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:

1.  How long does it take you to write a 22-page comicbook issue? Can you walk us through the process?
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.
2.  What does every comicbook issue need to deliver?
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.
3.  Can you give our readers tips on how to ensure they keep their freelance income steady through the years?
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.
4. How do you convince editors they need to work with you?
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.
5. What are the themes of your work?

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…
6. What are the most challenging things to write? How do you overcome these challenges?
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.
7. What is an average day like for you?
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.
8. What are your favorite issues you've written? Why?
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.
9. 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?
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.
10. What writers do you look up to?
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).
11. What comics are you reading right now?
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.
12. Are there any common mistakes you notice comics writers making?
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.
13. What advice do you have for comics writers who want to get better at the craft?

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.

14. 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:

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

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.

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

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. 

What is the hardest thing for you to write?

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.

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

What are the themes of your work?
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.

What advantages does co-writing offer you?

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.

What advantages does solo writing offer you?

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

Why do you write comics?

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.
What are your favorite comics you are reading at the moment?

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.  

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

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.

How do you successfully pitch a story?

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.

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

Harley Quinn loves the Joker.
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.

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

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 co-writes the Penguin India comicbook series BANG IN THE CITY with 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.

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 got 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.

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

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.

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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

JOCOSE JOHN ROZUM



Jocose John Rozum, writer of many classic X-FILES comics, stopped by the Recondite Pictures lot to hold court and let us a peer inside the mind of the intelligent comicbook creator.

Here is what he had to say:

What do you like about writing?

My favorite parts of writing are the generation of ideas and world building. I often find myself working on one project, but really dying to get started on the next project which is often in the most early formative stage. Sometimes new projects fall together really quickly, other times they can germinate for years as bits and pieces occur until there are enough of them that the rest of the missing pieces fall into place really quickly.

The actual writing process itself is less interesting to me, because by the time I start typing the story there isn’t as much that I need to figure out, so it often feels like transcription. To get around this I avoid outlining. This way there is still room for surprises to happen. Since I put characters before plot, and put a lot of thought into them, I find that simply letting them interact often brings forth aspects of the story, or new material that I didn’t expect, or plan for. Whenever this happens I find myself really enjoying the work, even if it means I have to reconfigure the plot to allow for these unexpected developments.

How do you get writing gigs?

It’s a combination of pursuing them myself, and editors coming to me. I’ll often approach editors I don’t know simply because I really like the other material they are handling, because I think there will be a positive connection between them and myself and my work which will lead to a project that both of us can be proud of.

How do you build characters?

Typically a story occurs to me and I’ll begin by deciding on what sorts of characters will best serve that story. This means I’ll either begin by occupation or personality type and work from there. I always want to know where my characters are emotionally  and situationally at the beginning of the story, and where I want them to be at the end of the story. This often allows me to mold the plot in such a way that it serves their personal transformation. It’s also important for me to know how the characters feel about each other, so that their interactions are genuine, and so, in the case of comics, the artist can visualize this in body language, which Frazer Irving did beautifully in Xombi.

On rarer occasions I’ll think of a character first then figure out a story that I want to set them in.

What are the major themes of your work?

At some point I realized that most of my work is really the story of Pinocchio. I often tell stories about extraordinary characters who wish they could live normal lives. I’ve never really given much thought to why this is, because I think figuring that out will take away whatever power it has for me. I also think that themes in general work best if they are incorporated subconsciously rather than done with purpose, so I try not to pay much attention to the themes of my work.

How do you research for a book like X-Files?

The X-Files was particularly difficult because you had to deal with three things for each story. You needed to have the strange phenomena aspect of the story. You also had to have a way in which this phenomena could plausibly be explained through science, and you had to be able to turn it into a crime that would involve the FBI. I had a lot of stories that would have one or two of those elements worked out, but not the final piece.


