHER) held court in the Recondite Pictures commissary and offered us a peak into the mind of the consummate action writer!

Here's what he said:

RP:  2 Guns was a great action movie. How did you come up with that story? How long did it take you to tighten that story for 2 Guns. That story was so tightly written. I really admire how breezy it seemed while every single element played a part in the narrative. Every motivation was clear, etc.  It was very skilled economical writing. How did you write such a tight story? How long did that take?

SG:  I assume you mean the comic, as I didn’t have anything to do with the screenplay aside from providing the basis for it, but Blake Masters, who did write the screenplay, I know made a point of sticking close to the graphic novel’s plot points. 2 Guns was a long time in the making, but it was made in a relatively short period. I got the underlying idea – undercover cops pitted against each other because they think the other undercover cops are criminals – sometime in the early ‘90s but it wasn’t an era where anyone in comics was willing to entertain that sort of material. I don’t recall exactly when I had filtered it down into 2 Guns, but Ross [Richie, Boom! publisher] remembers me running it past him c. 1997. By the late ‘90s I’d hit a lull in my schedule & wasn’t working, & 2 Guns was just an idea that kept nagging me so I threw caution to the winds & decided to write it up. It took three or four months but I didn’t work on it constantly. It was one of the few stories, though, that pretty much came to me full blown (Badlands was another) & the main problem was working out the structural mechanics of it. It’s kind of like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together. All the pieces are there but you don’t necessarily know how they fit together or recognize off the bat what any individual piece might be. But once you figure out the frame, the rest of it just falls into place.

I kind of work like that anyway. I’ve read the books & taken the courses, etc., where they tell you to work out the structure, & develop the character backstories, & identify your theme & work out this & work out that, & do all this prep work & THEN start “writing your story,” but I find it very difficult to work like that. It’s basically asking the writer to do the work of the critic, but approaching a story through its pieces is alien to me. A story shouldn’t be an assemblage of pieces. We all start with some sort of underlying idea, sure – with 2 Guns, it was “Two low-rent crooks rob a drug bank, but what neither of them knows is both of them are undercover cops & it’s not a drug bank, it’s a CIA money laundry. Hilarity ensues.” Literally. That was the pitch – but you can’t really know what your plot is until you see how your characters behave, you can’t really know how they’ll behave until you know how they think, & you can’t know how they think until you hear how they talk. You never really know what your theme is until you’ve finished the story, & you never really know what your story’s about until you know how it ends. I think it’s dangerous to plan out too much in advance. You can get too attached to bits, whether scenes, characters, dialogue, whatever, & fight too hard to keep them when the story ends up shifting gears. The toughest thing about writing is having to shoot your favorite children in the head. You have to believe whatever you’ve thought of you’ll think of something better before you’re done.

RP:  How do you come up with characters?

SG:  I take a tripartite approach to characters. All stories have three types. 1) The focal character(s). This is the person (or person) the story is about, usually the person the story starts with. Bobby was always the focal character, by a slight margin, of 2 Guns, though in practical terms Bobby & Marcus share the role of focal character. But it’s Bobby who brings us into the story, & Bobby who takes us out of it. You can think of your focal character as the story’s psychopomp; s/he’s there to escort us through hell. 2) Secondary characters. These are characters – villains, romantic interests, employers, rivals, etc. – that have important, lasting & usually recurring influence on the story & the focal character. What happens to them and what they do has important, lasting impact on the story. 3) Ancillary characters. These are basic placeholders, the characters who are there specifically to serve a plot function, provide information some character needs but has no other access to, or get shot by the bad guy to prove what a badass they are, that sort of thing.

As the story develops, you layer in the different types of characters as you need them. There’s no formula for it. Different stories make different demands. In something like 2 Guns, you start with your main characters & your basic situation, then start working out what would land them in that situation. It seemed to me they’d be working off some sort of intel, so who’d be in a position to influence their behavior toward that end. A lot of things come to you as you go along. For example, I didn’t know until well into writing it that Deb was behind everything happening to Bobby, but once I realized it I found everything I’d already written supported it.

RP:  How do you come up with action sequences?

SG:  Seat of the pants, man. Action sequences are one of the toughest things to work out. You have to think in terms of choreography, you have to research the physics of things so you don’t end up with something completely impossible, you have to be very studied in what has already been done, what’s clichéd, etc. And you have to be able to fit it all comfortably within your context. Way too many people approach action as an element that can be tossed in as window dressing. Window dressing action is ultimately pretty unconvincing. You want all action to seem absolutely necessary & inevitable, & preferably not something that only happens because your character does something unconscionably stupid.

RP:  Is plot important?

SG:  Yes & no. I think it’s overemphasized, because being one of the most mechanical aspects of fiction it’s the easiest aspect for most people to quickly grasp, so people latch onto it over aspects that seem more nebulous to them. I find plot useful to the extent that it helps to know how you’re going to begin your story & how you’re going to end it. I’m a big advocate of figuring out your ending first, because, as I said, how your story ends tells you what the story is about. Endings can change your entire perception of the rest of the story. You don’t have to be shackled to your ending – anything about a story can change in the writing of it – but in its barest terms a story is a trek from point A to point C. If you have a pretty good idea where point C is, you can always find your way there from point A. If you don’t know where point C is, you just don’t know where you’re going. Who wants to wander in the desert for 40 years? Life is too short.

