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GOING POSTAL

The Long Game

Alexandra Forever Graphic Novel, super heroine in a science fiction space opera

 

In Ottawa’s touristy Market district, a rare driveway-width alley runs almost unnoticed directly off of Murray Street. Between Navarra Restaurant and Not Your Father’s Barber, it leads to a tight and gravely patch of uneven land that is home to four parking spots and one story, all but windowless, beige, stuccoed, crisped edged box of a building. Once a dance school, the building that Ottawa Brands calls home couldn’t be better situated and better suited for Donald Lanouette’s needs. He’s the company’s owner-manager. Insulated by surrounding buildings, it is very quiet back there, in spite of being downtown.

Entry is through a steel door. Unusual for commercial properties in Canada, there is no vestibule. When you’re in, you’re in. The ceiling is high, and the space is open but divided, almost evenly in half, by purpose. A couple of offices and amenities are on one side, while a green screen sound stage occupies the other. Physically, the end of the industrial carpeting helps to define the delineation between the two, but for me, the border is more assuredly noted by the short ribbon of masking tape on the cement floor directly in front of the carpet’s edge. I’ve always assumed it to be a mark that was somehow related to filming.

I meet with Donald at his studio on Saturday afternoons for update discussions on the Alexandra Forever project. He supplies the coffee. With the artist, Steve Legge, having found his groove a while ago, and with our recent meetings leaning more toward next steps, it has quite often become just the two of us. More times than not, we have our chats within the ever-changing landscape of the soundstage. (At the best of times, even Donald’s personal furnishings are nomadic.) There is a very definite after hours feeling.  A lamp or two from the office section is all that lights the place and we sit in whatever ambient radiance reaches us. During the summer the entry door is left open for the breeze. It doesn’t really do much for the internal lighting situation, except to provide a section of door-sized sharp contrast on an otherwise dim stretch of wall.

Alexandra Forever graphic novel (comic book), super heroine in a sci-fi space opera

This past Saturday was a little different. We were joined on the soundstage by Donald’s partner Karen and my ex-wife, Jacqueline. The emphasis, for this meeting, was to be strictly on marketing. Artistically, we have a rough idea of where we are going over the course of the upcoming year. There is now enough backlog of work to keep Steve busy into autumn of 2017.

We have been chasing the completion of the graphic novel for a while. From inception, it took roughly two years to find an artist. Steve came onboard sometime around March 2014. The earliest dates of Adobe files showing his preliminary sketches date back that far. More-or-less, he’s been working on the project ever since. Donald had started talking about the end being in sight in late spring of 2015. And there it remained until the autumn, in sight but out of reach. Very recently, however, I saw inks of scenes close to the end of the story. Alas, it does seem that we are down to the short strokes.

 It was with a mindset of preparedness that I wanted to shift gears towards marketing. Though I have every confidence in Donald and Steve to put together something amazing, I am not so naive as to think that the graphic novel will find its market simply by being awesome. Awareness is the key. During that Saturday meeting, I laid out a loose marketing plan for the graphic novel and my ideas for cross-pollination to other offerings like animation and the upcoming novella.

Almost off the cuff, Karen mentioned that there was no point in launching anything from November twenty-fifth to the end of January. There was no need on my part to fact check her. For starters, she’s a smart lady. However, even ignoring the specifics of the date range she gave, common sense dictates that promoting anything during the Christmas lead up or during the subsequent wallet hangover was foolish.

Whether we are ready at the beginning of December, middle of December or sometime in the following month, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve missed our launch window and we won’t get it back until February 2016. It took me four months to write a script that will have taken four years to get to market. When I say that we’re playing the long game, trust me, we are.

#takebacksuperhero

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

Comic Book Movies & Alexandra Forever

In his October 4th article, ‘Indie Comic Book Publishers Make Moves Toward TV and Film’, in the New York Times, Gregory Schmidt interviewed Ted Adams, the chief executive and publisher of IDW Publishing, and Mike Richardson, the chief executive and publisher of Dark Horse Comics and Dark Horse Entertainment. Both publishers categorized in the comic book industry as ‘indie’. The article discusses how IDW, Dark Horse and similar independent publishers are following in the footsteps of Marvel and DC by reimagining themselves as entertainment companies.

When Steven Spielberg (arguably the most successful film maker of all time) refers movies based on comic books as the new westerns (one of the most recognisable genres ever) who can blame them? And, at first glance, with the increased variety and competition, I can only see this as a good thing.

 At the core of independent publisher’s challenge is that they don’t have a stable of comic book characters, superheroes [foot note 1] and supervillains etcetera, which are ingrained in pop culture. Nor, in my assessment, do they have an apparent desire to take the time to develop them to be so. Instead, they are attempting to mimic Marvel and DC and build up a portfolio of comic book characters. While Mike Richardson concedes that “We have to be a little lighter on our feet...” Dark Horse and other indie publishers fail to take advantage of the very manoeuvrability that being light on their feet affords them.  Simply, find a niche, move into it and own it.

Instead of taking the time to nurture a property for other media they follow the same quick profit business model used by Marvel and DC and throw stuff against the wall until something finally sticks on the first go-around. “The Mask” yes, but “Barb Wire” not so much. This is an expensive tactic when parading unknown properties. The pockets of indie publishers aren’t nearly as deep as the big two. Rather than the shot gun approach they should become something more akin to snipers.

The Alexandra Forever project is doing just that. We are taking our time and staying focused. What distinguishes the project is that it is long term and there will only be a single story told across all forms of media. This is the nurturing process.

At a time of rebooted canon, this adherence to a single mythology, regardless of how the narrative is relayed, makes the project completely unique.  An ambitious goal to be sure and, as you might imagine, one that requires a tale of epic proportions.

In its infancy, there’s not much that I can guarantee except that there will only ever be one coven, one Alexandra, one demon and one destiny.

Foot Note 1

Marvel and DC jointly hold a registered trademark for the word superhero and are very protective of it.
(FAQ article on the topic from Comic Book Resources.com)

#takebacksuperhero