Tagged: Emily S. Whitten

Mindy Newell: The SHIELD Bug

newell-art-131007-150x155-4553886I’ve been down with what is either an incredibly horrible cold or what technically would be considered a mild flu since last Tuesday, although “mild” is definitely not in the eyes of the sufferer – achy and sore, exhausted just doing nothing but unable to sleep enough to wake up feeling like I slept, coughing up disgusting stuff from inside my chest, a nose that is either stuffed or running depending on the time of day, alternately hungry and nauseous in the same minute…

Anyway, my brain is definitely not completely “there” this week, but here are some thoughts.

So far not terrifically excited by Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. I thought the pilot episode was basically meh and if it wasn’t for the involvement of the combined powerhouse of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Joss Whedon it would never have been picked up by ABC, much less been given a full season of episodes. For one thing the new agents (meaning those we haven’t seen in the MCU) are too homogenously Hollywood; everybody is the same pretty face and body, as though the casting office went to the Paris and New York fashion shows instead of the theaters in their search for new talent. Note to ABC: Marvel’s universe is not DC’s universe. It’s built around imperfect people having imperfect lives, super powered or not. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea to hire a Melissa McCarthy or Kevin James as agents. Y’know, some imperfect people. Imperfect people who can… act.

But maybe I’m being too hard on a new show that has had the weight of high expectations around its neck like the proverbial albatross. Isn’t there anything I’ve liked about AOS?

Of course.

Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson. Oh, and Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson. And then there’s Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson.

I also like Lola, Phil Coulson’s 1961 red Chevrolet Corvette C1. (Phil Coulson is played by Clark Gregg.)

I like that Lola has a little bit of DeLorean in her.

I like Sam Jackson showing up as Nick Fury and dressing down Phil Coulson (who is played by Clark Gregg.)

I liked seeing J. August Richards – Charles Gunn on Angel – on TV again, playing the manipulated and man-made superhero/supervillain of the pilot. Whedon has a good, no, great, eye for talent and he often hires and rehires actors he has worked with and brought to stardom…maybe we’ll be seeing other Wheedon “school” alumni on AOS? Alexis Denisoff – yes, I know he played “the Other” in The Avengers, but so what? – Elisha Dushku, Tom Lenk, Amy Acker, Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion….

Actually, those are the kind of actors I would have liked to see making up the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D on ABC, Tuesdays at 8 PM, EDT.

Still, the pretty faces of Hollywood might grow on me.




John Ostrander: Back Over The Rainbow

ostrander-art-131006-150x180-1064607I’ve mentioned before how I like going to see movies on a big screen and, when I can, on an IMAX screen which is about as large as you can get. I especially like seeing older movies on the big screen; you see them as they were meant to be seen. I still enjoy watching movies on TV although I can’t say I want to watch them on screens much smaller. I know that plenty of folks – especially them younger generation types – prefer watching them at home but I have (and still) argue that the experience just isn’t the same. To each their own.

This week, me and my Mary played hooky to run off and see The Wizard Of Oz remastered for 3D and IMAX before it departed the theaters. I had some apprehension going in. Would the film get stretched to meet the IMAX screen? I’m not always nuts about the results of a film that was not meant for 3D that is manipulated after the fact to make it 3D.

Bottom line – I had a great time. I’ve seen reviews for the BluRay/DVD/kitchen sink combo pack but this is about seeing it in the movie theater, specifically an IMAX theater. So, the images were sharp, the background was a little muddy here and there but I suspect that was in the original and not so much the transfer. It’s more about how the movies were made then than they are now.

How was the 3D? Meh. It didn’t detract but it didn’t add much as far as I was concerned. I guess I was hoping for more. The twister sequence has always been one of the best (if not the best) in films; it’s truly scary. I was hoping 3D would add even more; there was a bit more dust and stuff floating around but that was about it. On the other hand, they didn’t try to add stuff to the sequence and that was a blessing.

I also was hoping for a little more from the attack of the flying monkeys. It did gain some clarity; the images were sharper and that made the flying monkeys even weirder and scarier. They always weirded me out and this edition made that impression stronger.

What really worked for me was the sound quality. IMAX’s sound is almost always superior; immersive, surrounding, and clearer. That was really the case with Wizard Of Oz. The songs, the background music, the cackle of the Wicked Witch, the growls of the Cowardly Lion – all were so crystal clear that it made it as though I were hearing them for the first time.

In fact, that’s what the IMAX version of the film gave me and that I was hoping it would give me – a sense of seeing it anew, of how it must have been when the audiences first experienced it in 1939. Judy Garland’s singing “Over The Rainbow” was stunning; her image fills the IMAX screen and the sound is pristine. It is simple and direct and strikes right to the heart; all the more amazing since it was very nearly cut from the final version of the film. I’ve seen the film many times. Including on the big screen, but never as a big a screen as the IMAX and I saw it with fresh eyes and heard it with new ears.