But beyond that, your story is not about your plot, it’s about your characters. You should be willing, within limits, to let them determine the plot. I’m a big fan of writers like William Gaddis & Thomas Pynchon, whose plots are frequently obscure & fragmented. Their characters are wonderful, their themes are wonderful, their dialogue is wonderful, the language of their writing is wonderful. Their plots are there, but only as hangers everything is displayed on like shirts. Plot isn’t story. You wouldn’t hold up a hanger & try to tell me it’s a shirt, right?

RP:  What appeals to you about writing comic books?

SG:  I’m used to it now. I like the visual aspect. I like the control, & the necessary economy of comics storytelling. Fitting the allotted space is always a challenge, often a frustration. I like the way the comics format allows you to trim connective tissue to the bone in a way prose doesn’t. What it really comes down to is I’ve just always liked comics, & now they’re home.


RP:  What is the most important characteristic of a good villain?

SG:  Credibility. They need to make sense in the story. You should always try to write them from their POV. Most villains operate from a stance of entitlement; they have a RIGHT to do what they do, because whatever. They wouldn’t see themselves as evil, just expeditious. A villain sees the hero as the villain, the obstacle to the desired outcome of the situation.

It pays to think out something a little more specific than “evil” as your main identifying characteristic of a villain. I would identify villains by their lack of concern for collateral damage, at minimum; certainly there would be those who’d even get a thrill out of it, but mania need more explanation than callousness.

RP:  How do you build interesting character relationships?

SG:  I wish I knew. Again, it’s a function of the story, & using your characters to play out the underlying concerns of the story in interesting ways. I know that sounds like circular gibberish, & it is, but, really, to the extent you impose things artificially on your character you risk turning them into little more than functionaries for your plot. To be interesting, characters have to at least maintain the illusion of independent existence, & if you throw them together they’ll naturally start colliding with each other.

Then when you rewrite you see what you can amp up without distorting things. Most of the time it’s really a matter of hoping for the best.

RP:  How long does it take you to write a regular 22-page issue? Please walk us through the process.

SG:  It depends. On 2 Guns I wrote the whole thing start to finish as a single story, & then broke it down into issues, & that’s how I’m doing most of my original projects these days. I’ve written whole issues overnight, it has taken me a month to write a single story. There’s not really any one process. When I wrote Whisper, I would lay in the action/descriptions first, with dialogue notes here & there, then go through & write the dialogue. Then I’d go through a third time, laying in captions to cover any information necessary to the story that didn’t fit comfortably in dialogue. This quickly led to lots of narrative experimentation as the narrative captions became increasingly divorced, in plot terms, from the rest of the story, but (hopefully) impacting understanding of it through juxtaposition… which became increasingly random. It was fun.

Most comics issues I do the same way. Generally start with an overall plot outline for whatever arc – most things are done in arcs these days – with the caveat that I can & most likely will change things radically during the writing. Again, figure out the last page or last couple of pages first, then go back to the beginning & try to come up with a “catch” opening, something that will grab the reader’s attention, then just write it page by page straight through. Often it helps to start the next day by going back over & making changes to what was done the day before, cleaning it up & tightening it, sometimes chucking it for the sheer crap it is. (It happens.) I know the “scholarly” wisdom is to only rewrite after you’ve finished a first draft, but who really wants to tell the same story twice? I edit/rewrite constantly as I go along. These days I generally do four or five pages a day, so a 22 page comic might commonly take a week. Writing plot/dialogue (aka Marvel style) is really the easiest & quickest way to work – I can do a plot in two days, usually one; same with dialogue once the art comes – but it frequently results in the most displeasing work, unless I’m working with an artist I’m very sympatico with, like Mike Zeck. But, really, I’m happy to work any way an editor or artist would prefer. I don’t really care how I do it, I care what the end result is like. Anything that lands me with a great end result, I’m there.

RP:  What is the most important thing to remember when writing a comic book?

SG:  That you’re not writing a comic book. You’re writing a story. A story is a story is a story. It doesn’t matter what medium you’re writing for. Aside from the mechanics, it shouldn’t matter than you’re writing a comic book. The medium is no less demanding of its content than anything else, though there are plenty of people – editors, artists, fans, civilians – who will try to tell you otherwise. The second you approach it as “oh, it’s just a comic book,” that’s the death of YOUR credibility.

RP:  What is the hardest thing for you to write when writing a comic book?

SG:  Scenes that are nothing but talking. Sometimes you need them, even in action stories, & some stories absolutely require them & nothing else to get across what you want to get across. Keeping a story interesting without visible action in theory goes against the entire form (it doesn’t really, but that’s the popular wisdom) & takes a lot of work & talent to pull off.

RP:  How do you make characters stand out?

