Ruff Ryding into iBooks Author

Originally this was going to be called “Big News,” but Apple’s insistence on immediately upgrading to all of their new software (and hardware) killed it for me.*  I suppose this title is better since it really has little to do with me (right now) in the first place.

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The big news of the day is DMX clamoring for a Ruff Ryders reunion tour. That’s right, Mr. Earl “I Keep Going to Jail” Simmons wants to take advantage of being a free man and get on stage with the rest of the seemingly defunct RR crew and make some angry, barky rap music.  I haven’t been to a ton of hip-hop shows, but I did see them in Atlanta when they toured with Cash Money (when Li’l Wayne was still, well, li’l) and the concert holds a special place in my heart.  The first three DMX albums are pretty great, he’s a spirited performer, and I’m hoping the LOX will join up.  So I’m excited for this to come together.

Now, the news that’s more salient for readers of this (not quite defunct) blog.  Apple.  That’s all I need to say, right?

Apple announced some stuff about textbooks that’s actually pretty interesting (and potentially a major boon to broke college students everywhere), but I’m well past my $300/book days.  No, I’m talking about their other announcement.  iBooks Author, which allows anyone with a Mac to format and publish books to iBooks. All for the price of free.

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The good news, this takes away many excuses for writers who have the content. There’s no longer a barrier to entry.  You can take your finished text/manuscript, plop it in Author, and output a (digital) book. Once it’s a book, you can sell it. Immediately. (No word yet on how Apple/iBooks plans to approve titles and/or regulate content.)

That’s the good news. The bad news is… Not every book needs to be published.  Let’s face it, there are a lot more wannabes writing bad books than need to be published.  By taking the editor/quality control element out of the equation, we open the floodgates and kill the signal:noise ration.  But, there are plenty of great writers out there who haven’t found their break, or can’t find a wide enough audience when self-publishing. There’s now more content to sift through on the Internet in order to find those gems.

The walls of old media are rapidly coming down. Between this, YouTube’s TV initiative, and having access to content wherever we go on a plethora of devices, the game is changing by the day if not the hour. There are no more excuses.

If DMX has taught us anything, it’s that… I don’t know, something about hustle.

Go. Write. Create. Hustle. Succeed.

*You must have OS X 10.7+ on your Mac in order to download and use iBooks Author. I upgraded my 4 and 5 year-old machines to 10.6 within the last two weeks…

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My San Diego Comic-Con 2011 Schedule

I’m headed down to San Diego in the wee hours tomorrow with newly minted “Flash” co-writer Brian Buccellato, but I wanted to stop in and give you fine people (Hi, Mom!) an update on my goings on at the show.

This is the first time since my first couple shows as an intern that I’ll neither be sitting in on any panels nor having any announcements, so if you want to find me it’ll have to be while I’m loose on the floor or at one of my three signings for Top Cow (#2629).  I’ll be happy to sign anything (so feel free to bring copies of “Abattoir” to the Top Cow booth) any time if you were happy enough to buy it.

Friday:  Top Cow Booth – 1pm-2pm (with art juggernauts Whilce Portacio, Jeremy “Through His Head” Haun and Eric Canete)

Saturday: Top Cow Booth – 10am-11am (with David Marquez, who has gotten so damn good I may never be fortunate enough to work with him).  Whoever brings me meat-free goodies first (in case there’s no time for breakfast) gets something free…

Sunday: Top Cow Booth – 1:30pm-3pm (with Whilce and Jeremy again, who are still awesome)

Looking forward to catching up with friends, fans and future collaborators at the show.

“The Beer is Drunk”

Funny things can happen when art, commerce and editorial all mix. I’ve been through this a number of times on “custom jobs” when I (solo or during my tenure at Top Cow) have been approached to provide either custom comics jobs (usually video game and movie tie-ins) or advertising materials. I’m sure others have had it worse, since I can still manage to smile about it.

This is the story of a man who was asked to draw beer, and how it all went bad…

But lost in the story here is that the artist, Bill Mayer, mentions that he sent his art director “the normal forty thumbnails” for his cover illustration.  I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this.  Forty? 40?  Earlier in the article he mentions the illo paid $300, which is less than what the total cost of a comic cover is in most cases (depending on budget, publisher, etc.).  I always asked for a minimum of three cover thumbnails or sketches before we moved forward, and while some artists were happy to comply and provided more than that, others would barely offer one (or try to skip even that step).  Mayer does forty without batting an eye, for less than most comic covers cost.  Sure, his illustration may be seen as less intensive than a traditional comic cover, and that might be true, but it’s not really the point.