There are many, many scenes that stood out in this new version: the Munchkinland sequence, with one great song after another, had a sharpness and clarity I had not experienced before. My favorite heroic moment in the film, when the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion march into the Wicked Witch’s castle to go to (so far as they knew) certain death to rescue Dorothy as the score grows (you know the moment – O-EE-O, EE-ORUM!) had me bouncing in my seat, ready to cheer. I think My Mary was very glad there were so few people in the theater for that matinee.

I wish I could’ve told you all about this while you still had a chance to experience it yourself but we very nearly didn’t make it. All I can say is – I’m glad we did. It took me over the rainbow and the experience was very much about the reason I still go out to the movies. As our Brit friends would say, it was Wizard!




Mindy Newell: Making The Cut

newell-art-130930-116x225-3359537Mindy went to her grandson’s bris today. Meyer Manuel, known in Hebrew as Avraham, is named for all three grandfathers. He had his first taste of wine, too, suckling on a cloth dipped in Manischevitz. It’s supposed to “quiet the baby,” which means lead him into a drunken stupor, so that the pain of the circumcision will be dulled. It didn’t help.

Meyer Manual cried, and Alix wept, as did most everyone else; the only ones not crying were Jeff, who did look shaky but stayed strong, looked shaky but he managed okay. The only ones who didn’t cry were the moyel (the artist performing the procedure) and Grandma me – the moyel because, well, that’s his job – and also he was wonderful, attentive to Alix and Jeff and incredibly caring to Meyer Manuel – and as for me, well, I think because I’ve seen so many circs (as we say in the biz) in my other life as an OR nurse that I knew what to expect, and also, I needed to be strong and calm for everyone else, meaning I had my professional face on.

Brit Milah: (Hebrew) “Covenant of circumcision.” Commonly referred to by its Yiddish term, the Bris, it is the Jewish religious ritual in which the male infant is circumcised at eight days old.

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised.

Like so many Jewish commandments, the brit milah is commonly perceived to be a hygienic measure, so think about this. The early Israelites were primarily desert dwellers. Now, all you men out there, think about getting some sand between the foreskin and the head of the penis.


Pretty smart, those Children of Abraham.

Also very intriguing – although the Torah does not specify a reason for the choice of the eighth day for performing the brit milah, medical research has discovered that an infant’s blood clotting mechanism stabilizes on the eighth day after birth.

Now how did they know that? Trial and error? (I hate to think of all those newborn baby boys bleeding out before their parents got it right.) Or was it “Ancient Aliens?” Did some advance civilization, mistaken for gods and angels by the Hebrews, instruct them on the rite of circumcision?


The translation of the words sung during the opening of Battlestar Galactica is something like this, from the Sanskrit:

We meditate upon the divine light

of spiritual consciousness

May it awaken

our intuitional awareness.

Did Ronald D. Moore actually connect with the cosmic consciousness when he rebooted Battlestar Galactica? Were the three angels who visited Abraham actually Admiral Adama, his son Major Lee Adama, and Gaius Baltar?

Are any superheroes circumcised?

Certainly Gim Allon, aka Colossal Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes would be, as it has been established that he is Jewish. As would Marc Spector (Moon Knight), Pietro Maximoff (Quicksilver), Reuben Flagg (American Flagg!), and Irwin Schwab (Ambush Bug).

As would be Max Eisenhardt, aka Magneto. And Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. And Ray Palmer, also known as the Atom.


Well, some people think he’s Jewish.

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten, Esq.



John Ostrander: Happily Never After?

ostrander-art-130929-150x151-9092045There was some discussion when the creative team on DC’s Batwoman, J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, resigned after editorial decided that the title character, Kate Kane, would not be allowed to marry her fiancée, Maggie Sawyer. DC has tried to clarify that they are not anti-gay marriage but anti any marriage. Dan DiDio, DC co-publisher, stated at the Baltimore Con that heroes (at least in the Batman family) shouldn’t have happy personal lives, no marriages. They sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good. That’s what makes them heroes. Or so we’re told. DiDio said, “That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.”

That’s one viewpoint.

I can argue it both ways. Comics are fantasies and fairy tales tend to end with “And they lived happily ever after.” It is assumed that, after that point, the story gets mundane. It becomes about the ho-hum aspects of living day-to-day. The romance is gone. The tension of “will they/won’t they” no longer exists.

That has not been my experience. The living together, the commitment to one another, gets challenged all the time. The percentage of marriages that end in divorce or infidelity, according to some, is about 50%. Happily ever after is not a given.

I’ve discovered part of the challenge is seeing past who you thought the other person was and to see who they actually are. You discover much more about the person you love after you’ve become a committed couple. In addition, that love you share grows and changes (or changes and declines) as the people in that relationship grow, decline, and change. The love the two feel, for better or worse, may not be the same five years in. All of that can be very dramatic.