At the time I was writing The X-Files, the internet was in its infancy, and online time was expensive, so I relied on books, magazines and phone calls for all of my research. I often had to guess on what sort of police system a certain town might have, or even what that town would be like in general. I usually started with the weird phenomenon, since I have a pretty extensive library on this sort of thing, thought about what human story could be brought to life using this phenomena, then what the crime would be that would bring in Mulder and Scully.

What are the most important skills for a writer?

Time management and self motivation. As a writer you are forced to keep your own schedule and manage productivity. Procrastination is a constant temptation. I find that I tend to do a lot more non-writing than writing, but never feel like I am off the clock. Non-writing includes things that fuel the creative process whether it’s reading, watching a movie, or visiting a museum. To an outside observer this may seem like slacking off, but when I’m doing these things, I know it’s something that will trigger ideas in my head, either for something I’m currently working on, or something that will spring to life later. I try to surround myself with things that will stimulate my imagination.

What are the major influences on your work?

This has always been the most difficult question for me to answer, because there aren’t any individuals who really shaped the way I write, or drove me to create, but there a lot of things that inspire my creativity in some way. I’m convinced that the majority of people in creative fields are still inspired and shaped by the things they gravitated to in childhood. For me that would be old horror movies, ghost stories, science fiction, dinosaurs, pirates, myths and fairy tales and comic books. These are all things that still interest me, though I don’t read much science fiction these days. Some of these things don’t directly connect with my work, but things that I’ve taken from them, even if it’s just the way I’ve connected to them, find their way into my work all the time. I also find myself inspired by art, whether its a body of work, or a single image.

What should people seek out in the back issue bins?

Probably the original run of Xombi, or Midnight, Mass.. Xombi had an original run of 22 issues 0-21  (though you don’t need issue #0) followed by a six issue run a few years ago which is available in tpb. Midnight, Mass. was published as an 8 issue series followed by a six issue series. I also really enjoyed writing Dexter’s Laboratory, so there’s that too.

You've written over 100 issues of Scooby-Doo. How do you keep coming up with new stories for them that haven't been told already?

Coming up with stories for Scooby-Doo is a little like coming up with stories for The X-Files in that you need a monster and a mystery to be solved. You also learn very quickly why so many of the mysteries involve real estate scams. Since this is a comic book aimed at kids -- often very young kids, crimes like murder, drug dealing, and so forth are out of the question. On the plus side, the monster can be something entirely made up, or generic, and you always know how the story is going to end.

There were really a few ways that I approached Scooby-Doo. Many times a title would occur to me first, and then I'd put together a plot that suited it. Other times I'd look at what stories had already been told, and go for something that hadn't yet, like say something involving football, or libraries. Because I have such a deep interest in mythology, folklore and fairy tales, I'd often send the gang to another country so that I could use that culture and some creature associated with it. This would often provide a bit of variety and help make the stories feel fresh even though they'd still be following the same familiar formula.

The other benefit of having to work with a formula, is it would allow you to also find ways to work against it, or to play up certain familiar tropes. For example, in one story the Mystery Inc. gang was looking for a way to open a secret panel. On the tv series, these secret handles would often be found by Daphne clumsily tripping and accidentally hitting them. In my story I had Freddie purposefully bump into Daphne so that she would stumble and uncover the trigger to open the secret panel.
I also decided early on that I needed to figure out who the characters were beyond just the smart one, the pretty one, the chickens, etc., so I started adding attributes to them that built on what was already there without violating the familiar traits of the characters. Freddie became someone who didn't like to lose, Velma was a puzzle solver who would ask the more technical questions, Daphne was the personable one who would ask the questions about the people involved as well as the broader questions and would often serve as the stand in for the reader, and Scooby and Shaggy while being terrified of ghosts and monsters they encounter in their mysteries were also big fans of horror movies. Other writers have built on this as well. Daphne now is really athletic, a trait that runs contrary to her always bumbling into things when working a case. I'd develop stories that would focus on attributes of one of the characters, especially as the page count for the stories was shortened. This also led to all of the educational, non-mystery stories such as the popular Velma's Monsters of the World, cooking with Shaggy and Scooby, and the pieces where Freddie would explain automotive repair, or how to make a monster mask.

