Author: Aaron Rosenberg

Aaron Rosenberg has written novels for Pocket's Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers, White Wolf's Exalted and Games Workshop's Warhammer lines. He has his own game company, Clockworks (www.clockworksgames.com).
National Graphic Novel Writing Month Day 25: Wait, Who Was That Again? The Importance Of Cast Lists

National Graphic Novel Writing Month Day 25: Wait, Who Was That Again? The Importance Of Cast Lists

Here’s another insanely useful thing when writing: a cast list.

You’ve seen these before, right? Probably when reading Shakespeare. In Romeo and Juliet, the cast list includes entries like:

  • Montague, head of one house, at odds with Capulets
  • Capulet, head of one house, at odds with Montagues
  • Romeo, son to Montague
  • Mercutio, kinsman to the Prince and friend to Romeo
  • Benvolio, nephew to Montague, and friend to Romeo
  • Juliet, daughter to Capulet
  • Tybalt, Juliet’s brother

Now, even if you’ve never read Romeo and Juliet, and never heard the story—which means you’ve apparently lived on a remote island all your life, but never mind that now—you already have some idea how this is going to go. Two houses that hate each other, a young man from one house, a young woman from the other—you can practically see the romantic tension brewing. The cast list sets up the key relationships, and then the play just allows them to develop narratively.

But that doesn’t mean you’re going to want to have your cast list on the front page of your graphic novel. Not usually. A few books like the Justice League of America or The Legion of Super-Heroes can get away with that, but that’s because both of those are team books and so they want the reader to know which members of the team are actually involved in each issue.

But normally the cast list isn’t for your readers. It’s for you.

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National Graphic Novel Writing Month Day 22: Following Your Own Instructions

National Graphic Novel Writing Month Day 22: Following Your Own Instructions

Outlines are important, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. They can keep you from making silly mistakes. Like having an article about outlining near the end of a writing month.

Seriously, an outline can keep you out of all kinds of trouble. If you have even a basic outline beforehand, you can get a clearer sense of your own pacing, and of the story’s overall flow. You can see where it’s going and how it will get there. And you can be sure you didn’t miss any steps along the way.

Do outlines work with graphic novels? Absolutely! If anything, they’re even more important for graphic prose than for regular prose, because you need to have an even clearer sense of how the story will break down. If you have the plot elements outlined, you can see where splash pages and close-ups and other visual features will fit without derailing the story or ruining the pacing. You can also get a sense of page breakdowns by going over the outline and seeing where action is fast and furious and where it’s slow and careful, which will give you a better idea of when to do a standard grid page and when to do quick cut-outs and burst images.

That means, of course, that you need to follow your outline once you’ve written it. Otherwise it won’t do you much good. I tend to keep my outline up in a separate window as I’m writing, so I can refer back to it as necessary. I also use a clean copy of the outline as my starting document, so I can go from point to point and flesh each one out in turn, transforming the outline itself into the full text.

This doesn’t mean you have to follow the outline slavishly, however. Things change as you write. Characters develop in ways you couldn’t have predicted. They do things you wouldn’t have expected—but that make perfect sense for them, given their personalities and situation. You could try to force them back to the details you already established, but that’s going to feel stiff and unnatural and it will show. Instead you need to let them change the story as they work their way through it. It’s their story, after all.

Just don’t forget to change the outline as well.

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Movie Review: ‘RED’

Movie Review: ‘RED’

For those of you who haven’t read the three-issue comic book miniseries Red, by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, don’t worry. The movie version is to the comic book as Blade Runner was to Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That is, Red takes the comic book’s basic concept—a retired CIA assassin, Frank Moses, finds himself under attack and comes out of retirement to deal with the problem—and then spins it off in a new direction. In this movie’s case, that direction is a fast, fun film with a fantastic cast, great action, great lines, and more than a little bit of humor.

Let’s start with the cast. You’ve got Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren. That’s a fantastic lineup all by itself. But then throw in Mary Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, and Richard Dreyfuss, and this movie could be about pretty much anything and it would still be fun. Hell, I’d watch that group doing an improv of strangers meeting in a supermarket checkout line!