However, it’s not something pop culture tends to show. Most TV shows resist having their romantic leads become a couple, and certainly not married. Moonlighting famously teased about its two leads becoming a couple for way too long. Castle, of which I’m a big fan, is dealing with that now and we’ll see how that turns out. Every once in a while, you get a show or series that counteracts that – the movie series The Thin Man, based on the characters of Nick and Nora Charles created by Dashiell Hammett, were sexy and funny and had a wonderful marriage. They are, also, the exception in pop culture.

Marvel can be no less guilty of this than DC. The decision was made to have Peter (Spider-Man) Parker and Mary Jane Watson not just no longer married but to make it so they were never married. In order to do that, they had to employ the devil. That’s sort of convoluted.

I dislike DiDio’s edict because it is just that – an edict. It doesn’t allow for a story to follow through. It is dogma applied instead of thought, creativity and imagination. It’s the same rationale that the Roman Catholic Church applies to celibacy in its priesthood: that the priest/hero sacrifices their own personal happiness to better serve. It’s codswallop in both cases. The RC rule ignores the fact that other denominations have married clergy and it actually works out mostly fine.

Look, I can certainly see that Batman has no time or perhaps inclination to be married. That makes sense within the confines of who the character is. There were and are different circumstances for others like Batwoman. In storytelling, one size does not fit all.

I’ve been doing some work for DC and I hope to do more and when playing in their sandbox, I’ll respect their rules, even if I disagree with them. However, Williams and Blackman had the rules changed on them at the last moment and I respect their decision to walk. I’d like to think I would do the same.




Mindy Newell: Feed ‘Em, Burp ‘Em, Diaper ‘Em

newell-art-130923-134x225-3301073Ah, the joys of new parenthood.

Interrupted sleep. Desperately trying to figure out why the baby is crying. Shock and palpitations at the cost of Pampers (or Luvs or Huggies). Interfering grandparents.

Yeah, it’s tough being the parent of a baby. (Just wait until they are teenagers!)

At least you don’t have super-powers. At least you don’t have arch-nemeses and equally powered villains eager to use your darling as a weapon against you

Once upon a time I worked with Keith Giffen, Ernie Colon, and Karl Kesel on a mini-series for DC that we called Legionnaires Three. The story twists on the kidnapping of the infant Graym Ranzz by the infamous Time Trapper. Baby Graym is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ranzz, a.k.a. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, a.k.a. Garth Ranzz and Imra Ardeen. Upon discovering their child is gone, both are stunned into superhero impotency as Imra breaks down in heart wrenching sobs, held by a seemingly stoic Garth.

I remember getting a lot of flak in the fan mail. (Remember fan mail?)

“Saturn Girl is the Iron Butterfly! She would never cry!”

“Garth is the weak one. Imra would kick ass!”

“You don’t know anything about the Legion! Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl would rally the troops, get on the case!”

Well, I do know about the Legion. But more important, I know about being a parent. And as I answered in the letters column (remember letters columns?), and I’m paraphrasing here, Garth and Imra may be superheroes, but they are also parents, and any parent, super-powered or not, would be sucked down into a mass of shocked, weeping, screaming, emotional protoplasm on discovering their child kidnapped. (Do I really have to reiterate that?)

Anyway, I got to thinking about babies and super-powers, superheroes and being a parent.

I talked about being the parent of a super-powered kid once before here on ComicMix, in May 2012. I called the column “My Kid’s a Superhero,” and it was in honor of Mother’s Day. It was about Martha Kent and it went like this:

A few months later Martha was vacuuming – Jonathan did the laundry, so it was a fair exchange – and went to move the couch, where all the dust bunnies lived. Baby Clark wanted to help him mommy, so he picked the couch up. Martha went to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a stiff one. When Jonathan came back from the lower 40 for lunch, he found an empty bottle of Johnny Walker Red and his wife in a drunken stupor. When she came to she had a hell of a headache and a hell of a story. Jonathan called Doc Newman who told him new mothers are under a lot of stress and to just take it easy with her. The doctor then hung up and called his wife and told her that Martha Kent was nuts.

Martha thought she had it rough?

Susan Storm Richards, a.k.a. the Invisible Woman, was pregnant with her first child when it was discovered that the irradiation from the cosmic rays that gave the Fantastic Four their powers would also prevent Sue from carrying the baby to term. Desperate to prevent this, her husband Reed (Mr. Fantastic), her brother Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) and their best friend ever Ben Grimm (the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing) travelled to the Negative Zone and wrested the Cosmic Control Rod from the villain Annihilus. The Rod allowed Sue to carry her baby to term. The baby boy was named Franklin, after Sue’s father.