What is your biggest writing challenge?

Starting when I don’t feel ready, or the second act. I have a lot of old projects that have an incredible first act and then stop. This is why I need to have a rough trajectory in mind before I start. Those aborted projects were things I just decided to start with no more than a premise in mind, and they just fizzled out. I generally use the second act as a quieter time that allows the characters and audience to catch their breath before moving on to the excitement of the conclusion. Some readers like this approach, some don’t. I find that it allows the reader to get to know the characters better and to sort out their feelings towards them, before things get crazy again.

How do you outline a story?

Unless I’m forced to, I don’t. As long as I have a rough idea of where I want the story to go, I don’t need to. At most I’ll jot down a few things that I don’t want to forget, such as character A needs to say this, character B needs to do this here. Introduce such and such prop here. I just need the roughest dots to connect them in a way that feels satisfying to me, and hopefully translates as a satisfying read to the reader. With an outline, I feel like all the fun work is done, and fleshing it out is just tedious. It also makes it harder for me to tell if something is working, because it no longer feels fresh to me.

This was the most difficult thing about writing for television. Outlines are necessary because budgets and schedules are a consideration. Outlines end up being revised several times before you can even begin a script, and by that time, jokes and bits of action that felt inspired in the first outline, seem stale to you as the writer before you even begin the first draft of the script. This doesn’t mean they are suddenly bad, or don’t work, it just means that you are over familiar with the material by the time you’re beginning the work that matters.

I’d much rather the story retain it’s freshness by discovering the bulk of it as I’m writing it, which is why I avoid outlines as much as possible.

How do you pitch a story?

This is the part of the writing process I hate the most. Pitches are all about plot, which to my work, is the least important element. Everything that differentiates my work from anyone else's comes from the characters, the tone, and especially the details that make it unique. These are the elements which it’s hardest to convey in a 2-3 page proposal. So pitching a story for me is an incredibly painful process, and typically for me once a story is approved, I never look at that proposal again. I can only imagine that the finished story has only the most rudimentary connection to the proposal. It’s far easier for me to write a 96 page script than it is for me to write a 3 page reduction of what that script will be.

How long does it take you to write a 22-page comic? Walk us through the process.

Not long at all. I can usually finish one as quickly as it takes me to type it. I usually write one in two four hour sessions, and then let it sit for a couple of days before giving it a quick reread for things I want to adjust or change before I send it in to the editor. Depending on whether I’m working with an artist I’ve been working with, or someone I’ve never worked with my scripts vary in length from about 22-30 pages for someone I’m comfortable working with, to 40 pages for someone unfamiliar. I always encourage my artists to do things their own way, but like to provide them with as much information as possible in order for them to get comfortable with how I visualize things and to make sure that important details don’t get overlooked. On the original run of Xombi, artist J.J. Birch and I were in such regular contact, and had developed a common vocabulary, that by a certain point my scripts were really short because so much of what was needed had been conveyed in conversations between us. Likewise with Frazer Irving. Once I started getting artwork from him, I realized that I could cut back on certain areas of instruction and the scripts became shorter for him as well.

The process for me is pretty basic. I always start at the beginning and never jump around. Whenever new locations or characters are introduced you’ll find a large amount of descriptive text. After this, lighter descriptive text which often only conveys body, or facial emoting, and some basic acting for the characters between dialogue, as well as who should be seen in the panels and how they are interacting. The dialogue usually takes care of itself as I go along. I’ll occasionally make a note to provide visual reference, and that’s about it. I’ll write to the end of a scene then stop and pick up there the next day.

What is a normal day like for you?

A normal day for me is pretty boring. I generally get up around 10:00 and have a leisurely breakfast before I start my day. I always read for an hour or so, then I spend the day running errands, or working on a piece of art I need to make for a gallery show. Once my kids come home from school and until everyone else goes to bed I’ll typically spend time with my family. I’ll do some more reading around 9:00, then start working by 10:00 - 10:30 and finish by about 1:00 am, read for an hour or so and go to bed. If I work until I go to sleep without this time to unwind in-between, I spend my whole night going over what I just wrote, constantly getting up to write down notes to myself and I don’t get any sleep.

