Grimjack is being developed at Amazon by Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO Studios and being written by Kevin Murphy, the creator of Defiance, Heathers the Musical and Reefer Madness. Grimjack, created by John Ostranderand Tim Truman, is the adventures of John Gaunt, hard-boiled barbarian who walks the mean streets of the interdimensional city Cynosure, where magic works on one side of the street but not the other, technology becomes sentient down the block, and swords and a bad attitude work everywhere.
If you want to read up on GrimJack before everyone else, here’s your chance— ComicMix is publishing the original runs in Omnibus format. Dive in now!
This week fandom was set on its ear by the announcement of the newest person to play the Doctor on BBC’s venerable sci/fi TV show, Doctor Who. (If you don’t already know, the Doctor is a time-traveling alien with the ability to regenerate himself into an entirely new body and persona when his current body is on the point of dying.) There have been 12 such regenerations so far; Jodie Whittaker will be the 13th and the first woman to play the part. Joanna Lumley was a female Doctor for a sketch some years back – written by Steven Moffet, no less – but that is not considered canon.
Predictably, there has been some negative fan reaction, although the bulk that I have seen has been overwhelmingly positive. This kind of change often provokes this kind of reaction. When it was announced that the captain on the next Star Trek series coming out (Star Trek: Discovery) was going to be a woman, there was similar booing and hooing.
I can sort of understand. Fans can be conservative; they want what they like to be the same but different only not too different. There have been times when, as a fan, I was somewhat resistant to change. A prime complaint has been that young boys are losing a role model and there aren’t that many heroes who depend on their wits and smarts rather than their fists. Even one of the actors who played an earlier Doctor, Peter Davison, has voiced this objection. However, my feeling is that these young boys have 12 other incarnations to use as a role model. Young girls have been expected to use the male Doctor as a role model; giving them one who looks like them after fifty years of the show being broadcast doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable.
My late wife, Kim Yale, was a huge Doctor Who fan (as am I) and she used to dress as Tom Baker’s Doctor to cosplay at conventions before cosplay was a big thing. She would have been over the moon about this. My partner, Mary Mitchell, certainly is and has pointed out that having the 13th Doctor be a female is very appropriate since 13 is a “female number” as there are 13 moon cycles in a year.
To me, what ultimately matters is what character do they create and how good are the stories that they tell. When you’ve worked for a long time on a given project, as a writer you look for ways to shake things up and make them fresh. On my book GrimJack, I once killed off the main character and then brought him back and later on, replaced him with an entirely different incarnation (yes, I was a big Doctor Who fan at the time and, yes, that influenced the change a lot). I intended to keep doing that from time to time. And one of the later incarnations I had planned was a female GrimJack. That probably would have incited some comment as well. We just never got to it.
So I’m very pleased with the selection of the new Doctor and hopefully the stories that will come of it. I hope the new showrunner will explore the change and what it means.
One last interesting note: I read that Ms. Whittaker will be paid the same salary as the actor who preceded her, Peter Capaldi. No wage disparity in the time vortex.
My Mary will sometimes pop into the office to chat a bit. If I’m just goofing off (a lot of my work day consists of goofing off), that’s fine but if I’m actually working she has to leave. She understands and doesn’t take offense; she can get the same way when she’s creating.
I don’t want anyone looking over my shoulder when I’m working, especially with the initial draft. I get self-conscious and everything freezes up and goes away. Oddly enough, Kim didn’t always understand that. It bothered her that there was a private place inside me to which she was not invited. She felt a couple should share everything and, for the most part, I agree – except when I’m writing.
I suppose that, with most couples that’s also true to some degree. Perhaps it’s even desirable that the person with whom you’ve spent a good long time can still surprise you, hopefully in positive ways. I once wrote a Wasteland story in which the husband challenges his wife when she claims she knows him completely. He suggests that he could, in fact, be the serial killer they’ve heard about. The claim that he could be eats away at his wife and, by the end of the story, she’s ready to leave him because she realized that the doubt she is feeling indicates she doesn’t really know her husband at all.