But it turned out that Franklin was a mutant, an immensely powerful mutant with psionic abilities. Reed, afraid that Franklin’s power could wipe out life on Earth, “shut down” Franklin’s mind, effectively reverting him to a normal kid.

Sue was furious with Reed because she had not been consulted before Reed took this drastic step, and she left him, taking the baby with her.



It’s enough to make a superhero hang up his or her cape.

ComicMix Columnist Mindy Newell became a grandmother on September 20, 2013. She is ecstatic.

Call her Grandma. Call her Gran’maw. Call her Abuela. Call her Gamma.

Just don’t call her Bubbe.




John Ostrander: Realistic Fantasy

Ostrander Art 130922I’ve often maintained that the best fantasies are ones that have one foot firmly set in reality. We need something to which we can relate. We are asked to enter into a “willing suspension of disbelief,” as coined by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However impossible or implausible in reality an event in literature is, we accept it. Quite simply, we’re being told a story and we concede reality to get on with the story – up to a point.

When Superman first appeared in 1938 he was a fantastic character but, in those early stories, he fought real-life villains and situations – slums, gangsters, crooked politicians, corrupt cops and so on. The United States, like most of the world, was still deep in the Great Depression. World War II was looming. For so many people, the reality was that the banks had failed them, the courts had failed them, the police failed them, the system had failed them. With Superman, the Little Guy had a hero who worked outside that corrupt and broken system, working for them, working to achieve justice. Superman was originally very anti-establishment and that may have been his greatest power.

Then came the War and Superman was co-opted, along with the other heroes, to fight the Axis, to bring down the Nazis. Reasons had to be given why he didn’t just fly to Berlin and take down Hitler. That was the reality of the situation and the fantasy was having a harder time fitting in.

After the War, Superman became fully co-opted by the Establishment. His biggest concern was his girl friend, Lois Lane, learning his secret identity.

Marvel came along in the 60s and introduced a psychological realism – the heroes had neuroses, psychological problems, issues that they needed to work out. Spider-Man was the poster boy for the neurotic new hero and it resonated. After all, to put on a mask and go out to fight crime, you had to be a bit crazy. Peter Parker had money troubles, work troubles, girl troubles; he was bullied in high school and it was all compounded by his choice to be Spider-Man. However, he couldn’t stop. He was driven by the death of his Uncle Ben for which he held himself partially responsible. Great fantasy, solid reality.

The reality became more of a soap opera as time went on. What was once fresh became cliché. Like Mickey Mouse (oddly enough, since The Mouse now owns Marvel), Spider-Man went from being a character to being a franchise to being a product and a corporate symbol.

Marvel’s New Universe wandered in at some point and one of its claims was a new realism. One of the boasts was that, when their heroes or villains lifted up a building, you could see broken plumbing underneath. I ask for a little more reality than that and the line eventually folded.

Milestone Comics came in and it had a solid dose of reality, setting their heroes in the African-American community and reflecting that truth. One of my favorite books was the Blood Syndicate; one of the tags for it was “They’re not a team. . . they’re a gang.” That was different and reflected a new reality. Sadly, Milestone didn’t last long enough to get old.

DC has re-launched itself with the New 52 and Marvel has Marvel Now but both, to my taste, veer still more towards fantasy and soap opera. The storylines have gotten more convoluted and event driven.

And then there’s Art Spiegelman’s Maus – the classic hat adroitly combines both fantasy and reality. By using mice as Jews in Germany during World War II, Spiegelman heightened the reality and made what might have been unbearable to look at very readable and very compelling.

After 9/11, the comics industry spoke to the tragedy. More than one person wished that Superman had been real that day. Then maybe he could have prevented the planes from crashing into the World Trade Center. None of the books that came out of that horror, to their credit, tried to do that but, at the same time, they were one shots. There was no lasting effect in the books unlike New York City and our national psyche. Failing to do that made them all a little impotent. The Punisher continued to hunt and kill gangsters; wouldn’t it have been more realistic to have him go after terrorists at home and abroad?

Take a look at the real world around you. How much of it is reflected in your comics? What drove Superman in his earliest incarnations – a hero outside the system, working for justice that the Little Man can’t get – is as or more prevalent today as it was 75 years ago. Look at the news – is any of that reflected in the comics you read? How would a hero deal with terrorists? What if a superhero was a member of al-Quaeda? How can we pit our angels against our demons in such a way as would, as Shakespeare put it, “hold a mirror up to nature”.

I enjoy comics; I enjoy reading them and I enjoy writing them. I do. They can be good entertainment. They could also be more. They could stand, I think, a little more reality.

Or maybe that’s just me.




Mindy Newell: It All Gives Me A Headache – Part Three

Newell Art 130916“And in each universe, there’s a copy of you witnessing one or the other outcome, thinking – incorrectly – that your reality is the only reality.”