SG:  Again, I wish I knew. I think the ones we really remember are the ones who best express the stories they’re in & the designs of their authors. We remember the characters who surprise us in some notable way. But it usually can’t be completely out of the blue; it’s figuring out a really unexpected surprise that’s nonetheless keeping with what you’ve established as the character that rounds out our understanding of that character that the trick that’s difficult to pull off. Sometimes the most memorable characters are the ones that don’t necessarily surprise but that simply play out their own logic to the fullest extent, the ones that make the rules set down pay off. Readers like payoff, & that doesn’t always mean a swerve. That’s the problem with trying to formulate things like this; the more you manipulate your characters into being something that will serve a function other than telling the story, the more you risk making them something unable to credibly surprise. Again, credibility has to be at the heart of it.

RP:  What are the themes of your work?

SG:  I don’t know if any of us really know what the themes of our work are, & often it’s only really apparent in hindsight. When I did Whisper, I intentionally wrapped it around a theme of betrayal. Only in hindsight did I realize the theme was that betrayal is a natural function of our existence. Looking at my broader output, I think my overarching theme is western civilization as vast criminal conspiracy. There’s another, even broader theme, I’ve found in my work, but I’d rather not share it as I’m slowly working on a project dealing with it specifically whereas previously I’d only (unconsciously) hinted at it, & that may end up being the real theme of my work. We’ll see.

Like plot, theme is useful but your real themes are likely not what your imagined themes are. I tend to approach things with a theme in mind but not worry about it too much. There’s an aphorism popularized by Brian Eno: honor thy error as hidden intention. A lot of writing flows from the unconscious mind. As Heraclitus put it a few millennia ago, latent structure is the master of obvious structure.

RP:  Who are some of your favorite writers?

SG:  William Gaddis is my favorite. Great, very little known talent. Thomas Pynchon, Malcolm Lowry, JG Ballard, Thomas Disch, James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler, Ronald Sukenick. These days I tend to think more in terms of books than authors, since many authors I like have turned out books I can’t stand. Ken Kesey wrote an amazingly great novel, Sometimes A Great Notion, that does brilliant things like long, long passages where perspective seamlessly shifts between character in mid-sentence yet remains totally coherent & compelling. I’d kill to be able to write like that. Most of the rest of his books are fluff or worse. Go figure.

Comics… Anyone writing comics needs to bone up on Will Eisner & especially Harvey Kurtzman. Looking back, I’d say John Broome, who wrote Green Lantern & many other DC comics, was maybe the biggest influence on what I think makes a good comic, & most of his stuff still holds up if you approach it in the right spirit. (Remember it was mainly written for 10 year olds.) Johnny Craig’s the other “classic” writer I’d recommend. Currently I’ll read anything by Ed Brubaker or Warren Ellis, & would even if they weren’t pals of mine, & I generally look forward to anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison. I’m not especially picky about what I read, but not a lot sticks with me these days. I’m kind of off in my own little territory now.

RP:  What back issues should people seek out to get a good taste of your writing?

SG:  Whisper. The Punisher mini-series AKA Circle of Blood, &, if they can find it, the Punisher graphic novel Return To Big Nothing. Badlands. There’s a graphic novel called Damned, back in print now courtesy of Boom! I did a run on X-Man in collaboration with Warren Ellis back around the turn of the century I’d grandiosely say is worth picking up. 2 Guns, of course, also available from Boom! I know a lot of this is available in trade paperback through Amazon. I know I’m forgetting things; I’ve done an awful lot of work.

RP:  What mistakes do you notice most often in comic book writing?

SG:  I don’t pay enough attention anymore to have a current opinion on it. I can tell you the biggest single mistake of budding comics writers: trying to have a single character perform two SEQUENTIAL actions in the space of a single panel. Can’t be done, outside of occasional goofs like someone sweeping an arm to pull a trigger rapidfire, where you’ve got afterimages of the moving arm, but that always looks hokey & always has. You can have two or more simultaneous actions in a single panel, you can have different actions taking place on different planes in a single panel, but a panel is a crystal of time, a singular moment. You can’t have two sequential actions in a single moment of time.

Other than that, there are lots of things I don’t like but I wouldn’t call them mistakes. I just don’t like them.

RP:  What makes a good comic book writer?

SG:  That one I REALLY wish I knew. It would make life so much easier. I feel lucky I’ve been able to have a career as a comic book writer at all. I can only hope I’ve been lucky enough to be a consistently good one.

RP:  What is the key to writing action?

SG:  If you can’t see it, no one else will be able to. You have to be able to visualize it, not just conceive of it.

RP:  What comics do you have coming up?

SG:  Next out is The Rook, a revival of the old Warren character that Paul Gulacy & I just finished for Dark Horse. Paul & I are working on some other things, more on those later. Currently I’m finishing a 5 issue crime series for Legendary Comics called Cops For Criminals, drawn by Pete Woods. Not sure what the schedules are on those, I’m tempted to say late Fall. I’m working on a couple more revivals, one of Gil Kane’s His Name Is Savage, publisher to be determined, & a revival of my own creation, Enemy, for Dark Horse, who published the original run c. 1994. Slowly working on a couple new creations for Boom! & several other projects elsewhere, as well as several Hollywood things, but these cannot be spoken of yet. Keeping busy, though.


Scott Amundson writes LET ME GO, beginning November 2 in Aces Weekly, Volume 19

Thursday, September 18, 2014

STELLAR STEFAN PETRUCHA

Stellar Stefan Petrucha (X-FILES, NANCY DREW) held court in the Recondite Pictures commissary and offered us a peak into the mind of the writer of the smart and exciting hit comicbook series!

