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GOING POSTAL

The great promise of the website Upwork

Near the end of July (2018) I parted ways with the company (a team of two) I had been working with, on-and-off, since 2008. My mistake had been letting a business relationship develop into friendship.

The last 4 years of our decade together had become more intertwined with the advent of the A4E Project. What had been historically singular task based  became a much broader array of deliverables. That change, I believe, was my misstep. 

I had originally hired the team onto the A4E Project to provide the layout, artwork and design for a 144 page graphic novel. Whereas, all their previous work for me had consisted of the likes of putting together a book cover.

While keeping within the cost budget, milestones were constantly missed resulting in final delivery having been pushed back a year. Admittedly, the final product was good, but, underscore, it was one year late.

Our friendship as well as (I had convinced myself) their ability to deliver a marketable product at a reasonable cost, prompted me to try working with them again. This time for a motion graphic series. I had begun writing episodic scripts in the fall of 2016 and by the spring of 2017 I had completed the first seven episodes and I was ready to have them animated.

Unfortunately where the novel had stretched them greatly, the series broke them.They were in over their heads and either weren't aware of that fact or wouldn't concede it. 

In short order, the per episode cost tripled and continued from there to spiral upward. The end result was that the original estimate for seven 20 minute motion graphic episodes became the cost for one 2 - 3 minute trailer.   

Out of pocket thousands of dollars, and with nothing usable to show for it, I severed the relationship.

It was in looking for a new team that I came upon the website Upwork. I'm very happy that I did. I setup an account and I put the details of project out to tender. In less than one hour I had twelve very reasonable bids. I chose that day. My fingers are crossed but initial progress is very promising! 

Comic books in the Heartland

 

From the Alexandra Forever Graphic Novel (Comic Book)

One thing that stood out to me in the month of October was the number of comic book related articles which weren’t coming from the usual sources like ComicBookResources.com or Comicbook.com. Media outlets with mastheads involving the name ‘Herald’ seemed predominant.

I take it as a telling sign that comic book culture has hit the mainstream. I particularly love to see press far from the usual comic book hot spots reporting on pop culture events. I love local press. Whether it’s Herald and News article on the comic con being held in the Klamath County Library in Oregon or, as reported in the Bradenton Herald, the Mana-Con being held in the Manatee Library in Bradenton, Florida, it represents a shift in acceptance.

The fact that these events are being held in venues such as the public library is certainly telltale of this, but that community media outlets believe they merit being reported on is, in my opinion, passing the litmus test of normalcy for heartland America.

#takebacksuperhero

Fandom Fashion

Last week we saw something new. It seems that pop culture may have turned a corner. Earlier this month Montreal's UNTTLD label won a Star Wars fashion week contest with a Leia-inspired bikini dress. Designers José Manuel St-Jacques and Simon Bélanger were awarded the $15,000 prize on Toronto's World MasterCard Fashion Week. [LINK]

"We decided to empower Leia and bring back the chain and make a dress out of it that's somewhat armour, somewhat very sexy," said St-Jacques.

"When something is so iconic, it's easier for people to understand where you started," said Bélanger.

We’ve actually seen Star Wars on the runway before. Back in February 2014 there were two, nearly back-to-back, collections which tapped into the iconic franchise. Both featured printed images on the fabric. [LINK]

What separates the UNTTLD dress from these two collections is that it was Star Wars inspired not Stars Wars referencing. The dress is true couture.  I am at once impressed by the achievement yet left somewhat skeptical of the direction. If this is a coming of age of pop culture fashion then perhaps, to quote Tennessee Williams, it is ‘all at once and much too completely’. Perhaps taking one’s cue from kids’ pajamas is really more of what taps into the fun that is at the essence of fandom. Otherwise why bother, right?

#takebacksuperhero

 



The Cultural Comic Book Wave Isn’t Cresting Anytime Soon

Upon review of the last two weeks of comic book news I’d have to say that it is the diversity of the latest entrants into the art-and-commerce melange that is the comic book industry which stands out. If you follow me on Twitter or Google Plus, you’ll know what I’m referring to (hint: it is not small independent publishers).

If we can glean anything from the past couple of weeks it has become clear that the growing interest in all things comic book has not yet even begun to crest. Comic books are transitioning from pop culture to the mainstream. Arguably, they’re already there.  

The month's new, and perhaps surprising, arrivals started with an article on WWE.Com about how CM Punk (retired professional wrestler and all around kickass guy) wrote the introduction to the Marvel Comics “Avengers vs X-Men”. Two days later, Fox News interviewed the founding member of Run-D.M.C, Darryl, ‘DMC’ McDaniels on his new comic book and the music industry. A few days after that Newsarama posted an article about William Shatner and how he is, with the help of Stan Lee no less, launching his own comic book imprint. The Internet ink had barley dried on that story when a headline from VPR announces: “A New Comic Book On Bernie Sanders Hopes To Educate And Entertain”. (Bernie Sanders is the seventy-four year old junior senator from Vermont who is vying to become the democratic presidential candidate.)