– Brian Green, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.

•     •     •     •     •

Who are you?

Are you sure?

•     •     •     •     •

Are you Buffy Summers, the Slayer, the chosen one of her generation who stands alone against the vampires, monsters, and demons who threaten the world? Or are you Buffy Summers, a schizophrenic patient in a psychiatric hospital battling the unleashed horrors of your own id?

Doctor: Do you know where you are?

Buffy: Sunnydale.

Doctor: No. None of that’s real. None of it. You’re in a mental institution. You’ve been with us now for six years.

Spike: Put a little ice on the back of her neck. She likes that.

Buffy: Some kind of gross, waxy demon-thing poked me.

Xander: And when you say “poke”…?

Buffy: In the arm!

Buffy: They told me that I was sick, I guess crazy, and that Sunnydale and all of this — none of it was real.

Xander: Oh, come on. That’s ridiculous. What? You think this isn’t real just because of all the vampires, and demons, and ex-vengeance demons, and the sister that used to be a big ball of universe-destroying energy…?

Willow: Okay, all in favor of research? Motion passed.

Doctor: In her mind, she’s the central figure in a fantastic world beyond imagination. She’s surrounded herself with friends, most with their own superpowers.

Doctor: Together they face grand, overblown conflicts against an assortment of monsters, both imaginary and rooted in actual myth.

Doctor: Buffy, you used to create these grand villains to battle against. And now what is it? Just ordinary students you went to high school with. No gods or monsters, just three pathetic little men… who like playing with toys.

“Normal Again”

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Season Six, Episode 17

•     •     •     •     •

Who are you?

Are you sure?

•     •     •     •     •

Are you Buddy Baker, married to Ellen Frazier, father to Cliff and Maxine, and living in San Diego? Or are you a character in a comic book called Animal Man, which was written by Grant Morrison and published by DC Comics?



(to read this page at full size, double-click on the image)

•     •     •     •     •

Who are you?

Are you sure?

To be continued…

At least, in this universe!

(citations copyrighted by their respective owners)




John Ostrander: Crossover Mania!

ostrander-aet-130915-145x225-5846587Into every comic book writer’s life – certainly if he or she works at all for the Big Two – some crossovers will fall. Maybe quite a few of them, especially these days. If you’re writing a series, it’s going to interrupt whatever storyline that you’re working on. Or you may get hired to work a fill-in connected to the series as I’ve done with the Forever Evil event over at DC with the Cheetah one shot running in Wonder Woman’s space. It’s totally deserving of your support to the point where I urge you to buy multiple copies. Give them out at Halloween to the kiddies.

Erm. Maybe not. It’s a tad violent.

Anyway, I know about crossovers from having had a series interrupted by them to having written the main event. They’re a special breed and have special demands and I’ve run hot and cold with the concept. I can’t dis them because they’ve done me good overall.

I plotted the series Legends which was the first DC company wide crossover following Crisis on Infinite Earths. The series, by design, served as the launching pad for several new series including the Wally West version of the Flash, a new Justice League of America, and Suicide Squad. Along the way I was asked to write a two-part crossover in Firestorm, then being written by series creator Gerry Conway who wasn’t interested in doing the tie-in issues. The theory was that, since I was plotting the miniseries, I would know what was going on and thus be able to better co-ordinate.

I was eager for the assignment. As I said, I was plotting Legends but this would give me the chance to plot and dialogue and get my foot in the door for more work. I knew Suicide Squad would be launching from the crossover but I hadn’t yet actually dialogued any DC characters.

Denny O’Neil had just come over to DC and was the new editor on Firestorm and that made me nervous. Denny was, and is, a legend in the industry and I was still pretty new and green. What could I possibly come up with that he wouldn’t think was lame? We met at a Chicago Comic Con and I took him out to a lunch at a vegetarian/organic restaurant (Denny likes those) and he was amenable to anything I wanted to do. He figures I was a pro (albeit a new one) and knew what I was doing. One less worry for him (although I’m certain that if I had sounded like a dolt he would have let me know).

The result? He was pleased enough at what I did to offer me the book when Gerry Conway left a few issues afterwards.

Crossovers can be a pain. Millennium, with Steve Englehart as the scribe, was published weekly and the concept was that every other comic published that week would tie into it. My week had both Firestorm and Suicide Squad in it and all the books that week were supposed to attack the same place (a Manhunter Temple in Florida). I asked what was the purpose of the temple and was told, “Anything you want it to be.” That wasn’t the question I was asking and it seemed to me that the five or six books that were out that week needed to be coordinated so we were all on the same page or we’d all look like idiots. So I came up with a plot for our week that would work with everyone else and we came off pretty well. I think DC also slipped me some extra cash for doing it and that was nice.