He knows it’s a job, sticks by the rules of professionalism, and does what’s needed to make sure he gets his work published and is paid for his effort.  Let that be a lesson to all of us.

Forty?!?

Royal Marshall – A Moment of Silence

Known mainly for his work on the Neal Boortz Show, longtime radio producer Royal Marshall died early Saturday morning.  As a listener of the show from before I knew what politics were into my formative years, Royal always played the role of the everyman who cracked wise and kept Boortz grounded.  He was the closest I think one could get to the lens through which I view politics.  At 43, he died way too young.  My condolences to his wife, two daughters and the rest of his family and friends.

I didn’t know the man and won’t pretend to, but I will mark his passing with a comedy bit that has made me laugh for years, and I once had the pleasure of seeing him perform live.

This is “Boo Got Shot:”

I’ll miss you, Royal.

The Squirrel Story

Monday night didn’t go exactly as planned.  I went to pick up Kristal so I could cook us dinner and show her the Sons of Anarchy pilot, but when we got home things were derailed by a loud thud as we walked the steps to my building.

Something had fallen from a tree in front of the adjacent apartment building into the middle of the street.  A car was stopped in front of it.  As I got closer I made out something in the debris of leaves and branches.  It was too pale, too small, too inorganic.  Then I got closer.

It was a squirrel. A baby, its tail still tiny.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a baby this close before, and it lying flat on its back, twitching, not looking long for this world. I cringed a little bit, then saw another.  This one was on all fours, but not moving.  I told Kristal what I was looking at, and tried to talk to the second squirrel. Hey, squirrel. You okay? He wasn’t moving his arms or legs, but I could see him breathing.  I jangled my keys close to him and he turned his head.  He was alive, and we could see one more inside the nest, though this one wasn’t moving. We had no idea what kind of condition he was in.

Kristal was worried that people would drive down the street and crush the dead squirrel, the live one, and anything else that might be left in the largely destroyed mass of what used to be a nest.  Neither of us wanted that.  We stood in the street directing traffic and trying to protect them as the sun went down.  She started calling various animal control agencies as I tried not to get hit by cars that were driving too fast in a residential neighborhood.

It was past eight o’clock now, and the last remnants of sun were gone. We were running out of options. She was on the phone with various police and other agencies trying desperately to find someone who could help us. Most people were closed. An animal control company in Long Beach could do it, but it would cost $200. Culver City was reachable, but didn’t have a contract with Los Angeles to enter the city/county and clean it up.  We were trying to figure out if we could safely move the squirrels and the nest to the grass, or if we could somehow get them into a carrier and take them to an animal hospital ourselves.  We were worried about being untrained, unprotected, and not knowing what kind of condition or mindset they were in, so none of these seemed like better options than finding a pro.

She would not be deterred. She called more numbers and asked everyone she reached for ideas.  She repeated numbers to me and I tapped them into my phone.  Finally, she reached someone who would be able to come out.  It would take 20-25 minutes, but we had found help for the baby squirrels.

We sat there in the dark, waiting, directing confused traffic with flailing arms and glowing cell phones. At one point some stupid woman decided it would be a good to flash her brights and not slow down at all.  Kristal nearly kicked the woman’s car to get her out of the lane and protect the squirrels.  It was pretty awesome.  Eventually I realized I could pull my car around and block off the lane with my hazards on so people would be forced to go around.  This made things considerably easier, and safer, for all.

Time had ticked by, and we were past the window we were quoted.  The live squirrel starting making a noise.  He still hadn’t moved and he had been closing his eyes.  This looked like the end.  Then suddenly, out of nowhere he rose up.  He began to take steps, looked at both of us, circled, and looked at the empty side of the road.  We didn’t know what to do, so Kristal tried blocking his path.  The last thing we wanted now that we were so close was to have him run into the street and get crushed.  As he settled down (staying alert, just not scrambling), the other squirrel in the nest, the one we couldn’t tell if it was alive or dead, started moving.  They had both woken up not a minute apart from one another.  We might have saved both of them, if only Animal Control would show up…

A large truck slowed as it approached our position.  It was Animal Control, at last.  The officer (?) exited the truck and surveyed the scene.  He took a glove and held it out for the first live squirrel, I’m guessing to check its temperament.  He asked if we had seen a mother squirrel, which we hadn’t, then returned to his truck.  There was something interesting about him.  He spoke softly and quietly, kindness and compassion in his words and actions.  As Kristal would later remark, he didn’t seem real.  In an age when most people do their jobs for the money and take it out on anyone they come into contact with, this guy seemed like he was exactly where he needed and wanted to be.  He removed a carrier (the same one I think I have for my cat) and prepped it.