I also find I work much better at night. There are fewer distractions, and I can get more done in three hours at night than I would in an eight hour daytime shift. Even so, a lot of my day is filled with thinking about what I’m working on, or doing research, or just creatively charging my batteries. As I said earlier, I always feel like i’m on the clock.

What are you working on now?

After my experience on Static Shock, I needed to take some time off from comics which I did working on things in other media, most of which I cannot say what they were.

Currently I’m juggling a number of creator owned projects which are in various stages of development. At least two already have artists involved. Some are not even at the point where I’m ready to start thinking about art. Each one is very different from any of the others, but all involve the paranormal to some degree, and each of them I’m completely committed to.  These are all labors of love. It’s still too early to talk about any of them, but keep an eye out in the months ahead.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

DASHING DEAN MOTTER

Mister X editor Dave Marshall and Dean Motter at
Comic Con 2008. For the relaunch of Mister X.
Dashing Dean Motter, creator of MISTER X, stopped by the Recondite Pictures lot to give us a peek into the mind of the noir comicbook creator!

Here's what he had to say:

RP:  How do you come up with that snappy dialogue?

DM:  I confess the patois is influenced to a degree by vintage crime films (and old Bob Hope, believe it or not), as well as the writings of Dashiell Hammett, Damon Runyon and P.G. Wodehouse. A comic book character's syntax is as important as the way they're visualized.  Dialogue is tricky because of a page's real estate. Each balloon needs to have a purpose in terms of story advancement, character and its environment. I edit a lot as I letter. There are purposed nuances in the art I want to display and that sometimes means cutting dialogue that might be clever and engaging onscreen but ultimately expendable on a comics page. That sometimes improves the dialogue's 'snappiness'.
Cover of Mister X: Eviction 2 2013

RP:  What are some tricks to transition from one scene to another?

DM:  Stylistic transitions are always enjoyable, but space is needed to do them properly, and that's at a premium in comics. If I'm creating a visual 'echo' or juxtaposing dialogue, the reader should have the room to  enjoy it. Otherwise it comes off as unimaginative and redundant. As I said, space is at a premium, so I tend to use such transitions sparingly-- and justify them within the story. In general I try to make transitions that change locale, time and cast instantly, so that the story moves quickly with as little expository text as possible. I try to minimize omniscient captions (unless that's a conceptual conceit for a particular story.) In my mind captions should always have a point of view from within the story, so the transitions really need to serve that notion. A good story is one where the reader is led, not fed.

RP:  What challenges did you encounter when you decided to write your own stories?

DM:  I guess there is a natural 'stage-fright'. Am I up to task? Will my reader find the story entertaining?  But I've almost always written my own stories. The main challenge is one that remains. Telling a layered, entertaining tale within the constraints of a comic book without being overly complicated, contrived, self-conscious or pretentious (God knows I'm guilty of all of those sins.) Another is writing with a sense of playfulness that doesn't  trivialize a story or lessen its gravitas. Terry Gilliam is especially good at this. But the real challenge for me remains writing so that the story takes place in the reader's head, not in just front of their face. That it has a life of its own. That it will be worth reading a couple times, at least. Technique plays a role, but its an elusive quality to actually imbue.
Homage to Windsor McCay from Dark Horse Presents 2009

DM:  The most successful stories are the ones wherein the characters and events preoccupy the reader as much as the admiration of the creator's craftsmanship. Hellboy, Love & Rockets, Watchmen, Sin City, Sandman, The Spirit- these stories  are enjoyable by virtue of the charm and effect with which the stories are told.

RP:  What can writers do to get good at drawing their own comics?

DM:  Well, aside from continuing to learn to draw (which is a life-long process, as any artist will tell you) one must discover one's style, one's 'visual voice.' And learning to tell a story in the form. Studying comics without excessive dissection. It's hard to disassemble something you love. I'm sure a deep artistic analysis of Walt Kelly's Pogo or The Iron Giant would be revelatory but you might not enjoy it quite the same way ever again. Be prepared for that.