It is a big question. How much do we really know another person – even someone that we know intimately? We start off the relationship by being attracted to someone which may lead to falling into what we think of as love. I would suggest that, in fact, what we’re really falling in love with is our construct of the person. Someone we’ve invented that’s based on the other person but is as much or more really based on us as it is them. Hopefully, as time goes by, our perception deepens as we see more of the actual person and, again hopefully, fall into more of a true love.
That gets chancy. As you wind up really seeing more of the other person, you have to let them see more of the real you. Brrr! Pretty scary, boys and girls! It does necessarily involve opening up.
However, when you’re doing something creative – writing or art or what have you – the process can be very private. It’s a mysterious business to begin with; you don’t always know where the initial impulse comes from and you may not want to know. For a long time, I resisted any idea of going to a therapist because I felt that, if I knew more about my creative instinct, it would vanish. In reality, therapy turned out helping quite a bit. I understood why I did or thought some things and that understanding actually helped me creatively.
Still, I don’t want someone watching me create. I may need to dig around in parts of my psyche that can get a bit dark. (Those of you familiar with my work can probably appreciate that.) Nietzche said in Beyond Good and Evil: “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” Kim and I used to describe the creative process as bungee jumping into the abyss and pulling out something. Usually it’s squirming.
I don’t need observers when I do that.
I do wind up revealing aspects of myself in my writing; you have to. Every character you write must in some way be you. However, you’re in disguise; you can always claim a given aspect of a given character is that character and not you. Keep in mind, as I’ve warned some people in the past, that I may appear to be a nice guy but GrimJack comes from somewhere in me.
I’ve heard quite few comics fans say (write, text, think out loud, bitch, moan, complain) that because of the large number of good comic book teevee shows they’ve found themselves having to cut back on their comics reading.
Let’s see. I think I sympathize. After all, we’ve got Legion, Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, Gotham, Marvel Netflix (hey, that’s the same as a series, isn’t it?), Flash, Legends, Riverdale, Supergirl, and Powerless. Soon we’ll have The Inhumans and The Punisher (part of the Netflix rotation) and The Defenders (another part of the Netflix rotation) and Cloak and Dagger and Black Lightning and The Runaways and maybe Ghost Rider and maybe still Damage Control and maybe The New Warriors (so long, Stamford!), and maybe Scarlett and maybe a Matt Nix-produced X-Men spin-off show. And I am certain there are other shows that I can’t remember right now.
I get the point. When I was born, there were two and one-half networks beaming to our black and white remote-controlless 16-inch round cathode ray tubes. Two and two-half if you count the DuMont network, a severely under-programed effort whose best-known show, The Honeymooners, didn’t even air on their own network (long, irrelevant story; Google it). Combined, they offered slightly more programming than the list of superhero shows I noted above.
Then again, at that same time there were dozens and dozens of comics publishers and many titles sold over a quarter-million copies. A few sold in the millions. Today, we’re ecstatic when we see a circulation of 40,000.
Of course this can’t last. I suspect we will have new comics-birthed programming as long as there are comics to birth them, but pop culture phenomena tend to roll in fads. Do you remember when there were about two dozen westerns on the tube 39 out of 52 weeks of the year? If so, then keep your eye on upcoming Medicare legislation.
In a couple hours Marvel Netflix will drop Iron Fist, the final introduction before The Defenders event. The advance word isn’t strong, and that may be so. However, it’s come to the point where a lot of people simply want to see a major superhero series fail. Yes, Iron Fist comes with some unfortunate whitewashing baggage, and a guy with a green costume, a tattoo instead of chest hair, and glowy knuckles isn’t as compelling as, say, an all-powerful mutant with severe memory and relationship issues. I’m not sure I care as much about the lead character as I do about Claire Temple (Marvel’s Netflix glue) and Colleen Wing, who has always been one of my favorite characters.
So, between all this television, a plethora of movies (which usually come in plethoras) and an infinite number of comic books, how much rock’em sock’em action can you fit into a single attention span?
Ask me again if and when somebody gets off his ass and gives us a GrimJack series.
So you had a story idea and you’ve worked it up into a plot. The characters are defined, you know who is doing what, the twists and turns and even the theme.