But don’t worry about the plot. It’s there. Oh, is it there. And it all works. It’s straightforward enough to follow without a problem, but has plenty of depth to keep you interested. There aren’t any of those cinematic asides Hollywood is so fond of these days, either—I think there’s all of one flashback, and it’s short and to the point.

There’s also a lot of humor to this movie. Plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially with Willis and Mirren’s droll delivery, Freeman’s cheerful amiability, and Malkovich’s off-kilter antics. If anything, Malkovich steals the show, but only barely. This isn’t a group you can steal much attention from.

There’s a lot of violence, of course. But no real gore. No nudity either, and not much profanity. Plus the light tone and the romantic element offsets all the talk about killing and killers. The film’s rated PG-13 and I think that’s fair.

One of the best things about this movie is that you can tell everyone had a great time making it. Willis is definitely on as the calm, cool, slightly amused Frank Moses. Malkovich is perfect as the addled but still deadly Marvin. Parker is delightful as the confused but sweet Sarah. Mirren is wonderful as the wickedly serene Victoria, Freeman is endearing as the easy-going but utterly competent Joe, Urban is excellent as the focused and competent Cooper, and Cox is charming as the smooth-talking Ivan. And watch for a cameo by screen legend Ernest Borgnine.

Red is definitely a movie well worth seeing. If you’re anything like me, you’ll walk away grinning—and with a new appreciation for postcards from cities around the world.

Happy Birthday: Warren Kremer

Happy Birthday: Warren Kremer

Born in the Bronx in 1921, Warren Kremer had art in his blood—his father was a sign painter. After graduating from the High School of Music and Art and the School of Industrial Arts, Kremer got work with various pulp and aviation magazines. His first comic book work was on Hap Hazard for Ace Publications.

In 1948 Kremer began doing work for Harvey Comics—working with publisher Alfred Harvey and editor Sid Jacobson, Kremer was responsible for creating Richie Rich, Stumbo the Giant, Hot Stuff, and others, and for revising Casper the Friendly Ghost into the character everyone knows today. Kremer worked for Harvey for thirty-five years, many of them as Art Editor but he always contributed art as well.

After Harvey closed in 1982 Kremer did some work for Marvel Comics, creating and drawing characters like Count Duckula, Planet Terry, and Top Dog for their Star Comics imprint.

Sadly, in 1989 a stroke paralyzed his left side, including his dominant hand, and though he managed to train his right hand Kremer wasn’t happy with the results and soon stopped drawing. He died in 2003.

Happy 100th Birthday, C.C. Beck!

Happy 100th Birthday, C.C. Beck!

Born in 1910 in Zumbrota, Minnesota, Charles Clarence “C.C.” Beck started learning art via correspondence course before studying at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Minnesota. Fawcett Publications hired him as a staff artist in 1933.

Initially Beck worked on pulp magazines, but when Fawcett started producing comic books in 1939 Beck was assigned to draw Whiz Comics, starring a character called Captain Thunder. The character’s name was changed before the first issue ever came out—to Captain Marvel.

Beck drew not only Whiz Comics but Spy Smasher and Ibis the Invincible, and in 1941 he set up his own studio in New York City—he later added a second location in Englewood, NJ, and oversaw artwork for most of the Marvel Family line while also producing commercial art. Fawcett discontinued its comic book line in the early 1950s and Beck was forced to close his studios in 1954.

After that he only worked on comics occasionally, though he did illustrate the first ten issues of DC’s Shazam! series (continuing Captain Marvel, whom DC had purchased from Fawcett). Beck retired in the 70s and moved to Florida, where he wrote an opinion column, “The Crusty Curmudgeon,” for The Comics Journal. He died in 1989.

Beck was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1997.

Happy Birthday: Wayne Boring

Happy Birthday: Wayne Boring

Born in Minnesota in 1905, Wayne Boring attended the Minnesota School of Art and then the Chicago Art Institute. He started working in the comic book industry in 1937, ghost-drawing for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s studio. When the studio created a Superman comic strip Boring was tapped to ghost-draw that, though later he was actually credited as the artist (often under his pseudonym, Jack Harmon). In 1942 National Comics hired him directly as a staff artist. In 1948 Siegel and Shuster left the company and new Superman editor Mort Weisinger handed the comic’s art duties to Boring. He handled most of the Superman penciling through the 1950s but dropped back to guest spots in the 60s and was let go from DC in 1967. Boring then ghosted for Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant comic strip, drew Sam Leff’s Davy Jones strip, and did some work on Marvel’s Captain Marvel before semi-retiring in the early 1970s. In 1986 Boring penciled a Golden Age Superman story for Secret Origins #1. He died of a heart attack the following year.