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

DM:  Haven't found a topic or genre particularly hard -- some don't appeal to me as a writer/artist as much as others.  I enjoy supernatural fantasy, sword & sorcery, etc. but don't think I have much to bring to the party. The hardest aspect I find to writing is actually the basic necessity to keep within a given page count.
Cover of Mr. X: Eviction 1 2013 

RP:  What is the most important element of a good crime story?

DM:  The crime and how the protagonist encounters it. Generations of cops-and-robbers stories in literature, comics film and TV have created a template. It's too easy to fall into a simple, trite and generic good guy(s) vs. bad guy(s) mode--where justice is the villain going to jail or meeting his demise. I think a good crime story has twists and turns. It has characters who not only lie to one and other but to the reader. One of my favorite books is Thomas Berger's  Who is Teddy Villanova?- a typical Chandler-esque shamus story which largely consists of red herrings and blind alleys. The reader shares detective Russell Wren's frustration over never knowing what's true or false. His other books like Killing Time or The Feud also turn the idea of the crime story on its head. And that's the thing -- While the crime itself can be out of the ordinary, its motive has to be completely believable and the protagonist's resolution must be a somewhat unpredictable journey worth taking.  In my case I also like to explore a new world while taking that journey.

From Batman: Black and White. 
The Gargoyles of Gotham. DC 2007
RP:  How do you get people to identify emotionally with your characters?

DM:  I'm not certain how well I do that. I think others may be better judges of that. I try to create characters whose limitations are as notable as their virtues. In Terminal City Cosmo was a one-time famous entertainer who had resigned himself to a contented ennui before events propelled him into action. B.B. was a stranger in a strange land. At the beginning of Electropolis Menlo tries to be something he's not and Anesta lives a life of lowered expectations. My current cast is Mister X:  Rosetta excels at her craft but sometimes drinks too much, Mercedes is naive, approaches the world as an innocent but is constantly in a self-sabotage mode, Mister X himself is secretly pompous, driven by guilt, regret and artistic frustration, I try to make them likable without being admirable. Some say my best characters are just versions of myself. Harumph.
MISTER X is a man of mystery.

RP:  Why are noir stories appealing to you?

DM:  With the exception of Batman: Nine Lives, I don't actually do noir. It's more a faux noir-- a pastiche. That said, as much as I enjoy all manner of fantastic stories, the noir genre speaks to a wider audience. I have always tried to write for non-comic readers as well as devotees.

RP:  What things does every comic book issue story need in order to meet the needs of its readers?









Mister X meets Grendel
in a 2002 private commission
DM:  The obvious elements of story and character. But they should  be stories than can best best--if not only-- told via comic book form. There should be a variety of visual dynamics in both action and setting. Some of the best mystery stories are quite cerebral and work well as literature or even as the extended theatre the screen offers, but are monotonous disasters in comic book form.

RP:  What are the themes of your work?

DM:  Architecture is an obvious visual theme. Urban life. People interacting with technology and design. I love research, so history is often another theme. I'm always interested in love, greed, loss, ambition, deception  etc. especially if I can turn it upside down—put my spin on it somehow.
A SUPERMAN crossover with
MISTER X seems natural, given
that Motter has
illustrated both characters.

RP:  Do you think your art style changed in relation to your ?

DM:  After The Prisoner and illustrating a couple of Hellblazer stories I concentrated more on my writing. I was lucky enough to write for Bill Sienkiewicz, Sean Phillips, Michael Lark and Neil Volkes. When I returned to Mister X I felt as if I was somewhat out of practice vis-a-vis drawing. And I wanted to refine my style. Since I work both as a designer and an illustrator I wanted to concentrate more on unifying the two disciplines even more. These days I approach each page, each panel of Mister X as a graphic design exercise, but I confess I still struggle with the actual draftsmanship

The world of MISTER X is similar to
what people in the 1930s/40s/50s
expected of the future.
The main thing is that I try to be more precise about the words and pictures and exactly how they relate. I try to tale a wholistic  view of the art. My rule of thumb is that each panel should reveal at least one thing visually, another in text and a third revelation when viewed with the rest of the page. It makes for a more unified, more economical tale. But it is more challenging.