Invariably, the crossover is not going to be the best story in a given ongoing series (with the notable exception of the Cheetah one shot coming out very soon which I would really hate for you to miss) but there are reasons as a writer on a series connected to the event that you want to do good things with it. Sales can go up on those issues (I’ve had royalty checks – pardon me, incentive or participation checks – that tell me that) and there is the possibility of attracting new readers who may be sampling the book for the first time. You want them to have a good experience and come back. Anything that increases readership is a good thing. You want to make the story accessible enough for the potential new readers without alienating or boring your regular readers.

You also need to be flexible. Details and story elements in the main event can change as other editors chime in on it and/or publishing or even marketing. Those changes can radically alter your tie-in. It’s more work and it’s usually not more money and you have to hope he changes are not going to affect what you have planned for your own story further down the road. You need to roll with the punches and make the story work. Treat it as a challenge and an opportunity to make the story even better. In theory. Showing you’re a team player can make you more valuable and get you more work. Again, in theory.

Every story you write, especially for the Big Two, has parameters. You’re expected to make each one a good story, one worth the money that the reader is paying. Crossovers just add a few more parameters. The basic rule still stands – make it the best story you can.

That’s the job.




Emily S. Whitten, Jim Butcher and The Dresden Files

whitten-130910-144x225-4721771As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of The Dresden Files, so it was awesome to get to sit down and chat with author Jim Butcher about the series while at Dragon Con last weekend!

The Dresden Files, as you may know, is a series about the wizard Harry Dresden, and follows his adventures and investigations into supernatural disturbances in modern-day Chicago, which he recounts through a first person narrative. It’s also, oh-by-the-way, a ton of fun, and weaves a lot of lore, myth, and legend from all cultures into modern adventure stories with a wizard who’s more gunfighter than Gandalf (even if he fights with a staff much of the time). As the series has progressed, it’s also gotten more complex and nuanced, with some great plot twists and character developments along the way. I definitely recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet read it.

The series is pretty far along and we’re currently waiting on book fifteen, so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I recommend you check out the series or at least the Wikipedia page before reading this interview; unless you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind possibly being confused or definitely encountering spoilers. Because, fair warning, there are spoilers ahead!

Have we all been sufficiently warned? Yes? Then onward to the interview!

I’m a big fan of The Dresden Files, and I’ve read all of the books, so let’s just begin by talking about the series. There are fourteen novels to date. Book fourteen is Cold Days, which sets up the upcoming book. In Cold Days, Harry is the Winter Knight, and Sarissa ends up as the new Summer Lady, and Molly, in an unexpected turn of events, is the new Winter Lady. And Harry’s lost all of his stuff – even his mini model of Chicago!

Yeah, it all burned up in his apartment.

So he’s got no place to go, he’s living on Demonreach, he’s upset about what’s happened with Molly, who he’s tried to protect; he and Murphy have this interesting dynamic changing from what they’ve had, and something deeper is going on…so that’s where we leave it. Tell me when we will be seeing book fifteen, and what we should expect from it?

Book fifteen is called Skin Game. It will be out either late this year or early next year, depending on how quickly the publisher wants to rush it through production. The basic premise of the book is that Harry Dresden is still stuck working for Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and there are people she owes debts to…

In  Skin Game, Harry’s been out on Spooky Island, on Demonreach, and has been staying there for about a year, because he’s got this thing in his head that’s going tick-tick-tick, and it’s going to kill him eventually. And Demonreach is able to keep it from completely crippling him. So he’s been staying there, and he thinks that his friends have kind of abandoned him, and he finds out that Mab has been intercepting all his communications and making sure they think he’s fine and needs to be left alone.

And then Mab shows up and says, “Okay, well – here’s the thing, is, I’ve got this job for you to do. I’ve got a debt to pay off, and you’re going to have to go do it. And if you don’t do it, well, you know, I can’t make you do anything, because that was kind of part of the deal, that I can’t compel you to do this; but if you don’t, then the thing in your head is going to kill you in the next three days. So I’ll let you make up your own mind.”

Hah, wow! Faeries always do that, in The Dresden Files; they follow the rules but trick you anyway.

Exactly. She’s playing by the rules, technically, which is the only way to do it, if you’re a faerie. So she’s informed him, “Well, you can either do this or not.” And Harry’s like, “Fine, I’ll do the job, whatever it is.” And he finds out that the job is, Mab is going to loan him out to Nicodemus Archleone, the head of the Denarians.

Ahh, and he’s shown up several times, and he’s really awful, to make an understatement.

Yes, he has, and yes – he’s one of the worst villains in the series. And he’s off to pull a heist. And he’s putting a crew together to pull a heist with, and he needs Harry to be on the crew. So Harry basically gets signed up with the Evil League of Evil, with all these different villains from around the world, some of whom have appeared before. So now he’s off to rob the treasure vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld. So that’s the plotline. Harry’s got to be working with these people…and he immediately arranges to bring somebody along to watch his back while he’s there, because he doesn’t really feel like turning on these guys, and so he rounds up Murphy to come cover his back for him.

