Friday, May 20, 2011

Too Cute Not to Share

X-Babies by Skottie Young

I request to see a baby Gambit. Because Gambit is awesome. In all incarnations.

Except in the Wolverine movie. (Learn to keep an accent, guy who played Gambit!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Things That Make You Go “Ugh!": Fight Scenes

Don’t get me wrong. Like any good anime watching, summer blockbuster movie-going, adventure/fantasy/sci-fi reading, ninja/superhero/vampire slayer loving gal, I love a great fight scene.

But writing them.


(Humor and violence: a winning combination.)

For me, they take more time and planning than any other type of scene. They have to be dynamically choreographed and fully visualized, and still have a beginning, middle and end. Then when I’ve done all that thorough thinking things through, I have to strip the language used to describe those sequences of action down to its clearest, most concise and most potent form so that the action flows and the scene reads quickly (because action scenes are not the place to wax poetic). It’s a lot of freakin’ work for a scene that in real time might only last a few minutes!

(One of the coolest Samurai Jack fight scenes EVER)

And the stuff I write almost always requires at least one fight scene, often more.

Oh, how I hem and haw and find so many other things to do (like writing a blog post) when I know I must sit down and think through a fight scene. I guess I’m still a little traumatized from the time I decided to write a fight scene spread across nine characters, five points of view, and multiple simultaneous points of conversion. That mess wore me out.

(If I were ever to make a list of favorite fight scenes, this one would definitely be somewhere near the top.)

Oh, but when it’s done! When the sequences within the scene escalate to an explosive climax! When you feel that he victor of the fight has really earned his or her bragging rights! Or, best of all, when someone tells you they couldn’t put those pages down…well, it kinda makes you want to write another fight scene.

What’s the one element of your stories that you hate writing but love having written?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Don’t Let Misconceptions Slow You Down

Don’t Forget to Pick Up Your Free Comics! (They’re Free!)

Free Comic Book Day, which takes place annually the first Saturday of May (TODAY!), comes as a response to one of the biggest questions facing the comic book industry: how to bring in new readers, which I’m pretty sure is an even bigger problem in comics than in book publishing. The event is all about giving new readers a chance to dip a toe into comics and check out their local comic book store. Free stuff is an awesome incentive, and just maybe while the newbies are in the store they’ll have a look around and find something on the shelves that interests them.

(In Bill Willinghams’ Fables, Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Pinocchio, and a whole community of fairy tales exiled from their homelands work, play, and plot against each other in modern-day New York City. Also, James Jean’s covers are abso-freakin’-lutely beautiful, especially as you move further into the series.)

There are quite a few misconceptions about comics that stop potential readers from considering giving graphic novels a try before the thought can even fully take root in their minds. I often still feel like a comics newbie myself because I came to comics later in life than a lot of diehards who were seemingly born with a comic book in hand. I don’t remember thinking about comics much before I got into them, so I can’t say what misconceptions I held about them, but I do know that once I started reading them I feel in love with comics as a medium for dynamic storytelling.

(Set in the 1920s, in Mat Johnson‘s Incognegro a fair-skinned Black man travels to Mississippi while passing as a white man in order to uncover the truth behind his brother’s arrest.)

One of the biggest misconceptions is that comics are only about superheroes. It’s true that in American comics, super heroes make up a big bulk of what gets published. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, Marvel and DC, from whence we get the majority of our most famous and beloved superheroes, accounted for 68.62% of the comics sold in 2010 (38.23% and 30.39% respectively). At 5.17%, comics publisher Dark Horse comes in at #3 on the market share list. But even Marvel and DC publish more than just superheroes. While superheroes dominate the Top 500 Comic Books list, if you look at the Top 500 Graphic Novels, you’ll find everything from zombies to organized crime.

(When people make the case that comics are able to cover serious material and should be read by adults, Maus in which the artist Art Spiegelman tells his father’s story of surviving the holocaust, inevitable will come into the conversation.)

Then there are the other publishers Dark Horse, Image, BOOM! Studios, Oni, Slave Labor Graphics, First Second, Top Shelf and others who have set specific goals to do things differently than the Marvel and DC way, and to offer comics readers more diversity.

(A group of teens take on L.A.’s nightclub scene in Poseurs by Deborah Vankin.)

Some folks reading this may already know what I’m talking about, but maybe the best way to illustrate my point is to mention some movies - the great equalizers, movies - adapted from comic books and graphic novels, keeping the list non-super hero. (Not that I have anything against superhero movies. I’m totally going to see Thor today!)