Here's what Stefan told us:

RP:  How long does it take you to write a 22-page comicbook issue? Can you walk us through the process?
SP:  It depends. With licensed books, the 1-2 page plot is approved first, so it’s spread out. The plot stage depends on how quickly an idea strikes me, which can be anywhere from a moment to half a day.
Once the plot is approved, scripting 22 pages take 1-2 days. So… three days total? But it also varies with the content. Something enjoyable, but simple, like The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, takes three days. Something more complex, like the work I did for The X-files would be more like five days.
I tend to start by breaking the script into pages and panels, to get a sense of how things fit, then go back and work on dialogue.
RP:  What does every comicbook issue need to deliver?
SP:  In terms of content – an intriguing hook that rises out of the world and its characters, characters that speak and act in a unique way, some sort of theme, and a satisfying conclusion that ties it all together.
In terms of style, all that should be told not only in a visually compelling manner, but in a way that suits the other elements structurally, considering point of view, focus, and other writerly-type tools like flashbacks, foreshadowing and etc.
RP:  Can you give our readers tips on how to ensure they keep their freelance income steady through the years?
SP:  Nope! Keep your day job. Wish I had one. Even with my long career, there are times when I earn a living writing, and times I don’t.
My only thought is to work at building an audience, and keep in touch with them via social media. The only real gatekeeper in writing is the reader. All else is vanity and investment capital.
RP:  How do you convince editors they need to work with you?
SP:  These days, based on my existing work, they tend to approach me. Past that, I try to write an incredible query letter that they can’t put down.
RP:  What are the themes of your work?

SP:  Oh, that varies wildly, not only from book to book, but from story to story.
  • College of the Dead is about redefining yourself and your impression of the world in order to survive.
  • The X-Files was often about memory, the self and what is reality.
  • Nancy Drew is about relentlessness.
  • The Power Rangers is about working together.
  • Despite also being a gnostic horror story, The Bandy Man was about the relationship between writer and editor.
Then there are the 20 books I’ve written…
RP:  What are the most challenging things to write? How do you overcome these challenges?
SP:  If I think in terms of character traits, and look at concepts that are either diametrically opposed (Good/Bad, Sloppy/Neat) or metaphorically related (Brainy/Owl, Acquiring a voice/Singing) I usually don’t get stuck in terms of story ideas.
Past that, generally speaking, research really works for me. For my YA novel Ripper, which took place in 1895 NYC, a lot of it was about studying the time period and the people. For The Power Rangers it’s about re-watching the show.
RP:  What is an average day like for you?
SP:  I get up at 6:20, make breakfast for myself and my younger daughter, then read the paper/do the crossword until she leaves for High School. After that, I crash on the couch for about twenty minutes before commuting upstairs to my office, where I turn on the radio and look at email and messages from my online classes.
Around 8:00 I say hi/bye to my wife and older daughter before they leave for work/college. By 9-10 I’m usually writing either an assignment, or something fun for spec. 1sh I eat lunch, then I write until 4-5, play a video game for an hour, then it’s time for dinner and TV with the family. If my schedule and willpower allow, I also try to exercise for an hour on my elliptical a few times a week.
RP:  What are your favorite issues you've written? Why?
SP:  Tough question.
In terms of comics, I’m probably most proud of The Bandy Man, a little known three-issue comic from Caliber, with art by X-Files pals Charlie Adlard, Jill Thompson and Miran Kim. It’s basically a gnostic riff about God’s first, abandoned effort at creating a man.
I also like the first issue of Squalor from First Publishing, with art by Tom Sutton, if only because it was such a benchmark for me in terms of my writing.
RP:  Walk us through your process for writing X-Files comics. Was it different from your regular process? How? I really love your X-Files stuff. Do you have any stories about that time?
SP:  Thanks – glad you enjoyed it. IDW recently released a very nice collection that seems to be doing well.
To answer your question, I’ve always been a huge paranormal fan (Fortean, not vampire romances). So, when I first found out I had the assignment, I made a huge list of paranormal stuff – UFOs, healing crystals, Nessie, etc. There were about 100 in all.
I’d start by picking one. In the first few issues, you’ve got the Fatima Prophecies, Roswell, Tunguska and Trepanning. Next, I’d figure out how to present the basics in a way that worked in a genre context, explored the implied issues, both in terms of science and metaphor, and tied-in to the Mulder/Scully believer/scientist dialectic.
It didn’t always work that way – Falling was more about Lord of the Flies than UFOs, for instance. More often than not, though, there’s a particular paranormal concept at the center of the stories.
After that, I’d white-knuckle it and pray not only that it’d be approved, but that it didn’t contradict or duplicate anything planned for the show.
We were all new to the process, the show quickly became huge, and 1013 wasn’t providing any advance info on their plans. I think the only “heads-up” I was ever given was something like, “Don’t write anything about the Anasazi or Native American myths.” Unfortunately, that was after I’d scripted the Aztec-based Silent Cities of the Mind.
Basically, I found out what was happening in the show when I watched it with everyone else on TV. In fact, given the oddities of comic vs TV production schedules, I’d sometimes write a story for the comic before a given TV episode was scripted, but that came out after it aired.
Of course, it would’ve been easier to stick with the monster-of-the-week sort of stuff, but that would’ve skipped half of what made The X-Files work. As a writer with my particular proclivities, I felt like I had a rare opportunity, and wanted to go for the gold. But in terms of continuity, I was flailing in the dark. I tried to work around that by coming up with my own conspiracy, and I’m pleased that folks are still reading the stories.
RP:  What writers do you look up to?
SP:  In comics, Alan Moore and Stan Lee. In ‘literature’ Steinbeck. In YA, MT Anderson, author of Feed. In TV, XF alumni Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad).
RP:  What comics are you reading right now?
SP:  Honestly, none. I’m usually researching something I’m working on, which doesn’t leave much time for pleasure reading. After staring at words all day, I also tend more toward zoning out in front of the TV.
RP:  Are there any common mistakes you notice comics writers making?
SP:  Recently, in mainstream - I think abandoning things like captions is a big mistake. There also seems to be a desire to replicate the feel of a TV show or film. That can be great, but it doesn’t really take advantage of what makes comics unique – the ability to vary what’s going on in the picture and the words.
Past that, there’s the classic issue of long dialogue scenes. An actor can say a word like “the” in a million ways. Pictures of people talking to one another page after page is boring.
It takes effort, but all that exposition and chatting works much better in comics if something else is going on at the same time. But that goes back to the caption thing – you can have an earlier dialogue take place in captions over a fight scene, for instance.
RP:  What advice do you have for comics writers who want to get better at the craft?

