The Only Direction is Forward

I haven’t blogged since my birthday. That’s the day Elmore Leonard died.

I’d never presume to have the kind of connection with the man or his work that would necessitate four months off. The truth is, I haven’t had much to say. I had finished my pilot and was struggling to move on to the next one. I was buried under a mountain of unfulfilling work (sometimes walking away feels amazing) and generally not feeling great about things. I don’t want this blog to just be a place where I fill up space and waste your time. More than that, I don’t want to waste my time reading it.

My 2013 summary was sad. WordPress sends it out every year, and let’s just say my most visited posts in 2013 weren’t even from 2013 and leave it at that. But I didn’t feel the need. I only need to blog when I have something to say.

Tomorrow is a new day. It’s the promise of something more. It’s the chance to do and be better. So let’s all do and be exactly that.

“No more half measures.”

(Yes, I stole that from Josh Williamson, who stole it from “Breaking Bad’s” Mike. But the sentiment rings true.)

Onward. Upward. Forward.

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Elmore Leonard Will Never Die

Elmore Leonard

I woke up to plenty of well wishes and one very sad bit of news on my birthday. Elmore Leonard, celebrated crime author, has died. He wasn’t a young man at 87, but he was so prolific you felt like he might just keep writing forever, churning out great books filled with sizzling dialogue and even sharper characters. The man just plain knew how to write.

I was reading Leonard’s “Tishomingo Blues” when I moved out to Los Angeles in August of 2003. My dad and I split the driving that trip, and when I wasn’t at the wheel I was devouring the story of a high diver, a murder at a casino, Civil War reenacters and gangsters (at least that’s how I remember it). Don Cheadle was supposed to make his directorial debut on the film adaptation, also playing a fast talking gangster with Matthew McConaughey as the lead, but financing never came together and the project fell apart. But I loved the book anyway, and it marked my first true foray into Leonard’s writing.

By that time I was familiar with Leonard from his many Hollywood forays, starting (for me) with “Get Shorty,” and then “Jackie Brown” and “Out of Sight.” The latter remains one of my all-time favorite movies, a perfect blend of writing, acting, editing and direction. So much fun to watch, and hits so many notes. It’s a Hollywood movie in the way that so many aren’t.

As of today, I’ve read just a few other Leonard novels, but his influence on me has only grown. “Justified” remains one of the three best shows I watch on TV (and, short disclaimer, after a DVR glitch mid-way through the second episode of Season 4, I have yet to watch this last season, but I have it all here waiting for me). Even though showrunner Graham Yost and his staff made some changes to Raylan Givens and the original “Fire in the Hole” short the series is based on, it remains a perfectly Leonard-ian show and the characters introduced would be at home in any of Leonard’s other works.

I’m not a historian, and I didn’t know the man, so I won’t belabor the point any further. Elmore Leonard was a damn fine writer, and his loss is a big one. But he leaves behind an impressive legacy and a stellar body of work. There’s a lot to live up to for all of his fans pursuing creative endeavors, and we all need to try a little harder now knowing that he won’t be there to pick up the slack.

***

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
(see full version here)

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

Spring Cleaning

  • Sleep is awesome. Not getting enough of it is not. Highly recommended for a healthy mind and body. I grew up in a house where no one slept enough and that’s continued to influence my sleep patterns. I have yet to organize my life and work around my chronotype, but actually sleeping the last few days has done wonders for me.
  • Hawaii (or, at least, Maui) is at beautiful as it’s cracked up to be. I spent my entire life hearing people talk about how much they love Hawaii and how beautiful it is, and despite seeing it in so many movies and TV shows, it still lives up to the hype. “Unbelievably beautiful” and “lush” are the two descriptors that seem to come close using language alone, and pictures don’t do it justice. Go. Now.
  • I’m looking for an artist for a creator-owned project. Realistically cartoony is the best way I can describe the aesthetic I’d like to find. If I could have my pick of any artist in the land my buddy Bernard Chang would draw it, but he’s a little too busy drawing stuff for DC at the moment so I’ll have to settle for maybe getting a cover from him. Don’t worry if your style doesn’t look like his, it’s just a touch stone. The book has some black comedic elements that won’t come across if we go too realistic and high-contrast with the darker elements, so I want the art to fit the lighter, occasionally cheeky tone. Drop me a line if you’re interested or know of an artist who might be.
  • There will be more non-writing/comics stuff on the blog moving forward. Fitness and nutrition have always been a major interest for me, so while I won’t be posting shirtless photos of myself and telling you how to get a 6-pack in 30 days, I will be posting interesting discoveries, articles and links to podcasts or videos. I’m much more consistent with my training than I am with my writing, and while I aim to bring that side of my life into better balance I want to make this site a better reflection of what’s occupying my mind.
  • While I can’t promise regular updates and hold myself to that without fail (blogs seem to be dying left and right), I will be posting “at least occasionally.” (For those who no longer have an RSS reader with the death of Google Reader, I highly recommend Feedly. I can’t figure out how to properly navigate it via the Android app, but as a desktop plug-in and site it’s ace.)