Though I’m happy about this trend, I can only hazard a guess as to the cause. There are possibly a few intersecting reasons. I’ll leave historians and sociologist to hammer it all out, but in the meantime I offer my hypothesis. In the abbreviated times that we live in where everything, including entertainment, is briskly consumed in concentrated packets, comic books fit. Short, sweet and amazing. Even graphic novels can, relatively speaking, be quickly consumed.   They are fantastical mini-breaks away from the tumult of a world in the throes of sweeping change. Comic books are colour-splashed hits of fucking awesome alone time.

#takebacksuperhero

Diversity in Comics & Alexandra Forever

 

In the pursuit of a representative population general fitness level, in particular weight, wasn’t on my mind at first. I was focused on a mix of age, gender and race. It only occurred to me when I saw some of the initial panels. Steve, to his credit, has a great deal of creative freedom (or, conversely and more accurately, extremely minimal guidance) on the look of the project. In one of his renderings early on in the project he had drawn a couple of the male characters as being overweight. Seeing them it occurred to me that, up to that point, none of the women were. I don’t know what the future holds for humanity in the area of healthy weight, but it stood to reason that if men could be carrying around a few extra pounds in the future then so could women. This observation was reflected in subsequent panels. As I’ve mentioned, we’re learning.

Comic Book Resources' article on body diversity.

 

#takebacksuperhero

Sci-fi versus Space Opera: Alexandra Forever

Admittedly I came to this blog post with a preconceived notion of sci-fi. The gist of which is that sci-fi is reliant on extrapolated scientific theories to tell the story. Even if it’s really bad speculative science it is science that is the catalyst for the fiction.

Space opera, once considered a pejorative term (and maybe still is in some circles), is a sub genre of sci-fi. While taking place in space, it does not heavily rely on speculative science. Meaning, the story could be told without reference to, or use of, science.    From Alexandra Forever graphic novel

The distinction in application is rarely clear cut. I would say that Star Trek leans strongly toward sci-fi, whereas Battle Star Galactic (especially the first iteration) is more of a space opera. Not intending to ruffle feathers, my reason for providing examples is to give a baseline to my assertion that Alexandra Forever, though a galactic epic, is more space opera [Foot Note 2] then sci-fi.

However, I did take solace in the frontiers of real-world science when I began writing the epic. It is odd the things that bother me. The general depiction of people of the future is a case in point. It always struck me as peculiar, and statistically extremely unlikely, that they would be predominately white, fit and in their mid-thirties. For the sake of transparency I am white – so, one out of the three. This was something Steve and I attempted to address in making the graphic novel. We’re getting there.

Anyway, back to my solace in science and how it applies to the graphic novel. Two things did concern me, travelling the vast distances of space and communication across the vast distances of space. Keeping in mind that the Alexandra Forever project actually started in 2010 [Foot Note 1], and though the now famous warp formula was known at the time (published in 1994), it wasn’t until 2012, that achieving warp actually seemed feasible. In my mind that was enough of a footing. There will be warp someday.  I’ve included a link, if you’re interested, on the background of the warp formula and NASA’s research: [LINK]

The other issue, communication across huge distances, I pieced together myself, only to subsequently discover that others had arrived at the same conclusion. Quantum Entanglement (you can Google the crap out of this topic) provides a means, or at least a theoretical platform, for instantaneous communication across the universe. This phenomenon is already embedded into some current day technology. (Another topic to Google the crap out of) Goddess (super heroine) Alexandra Forever

With all this back story there might be a temptation to say that Alexandra Forever is sci-fi. However, I’m sticking to my guns. It is definitely more of a space opera [Foot Note 2]. Technology is not integral to the story. The tale of Alexandra as a super heroine and goddess, the coven, the demon (Leviathan) and their entwined fate could have, without much tweaking, been told as a fantasy adventure where rudimentary, middle aged inspired, means or magic explained how the characters get from here to there and can communicate at distance.

I haven’t yet, and probably won’t, really delve too deeply into my more science based mussing behind some of the everyday mechanics of the Alexandra Forever universe – but for now, at least, you’ll know that they are there.

Foot Note 1

2010 was the publication year of “Pairs”, a 300+ page novel where Alexandra is first introduced. That book took two years to write. This puts the start of the project in 2008. We lost about a year-and-half in production hiccups during the 7 years that brought us to this point. If you’re interest in reading “Pairs” it’s available for sale as a download off this site or you can buy it at Amazon.com (hardcopy/paperback/Kindle)

Foot Note 2

This doesn’t mean that I won’t continue using ‘sci-fi’ as a meta tag on my posts. I like to keep an open mind after all.