Now you have to put words into everyone’s mouths or, more precisely, into their word balloons. For some would-be writers, that’s where the wheels come off. How do you write dialogue? More importantly, how do you write good dialogue?
Let’s start with a basic: all dialogue is action. No one just speaks: they cajole, they explain, they confirm, they deny, they confront, they exalt, they exult, they attack, they defend, they lie and so on. It is an active transitive verb. When a character speaks, they are doing something or attempting to do something. What’s important is not what the character is saying but what the character is doing or trying to do when they speak. What does the character want, what goals are they trying to achieve? In short, what drives them? What is their motivation? What do they need? Not just want – need.
Dialogue has two main purposes: to move the plot along and/or to reveal character. Even exposition falls under the “move the plot along” rule.
Keep in mind that in comics, you have very little room for dialogue. Each panel has room for maybe two word balloons – three, if they’re small. Each word balloon has room for two to three lines tops. And you can’t do that in every panel; the reader will just see too many words and skip the page.
I’ve heard it said that comic book scripting is revealing character via newspaper headlines. So you have to be succinct with your verbiage.
Major Ostrander rule: when in doubt, cut it out. If they can (and do) cut Shakespeare, they can (and should) cut some of your lines. You should do it first. I’ve heard a story that legendary writer and editor Robert Kanigher, when he was writing Sgt. Rock, would stand on his desk and shout out the dialogue; if it sounded okay doing it that way, he figured it was right.
Once I delivered a GrimJack script to First Comics and, while editor Rick Oliver was going through it, I was schmoozing the rest of the office as I usually did. Rick came out to me with a page of script in his hand and the matching page of art. He looked at them, looked at me, and asked how much I was paid per page. I told him and then Rick noted “So on this page we’re paying you one hundred dollars for six words.”
“No,” I replied easily; “You’re paying me for knowing which words to leave off.” I offered to add more if Rick really felt it was necessary but he smiled, said he was just curious, and went back into his office.
When writing dialogue, you need to differentiate between characters. They are not all the same characters (even though all of them are you) and so should speak differently. Some people speak brusquely, some like the sound of their own voices. Some people try to over explain their reasons why they are doing what they’re doing; they feel that if you understood, really understood, you’d do things their way. I was told once by one such person that I wasn’t listening, to which I replied, “Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I’m not listening.”
There is a cadence to how people speak and that’s especially useful if you’re trying to indicate a person has a foreign accent; there is a way of speaking, a certain order. Some movies can give you a wealth of accents to hear; Casablanca is a very good one. Listen and learn.
There’s a simple short-cut that can help you; cast your characters as if they were in an animated feature. Who would you cast as their voice? The nice part of this is that it doesn’t have to be an actor; it can be anyone whose voice you can hear in your mind – a friend, a relative, a co-worker, a politician and so on. They don’t have to be currently living, either; past or present will do.
Listen to your characters as well once you have their voices in your mind; they will not only tell you what to write but may take the plot off in a direction you hadn’t considered. Listen to them and go with them if they do that. There was a GrimJack story once where I refused to do that; I stubbornly stuck to the lines and the plot that I had already decided on. That s.o.b. Gaunt stopped talking to me for the rest of the issue; it was the hardest GrimJack script I ever attempted. I learned my lesson and haven’t done it since.
Listen to people all around you; what do they say and how do they say it? What do they not say? What is left unsaid? In art, negative space can help define the figure. In writing, the silences can define the character. When do they happen, why, and what happens as a result?
Don’t be “clever.” Dialogue should be entertaining, yes; that’s part of storytelling. However, when I encounter “clever” dialogue, it means the author is really trying to draw attention to him/herself. “See how clever I am? Isn’t that a great turn of phrase?” It draws the reader right out of the story and that’s a failure to communicate. There are many writers whose dialogue is clever but that’s not their purpose. Brian Michael Bendis is an example of someone who writes very clever dialogue but he is also a very very good writer because his first focus is story and characterization. He just happens to be clever as well.
Your dialogue can be contemporaneous; it can be elevated. Poetic or streetwise. What it has to do is serve the story and reveal the character.
It was a lifetime ago. It was just moments gone by.
Tuesday will mark twenty years since my wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, died.