In alphabetical order:

30 Days of Night


American Splendor

Art School Confidential

Bullet Proof Monk


Cowboys Vs. Aliens

The Crow

Dillon Dog

From Hell

Ghost World

A History of Violence

Human Target (TV show)

Jonah Hex

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The Losers

The Mask

Men in Black


Road to Perdition

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Sin City

The Surrogates

Swamp Thing

Tank Girl

V for Vendetta

The Walking Dead (TV show)

White Out

Quality of movie and faithfulness to original material aside, this list is just to say, hey, if you went and saw (or plan to see) any of these movies, there are comics out there for you. Or if you saw a preview for one of them and thought, “Hmm, that movie looks interesting. If only it looked like it had good writing, acting and directing,” the same can still be said—because everyone knows the original material is almost always better than the film or television adaption.

Then, of course, there’s manga. Japan simply has a completely different mindset when it comes to comics and because of that manga is wonderfully diverse. If Japanese comics were dispersed among all sections of a books store, you’d find something in every genre.

(In the suspense-filled Monster by Naoki Urasawa, surgeon Dr. Kenzo Tenma travels Germany hunting down the serial killer whose life he saved ten-years ago, uncovering many dark truths along away.]

I’d also like to briefly address the misconception that comics are just for kids/too graphic for kids. There are comics for ALL ages. From light and fun to dark and philosophical, there is literally something for everyone in comics.

(The Sandman aka Morpheus aka Dream peeks into the lives of everyone from the common man to the fading gods of old to Death, who is just one of his large-than-life siblings. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is comics classic.)

All I’m asking, as someone who loves comics in all its forms, is that folks don’t let the misconception of “Comics aren’t about anything I’d ever read” be the reason for not giving comic books and graphic novels a try.

In the dystopian world of Ice, a webcomic by Faith Erin Hick, Great Britain is in a state of constant winter, and the divide between rich and poor has become a gaping chasm. Webcomics are especially awesome because they are always free!)

So if you do take advantage of Free Comic Book Day (C’mon! It’s FREE!), take a minute to look around the comics shop. You might find something you like.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

And I Heard Some Wise Words Over at the Festival

Before I get to the good stuff, let me first bemoan the fact that there was no kettle corn at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. HOW COULD THERE BE NO KETTLE CORN!?! Why do they think I show up to these things? Besides, you know, the books and book-related activities, including the extremely funny Demetri Martin answering audience questions and reading excepts from his book, This Is a Book.

My sister usually goes to the Festival with me, but she ditched me this year because she couldn’t go on Sunday and there was no one who interested her making an appearance on Saturday. But c’mon, sister, it’s all free! Isn’t free an agreeable price to learn about some new and interesting books? To hear some wisdom from authors that you’re not familiar with, but might have some great things to say anyway?

I thought so, and I was right. They had some wise words. I took notes. And because you’re awesome, I shall share some of what I found interesting with you.

Fiction: The Experimental Epic

I wasn’t familiar with any of the authors participating in my first panel of the weekend, but I got a lot out attending just the same. Sitting on this panel was doctor-by-day/author-by-night Chris Adrian who wrote about a floating hospital, Karen Tei Yamashita who for her novel spent ten years researching San Francisco’s Asian-American community following the civil rights era, and Adam Levin who described his book as, “There’s this kid who people think might be the awaited Jewish Messiah...It’s a comedy.”

At the moderator’s prompting, the panelists discussed what they thought “experimental epic” meant. They mostly won’t sure, but two out of three agreed, experimental=weird.

Adrian’s passed on lots of great advice he received from his mentor, the first of which was to read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Twice a year. His reason? You have to learn the rules before you can break them. My favorite piece of advice from this panel was that “as the story gets stranger in fiction, the emotional reality has to become stronger for the reader.” That probably struck a chord with me because sometimes my fiction does some strange things.

Yamashita praised the small press who publishes her. They’ve always been open to her experimental tendencies and have kept all her books in print. I thought it interesting that she wasn’t formally trained and didn’t know what “workshopping” a piece of fiction was until after she’d started teaching creative writing. She came into experimental fiction through “trying other voices.”

Levin’s novel “started with voice that could do fun prosy things, then needed to add a plot. Voice comes first.” He stated that he can’t explain how to do plot or teach rules about it. Instead, he suggests thinking “about intensity in a general sense that makes you look at specific words or scenes.” Cut scenes don’t make the book more intense as you go into the climax.

Levin further talked about characters and his use of humor saying he only used one or two flat, stock characters in his book. All his characters want something and have backstory. If they do something funny it has to advance the story. And in case you’re interested, an example of one of those rare flat characters is a security guard that barely says anything.

I’ll post about the young adult panels I attended later on this week. I also went to some comics/graphic novel panels. For more on what I learned there (and actually I think there are some nuggets of advice that novelist can draw from as well as comic book folks) click here.

And don’t forget about Free Comic Book Day this Saturday. You should check if your local comic book store will have some titles to give away (check here for international participating comic book shops) because—I mean, seriously, free stuff! If you’re not sure whether on not you’d be into comics, consider this your chance to try it out at no cost to you.