So, Bill Maher crossed the line and got himself into hot water. Given the nature of his HBO show, Real Time, and his own proclivities as a satirist, maybe he should just have a hot tub on stage instead of a desk. It would suit him in many ways.
Recently, as part of an interview, Maher jokingly referred to himself as a “house ‘N’ word.” No, I’m not repeating the actual word here for a few reasons. A) I don’t want to pull a Maher; B) I don’t like the word. I won’t pretend I’ve never used it; I threw it around a bit as a kid in 1950s Chicago along with the “c” word, the “f” word, the “mf” and others of that ilk because I knew they were bad words, naughty words, and I was trying at those moments to pass myself off to my self and my friends as a naughty boy, as a bad boy. Didn’t use those words around my family, my parents, or the nuns; I would have been a dead boy if I had. I haven’t used the “n” word as an adult; not since I learned the history of the word, the harm in it.
I know that the “n” word is used by African-Americans and I know that’s different; there’s a cultural aspect to the use that doesn’t work with someone who is white. There’s a menace when that happens; a whole history of racism and bigotry packed into it.
However, I do have a question. Can I, as a white male writer, ever use it in the context of a story? When I was writing The Kents (my historical Western featuring the ancestors of Clark Kent’s adoptive family), I had characters who could have and perhaps should have used that word. I couldn’t bring myself to do it so I adopted a similar word as a replacement only to learn later that this word was perhaps more offensive.
I ran up against the same problem with Kros: Hallowed Ground. It’s set during the Civil War and the word would have been used. At first, I was inclined to use it but I had long talks with my partners, Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema. They made the point that the word was jarring when you came across it and that it might well offend some of our backers, black and white. In the end, I agreed we shouldn’t use that word and didn’t.
The question still remains for me; can I as a white male writer justifiably use such a loaded word?
There’s the Mark Twain example who made prolific use of the “n” word; one of his great characters in Huck Finn is “N” Jim. I know there are versions of the book in which all the “N” words have been removed. I’m not nuts about that. There is a term “Bowdlerize” which denotes going through a text, especially a classic, and removing words and/or terms deemed offensive or not suitable for children and people easily offended. That raises my writerly hackles.
Still, the question persists – can a white male writer legitimately use the “n” word or the “c” word or any other words of that ilk? I don’t know. I’m still searching for that answer and I suspect I won’t find a definitive one.
Maher, for his part, realizes he went too far and did apologize for it. He devoted a considerable part of his show this week in a discussion of the term, repeating his apology. Ice Cube, among others, explained why the word is objectionable in ways that might expand our understanding of the situation.
However, there have been those who have called for him to be fired. I understand that Sen. Al Franken canceled a scheduled appearance on Real Time this week. Franken was formerly a comic, sometimes an edgy one, but he’s cutting no slack here.
Both Maher and Kathy Griffin (who got herself in trouble with a photo holding up a severed head of Trump) make edginess part of their routines. The edge, however, is not well marked and at times the only way you know where it is is when you’ve gone over it. And, at times, you’ll go past it at 100 mph.
To say the “N,” if you’re white, is never right. As a writer, as a white male writer, can I ever write it? I don’t know and until I have a clearer answer, I won’t. I may never get that.
Life would be simpler if it just came with a clearer book of instructions. Something simple and easy, in clear black and white.
More than once over the years I’ve been approached by someone who says that they have a great idea for a story and that I should write it and then we split any money evenly. The problem with this (aside from the fact that the work is not even) is that I have plenty of ideas of my own that, for one reason or another, never get written. Having ideas isn’t the problem; executing them is.
Here are a few ideas I’ve had in my journal that haven’t seen the light of day.
Spectre/Batman Alt Worlds
An alternate DC Universe idea set back in the Thirties, we start with the Waynes getting gunned down in an alley, but this time young Bruce is killed as well. This sets off such a furor that something has to be done. Commissioner Gordon decides on someone from the outside and so brings in a tough as nails New York plainclothes detective named Jim Corrigan to clean things up.
Corrigan tears things up pretty well but finds himself as hamstrung as Gordon does. Frustrated, he gets the idea of an alternate identity and becomes the Bat-Man; however, this one carries .45s and shoots to kill.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne’s spirit rages in the afterlife about the injustice of what happened to him and his family. A voice offers him a chance at retribution and he takes it. A 10-year old Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham as the Spectre.
Inevitably, the paths of Bat-Man and the Spectre collide and leads to the ultimate confrontation. Corrigan dies and Bruce is stripped of the Spectre powers but given a chance to live his life again. He becomes Gordon’s ward. In the meantime, Corrigan is given the mantle of the Spectre.
Why didn’t it go? This would have fallen under the “Elseworlds” banner and DC has stopped doing those.
