“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.

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.

So That Happened…

Thursday was an interesting day.  I began the day trying out a new energy drink, going for a walk, writing for half an hour, and then going to work.  This could have been any day, though I don’t write as much as I would like, until about 4pm.
Matt came into my office and closed the door.  He told me had just let Mel go.  Then he said he was eliminating my position.  And just like that, roughly five years to the day, my time at Top Cow was over.  He talked to me about some options in terms of future work, and gave me the option to tell him to go to hell.  He left and I spent about 30 seconds going, Okay, that really did happen.  And that’s when it got weird.
I didn’t get upset.  Not sad or angry.  I skipped all the stages of grief and went right to acceptance.  I stared at the computer for those 30 seconds, then called a buddy to follow up on a freelance editing gig he had mentioned.  I had a phone call about 8 minutes later, so I just sat there with the door closed and waited for the phone to ring.  I thought, Sink or swim time.  You want to be a writer.  You complain that editing doesn’t give you the time.  Here’s your shot to do it and make a living.  And I felt totally okay.
I spent almost an hour on the phone, talking about that, other things, and pretty much that.  Talking about it didn’t make the prospect of chasing my next paycheck any scarier.  It didn’t make me feel undervalued or unappreciated after being dropped with no warning or inkling it was coming.  I remained okay.
I was planning on spending 2009 getting my writing career going so that at the end of the year, or later if I wanted, I would have the option to leave editing behind.  It’s not that I didn’t love it, but it definitely has its drawbacks and can be very frustrating.  The thing is, it was never the end goal.  I’m a writer, and I want to tell my own stories, not just shepherd those of others.  Ultimately this speeds up what was at best a tentative plan by about 11.5 months.  And I’m totally fine with that.
Some of the creators I let know are kind of sick to their stomachs over the whole thing.  My mom is probably freaking out, my dad is worried, and my sister is probably pissed.  She went through the same thing a few months ago, but she’s also still in school for her Master’s.  I’m feeling oddly okay with the whole situation.  The hardest part is walking away from creators and projects.
I’ve come to feel a real sense of ownership on a number of books.  Of course I’m talking about Witchblade and The Darkness.  They’re the flagships, the only perennial ongoings, and I have longstanding working relationships with the creators involved, especially Ron Marz and Phil Hester.  They were also the only creators who got the call yesterday.  I got pretty choked up on both calls.  I called, feeling as solid as I was feeling, but then you start realizing that you’re not going to be on the phone or IM or even email with these guys all the time, talking about work, life, and whatever else comes up.  I’ll definitely be in touch with both, but…  A big part of their lives is what they do to make money, as was mine, and I won’t be their creative midwife anymore.  Phil killed me by trying to blame himself.  I kind of cut the tension by telling him it really was his fault.  Ron did it when he said, “I’m not going to say that it’s been a pleasure, or anything else like that,” and then the phone just went silent for a really long beat.  I’m sure my voice was shaking a bit when I finally spoke again.
There are other books I’ve really loved and felt a strong connection to like Genius, which I championed like no other near unsellable book, and Madame Mirage, which probably didn’t need me too involved but I’m still willing to take any credit for its successes.  It’s really tough to just make a clean, immediate break from projects and creators I’ve spent the last five years working on and with, respectively.
The remainder of Thursday was spent at Busby’s, commiserating with Mel (who I should probably talk to more since we’re in the same boat) and the rest of the gang.  It was a little weird having everyone tell you how sorry they were to see me go when I was already busy thinking about how great it was going to be to finally be able to devote time to my writing career.  The power of positive thinking (and framing), I suppose.  Perception truly does dictate reality.
I spent all of Friday calling and emailing creators, letting them know my status and that Filip would be taking over all of my responsibilities as well as Mel’s.  Lots of shocked creators out there.  I won’t blow smoke up my own ass…  But there are many who would say I’m the best editor they’ve worked with.  It’s nice to hear that I had an impact on the work and lives of at least a few of them.  I can self-aggrandize all I want, but hearing it in a genuine way really does mean a lot.  It’s really weird to just be done with all that.
I take solace in the fact that for five years I gave all I had to give.  From working for free for a year, to telling Matt I was up for whenever when Renae left, and him putting the faith in me to run editorial (at 22, I think).  I left it all out there on the court, to borrow from my sports vernacular, and there’s very little I would change.  Would I rather have my job when I wake up tomorrow?  Absolutely.  There was plenty I liked about the gig and the people I worked with that I wasn’t ready to walk away from.  Am I okay with being unemployed and being forced to embark on the next phase of my life?  Absolutely.  I think this is one of the best things to ever happen to me.
I
still have a ton of creators to notify, and I’m sure lots to catch Filip up on.  I don’t know how that guy is ever going to sleep again.  I’ll be doing some freelance writing and editing for the Cow, so hopefully anything I do in both capacities will alleviate some of his stress rather than add to it.  And I still need to figure out how to disconnect from all the books and people I’m so used to being around and involved with on a seemingly hourly capacity.  The 4-Hour Workweek is helping…  One of the things Ferriss goes over is people who are addicted to their station in life.  They’ll make every excuse in the world about how they can’t leave their job because it’s not the right time, they’ll never do as well, etc.  And the whole book is about people, including him, who have done all the things others are scared to.  One exercise is to imagine the worst-case scenario.  If the worst is you losing your job, how bad is that really.  It happened to me on Thursday, and I’m living proof that I lost what was one of the most important things in my life and I didn’t crumble.  Still here, still standing, still going strong.
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I’ll be at the New York Comic Con next month, and sticking around NY a few days after (thanks to Elaine).  I hope to see a lot of the friends I’ve made over the last few years there and catch up, as well as score plenty of gigs.  I’ve gotten a lot of offers for help in whatever capacity I need, I just need to spend next week pounding the pavement and lining up some work, seeing if freelance is a viable option for me to make a living via.
It’s an interesting time for me because the only responsibilities I have are rent, car payments, insurance and utilities (plus the never-diminishing school loans).  I have no familial or relationship obligations to lock me down, and my lease is month-t0-month.  I can literally go anywhere and do anything if need be.  It’s kind of liberating.  Well, except for the thought that I might disappoint some dodgeball teams if I take off… I haven’t traveled much outside of for conventions the last couple years, and already I’m thinking about where I’d like to go, and how easy it’ll be to work from there so long as they have an Internet connection.  I think Japan is definitely high up on my list right now…
I don’t know what the future holds, but for today that doesn’t scare me at all.  Stay tuned to this space for updates on whatever I’m up to.  And I’ll have to make sure there’s a link in the sidebar to contact me.  In case you’re wondering, the email is the blog name @ gmail.com.