Next up: Struggle!

Want to Write Comics? We Will Teach You

As Joshua Hale Fialkov has done several times at various Long Beach Horror & Comic Con events, this year he will again be teaching the craft of writing comic books at this year’s show. I worked with Josh to teach the class earlier this year at the one-day Long Beach Expo and had an awesome time dropping knowledge and getting to meet up and coming creators.

I’ll be joining him again for an even bigger and better workshop, but this time Josh is bringing in the big guns: Jim McCann (MIND THE GAP, RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN), Brian Buccellato (THE FLASH, FOSTER), and afro-wielding warrior Sam Humphries (ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES, UNCANNY X-FORCE).

Details are available here. You do not want to miss out.

I’ll Blog More… Soon

Spent yesterday working (and trying not to succumb to the heat), and then the wee hours (which were slightly less sweat inducing) catching up on e-mails owed to comic friends I either didn’t see after skipping SDCC this year, or just haven’t spoken to recently. One of them, an artist I worked with a few years back, told me he kept up with my blog and that I should write more. He’s right, of course, but I’ve been burning the candle at both ends since getting back from Atlanta earlier this month.

I’ll tell you what I told him: I will write more. Soon. If I can’t post something once a week (4-5 times a month minimum), I really shouldn’t even have a blog. So let me get past this script, get these two books and a trade to press, and you’ll start seeing more semi-regular posts from me here.  More commentary and process than news, since any news I have is a ways off from being announced.

And since I haven’t really mentioned it anywhere, I’m heading up CBR INK, Comic Book Resources’ newest blog covering comic book and pop culture tattoos. It’s often tumblr style featuring images and quick descriptions, but we have a few more interviews coming in that should be a little more in depth. Be sure to check it out.

That Dream Where You Can’t Scream…

I suppose it means I feel stifled, or that I’m not being listened to. I’ve had it twice in the last few months, both times in the middle of being attacked (and my brain has me convinced it was by the same random dream person both times). It’s scary not having control over something as basic as your ability to communicate, probably made all the more so by the fact that nearly every technological advancement is about communicating or connecting us further to the rest of the world in some way.

The first time I was calling out for help, flailing during a violent attack and hoping for some kind of rescue. Last night was worse. I was trapped in a bank’s after hours ATM room, trying to find the right check. As I rifled through the impossible number of papers shoved in my pockets, I found two checks. One for a paltry amount — $5 and change — and the other for semi-significant cash, I noticed the larger check was torn at the top, destroying the bar code (which I can only assume was an easy visual stand-in for the routing or account numbers, since I always have problems with reading/numbers in dreams. As I tried to figure out my next move, the man who (I think) had attacked me in the previous dream months ago was there. He stalked toward me and I back pedaled, trying to scream.

My girlfriend was outside the thick glass of the ATM booth, which by this point was its own standalone glass cube, not part of any physical bank or other structure. My own fish tank torture chamber. I couldn’t make much noise. Barely more than a whisper. She couldn’t hear me. My attacker drew closer, and while his approach was subdued — I managed to hold him off by keeping him at arm’s length (I may have been pushing his face back with my palm) — my attempts to scream grew all the more desperate.

He “chased” me around the cube as I continued to try to yell. I banged on the glass walls but they had enough give that there was barely more than a soft warble, like the tiny clap of clunky, uncoordinated hands. She couldn’t hear me. She wasn’t looking. And I couldn’t make a sound.

I woke up at some point, but the dream had already gone on far too long. I was shook.

After starting to write this (admittedly pointless) post, I remembered another dream from last night. [Sidebar: I’ve been having less than restful sleep for a few months, leading to multiple awakenings and thus multiple remembered dreams.] I stopped in at a donut shop to get something — I must have been on my way to work. As in real life, I’m always looking for a chocolate glazed (we miss you in SoCal, Dunkin Donuts). I didn’t see anything that fit so I asked the girl behind the counter who pointed me toward a semi-brown, glazed monstrosity with what looked to be Munchkins™ on it. I figured that would have to do in the absence of the real thing, but when I reached for my wallet — it was gone. I told her I left it in the car and had to run out to get it, but when I went outside my car was nowhere to be found. I should also note the dream logic here, since this place had ample street parking (in LA no less) and cars parked inside the dining area. I went up and down the street looking for my car, becoming more frantic as the search became more and more hopeless.  But rather than worrying about the loss of my car or wallet, I was worried that I wouldn’t get that donut…

With this second dream in mind, I have to imagine both were about financial ruin rather than being unable to speak or be heard. It’s also possible they were both about me having a goal (cash a check, buy a donut) and being denied. Or maybe it was just that I did go to the bank and cash a check yesterday. But why was I attacked in the first, and where did my car go in the second? I love dreams, even the weird ones, but today I’m at a loss and don’t feel nearly as rested as I should.

Maybe I should get a donut…

Missing the Digital Boat

Comic book publishers, this one’s for you. I’m not going to waste your time. I’m not going to talk about how $0.99 is the ideal price point for digital comics, or about how exclusivity with one digital vendor is a very bad idea.  I can sum up my biggest gripe with digital in one word:

Capitalize.