SP:  Read things other than comics – look at art beyond graphic novels, find new things to bring to the medium. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t be afraid to write crap at first, don’t be afraid to edit yourself. Avoid redundancy, cherish brevity and focus on communicating character in a short space.

RP:  What comics do you have coming out that our readers need to pick up?

College of the Dead, a free webcomic from Adam Post Productions, with art by Javier Aranda. It’s currently being released a panel at a time on Twitter and FaceBook, but the web page should be up soon. In terms of prose, I’d also love your readers to check out my book series, Hessius Mann, Zombie Detective. There’s more info at my website. Folks can also drop by the Facebook page and give it a like.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

JAZZY JIMMY PALMIOTTI

Jimmy writes Harley Quinn with his wife.
Jazzy Jimmy Palmiotti (HARLEY QUINN) held court in the Recondite Pictures commissary and offered us a peak into the mind of the writer of the comic burning up the Top 10 section of the sales charts every month!

Here's what Jimmy told us:

RP:  What does a 22-page comic book story need to please a reader?

JP:  A beginning, middle and some sort of end and cliffhanger. It should also be something a new reader can pick up and understand without knowing the history of the book or it’s characters. It should also look attractive and easy to read. I think a good cover price helps the experience as well.

RP:  How long does it take you to write a 22 page comic book story?

JP:  Each job is different. Average 22 page story is 1-2 weeks each. If it is a brand new character I am introducing, maybe longer. Established characters are easier to write because their history is at your fingertips on the Internet. When writing a new character I keep a bio pad so I can go back and forth to get to know the character and build on their habits and fears and so on. 

RP:  What is the hardest thing for you to write?

JP:  The hardest thing to write is something I don't have any passion for. A gig that holds no interest or something that is dictated to me from a company. I avoid those books like the plague. I used to call them money gigs when I wanted them, but these days I run the other way. When I did have to do them I would try to find an idea or spark that will make what I am doing interesting to me. If I can find that, I can plow through it.

RP:  How do you overcome this challenge?
Harley Quinn is a humorous book about a clown.

JP:  I do not take on the work. I just turned down a boatload of work because I didn't like the characters. I am lucky enough to live very cheap so money isn’t an issue. If I did have to do it, its where a partner can come in handy. Two people can get a horrible job done faster than one.

RP:  What are the themes of your work?

JP:  These are defined by the job. Most are about redemption, love and control. What do they want and what do they fear. The basics. Each character comes with their own baggage and this gives a writer a good starting point.

RP:  What advantages does co-writing offer you?

JP:  A chance to bounce ideas off someone else and a chance to take time off to have someone else finish what the other started. I find it relaxing to collaborate. New ideas are always challenged. It also forces one to get out of their safe zone in their storytelling.

RP:  What advantages does solo writing offer you?

JP:  My idea, clean and on to the paper that way. Sometimes that is best.

RP:  Why do you write comics?

JP:  I wrote comics because I love the medium of graphic storytelling. I have been reading them forever. They have no budget or real world restrictions and can really spark the imagination. Everything about them is wonderful to me. Art styles, writing styles, all a real treat.

Harley Quinn is a villain.
RP:  What are your favorite comics you are reading at the moment?

JP:  My spare time is spent listening to music and traveling, so not as much as I should. I am enjoying SAGA, the Parker novels by Darwyn Cooke and trying anything new that hits the shelves. I buy the first issue of everything and my recycle bin gets about 80% of them. Hey, at least I give them a shot.  

RP:  Is there anything you notice current writers doing wrong? What advice would you give them about this?