Oh, so Murphy’s going even deeper into the supernatural, right from the start of this story.

Yeah – but Harry’s point is, “I need somebody who can see things. I don’t need somebody who can fight supernatural things; I can do that. I need somebody who can notice things.” And Murphy’s the sharp one; so he grabs her.

Yeah, Harry is a little bit dim sometimes.

He can be.

You’ve written him that way.

But he turns to Mab at one point and he says, “You’ve got to understand, Nicodemus is going to betray me. He is gonna stab me in the back and try and kill me; that’s who he is.” And Mab says, “Of course he is.” She says, “I expect superior and more creative treachery from you. Oh, and by the way, make sure you do what I said you would do. You have to fulfill that first. But as soon as that’s fulfilled, do whatever you want.” And Harry’s like, “I can’t believe you’re going to have me do this.” And Mab’s like, “I would have loved a game like this when I was your age, come on!”

And Harry’s like, “I just want to take a nap, and a hot shower.”

Yeah, exactly. Really, that’s kind of where he’s at, yeah.

Okay, so now where does Molly fit into this book? Are we going to see her? Molly’s a favorite of mine, and obviously what happened to her in the last book was a big detour from what we thought was going on, and has a lot of impact.

Right; well Harry gets to find out that Molly hasn’t told her parents anything. She’s just carried on, and kept showing up to Sunday dinner and so on. So her parents don’t know about the whole Winter Lady thing, and they’ve got no idea anything’s wrong. So that’s a lot of fun.

So we get to see more of Michael and all of the family?

Yeah, we’ll get the Carpenters in it for some stage time there. But yeah, she’s been off doing Winter Lady stuff, and catching up on about 150 years of Maeve’s backlog; because not only was Maeve crazy, but she wasn’t doing the job; and that was really the problem as far as Mab was concerned. Crazy, psychotic, murdering people? Okay, that’s fine – but is she getting the work done? So Molly’s been doing that; and Molly’s the only one who can take care of the thing in Harry’s head – Demonreach told him that Molly could help (in Cold Days). Which is why Mab has made sure that Harry couldn’t communicate with Molly. So she’ll have to show up to help him with that.

So that’s where we’re going in the next book – tell me, what’s the plan for the rest of the series?

We’re going to have twenty-ish of the books like we’ve had so far; these casebooks that happen as one-by-one stories; and then I’m going to cap the whole thing off with a big ol’ apocalyptic trilogy at the end.

So there’ll be a great trilogy at the end.

Well, big. I don’t know if it will be great!

Well, I think the books have kept getting better as you’ve gone along; and I always admire someone who can write a big series and keep it all straight.

I have help with that!

That’s to be expected! So we’ve got Harry and Murphy off on this adventure; Mab is kind of pulling some strings; Molly is dealing with her family, and possibly going to come in. What about the Outsiders, and the Nemesis and all that?

We’ll get back to them in the future. At the moment they’re not as huge an issue. Harry needs to survive the next three days, and then he can start dealing with some of the other things. At the moment he’s got enough on his plate with Nicodemus being in his face.

It’s kind of like on The X-Files, where we got some monster of the week episodes, and then some about the overarching conspiracy. It’s kind of nice to break it up like that.

Yeah, you can’t do huge-huge-huge all the time, because that’s no fun.

Okay, so let’s talk about Harry’s love life for a minute…

Oh, gosh. Yeah. Harry’s love life was something that I never really planned when I was writing out the whole series.

Well, going back to the very beginning; there was a whole lot of…almost uncomfortable…male gaze in the first few books. As a female reader, I love the books, I love the adventure, I would keep reading for the adventure; but the scenes where we stopped and spent five minutes talking in extreme detail about the women Harry meets, and learning that every one of them is model-beautiful… I was a little put off by that at first; and I think one of the reasons I wasn’t entirely put off is because when Murphy is introduced she’s treated differently, which was refreshing, and also made me think maybe she was going to stick around for awhile. You’ve gone away from that some…

Well, to a degree.

So has your perspective on that changed?

Well, I think the main thing is, I’m not a 25-year-old guy anymore. Which was how old I was when I wrote Storm Front. I don’t want to sound weird or anything, but you haven’t had the experience of being a guy in his twenties, where basically you don’t really know what’s going on, from the time you’re fourteen or fifteen until about the time you hit twenty-five, and then you sort of emerge from the testosterone haze, and it’s like, “Maybe there’s something in life other than boobs.” And that’s the – car insurance rates go down when you’re twenty-five for a reason. You know, I don’t think these two things are unrelated. But yeah, I mean it’s just one of those things that has been a change of perspective on my part. I just have to write the story that I write, and I don’t worry too much about basically anything except writing the story.