#takebacksuperhero

Alexandra Forever: Comic Books versus Graphic Novels

This post is not about the respective definitions of comic books versus graphic novels but rather the perception of the two by the reading public. I wouldn’t rate it as a hot topic, but it is an interesting one and it pops up from time-to-time. Do graphic novels have a literary clout that comic books do not?

There is the now infamous story of Neil Gaiman who, while attending a dinner party not long after the release of “Sandman,” happened to mention to a fellow guest that he wrote comics resulting in the individual politely attempting to extricate themselves from the conversation. That is, until Neil mentioned “Sandman”. “Oh, you don’t write comics, you write graphic novels!” [Note to reader: I didn’t fact check exactly how the conversation went down – but it was something like that.]From the Alexandra Forever graphic novel

This was a couple of decades ago. Nevertheless, I’ve seen some versions of the literary clout question asked on reddit threads and periodically alluded to by almost apologetic reviewers on Youtube when they explain their preference for graphic novels (or trades).

September 2015 sales results would tend to suggest an inclination toward graphic novels. According to Newsarama.com “Comic books dollar orders were down 19.6% year-to-year and graphic novel orders were up 12.5%, netting out to an overall drop of 10.7%.” [LINK]

Is this a trend? Is it merely the expression of a changing readership? The population is aging and, additionally, women are making up a progressively larger percentage of the readership. Could either or both of these shifts be factors for changing preference?

I prefer graphic novels. Not because I think they have any greater literary or artistic merit relative to comic books, but simply because I enjoy getting more engrossed in a story. I am also not a fan of flash fiction for that very reason. [Foot Note 1]

Alternately, are the results from September merely an anomaly? According to PublishersWeekly.com Milton Griepp, noted that contributing factors “included DC’s cancellation of several New 52 books, and Marvel’s ongoing problems with shipping product on time.”  [LINK]From the Alexandra Forever graphic novel

I would also argue that, if there is a perception issue, it is coming from outside of the comic book community. Though graphic novels might be regarded with higher esteem, it would seem, if we take anything away from Neil’s aforementioned dinner party experience, to be a case of the worse of two evils. The comic industry as whole is still viewed as lowbrow. Again, I use a Neil Gaiman experience to highlight:

"At the 1991 World Fantasy awards, a comic book, The Sandman issue #19 "A Midsummer's Night Dream", by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, won the Award for Best Short Fiction. The legend goes that the rules were changed to prevent another comic book from winning is not entirely true. The official website states: ‘Comics are eligible in the Special Award Professional category. We never made a change in the rules.’ Gaiman and Vess, however, won the Award under the Short Fiction and not the Special Award Professional category."

[LINK]

Even though this occurred over twenty-years ago, it still holds relevance today because comics are still excluded from competing directly as short fiction. This is institutionalized literary segregation.

All this to say, let’s not splinter the comic book community and don’t sweat the rest. The haters gonnna hate.

 

Foot Note 1

Good flash fiction is actually very difficult to write. While I respect the literary art form it is just not something I’m interested in either as a writer or reader. [Definition of flash fiction]

#takebacksuperhero

East Coast ComiCon 2015!

The trip to Secaucus New Jersey was great! If you love comics, and have become disintereted in conventions because of the focus on celebrities from television and film, this con is for you. It's wall-to-wall comics vendors and creators and a vibrant artist's alley.

We had a boxfull of free giveaway comics, the first 22 pages or so of the story. They were almost all gone by the end of the day on Saturday! I hope everyone liked them! For one little girl, it was her first autographed comic!

I got to meet one of my childhood heroes, Art Adams, which was very exciting, got a couple books signed and bought a print. And returned to his table numerous other times. I'm sure he thinks I'm stalking him now.

Jim Steranko is everything his reputation lives up to be, but what you don't hear about is how friendly and warm he is. Great conversation with the comics legend.

I also was lucky to have a long conversation with Steve Rude at dinner, who was nice enough to talk to me while Steranko waited.

Anyway, lots happened, met lots of great people like Brian from Robot Paper (buy his book Henchmen!) whom we shared a table with and who is a far better mover and shaker than I. Henchmen #1 is SOLD OUT, folks! We had great neighbors too, like Bob Stevenson's Comics and Fanzines, who had some great stuff, and Marks' Discount T-shirts. It's always nice to have good neignbors at cons.

Sadly, one of the creators I met at the con, Herb Trimpe, passed away the Monday following the con. I spent some time at his table watching him draw a commission as I waited to have a book signed. He didn't appear to be anything but in perfect health. Herb is known to us comic geeks for his Marvel comics work from the 60's to the 80's, but he had a wonderful life after comics as well teaching art and for his work as a chaplain in NY after 9/11.

Photos by Donald Lanouette