I’ve been working on a column discussing the passage for some days but haven’t been satisfied with it. Sometimes you try to say something and can’t find the right things to say. I’ve come across an old column I wrote ten years ago. Just about everything I wanted to say I said back then so, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just reprint it here.
Today is Thanksgiving and a hearty Happy Thanksgiving to you all. As it turns out, it’s also the birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, who would have been 54 today. This is a day for stopping and giving thanks for the good things in your life and so I’ll ask your indulgence while I remember one of the best things in mine, which was Kim.
For those who don’t know her, never met her, how do I describe her to you? My god, where do I begin? Physically – heart shaped face, megawatt smile, big blue eyes. Champagne blonde hair which, in her later years, she decided should be red. That decision was pure Kimmie. She looked good, too, but she also looked good bald. More on that in a few moments.
She was buxom and damn proud of it. Referred to her breasts as “the girls” and was fond of showing them off. She was about 5’8” so that when she was in heels we were about the same height. Basically had an hourglass figure although sometimes there were a few more seconds packed into that hourglass than maybe there should have been. We both fought weight problems and I still do.
All that, however, is merely a physical description. Photographs could tell you as much and more and still tell you so little about Kim. Not who she was. Kim was an extrovert to the point of being an exhibitionist. She was sometimes flamboyant; I have described her as the world’s most innocent narcissist. She loved the spotlight but with the delight of a child. Yet, she also loved nothing better than to be in the corner of a tea shoppe or coffee house, drinking her cuppa, writing in her journal, totally absorbed into herself and the moment.
She also genuinely loved people. Loved being around them, hearing their stories, telling her own. She had one of the world’s great infectious laughs. If you were in a comedy on stage, you wanted Kim in your audience. She got the jokes, too, including some the rest of the audience missed.
She loved music, all kinds of music, and could talk knowledgeably about it for hours. Hell, Kim could hold forth on almost anything for hours. She loved classical, the blues, rock and roll, soundtracks to movies – everything. She loved movies, she loved books, she loved TV. She adored Doctor Who; we, in fact, met at a Doctor Who Convention.
She loved comics and she loved the idea of women in comics. At many different Cons, she would chair the Women in Comics panel and, in Chicago especially where she did it for several years, people learned to come because it would often be one of the most interesting, thought-provoking panels at the Con. She was part of the early organizational meetings that resulted in Friends of Lulu and their annual award for the best new female comics creator is named for Kim. She would have been very proud of that.
How do I describe our relationship – what we gave to each other? One example – she brought cats into my life, I brought dogs back into hers. She made me more of a cat person; I brought out the dog lover in her.
Other things she brought to me – her love of Westerns and of the Civil War. I had dismissed Westerns as “oaters” and “horse opera” but Kim patiently took me through the best ones, showed me the difference from a John Ford western and a Budd Boetticher one. Without Kim, there never would have been The Kents or my Marvel westerns, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies.
On our honeymoon, Kim wanted to go to Fredericksburg, Virginia, so we could walk some of the Civil War battlefields in the area. I was a little dubious at first but went along because it was important to her. My god, I learned so much walking those battlefields. I don’t know if you can understand those battles or the War without doing that. We would later add others like Shiloh and Gettysburg to the list. Amazing, bonding, illuminating moments.
Kim and I worked together as co-writers on several projects, notably Suicide Squad, some Munden’s Bar stories, and a tale of Young John Gaunt that ran in the back of GrimJack during its final year at First Comics. I think Kim was a finer writer than I am. I’m at heart a storyteller and I’m mostly about what happens next; I turn a good phrase and I know plot, character, theme and so on but Kim was also into the composition and the polish on the story. She would go over and over things while I’d push on. I wish she had written more on her own; at the end of her life, so did she.
Kim also introduced me to the fabled “Bucket of Suds,” a wonderful bar in Chicago that was the nearest earthly equivalent I know to Munden’s Bar and to which we, in turn, introduced many folks from the comic book community, especially during the Chicago Comiccon. The owner, Joe Danno, was a mixologist and could invent a new drink on the spot in addition to creating his own cordials. The Bucket not only served drinks but, for many years, served home made pizza, burgers, breadsticks.