I have to say that to this day I still very much like to illustrate the occasional story by another writer and write for other illustrators.

RP:  What comics have influenced you?

DM:  I grew up on Batman and Marvel's mystery comics. But as an aspiring artist I devoured the comics of Wood (THUNDER Agents, Daredevil), Steranko (SHIELD) and Adams (Deadman, Batman)  Later on the Warren magazines like Creepy and Eerie in the 70s and 80s were a constant drain on my allowance (Crandall, Torres, Wrightson, Jones, Kaluta, Smith). Fanzines such as Spa Fon and Witzend acquainted me with the finer points of the EC Comics storytelling  technique  and its progeny. As I became interested in actually pursuing comics as part of my career I studied Moebius, Toth, Caniff, Schuiten, and HergĂ©. I admire and enjoy many of my contemporaries because I think we share similar ambitions and values in terms of the medium.  But influence? As Art Director at BPVP I'd later have the opportunity to meet and work with Harvey Kurtzman. Harlan Ellison, as well as a plethora of stellar talents in the comics field. In terms of writing my comics influences aren't as plentiful; Frank Miller, Dave Stevens…Mignola gets there in different way than Gaiman. Waid gets there in a very different way from Brubaker or Morrison. Many have taken me on journeys I have enjoyed immensely. But my strongest and most profound remain: Will Eisner for charm, irony and cinematography, Alan Moore for the simple rendering of complexity. Kurtzman for economy and intensity. Chaykin for the playful iconoclasm and also cinematography.
Cover of The Shadow #23

RP:  What comics are you currently reading?

DM:  Certainly not as much as I once did. The new Rocketeer, Batwoman, Black Beetle, Criminal, 100 Bullets, Hawkeye, Hellboy, The  Goon, Fables, Love & Rockets. Anything by Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Adriane Tomine and Seth. It's  pretty mixed bag and changes all the time.
RP:  What past comics should people pick up to try out your stuff?

DM:  Batman:  Nine Lives (illustrated by Michael Lark) is one the books I'm proudest of.  The Compleat Terminal City (also illustrated by Michael Lark) and Electropolis as well as Mister X:  Condemned are all available from Dark Horse. Marvel included my Dominic Fortune serial (illustrated by Greg Scott) in Dominic Fortune:It Can Happen Here and Now.  And my Spirit story (illustrated by Paul Rivoche) is in the collected edition book five. I think the bibliography on my website is fairly up-to-date if you really want to dive deep.

RP:  What comics do you have coming out now that people should read?

DM:  The collected edition of Mister X: Eviction and Other Stories comes out from Dark Horse on November 27 (this continues from Mister X: Condemned.) In production right now is a 3-part Mister X serial in Dark Horse Presents entitled Frozen Assets. The Heart of The Beast graphic novel (illustrated by Sean Phillips) originally published by Vertigo in 1986, is being digitally re-mastered by Dynamite.

Cover of upcoming DHP Presents
RP:  What do you have coming up in the future?

DM:  Next year there is another Mister X mini-series and the Xmas in Somnopolis special. There is The Book Hitler Didn't want You To Read non-fiction comic for the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, which was written by Rafael Medoff. I have a page in Little Nemo: Another Dream homage to Winsor McCay book. And there are a couple other big efforts in the works I can't discuss just yet. There are also some upcoming covers, including The Shadow 23 and 24 for Dynamite. (I've been in love with that character since I w discovered him back in the 70s.)


 
MISTER X Copyright Dean Motter
GRENDEL Copyright Matt Wagner
BATMAN and SUPERMAN Copyright DC Entertainment



Be sure to pick up Mister X: Eviction on the 27th.

If you are in Germany, get Archives, which will be released on the same day.