Why Write Games?

Why Write Games?

I’m a writer. It’s what I do. More than that, though, it’s who I am. I can’t not write—I actually get something similar to withdrawal symptoms if I go too long without writing. Writing is an essential part of my nature.

So what do I write? Almost anything, really. I’ve written over a dozen novels in the past seven years. I’ve written over a dozen educational books as well. I’ve written articles, essays, reviews, and children’s books. But the thing I’ve written the most? The one area I’ve been writing—and publishing—in continuously since 1992?

Roleplaying games.

“Why?” is what most people ask when they hear that. “Why roleplaying games?” Okay, except for other gamers, whose response is usually, “Cool!” But that’s only because they already understand.

So why do I write roleplaying games?

Is it because they pay so incredibly well? Hardly! Sadly, the RPG industry is tiny when compared to almost any other form of entertainment media, and it pays accordingly. Most RPG writers could make more money working entry-level jobs. Most also have other jobs in order to make ends meet. I was lucky enough to support myself for several years with my RPG writing, but that’s because I was writing A LOT and writing all the time.

Okay, so it’s not the vast fortune, then. Perhaps it’s the fame and the glory?

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Why Game?

Why Game?

Often when I talk to new people the topic of roleplaying games comes up (particularly after I’m asked “so what do you do?”), at which point I learn whether they’re gamers or not. If they’re not I usually get the classic question, “What’s a roleplaying game?” Then I explain about tabletop gaming—most often I define it as “collaborative interactive storytelling, like a mix between improv theater and a staged reading.” Sometimes they ask a few more questions about how it works, but that definition is enough to satisfy most people. But then I may get the follow-up question: “Why?”

Why do we game? It’s a fair question, actually, and especially now with our preponderance of entertainment options. Why game when I could read a book, watch a movie, play a computer game or video game, surf the Web, play cards, play a board game, etc.? What’s so cool about gaming?

There’s the escapism aspect, of course. Had a rotten day at work? Slaughter some orcs or raid an alien enclave. Feel like you’re not getting enough respect in your life? Play the conquering general or the rescuing hero. But most of our other entertainment provides that as well, at least vicariously—you can sit back and imagine you’re John McLane or King Leonidas or Bruce Wayne, or lose yourself in the adventures of Harry Potter or Sebastian or countless others. And many of those other forms provide more immediate escapism, with far less effort. So there must be something more, something else a roleplaying game offers.

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Happy Birthday: Whilce Portacio

Happy Birthday: Whilce Portacio

Born in Sangley Point, Cavite City, Philippines in 1963, Whilce Portacio joined Marvel Comics as an inker in 1985 but soon began penciling for them as well. He worked on The Punisher, X-Factor, and The Uncanny X-Men before leaving in 1992 to found Image Comics with several other well-known comic book artists.

Portacio soon withdrew from the partnership but in 1994 he published his title Wetworks through Jim Lee’s Wildstorm imprint. In 2006 Portacio and Wildstorm began Wetworks, vol. 2—after the first six issues he stepped back from the interior art duties but continues to illustrate the covers.

Portacio has also been drawing the new DC series Batman Confidential. In October 2008 he will become the new artist on Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn.

Happy Birthday: Al Wiesner

Happy Birthday: Al Wiesner

Born in Philadelphia in 1930, Al Wiesner loved comic books as a boy but noticed a curious thing—there were plenty of Jewish writers and artists but no Jewish main characters.

At the tender age of 48 he decided to correct this deficiency, and released Mark 1 Comics, starring the mighty Shaloman! He has been writing and drawing the Kosher Crusader ever since.

In March 2007 KewlJu.com, a subsidiary of RJB Broadcast Corp., announced that it had signed a deal to take over the publication of Mark 1 Comics. Wiesner stayed on as the book’s artist and writer.