Joe also created his own catsup, mustard, bar-b-que sauce, and hot sauce. Want to see our esteemed editor, Mike Gold, both drool and cry at the same time? Get him talking about the hot sauce and the bar-b-que sauce, neither of which is available any more. (Oh, the humanity!) I set a scene in an issue of Hawkworld at the Bucket and got photo reference for our penciler, Graham Nolan, which he used wonderfully well. I later obtained the pages and gave them to Joe who proudly had them framed up over the bar.
Joe got older and the bar’s opening hours became more erratic. Kim by that point, was also sick with the breast cancer that would kill her. Joe finally announced that the Bar was closing and said there would be a party the closing night. Kim desperately wanted to be there – it was right around her birthday, as I recall – but she was too sick by that point to make the trip. The bar closed and Kim herself died the following March.
Kimberly wore her heart on her sleeve, both politically and personally, and it was an open and generous heart. She identified so much with underdogs. She was a PK – a Preacher’s Kid – and her father was an Episcopal chaplain in the Navy as well, so she was also a “Navy Brat.” She would move every few years to another base somewhere else in the country. Sometimes it would be a great place and sometimes it was one where she was treated horribly but one thing she learned was not to form really close friends because, in a few years, she or they would move on to another base and would be gone.
Yet despite all that, her heart was not bitter or closed. She loved meeting people and she did make friends even though her heart did get hurt time and again. What people thought of her mattered to her and sometimes that could hurt. I tried to explain to her that, in fact, while everyone had a right to their own opinion, not everyone’s opinion mattered. Some people were just assholes. Some were nasty assholes. Some had agendas. Some were misinformed. Kim understood all that or at least her head did but it hurt nevertheless. It’s hard when you lead with your heart.
Kim died of breast cancer more than ten years ago. I won’t go through all the particulars of that time, other than to note that it was mercifully swift and that she fought with her customary determination, élan and brio which she documented in a brave series of columns that she wrote for the Comic Buyers Guide.
There are a few grace notes to tell in the space we have. As a result of her bouts with chemo, Kim’s hair did fall out so eventually she shaved her head. She considered using a wig but eventually opted for temporary tattoos at her temples. I remember the butterflies.
In her final weeks, she let go of more and more things that simply no longer mattered. She let go of old angers, she forgave, she reconciled. As her body failed, ultimately her spirit became more clear. I’ll not say she went quietly into that good night; she was very clear about wanting to die in her own home and when circumstances forced us to bring her back to the hospital for pain management, she rebelled. Drugged up, she still tried to take the tubes out of her arms. She wanted to go home and, finally, we brought her home.
Yet, all of these are also simply random facts about Kim and cannot capture her. There is only one way that I know to do that – through story. We had three memorial services for Kim after she died – one at our church, one in New York for those who knew her from the comics industry, one back in Chicago for family and friends there. Stories were told at all three and, for me, they were the centerpieces of the memorials. Mary and I still tell them, recalling Kim’s foibles as well as her virtues for, as I have said before, I prefer Kim’s foibles to many other people’s virtues. They make her human. They make her alive.
I think that’s important for anyone who has lost someone who was loved. Don’t just remember – tell the stories. So that’s what I’d like to do with the comments sections this week, if you have time – tell stories about the lives of people we are thankful we have known, those who are no longer here. If you have a Kim story to tell, that would be great – I’d love to read it. If it’s about someone else, that’s okay, too – Kim would have loved to hear it.
That’s who Kim was – a person of story.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
A few additional thoughts.
Kim was a geek back when it was not cool to be a geek and the triumph of geek culture would have floored her. The Star Wars prequels and now the new sequels and stand alone stories; the whole Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies; the return of Doctor Who and the dawn of the superhero movie. She would have been in NYC with me for the premiere of the Suicide Squad movie; Kim would have seen the three-story tall Squad ad in Times Square, screamed and swooned and then laughed with utter delight. I can hear it in my mind’s ear.
She’s missed a lot. She is missed a lot.
I have a new life and a partner that I love and treasure – Mary Mitchell. Twenty years is a lifetime; twenty years was just a moment ago. Kim is still a part of my life and will be for the rest of my life and that’s as it should be.