JP:  I don't tell other people how to write, it's a personal thing. I feel I am still learning, so I try not to give too much advice out. I think there will be a time where my confidence is in a better place and I will be blowing a lot of hot air towards other writers, but for now, my skill is listening and learning.

RP:  How do you successfully pitch a story?

JP:  Know the story inside and out and then look at it and explain it from a perspective where someone is coming in clean. Find the hook. Why do I want to follow these people…why should I care. Why would I even buy this book. These need to be answered before hand.

RP:  What are the most important elements of a successful pitch? How can unsuccessful pitchers improve their performance?

Harley Quinn loves the Joker.
JP:  They can record their own pitch and listen back to it and see what works and doesn't work. Don't get hung up in the details…tell the overall story simple and clean. Do it quickly, and make it easy to understand. Give them the points in the story that makes them feel something.

RP:  What back issue of yours do people need to seek out to get the best first impression of your writing?

JP:  I would say get THE MONOLITH hardcover from Image comics or stop by my site at PAPERFILMS.COM and try some of the digital Painkiller Jane books out.

What comics do you have coming out that we need to get?

Harley Quinn monthly, WOOL, Star-Spangled War Stories and my new Kickstarter that is up called SEX AND VIOLENCE VOL. 2.

--
Scott Amundson (BARBARIAN) co-writes the comicbook series BANG IN THE CITY with artist Dheeraj Verma (TRANSFORMERS:  FALL OF CYBERTRON).

Monday, July 14, 2014

JOVIAL JOHN OSTRANDER

 

Jovial John Ostrander (SUICIDE SQUAD, THE SPECTRE) stopped by the Recondite Pictures lot to hold court and let us a peek into the mind of the seasoned writer of long runs for ultra-powerful superheroes and endearing villains.

Here's what he said:

RP:
What is the trick to writing a good villain?

JO: Same as writing any other character. You need to know what drives the character, what they want, and you have to identify with them or the reader won’t. Villains generally don’t think of themselves as villains; they believe they have every right to do as they’re doing. There is something they want and you have to know what it is.

RP: How do you structure your stories?

JO: According to the need of the book. Am I doing a single issue or an arc? If a single issue, is it a fill-in, a one-off? There are basics that you need to get out there – who, what, where, why, when, and how? What’s at stake? Who wants what and how far are they willing to go to get it? What’s REALLY at stake? Each scene should follow from the previous in such a way as it makes good narrative sense and leads to a natural climax. You don’t want the reader to see the seams or the structure; that takes them out of the story.

RP: How long does it take you to write a single issue? Take us through the process.

JO: It depends. I HAVE done a fill-in story over a week-end from concept to finished script but generally it will take a week to ten days. You start with the pitch – the general idea of the story. You and your editor agree to what it is. This is about a paragraph long. What’s the concept, the basic situation, and what’s at stake. If you don’t interest the editor you won’t interest the reader (mainly because they’ll never see it.) Some editors want a one sentence pitch.

From there, you go to synopsis or outline. All the elements of the story are in it – plot, character, theme and so on. For a single issue, this can be about three pages. Some editors want a single page. For an arc, it’ll be longer, indicating where each issue ends, and the final resolution. Mine generally are about 5-10 pages depending on how much I put in. This is the backbone of the story – if it doesn’t work here, it won’t work in print.

Once this is approved, it either goes to full script or to the artist. Plot first means the artist draws it from the plot and I dialogue it afterwards. I generally like to do at least a page breakdown and, if possible, a page/panel breakdown. One clear action per panel. Full script is just that – everything is in it before the artist sees it. Panel description, caption boxes, word and thought balloons and sound effects. If it’s full script, I may not see the art before it’s published.

RP: Who are some of your writing heroes?

JO: Denny O’Neil, Stan Lee. Shakespeare (not kidding and not just the language; look at how he melds theme and plot). Peter O’Donnell (Modesty Blaise). Will Eisner. Samuel Beckett. Charles Dickens. So many many more.

RP: What is the most important thing a newer writer needs to keep in mind?

JO: Know more than you show. You have to know lots about the character, concepts, setting, et al but you don’t reveal it all. Show, don’t tell. Action defines character and dialogue is action.

RP: What aspect of writing is hardest for you?

JO: Plotting. Like I said, it’s the backbone. It has to work or the story won’t.

RP: Are there any common writing mistakes you notice in today's books that bugs you? How can it be fixed?

JO: “Cleverness”. Solution: just focus on telling a good story. That said, there’s a LOT of good writing out there today.

RP: What are the best scene transitions?

JO: I’m not concerned with transitions. However, I do have favorite tricks. A voice-over caption box at the start of one scene that complete a line from the last panel of the previous scene and can help link things but, generally, just make sure the flow works from one scene to the next. You’re trying to lead up to a climax.

RP: Why are stories important?

JO: They’re how we make sense of the chaos of the world around us. It’s how we share feelings, experiences, ideas – everything that makes us human.

RP: What do you do to keep an ongoing series fresh and on the right track?

JO: Look to the essence of the character, of the concept. In an effort to stay fresh, you can wander away from that. Scrape off the barnacles and get back to the essentials.

RP: What comics of yours should readers seek out in the back issue bins?