As he was doing this, something pretty amazing happened.  The first live squirrel noticed the dead one on the ground nearby.  He walked over to his fallen brother and began to touch him, tapping at him lightly with one hand.  When that didn’t wake him up, he began to cry.  It was a heart-wrenching noise, but it gets worse.  He started nudging him.  Then he got on top, trying in vain to wake up his brother, crying harder.  Neither of us had imagined such a human reaction.  It was really eye-opening, and at the time eye-wetting.

The officer bagged the first live squirrel and took him to the cage.  As he tried to close the carrier’s door, the squirrel clung to the bars, preventing him from closing it and crying louder.  The officer didn’t get upset, he just carefully removed the squirrels fingers from the bars and closed it up.  Then he took the second squirrel, who was very much alive and did the same.  He returned for the third with a small towel and wrapped him up.  It was weird, it really looked he cared and was sad about this dead squirrel, not like he was just tossing out the trash.  He deposited it inside the truck and came back out to check the nest for any other critters.  No dice, so he talked to us for a bit.

He said that the first had some blood on or around its mouth, but he should be okay, and the second one looked even better.  The nest might have landed and then tossed the first one from it, so it’s possible their fall was largely cushioned.  Kristal asked what would happen to them now, knowing there was a good possibility that they would be euthanized rather than cared for or set free in the wild.  The officer told us they’d be delivered to a squirrel rescue center (which I hoped wasn’t some sort of code) and that they’d be fine.

That’s the story of how Kristal and I saved the lives of two baby squirrels and prevented a third from being crushed by cars.

“Sweets” Day is Upon Us!

Do you like crime fiction?  Noir?  Comics?  This post is for you.

Today marks the release of “Sweets” #1 from Image Comics, written, drawn, colored and lettered by Kody Chamberlain.  Here’s the gist:

A spree killer terrorizes New Orleans days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall. Detective Curt Delatte just buried his only daughter, and he’s in no condition to work. But when the bodies pile up, he masks his grief and joins the hunt through the bowels of the Big Easy. It won’t be long until his city—and his evidence—gets washed away.

CHAMBERLAIN, a native of southern Louisiana, makes his writing debut with this dark and gritty miniseries.

Kody is one of my best friends in the comics industry, but I didn’t know him prior to wanting to work with him.  I saw his work, initially on Boom! Studios’ “Tag” and then followed the name wherever it went.  I met with Kody at Comic-Con in 2006 to talk to him about potentially doing some work for Top Cow (yes, even then I had plans to change the culture there) after first musing about one day working with him in my initial post on a previous workblog.

He won me over instantly.  It wasn’t his sketchbook.  It wasn’t that he’s a genuinely awesome and incredibly nice guy.  It was his passion.  We talked about what he had done to get to where he was at in his career, and where he wanted to go.  And when he mentioned “Sweets,” four years before it would eventually hit stands, I knew it was only a matter of time before Kody was off and running, writing and drawing his own awesome crime comics and leaving my (then unpublished) ass in the dust.  Before that happened, I was lucky enough to have Kody draw the first miniseries I was ever paid to write (that for a number of reasons has yet to come out, and will do so without my name, but Kody really did his thing and made me look good).

“Sweets” isn’t just another comic from just another artist.  It’s the work of a truly brilliant creator, and one comics is lucky to have.  I’ve read the scripts for the entire series and seen some in-progress art.  I’ve followed the “Sweets” workblog ‘In No Particular Order‘ and been amazed at how much care and insight Kody has to every single step in the process – even the ones that don’t seem all that important.

For all these reasons and more, I’m urging anyone who likes good stories, comics, crime fiction, noir, Kody, me, or all that is good in the world to pick up both #1 and the rest of the series.  It will be worth it.  You will be entertained.  You’ll be amazed one man can be so good at every single discipline that goes into making a comic.  And you will wait with baited breath for whatever Kody decides to offer up to us next.

Comic Book Resources has posted a 9-page preview, so don’t just take my word for it:

“Sweets” #1 Preview

Pick up your comic and promote today far and wide via the Internet and the Twitters:

http://tinyurl.com/sweetsday
http://kodychamberlain.blogspot.com/2010/07/free-original-artwork-from-sweets.html

‘Justified’

Justified, based on a short story/character from master novelist Elmore Leonard and developed for TV by Graham (Speed, Boomtown) Yost, was a show I got excited about as I do nearly everything on FX.  That interest grew when I found out it was based on Leonard and they showed the first trailer.  The same happened again when the posters started to hit, and gave just the right vibe (along with smart design) for my taste.