Why is it… that 20th Century Fox’s Legion teevee series is so good but their X-Men movies suck so bad?
Why is it… now that Geek Culture has become so damn legitimate, I can no longer afford to be a Geek?
Why is it… that Wild Dog has lasted longer on television than it did in the comics?
Why is it… now that Marvel understands that their Civil War II Big Event was not well-received by readers or retailers and that their other recent Big Events hardly were any better received, they decided to restore the Marvel Universe to its more traditional roots – by launching still another Big Event?
Why is it… that Krypto was named Krypto? Do you know any Earthlings who named their dog Eartho? Not even the Marx Brothers named their dog that. And if Krypto were to chase a car, he’d catch it and rip it apart with his teeth. How do you train him to not do that? Bop him on the head with a rolled up newspaper and he’ll rip your lungs out.
Why is it… that Warren Beatty spent millions and millions in legal bills to protect his rights to a Dick Tracy movie sequel – and then did nothing with it? For some reason, Warren Beatty has been on my mind the past few days. Maybe he’s going to reprise his role as Milton Armitage in a Many Lives of Dobie Gillis remake.
Why is it… that comics fans seem to loathe Ben Affleck? He’s one of our better actors and outside of Gal Gadot his performance was just about the best part of Batman v. Superman. You wanna dump on a superhero actor, dump on Henry Cavill. He can’t act worth a damn, he can’t even deliver lines, and he’s so stiff you’d think cameras were his Kryptonite. They might be at that.
Why is it… that the GrimJack movie hasn’t happened?
Why is it… that the return of Reed Richards happened on the last page of the current issue of The Despicable Iron Man, or whatever that title is called? Actually, I really dug it. Which begs the question…
Why is it… that Brian Bendis seems to be on so many fanboy shitlists? I like his work. Yeah, he’s pretty much got one voice for most of his characters, but it’s a good voice. And he remains one of the very few writers who can make a three-page conversation compelling.
Why is it… that two different publishers are publishing their own versions of the Harvey Comics characters at the same time? Are their license contracts written as Mad-Libs books? Is NBCUniversal (this week’s owner of Harvey Comics, as of this writing) this sloppy about all their catalogs? Can I get the rights to Late Night With David Letterman, just to get that video tape library out of the vault? And, speaking about Harvey Comics…
Why is it… that Universal hasn’t made a Hot Stuff live action movie? Maybe they could get Ben Affleck to star. Or write. Or direct.
Why is it… that I can’t write one of these columns without mentioning Donald Trump?
My friend Brian Skelley recently e-mailed me a question that gave me some pause: what is the difference between an anti-hero and a villain? Having trafficked in anti-heroes for some time, you’d think I know but I had to parse it out.
As I postulated it to Brian the basic answer was that the anti-hero is the protagonist of a given story; the villain is often the antagonist which makes him a support character. The main purpose of any supporting character is to bring out some side or aspect of the main character, the protagonist. A villain can be the protagonist; I’ve written stories where the Joker is the main character, for example, or with Captain Boomerang, neither of whom could be called a hero in the conventional sense.
The anti-hero doesn’t display the usual heroic attributes such as courage, empathy, decency, integrity and so on. They don’t care about the common good; they care about #1. Some, like John Gaunt (GrimJack) may have their own code but one of the questions I put to myself when I began writing GrimJack was “how do you make a moral choice in an amoral world?” I once had Gaunt shoot a guy in the back and that alienated some readers. My response, then and now, was that Gaunt was never intended to be a role-model.
Whatever the anti-hero’s deficiencies, he or she are usually better than those surrounding him/her. Why are we rooting for the anti-hero to succeed? If we feel nothing for them, what is the point? At the very least, we need to be rooting for them to get away with whatever it is they are doing. We want Danny Ocean’s plan to rip off the casino to work, in part because (in the later movies) he’s played by George Clooney at his most charming.
For myself, I like working with anti-heroes more than the conventional heroes. I don’t know what it says about me to say that they seem to resonate more within me. I can more easily find something to identify with in the anti-hero than with the conventional hero. Writing Martian Manhunter was far more difficult for me than writing The Spectre. J’Onn J’Onzz was a far more decent being than Jim Corrigan. No doubt it points to some deficiency in me.
