“Bushido” – Get Your Digital On

“Bushido: The Way of the Warrior” #1 cover

If you want the gist on “Bushido” without any filler, you can get it here. If you want the backstory, you can get it below.

Long before “Netherworld” was ever a glimmer in anyone’s eye — or a comic on anyone’s shelf — I was talking about books with Heroes and Villains Entertainment. They offered me my first gig immediately after I left Top Cow… and I turned it down. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it, or that I didn’t need the money (see: The Freelancer’s Dilemma), I just didn’t connect with the material in the way I felt I needed to in order to deliver the book they deserved. They were passionate about the world they created, and I could see it’s value, I just couldn’t find that hook that made it personal for me, and something I’d be able to properly write. So I passed. There were no hard feelings, but I felt an immediate wave (and paralyzing fear) following the passing up of real American moneys.

HVE wasn’t phased though. They understood my position and knew we’d find something else to work on. And thus came a little book about a gaijin samurai fighting off a horde of invading vampires in feudal Japan. It was called “Bushido: Way of the Warrior,” and it was all set to be the second (or third) book I collaborated on with Bryan Edward Hill. We went back and forth a few times on story notes, had a pretty good idea of the overall structure and were all ready to start — and then were told to pump the brakes. First for a short while, then a long while. Then it became “We don’t know when this will start up, but it will eventually.” Hungry freelancers that we were, Bryan and I began talking to HVE about what else we could right for them. The one line for “Netherworld,” then featuring a different plot and title but plenty of the same themes, struck us as a good fit and that moved forward pretty quickly.

Around the time we were finishing “Netherworld,” I got a call that “Bushido” was finally ready to roll. But things had changed. Partially spurred by the success of “7 Days From Hell” and his spec screenplay based on it, and partially because he’s that good a writer, Bryan was busy in Hollywood. Writing specs, taking directing meetings and getting hired to re-write the “Just Cause” film adaptation — among other projects that I can’t divulge. He didn’t have time to take on a comic series, so he gave his blessing for me to tackle “Bushido” solo. And thus my first solo miniseries was born (I’ve written plenty of things solo, but this is the first published miniseries, which makes it a landmark of sorts).

I wrote the first issue in January, 2012. It took a while to get everyone’s brain wrapped around the story again as well as coordinating between HVE and Top Cow, who edits as well as publishes the series. We hired Studio Hive to illustrate the five-issue series in March of the same year and started seeing some killer painted pages. But… painted work takes time. A lot of time. For a while I didn’t think the series would ever finish.

But…

…wait for it…

It’s finally here! And I don’t mean in a “It’s on the schedule soon” here, I mean actually-buy-it-right-this-second-if-you-have-the-internet here. Top Cow and HVE decided to release the series digitally starting today. You can purchase #1 for $1, and the remaining issues should be out monthly or even a little faster than that. So what are you waiting for? It’s just $1. It’s less than laundry, and no one likes laundry…

I am a HUGE proponent of digital comics. I believe in them for their ability to put comics in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and a screen. I believe in their potential to expand the comic format with what we’re seeing on projects like Mark Waid’s Thrillbent titles (and what I’m hearing about DC’s digital-first “Batman ’66”). I also think the potential lower price point (I wish they were all $0.99) has the potential to expand the audience by making books an impulse buy again — you can’t call a 20-page book at $3.99 that you can only get in a specialty store an impulse buy. And there’s the space issue. Digital comics take up space on your hard drive and in your brain. There’s no bags, boards, boxes and — let’s face it — stacks of comics lying around taking up space in your home. There’s no running out of space when your collection gets too big. There’s just megabytes to purchase, and digital space is slim. I’d wage my own digital battles, but Mark Waid is smarter than me, and much more eloquent, and I have a hard time arguing against any of what he’s said at digital to this point. So I won’t belabor the point any further (for now).

Those who love print comics are also in for a special treat. Top Cow will be publishing “Bushido” in October, and there’s more. It’s coming out weekly. All the vampire-samurai you can handle every week in October. I’ve never done a weekly release (if I’m honest, my books have rarely shipped monthly) so I’m excited to see how this plays out and be able to see how people react to the story in almost real-time. It’s kind of the opposite of how long it took the book to go from idea to comic (my first mention of it via e-mail was in January 2010). If you’re a print person (Hi, Mom!), be sure to pre-order the book from your local retailer. It’s in the October-shipping Previews catalog right now from Top Cow/Image Comics.

Check out a pretty substantial preview of #1 here — or just buy it for only $1 here. And don’t forget comiXology now offers subscriptions, so they can let you know via e-mail that your new issues of “Bushido” are ready and waiting for you. Be sure to let me know what you think.

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You’ll notice the blog looks a little different. I got tired of the old theme, which I’ve never messed with outside of updating the header since I started the site. Not sure if this new theme will stick, but then again I don’t blog much… If you run into any readability issues let me know.

I finished my pilot a while ago. I think I planned to do some major post about finally getting to the finish line, but I didn’t. I wasn’t all that happy when I finished. Don’t get me wrong — clearing that hurdle was a major step. But I didn’t like the work. I knew it marked the beginning of a long journey, not the end. I wasn’t all that happy to tell you, “I just wrote one of the all-time worst pilots!” Because it’s not very good. I’m being hyperbolic, but it’s not very good. No one makes decisions the way they should, the promise of the premise is almost entirely unclear, and there are too many dialogue heavy scenes that do nothing but info dump exposition. And they’re not that well-dialogued.

I’ve actually fallen out of my writing rhythm due to irregular/poor sleep over the last couple weeks while I’ve been slowly working on some paying work and trying to break the outline for the pilot I originally planned to write before this one. I want to get the loose outline finished (it’s already longer than any outline I did for this one) just so I know where to start when I eventually write it, but I’ll get back to the original pilot soon. It needs a good revision before anyone but the one person I sent it to (as proof of finishing) can read it and give me feedback before it gets halfway decent following the third draft.

Like I said, it’s a beginning, not an end.

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.

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.