Aside

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.

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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…

A Little Homework Goes a Long Way

One of the things I wish I had emphasized more — every sentence, in fact — at the seminar Joshua Hale Fialkov and I taught last weekend is how important planning is when making comics. There are so many things to consider, so many moving parts, and so many thing that can (and will) go wrong that without proper planning you’re in for a nightmare.   And that’s just creatively…

I have a bug up my ass about logo design (and design in general).  I know this. More often than not, I don’t blog unless I’m up in arms about something, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, completely despondent and uninspired.  Well, today I have to put a buddy on blast.

Tyler Kirkham, who I worked with on waaaay more books than any artist other Stjepan Sejic during my tenure at Top Cow (both on TC titles and on the books we packaged for Marvel), has a new book on Kickstarter called “The Monarchy.” I first saw the page when the campaign went live and thought, “something about that looks familiar.” I saw him post about it again today and it all clicked.

“The Monarchy” logo is basically the logo from Top Cow’s “The Magdalena.” I think Aspen’s Peter Steigerwald designed the original, but don’t quote me on that. I pulled up a Maggie image and sure enough, the case could be made for trademark infringement based on the logo. It’s… really close.  But that’s not all. The title sounded funny in my brain today. Wasn’t there already a “Monarchy” comic book?

Turns out, yes. Wildstorm published a “The Monarchy” title that spun out of the second year of “The Authority” and ran for 12 issues from 2001-2002. I think I may have even read it, back when I was catching up on all that goodness. (Remember Warren Ellis’ then totally under-the-radar run on “Stormwatch” that introduced The Authority? Stellar, stellar stuff.) And don’t think I’m not noticing yet again some similar elements in the book’s logo to Kirkham’s “The Monarchy” logo.

Look, I’m not saying anyone gets sued here. And I know Tyler and Mandy McMurray, the book’s co-creator, and they’re good, honest people. Either they didn’t realize what they were doing or did it intentionally as an homage with no ill will or infringement intended. But knowing that it could become an issue… why risk it.  Certainly with regards to the title, why not do a quick ™ search with the USPTO and see if they’re in the clear (and if they have, and they are, forget I said anything).

If you’re doing creator-owned and self-published books, you have enough on your plate. But forgetting that you need to make sure you’re doing something wholly original that doesn’t infringe upon someone else’s marks is part of that game. There are few things worse than spending your time and effort completing something and not being able to put it out or getting held up in a lengthy legal battle.

To bring this all home, I urge all you DIY creators out there to think. And when you’re thinking, brainstorm all the things that might go wrong and figure out ways to cover your ass with proper scheduling, foresight, and probably consulting a lawyer. Or at least Google, Search Engine at Law.

Okay, I’ll Teach You How to Make Comics

My good friend Joshua Hale Fialkov and I are leading two very special seminars this Saturday at the Long Beach Comic Expo.  If you’ve ever wanted to make the jump from fan to pro, or “I once published something” to “I have a career,” these are the classes for you. The show is running some specials when you buy tickets to our classes on the show itself, so head on over to their website for more info, and check out the official press release below.

Official Press Release

Long Beach Comic Con presents the Comic Expo on May 12th at the Long Beach Convention Center with special workshops by critically-acclaimed writer Joshua Hale Fialkov (I, Vampire, Last of the Greats, Doctor Who, Echoes) and veteran writer/editor Rob Levin (7 Days From Hell, Abbatoir).

Fialkov and Levin will be hosting two seminars on May 12th. The first one is titled ‘Intro to Careers in Comics’ and will last for 2 intense hours. This session will feature the art of breaking in, the process of writing, finding collaborators and getting your book made. The second 2 hour workshop will be titled ‘Advanced Careers in Comics’ and will provide an in-depth look at the business side of writing and producing comic books. Advance registration is required and there is an additional fee. Seating is extremely limited to only thirty people and tickets are available on the website now (www.longbeachcomiccon.com).
“Rob and I have twenty years combined experience in the comics business, and we’re thrilled for the chance to share our years with another great crop of Long Beach Comic Expo attendees.” said Joshua Hale Fialkov (Eisner, Harvey, and Emmy nominated writer of the graphic novels ECHOES, TUMOR, ELK’S RUN, and the LAST OF THE GREATS).

“When we decided to add programming to the one day Expo, we were thrilled with the response from both the creative community and the attendees. Having the chance to collaborate with industry veterans like Josh and Rob on programming is one of the biggest perks of my job.” said Phil Lawrence, Director of the Long Beach Comic Con.