I guess I like my heroes more morally ambiguous. Certainly none of them have been more morally ambiguous than Amanda Waller not to mention the Squad as a concept. However, I’ve never considered Amanda to be an outright villain. Some folks who have written her took that tack, but I think she’s more interesting as an anti-hero. She has a conscience; she knows the difference between right and wrong. It doesn’t stop her from doing the bad things but she knows what she’s doing and does what she does deliberately. She hocks her soul for an ostensible greater good. What she does marks her as a villain; the reason she does it makes her a hero.
And then, of course, there’s Wasteland. Chock full of anti-heroes. We have a father who dissects his son’s biology teacher for traumatizing the boy. (Actually, by the end it’s a heart-warming tale… in a way.) I asked the reader to step inside the mind of a serial killer and, however briefly, identify with him. There have been occasions when I almost told a person, “You don’t want to mess with me. I wrote Wasteland.” That should scare most people.
Last weekend I was at the Geek’d Con in Rockford, Illinois. It was a small first time con and it had some things to work out, but over all it went okay.
I really enjoyed the fans but, for me, the big moment was when my niece, Julie Adams, showed up with her husband Rob and their three kids, Rachel, Hailey, and Ryan. They even sat in on the Q&A panel I did on Saturday and, bless ‘em, asked some questions themselves. And, as is typical with kids and especially kids who are relatives, a question or two were tough to answer.
The big one I was asked (by Hailey, as I recall) was, “Which of your characters is your favorite?” Deceptively simple, that question. “That’s like asking a parent which is their favorite child,” I replied, glancing at Julie and Rob. Both grimaced.
I’m not sure that answer completely satisfied Hailey (or her brother and sister) so I did explain a little more. “This may sound like a cop-out but it’s whatever character that I’m working on right now. It has to be that way. I need to be that excited about the character I’m working on if the story is going to be any good.”
Okay, I admit it was a bit of an evasion but it’s true; I really can’t pick just one of my characters as my favorite. That said, I can name several of the characters that I’ve worked on as among my favorites. One, obviously, is Amanda Waller of the Suicide Squad. There was no-one like her when she first showed up some thirty years ago and there’s really been no-one like her since. She doesn’t mess around; she has a vision and she goes after it. She uses people (villains mostly but not exclusively) and if someone has to die to get the job done, she’ll sacrifice them without a second thought. As Deadshot in the movie says of her, “That is one mean lady.”
Thing is, I’ve never thought of her as an outright villain. An anti-hero, certainly, but she does have something of a conscience. She’s kept people around to call her on her bullshit. What they say may not change what she does but, as she has said at least once, “Just because I don’t do what you say doesn’t mean I’m not listening.” She’s more of an interesting character if she has a sliver of a conscience; otherwise, she’s a sociopath.
Two others on the Squad also qualify among my favorites – Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. With Boomerang, it’s that he’s actually well-adjusted (more or less); he knows he’s scum and he’s happy being that. He has no desire to be better than who he is. Every time you think he’s sunk as far as he can go, he finds another level to which he can fall. Deadshot just doesn’t care – period. I don’t see him as having a death wish. I think he just doesn’t care if he lives or dies and that, IMO, gives him a lot of power.
I also really enjoyed working with Father Richard Craemer, both in the Squad and in The Spectre. He’s a good man, a good counselor, with a good sense of humor (useful when dealing with nigh omnipotent Spectre). My late wife, Kim Yale, and I created him and based him on religious people we knew in our respective families who also were good people.
I even enjoyed the cannon fodder in the Squad – characters brought in to be killed off. I had to invest something in them in order to make those deaths mean something and have an impact on the reader. One of my faves among these was Shrike (Vanessa Kingsbury); an innocent mass killer, she felt she was Born Again even though she couldn’t help killing more people as she went on. She weirded the heck out of Father Craemer.
Minor characters like Punch and Jewelee also among our faves. More than a little nuts, they were like criminal yuppies from hell.
I could go on at great length about some of the other characters in the other series that I’ve done over the years but this column is long enough (and late enough) as it is. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one very big name – John Gaunt. GrimJack.