You’re not doing it. When the Human Torch was killed in “Fantastic Four” #587 last January, I wanted to catch up on Jonathan Hickman’s run on the title.  But not only could I not get anywhere close to being prepared to read #587, I couldn’t find a single issue written by Hickman. I tweeted about it at the time, and can’t remember exactly what the most recent issues available were (either the Dwayne McDuffie “Initiative” issues or some of Mark Millar’s run), but Hickman had been on the book for seventeen issues and not a single one was available when you killed off one of the oldest characters in the Marvel U — not to mention used the mainstream media to push the story. If a non-comics reader doesn’t know where a direct market shop is or wants to buy the issue immediately after hearing the news on his iPad, you need to make it available to him.  Or, at the very least, let him read the first issue of the current run so he can start to get his feet wet.

A few months after this Marvel started releasing titles day-and-date digitally, solving many problems.  But, the issue of the capitalizing also comes into play when we’re talking about a publisher’s backlist.

Case in point: This June, DC Entertainment and WB are releasing the “Superman Vs. The Elite” animated feature. It’s based on writer Joe Kelly’s stellar “Action Comics” #775 story. The press on the title has begun, but… while “Action Comics” #775 is collected in “The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, Vol. 1,” the series the issue spawned — “Justice League Elite” — is out of print, having released its first volume in 2005 and a second in 2007. Maybe it didn’t sell at the time and there’s no reason to keep it in print, but the costs of digital are much, much lower and there’s no excuse for not making it available in a digital format.

A quick search on comiXology revealed the only mention of the Elite is in “JLA” #112 by Kurt Busiek and Ron Garney. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with the issue, but if you’re looking for the original source or the characters written by Kelly, you’re out of luck. And no, “Action Comics” #775 is not available digitally either.

DC/WB has spent, on the low end, at least a few million dollars creating an animated feature based on its comic book IP, yet there are no plans (via DC Comics solicitations through June) to bring the “Elite” books back to print. I sincerely hope that by June 12, when the movie is slated to be released, there will be digital options available for those intrigued by the animated interpretations of the Elite.

This is basic stuff. There will be an increased demand for this material when the movie comes out. Don’t take money out of your own pockets by not having something available to the readers who want it. I can guarantee you somewhere on the Internet this book has already been scanned and released via torrent. Instead of forcing your consumers to go there, give them the option to buy it in a legit manner.

Capitalize. When opportunities present themselves, don’t let them slip away.

Rian Hughes on DC’s New “Peel” Logo

Rian Hughes is one hell of a designer, and also an incredible artist. I was fortunate enough that he found time to work with me on DAYS MISSING, where he designed the logo and trade dress for us. I respect him, his work and his opinion immensely, and I was really happy to get his take on the new DC Comics/Entertainment “Peel” logo as he’s done plenty of work for DC in the past.

He posted the following on his facebook page (the bolds are mine):

Re: DC’s new logo…

Here’s the thing – a comic book logo has got to fulfill two quite different criteria that often pull the design in different directions.

It has to represent a forward-looking professional and modern company.
It also has to communicate what the comics are all about.

My main comment on the last DC Comics logo reboot was that it looked too… well, a bit too *comicy*. Outside of the comic ghetto, in the wider real world of design, it looks distinctly cheesy.

This one I applaud for taking a more clean and modern approach. More legitimate and, well, more *designed*.

What I would say, however, is that it’s not the most iconic and memorable logo I’ve ever seen. It’s OK. Not bad. But not “YES! Perfect!”, which is what one aims for in an identity mark.

I also question how well it’ll work in context on covers, where it may jar uncomfortably with the art styles.

The perfect logo, I believe, would have two things:

First, a sense of punchy dynamism and excitement – a reference to the action/adventure core values of comics, WITHOUT being a derivative pastiche of some kind of so-called *comic style* (read: no dot screens, sound effect style lettering, speech balloons, explosions).

Secondly, it should work on screen and print, be relevant to comics in the iPad digital realm, and able to stand next to other high-end publisher’s logos without embarrassment. Legitimate, modern, clean, without being too dull and corporate.

I think DC has tried to move the logo from the first category (the swoosh one) to the second category (this Landor version). The swoosh version was too comicy, this one just looks too corporate. Dull, Lacking in dynamism and punch. On the covers, it reminds me of a logo from a blander umbrella corporation that just happens to have a comics division. What we really need is a mark that somehow covers *both* categories.

The variations – the versions with the imagery in – lift the design, but I know that in practice these versions, nice as they are, rarely get used. The fall-back logo – the basic, no-frills version we’ll see on spines, and covers – has to stand on it’s own without these fancy polishes.

A logo has to work “bare”, as it were, stripped of colour, stripped of fancy Photoshop effects. That’s the measure of an iconic logo. This one fails in that respect.

Not an easy brief, I know.

So, an interesting effort that I can understand the reasoning behind, but feel it’s not iconic and punchy enough to hit the mark. Two steps forward, one step back.