For a complete list of events, guests, activities, ticket prices and times, visit www.longbeachcomiccon.com. Tickets for Comic Expo Long Beach Comic & Horror Con are on sale now through the website and will also be available at many Southern California comic book and hobby shops, including WSS Shoe Stores and their Geeky Mamma stores.

About MAD Event Management
MAD Event Management is an all-purpose event planning facilitator whose principal owner has over 13 years of experience producing annual large-scale consumer conventions around the country, including Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Dallas. MAD’s capabilities include: Site Selection, Exhibit Staffing, Marketing Plans, Vendor Selection, Floor Plan Development, On-Site Execution, Sponsor Exhibitor Sales, Travel Management, Contract Development, Setup & Disassembly and Contract Coordination. Visit www.madeventmanagement.com for additional information.

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.

“Before Watchmen’s” Muddled Branding

When DC unveiled their new “Peel” logo, my first thought was, “How the hell did they miss the boat on the New 52 relaunch?”  The relaunch was announced in May, and it seems creators began getting approached in February and March (and likely earlier) to pitch for books.  So why was a new logo not planned to go to press in September instead of announcing it 5 months after the relaunch, and debuting it in print a total of 7 months after.

Even more disturbing in my mind, from a corporate identity standpoint, is the release of the “New 52” hardcover, a $150 tome featuring all 52 new #1s from DC’s relaunched universe, with the old DC “Swoosh” logo.  It’s one thing to say this is calculated to keep DC getting buzz in the media, and in that sense I get it.  Press, like everything else, is cyclical, and you have to keep feeding to stay alive.  But… the first major salvo in your “This is what DC Comics is about today” war has your old logo on it and you’ve been planning this initiative for at minimum 8 months, and likely closer to a year out.

But back to the matter at hand. This morning DC made perhaps their biggest, and certainly boldest, announcement since the news of the relaunch.  After years of rumors and speculation, DC will release prequels based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 classic “Watchmen.”  “Before Watchmen” has some seriously amazing talent involved, and I hold out high hopes for the books and their success.

I’m not arguing the merits of this publishing decision.  I never begrudge anyone who wants to print money, and it’s not like they put schlubs on the book with no reverence for the original story and creators.  I’m curious as to who is editing the books, but I trust DC has their top guy[s] on it.  At the end of the day, when “Before Watchmen” has come and gone, I’d wager that the books will be better than most are expecting, and those who take a chance on them will end up enjoying and possibly loving them.  Still others will scream blasphemy and hate them at every turn, despite never turning a page and giving them a shot. That’s what the Internet is for, after all. Remember, just like a movie adaptation, the original “Watchmen” exists much as it has for more than 25 years.  It’s there whenever you want to read it, and DC can never change that.  That story is what it is, these are just new stories for those who want to read them.

What does surprise me is the logo used on the covers released today.  DC Comics unveiled several alterations to their new logo based on various characters or lines of books, and the reaction by many was, “Oh, well those are cooler than the plain logo.” Many graphic designers have been quick to point out that in practice logo variants are seldom used because of deadlines and other factors, but the fact remains that DC was at least considering alternate applications of the “Peel.”

This is the cover released by DC for Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s “Before Watchmen: Rorschach” book.

The logo in the upper left corner looks an awful lot like… a yellow version of the new DC logo. But wait — didn’t DC already show off a “Watchmen” variant of their new logo? Yes. Shouldn’t DC’s biggest announcement of 2012 showcase their logo and revamped corporate identity in the best possible light?

Much better. It better serves both the new DC Comics brand, and that of “Watchmen.” Hell, including the “Watchmen” variant in your logo mock-ups pretty much confirmed this was happening, so why not go all in. There are a million reasons for this. This isn’t the final cover — where’s the price, issue number, bar code, etc. This is just a promo image. The list goes on and on. But I’m a firm believer in putting your best foot forward.

DC has made a number of great decisions in the last nine months to a year, and they’ll likely keep it up. But I’ll continue to call them out, as well as anyone else that needs it, if I feel they’re not doing everything they can to move themselves and this industry as a whole forward.  If you love comics, you have to put that love in action and do everything you can to make sure the industry not only survives, but thrives.

I’m looking forward to “Before Watchmen.” I just hope that DC uses the right logo so I know they have their heads fully in the game.

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.

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…