JO: GRIMJACK is my most essential series; it’s the cornerstone of my career. SUICIDE SQUAD, THE SPECTRE, WASTELAND, THE KENTS are all standouts. The Spectre and Martian Manhunter are being reprinted in TPB. I’d look for a lot of my STAR WARS material, especially LEGACY and AGENT OF THE EMPIRE.

RP: What do you have coming out?

JO: I’m working on a number of new projects and hope to be able to announce some of them soon.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LITERARY LEAH MOORE & JOLLY JOHN REPPION

Literary Leah Moore & Jolly John Reppion stopped by the Recondite Pictures lot to hold court and let us a peek into the minds of the successful husband and wife comicbook writing team.

How do you connect emotionally with readers?

John:  That’s a good question but I suppose the answer is kind of boring – you have to write for yourself. You can’t second guess what the audience is going to want or react to, really. You just have to write stuff that you yourself would enjoy reading. You have to set up stuff, step back, and walk back around that corner (as it where) to see how it will hit you. You have to create characters who have a voice and a story you can believe and relate to on some level, which is no mean feat. You have to give a crap about the characters or else no-one else will. Or if they do, you’ll have no idea why.

What does every 22-page story need to deliver to satisfy the reader?

John:  A beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes, people (ourselves included, on occasion) forget that, especially in a larger story, but there’s really nothing more important than those three things. Those are the hooks that drag you through a comicbook into the “what happens next?” zone.

How do you write a 22-page issue as a team? Walk us through your process. How long does it take?

Leah:  The short answer is TOO LONG. Do *not* set up as a husband and wife comic writing team because it means you write every script by committee! The longer answer is this:  We block out the issue using whatever notes we had in our pitch, sometimes these are really brief, just a "We eventually discover..." kind of a note, or sometimes we've jumped in and blocked it out really tightly. Whichever, we sit down and figure out the issue, so the first page is an orphan not a spread so that can be your little intro scene, or if you need room, you can have three pages for it. The last page is an orphan, so that is your big reveal splash page, and of course if that's at the end of a scene, then you need the spread before. Those two bits of any comic are usually known first, so we put them in first. Then, we chop the remaining pages up according to how long the scenes are. Usually a minimum of two pages a scene, as we do not normally like to change scenes halfway through a spread. We do sometimes, but it is awkward unless you have a perfect way of doing it. Hopefully, the action neatly breaks itself down into little two and four page blocks, and we get our list of spreads done. Then, I draw twenty two pages into the workbook, number them and write whatever it says on the list above them to remind me, and then we dive in. We used to talk it all through as we went page at a time and consider it all and then draw the page out roughly, and then move on. These days we have zero time because:  Children. So, I go through and draw it all out and then show it to john and talk him through it. We change stuff all the time, using address labels to cover the old versions, and just drawing on the top. Roughing more than eight pages in one day is unusual, so like I say, we are SLOW, but we get it done as fast as we can, and then somebody starts typing. If one of us just knows how the first scene flows, that person starts it, if one of us just really cannot be arsed, then the other person does it. If we are pushed for time, then I type it because I can type faster. We sometimes swap over so the other person has a go at the typing for bit, but these days with lack of time and everything, we pretty much just try and plough though before a child gets ill or falls over or needs bathing or something. Parenthood is more pressing than the harshest editor. A harsh editor *and* kids would kill us stone dead.

What is the hardest thing for you to write?

Leah:  I find fighting really really hard to write. I can do it, but I end up choreographing the whole thing to make sure it plays right. I hear those stories about marvel scripts saying "These guys fight for eight pages" and it makes me ask two questions:  1. How can that be called writing 2. How can I reshuffle my whole style so that i can do that and get paid the same money as i do now. Fights are hard, but when they are done well its very satisfying. My two favourite fights we've written recently are: The 'Jaquelyn-Giantslayer' one-shot we had out last year, which was in part, a woman in huge magical armour having a brutal sword fight with lots of giants. Best fun ever to write. The other is the fight in Sherlock Holmes - Liverpool Demon which ends in a hyena pit. I will say no more, but i am very proud of that.

Do you ever write stories you love that nobody else gets? What do you do when that happens?

John:  Ha, sometimes it can feel a bit like that, yeah. There’s really not much you can do other than start over explaining yourself, which is never a solution, really. The truth is there are always (some) people who relate to what you write. Often, even when something is really successful, readers take something different from the writing than what you intended. That’s the beauty of doing anything creative – once it’s out there, it’s up to those who read the stories to interpret them in their own way, using their own frames of reference. If a story means something to a person, relates to an experience they’ve had, or can imagine, then that’s valid.

Leah:  We once did a story which was a prequel to an obscure Hammer film, and was about as subtle and unexplainy as they get. We loved it, but we did have a few people saying "huh?".

There are so few publishers. What do you do when everyone says no? Have you ever pitched a project a second time to the same people? How did you make that work? Tell us about it.

John:  We’ve spent most of our career as work-for-hire writers so we really haven’t done all that much pitching (in comics, at least) compared to a lot of other people. Recently, we pitched a comic series which turned out to be very similar in terms of plot to something else (a film, actually) which neither of us were aware of. The Editor was really good about it;  told us what he liked and what he thought we could build on. We went away, reconfigured the whole thing, and came back with an idea which was ten times better. It was accepted straight away. Now, that was possible because the Editor knew what he liked and told us, and then we were able to build on that. That’s how it should be but sadly it doesn’t always work out that way.