Well that’s fair. In the beginning, when you had Susan and some of the other female characters, and Murphy – did you realize that you were approaching Murphy differently, and introducing her without as much of the sexual component? Was that a purposeful thing?

Nope; I was just doing what I was doing.

Okay; so let’s jump over to the current relationships; now that we’ve talked about Susan and the other earlier women…

Yes, and poor Susan; she died horribly. Although there were so many people who were like, “Oh, I just can’t stand Susan.”

Well, maybe because of the way she was introduced – but several people have died horribly in your books!

True, and perfectly wonderful people have died horribly, too, so, you know, that…kind of happens.

True! So now…we’ve got Harry, and we’ve got Murphy, and we’ve got Molly…and we’ve got some relationship issues. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Right – Harry and Murphy have at least kind of admitted that there might be something there; which is way better than Harry would ever consider doing with Molly. Because he still remembers Molly when she was little, so, even though their age difference is not entirely huge, it’s huge enough that he’s weirded, anyway. She is no longer weirded by the concept at all, but he is. So Harry and Murphy have finally admitted there might be something there; but both of them are just very avoidant, and so they’ve had trouble actually expressing that, except in moments of adrenaline.

Yes. Now with Molly being the Winter Lady, and Harry being the Winter Knight – I root for Harry and Murphy because it just seems so right; you’ve written it in such a way that it makes sense – but I did wonder towards the end of the last book, now that they’re both in the Winter Court, and there’s this magical connection beyond the connections they already have; how is that going to play out?

Yeah, awkwardly. It will continue to be awkward; because it’s Harry Dresden, how could his life not be awkward?

True! Now, there’s a character that I absolutely adore, and I don’t know if we’re going to see again – Ivy. Will we be seeing her?

She won’t be in this book; she’s not gone from the series permanently, but not in this one.

Great; and anything else you want to share with the fans?

Well…here comes the next one! And I’ve still got plenty more after that. The stories are already planned out.

Well I look forward to reading them, and thank you so much.

•     •     •     •     •

Thank you, Jim, for your time and a delightful interview; and Dragon Con, for setting that up for us! Hope you all enjoyed it, ComicMixers!

And until next time, Servo Lectio!




John Ostrander: Fashion Statements

My good friend Martha Thomases, as usual, wrote an interesting column this week on her way to the Baltimore Con. She wrote about choosing what to wear at the Con and that, in turn, set me to thinking and provided grist for my own essay mill. Some weeks I need a lot of grist.

Something that’s important in comics and too little discussed is the importance of clothes. The fashion choices made by a character says something about that character. What you wear makes a statement about who you are even if that statement is, “I don’t care.” As often as not, my criterion still is, “Is it clean? Is it clean-ish? Does it at least not smell? Does it not smell too badly?”

However, I can dress up. I clean up fairly well, to be honest. I’m not keen on wearing ties but I know how and when to do so. I like hats, especially fedoras, although the Irish cloth cap works well on me. One wonderful fan made me a beret like GrimJack wears and I like that a lot and can be seen at conventions with it.

Some people dress for success. Some people dress to be invisible. Choices are made even when it appears to be a non-choice. If you say, “I don’t care how I look; I don’t think it’s important,” that’s a choice. It says something and don’t bother maintaining that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. It does. We make up our minds about people right away depending on how they appear to us. They do the same with us. Assuming the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” Is true, why is it true? The answer is we want people to perceive us in a certain way even if our goal is not to be perceived, to blend in.

When I was working with student artists, I wanted them to look at different source materials for the way people dressed. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne would be more likely to dress out of GQ whereas Peter Parker might dress from the Old Navy store.  Here’s an extra-points question – how would Tony Stark dress differently from Bruce Wayne? Bruce’s suits are a costume for the playboy image he plays whereas Tony’s wardrobe is who he is (and, yes, I’m including the Iron Man costume).

Certain costumes can be a short-hand to who the character is – in Westerns, it used to be the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats. Made things simple – an oversimplification, really. Clothing and costumes can describe a character but they can’t be substituted for characterization itself.

Clothing can reveal character: who the individual is, how they think of themselves, how they present an image of themselves. We do it (deny it if you want) and so characters do it as well. What’s true in life should be true on the page.

A very fun aspect of this in the past few years has been the rising importance of cosplay (costume playing for those of you who don’t know the term) as part of fandom. Fans become the characters they see in the comics or on the screen. The costumes can be elaborate or silly or elaborately silly or anywhere in that spectrum. They’ve become fixtures at most conventions these days and are often stunning. They’re a merger of the person who is wearing the costume and the character they represent.

Whether it’s in a drawing or in prose, clothes can make the character and if you want to work as an artist or a writer, you’d do well to remember that.