I really enjoyed the pilot, but it stopped short of great.  It had all the elements needed to create a proper show engine: likable and iconic protagonist, Timothy Olyphant in that role, great introduction to him, great title sequence and theme song, and a very interesting antagonist with a complexity not often seen on television in the form of Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder.  It just didn’t reach the levels I was expecting from the trailer.  And then the second episode rolled around…

The structure wasn’t what I was expecting from the show, or had come to expect from the 13-episode seasons of other FX shows.  Bryan Hill went all Tony Stark and built a paradigm for the elite television shows, and for the most part it’s the model on which all of FX’s shows are structured.  Justified went a different way.  It was more episodic, so that anyone could tune in at any time and understand what was going on, and even if they didn’t could still enjoy Raylan catching the “villain of the week.”

For lack of a better description, I feared Justified was turning into a USA show.  There’s nothing wrong with them – they are infinitely watchable – but they don’t possess the same depth as what outlets like FX, AMC, HBO, and Showtime are putting out.  FX is all about characters in increasingly convoluted situations and gravitas and darkness, yet Justified felt light(er).

I stuck with the show because it was enjoyable and this is the off-season for most TV; I couldn’t be happier that I did.  It got better just about every week, and the overarching story grew incrementally until it felt like there were minimal episodic elements and the creators had been building to an intense finale from the opening scene of the pilot.  They had pulled a bait-and-switch, and a welcome one at that.

The first season finale aired last night and was a thing of beauty.  I can’t get into much for fear of spoilers – I know way too many of you didn’t watch this show – but if you want payoffs it has them.  If you want to know what Season 2 will feel like and still be not at all sure… they’ve planted the seeds to keep you wondering.

I mentioned this on twitter previously, but I’ll go into it again with a bit more space.  Justified has hands-down the best character introductions and economical character development of anything in recent memory.  No one is built by talking about them when they’re offscreen.  Characters do.  One of the first lessons I learned about dramatic writing is that action is character.  When a character shows up on Justified, they do things that actually define.  Things that are true to their character and let you know exactly who you’re dealing with.  It’s not a world inhabited by stereotypes or even archetypes; these are living, breathing, believable characters.  I’ve known for a few weeks that I’ll rewatch the show to figure out exactly how they pull this off.  It’s a rare concoction of clever writing and excellent casting and performances, I’d imagine.

To sum up, Justified is an excellent show. It spends most of the first season in watchable/good mode, but as it ramps up to its end approaching greatness.  It certainly seems poised to make that leap next season, especially with… Sorry, almost tossed out a spoiler there.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.  It’s got the goods.

You can see the promo trailer HERE.

And here’s a quick look from New York Magazine about building a better hero, using the show as a case study.

The (Near) Perfect Game

Here I go with another baseball sounding article that isn’t really related to baseball.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to be on the verge of a perfect game. Nothing I have ever done in my life comes close to the level of immaculate execution those who have hurled perfect games (or gotten close) attained. But I can imagine exactly how it feels to get as close as Armando Galarraga did tonight, only to have history ripped from his grasp by a blown call (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=5245331).

Too many people let haters, critics, or in this case, umpires influence how they see the world around them and conduct themselves within it. It’s known as an external locus of control. But none of those people can control what you do. Except for you.

Here’s the thing. Galarraga threw a perfect game. It happened. Maybe not according to the box score or the history books, but to everyone who watche the game. One blown call doesn’t change that. He knows what he accomplished. We know what he accomplished. He’ll be able to talk about the achievement forever.

It doesn’t matter what they say. It only matters what you do. You can never control what they do or say. You can only control you. That’s it. It’s a small dominion, but recognizing it can make all the difference in your life.

You write your own story. Sometimes it’s going to be different than how other people tell it, but that’s okay. You were there. You took your start and pitched your game. If you leave it all on the line, that’s all that matters.

Use your own steam to get where you want to go. No one can take away your hustle or your accomplishments. Only you can create them, and only you can allow them to be taken away. Don’t see haters as impediments to success. Use them to motivate you. Let doubt be the engine that powers you and crush it.

Throw your perfect game, regardless of how others see it.

Note: This is the second, shortened version of this post. WP Mobile ate the last one. Jerk.