You could say in a way that he was my first born. I had written four 8 page back-ups in Warp and one full length story in Starslayer when GrimJack debuted in the back of the latter title. He was my first original creation in comics, influenced in equal parts by Robert E. Howard and Raymond Chandler. A hard-boiled barbarian working out of the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure, I could place him in almost any setting and make it work. We even did a time traveling Western.
He was also a scar-faced Cupid. Kim and I knew each other before GrimJack but we were just friends. She was also a big fan of the book and it was one particular issue, “My Sins Remembered,” that really got to her. She wrote to me (although at the time she lived less than a mile away) and we went out for coffee and we talked about the issue and what had affected her so much. She opened up to me and I found myself connecting to her in ways I hadn’t before. About seven months later, when I proposed, Gaunt was a part of that presentation (including a GrimJack teddy bear). So, I guess, gun to my head (which Gaunt is certainly capable of doing) maybe he is my favorite. Along with his supporting cast. And his next incarnation.
See how difficult this is?
Right now, my favorite characters are Kros (from Kros: Hallowed Ground which I’m doing with Tom Mandrake) and Hexer Dusk (which I’m doing with Jan Duursema) because those are the ones I’m working on at the moment. You can find samples of both on Indiegogo and even pre-order the books if so inclined.
I’m also starting a new love affair for a project I’m working on with Mike Gold. It’s not announced yet so I can’t really tell you much about it but my enthusiasm is mounting.
Quick – who is the more interesting character, Superman or Batman? Batman, right? Supes is the Big Blue Boy Scout. He’s the quintessential “good guy.” He’s all bright colors and kid friendly. Batman is all dark and angsty. We could never be Superman with all those powers but, if we really worked hard at it, I mean if we had sufficient motivation and tons of money, we could be Batman.
That’s the common opinion. It’s not true, of course, but that’s the myth.
We always assume that Superman will do the right thing because, well, he’s Superman. That’s who he is. Doing the right thing, making the right choice just comes natural to him, like breathing. Good guys do the right thing. That’s what makes them good guys.
I’ve given a lot of interviews lately for the Suicide Squad Special: War Crimes that comes out this Wednesday and I’ve talked a lot about why I really enjoy writing bad guys, or at least anti-heroes. I find them more interesting, more complex. Take a look at my career – GrimJack, Amanda Waller, even Jim Corrigan a.k.a. the Spectre. They are all morally conflicted characters and only marginally “heroes” in that they are (usually) better than the people they oppose.
The flaw in this line of thought is that being “good” is something that comes naturally. That it’s not really a choice; it’s so basic to a character or a person that doing the right thing is something that s/he does automatically.
I usually find that isn’t the case especially when there is some kind of cost, big or small, connected with doing what’s “right.” Then it becomes a choice and what we choose is what ultimately defines us. Nobody – repeat, nobody – makes the right choice 100% of the time or the wrong choice every single time. Not the Pope, not your Aunt Petunia, not Donald Trump. That’s because the process of making that decision is usually a complex equation filled with lots of variables of different desires, needs, and thoughts. Perhaps there is one over-riding motivation but there will be lots of other factors looking to horn in, e.g. I want to lose weight, I need to lose weight, I need chocolate right now.
There is also the question of what the right thing is – and who is it right for. Is it right for the country, is it in my own self-interests, is it the right thing at the moment and will that moment change and therefore change what is the right choice? What might be an easy choice for one person might be a difficult one for another with roughly the same choice. Who would you die for? Would they die for you?
This decision can take nano-seconds or the person making the choice can agonize a long time over it. If this is true of us, and I submit that it is, then it should be true of our characters. Habit can also play a large part in making these decisions; if you’re accustomed to making the choice confronting you in a certain way, you are more likely to choose that way again. But not always. No guarantees.
If Superman is to be a convincing character to us as a person, then he must also face these decisions, confront fears, deal with doubts. He should have conflicting desires. For all his powers and his alien origin, this is what makes him human.
That’s what we want from our stories – humans making (sometimes difficult) decisions. If Superman is facing death he must also want to live; that makes his choice mean something and that choice defines him as a hero.