What do people need to remember to have successful writing careers?

Leah:  Depends if you mean successful as in lucrative or successful as in you write lots of comics and improve as a writer and enjoy youor life.  I am an expert on the latter, and not so much on the former. I would say trust your instincts. If you like the look and feel of a project and you can afford the time and energy to do it, then go for it. If you have no money or time, then see if there's a smaller way to be involved. Do stuff for free if you can, for mates or just small press stuff. It's good practise, great way to meet people to work with and you end up with a portfolio of awesome stories to show around. We crashed in on comics because we started doing ABC comics first, and then worked our way back to Small press, but it was still great experience. I think whichever way you start out, just try and get as much experience under your belt as you can. good or bad, it will all help. Also:  Be nice. It doesn't cost anything to treat people nicely, and I feel it encourages them to do the same to you. It doesn't always work and some people are just asshats, but hey.

Is there anything that bothers you about the writing in some comicbooks? How could this be improved?

Leah:  I can't stand million balloon splash pages. A big huge splash page with a long string of ever decreasing balloons on it, sometimes interrupted by someone else, oh ack I hate it. Chop the page up a bit, or have them say less. Its a pet peeve, and I'm certain now I've said that sombody will find that we did just that in 2005 and I'll look ridiculous!

What are some of the biggest influences on your writing?

John:  At this point, I really have no idea. I feel like everything I read and watch and listen to is an influence. When we enter into a new project we sometimes have an idea that it’s got to have a certain style or whatever and we’ll have something in mind in terms of a writer, or a book, or a TV show but, to be honest, that kind of fades out as we get more into it and it just becomes us writing.

Leah:   Late 80s and 90s comics because dad used to get comp boxes through, so there'd be all these sacks of free comics laying about and I'd pull out any that looked interesting (I did judge a book by its cover). From that time I can remember Appleseed, Gen 13, Power Pack- that was amazing! I'd write that now! - any and all Hernandez (I met Jamie H. not long back and stammered like Porky Pig from sheer nerves), all the cool old comics dad had, like Herbie (not the car) or Little Nemo, or the big EC hardcovers, Two-Fisted Tales and Crime suspense stories. I loved Mad. I have a copy I did in Rapidograph of the Mad Bat-mite character, which I was very pleased with. I loved Cerebus (pre weird Sim wig-out). I also loved Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Diana Wynn Jones, anything i could get my hands on really.

What comics do you currently enjoy reading?

Leah:  I do not have much chance to buy or read at the minute, but I really love Fatale by Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker. I am a huge pulp fan, so its right up my street, and Sean's stuff is so gorgeous I'd buy a cereal box if he drew it. I am really getting back into 2000AD since we started writing Black Shuck for them. I have a lot of affection for the whole thing, the characters, the history, the look of it, its just a lovely thing to be a part of again, and it really feels like home!

What are the main themes of your work?

John:  I suppose we have strong female characters in a lot of our stories. The first book we wrote together – Wild Girl – was about a teenage girl discovering she had this power to communicate with animals. Most recently we’ve written Damsels which is a gender-flipped action fairy tale where the princesses and witches are the powerful, flawed ones and the Kings are more the cute victims. Myths, legends and folklore played a big part in both those series, and they’re also themes that run through a lot of our work. Outside of comics I’ve written for Fortean Times, Darklore, The Anomalist, Strange Attractor Journal and other Fortean publications so I have a deep interest in all that kind of thing.

What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

John:  Aside from making a living (which is very important when there’s no one in the house with a “normal” job and you have three kids), I suppose it’s as simple as keeping people entertained and making them happy. When we wrote our Sherlock Holmes series for Dynamite and we were plotting all the twists and turns, we knew that we were going to have people reading the finished books and asking “Wow, so he did X?” or “That was Y all along?”. That’s such a nice feeling; to know that you’re amusing and entertaining people just with your ideas.

What are some short term goals that you set for yourselves?

Leah:  Pay the mortgage. Find something that pays out royalties worth a damn. Find a project that people really connect with. Hustle hustle! I am also trying to squeeze in writing a novel, but that really isn't looking very 'short term' at the minute.

What should people seek out in the back issue bins to get a good introduction to your writing?

Leah:  I would say either of the Sherlock Holmes trades, or Wild Girl is a good start. It's where we started, so it's rough and kind of meanders, but I think we were really having fun with it and it shows. Never collected, of course, so it'll be a mission to find them!

What do you have coming out now and in the future that readers should look for on the stands?

John:  The collected edition of our latest Sherlock Holmes mystery The Liverpool Demon (Dynamite Entertainment) has just been released. We have stories in the DC Comics digital first Vampire Diaries series. We’re in the current issue (#4), #7, and two more. Leah wrote a story for Gail Simone’s Legends of Red Sonja series, which is in #3. We also have a nine part series Black Shuck coming up in 2000 AD.

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Scott Amundson co-writes the upcoming ongoing series BANG IN THE CITY with Dheeraj Verma (TRANSFORMERS:  FALL OF CYBERTRON).