Star Wars: Han Solo miniseries
This one is set between Episodes IV and V when the Rebel Alliance is hidden on the ice planet Hoth. Mon Mothma, trying to negotiate for another planet to join the Alliance, is grabbed by some space pirates and held for ransom. If the Alliance doesn’t want to pay up, the kidnappers will sell her to the Empire.
Leia and Luke are off on separate adventures but Han, Chewie and the Millennium Falcon are on hand. Han knows the kidnappers and tells the Alliance leaders he should bring the ransom and get Mon Mothma back. He figures that the Princess would like that and, who knows, he might be able to claim at least part of the ransom as a reward. The plan includes double crossing the pirates, including some old acquaintances.
It all gets more complicated when the Empire learns that the pirates have Mon Mothma and dispatch a Star Destroyer with Darth Vader to grab Mon Mothma and dispatch the kidnappers. Han gets a hold of Mon Mothma just as the Empire shows up and its all a mad scramble to escape the pirates and the Empire.
The tone was meant to be light and fun and focus on Han as a rogue.
Why didn’t it go? Right around the time that I came up with the idea, Dark Horse was losing the license to the franchise. Marvel, who got it, doesn’t appear to be interested in those who did Star Wars for DH. I don’t blame them; they want their take on it.
DC has/had been having trouble re-launching its venerable Legion of Super-Heroes (LSH). Is the concept – teen superheroes routinely saving the galaxy – outdated?
I like jumping stories down their own timeline; witness Star Wars: Legacy. I thought I’d jump this narrative down its timeline by 500-1000 years. The United Planets no longer exist; the LSH is nowhere to be found. The Khund Empire rules and Earth itself had been shattered and is an asteroid ring around the sun. Super-powered beings were barred or restricted to their own planets.
In all this a young man emerges; the only name he gives is Legion. He has with him several LSH flight rings and he travels through the galaxy trying to find super-powered beings to join him in an attempt to overthrow the Khunds.
Since I like what I call narrative alloys, this was an attempt to cross the concept of LSH with Star Wars.
Why didn’t it go? DC had its own plan for the LSH and I guess they thought this would muddy the waters. Or they just didn’t like my take.
There’s lots of other ideas and concepts in my journal and/or my computer. Two of them will be up this year; Tom Mandrake and I (with Jan Duursema) are preparing Kros: Hallowed Ground for the printer right now and then Jan and I will be completing Hexer Dusk. Both are independent projects funded through Kickstarter. Both have taken a lot of thought, energy, and effort to realize.
So, as you see, the problem is not a lack of ideas. Everybody gets ideas. The problem is what do you do with them. Some just never come together and some never get an okay. So you file it and move on to the next. You work at what’s working but you don’t lose track of the ideas you’ve had. You just never know.
Last week I gave a review of the Suicide Squad movie. This week, I’m talking about my trip to NYC for the premiere.
I got in to the East Coast on 7/31 and stayed with my friends Tam and Kev English over in New Jersey, near to where I used to live. Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema, who also live in the area, were going to be in town Sunday night before going on a trip so we all got together for a nice meal. Hilarity ensued.
Tom and Jan also gave me a box full of Kros: Hallowed Ground booty. This is stuff that will be going out to our subscribers and it is killer cool.
I took the train into Manhattan on Monday to join my old bud and oft-time editor and my date for the evening, the lovely and effervescent Mike Gold. We were meeting for a pre-festivities lunch. Among many other projects, Mike edited Legends, which is where my version of the Suicide Squad first appeared. True to form, I screwed up both the time and the location but eventually wound up where I was supposed to be, a little hot, a lot sweaty, but there.
It was a nice meal at Virgil’s BBQ (when with Mike, you’re quite likely to wind up eating barbecue) and then it was time to head out to the pre-premiere party being hosted by Dan Didio and DC Entertainment. On our way to a taxi (Mike suggested the subway but I was already overheated), we went to the heart of Times Square and there – lo and behold – was a huge frickin’ ad for the movie up on a building. It was at least four stories tall and wrapped around the building on either side. I was staggered.
On to the DC pre-party up at Pappardella on the upper west side. We were met outside by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor; seeing Jimmy always guarantees a good time and Amanda graces the company of wherever she is.
All sorts of DC stalwarts were inside including some old friends like Paul Levitz, Mike Barr, and Keith Giffen. Was also joined by Adam Glass and his wife at our table in the corner. Adam had written the initial issues of the New 52 edition of the Squad and we were able to chat Squad shop. Great guy, good writer, and a fun table companion.
I also got to meet Geoff Johns face-to-face for the first time. We’ve traded more than a few emails but have never been able to be in the same place at the same time. Geoff has recently been promoted to President as well as Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment and I had a chance to congratulate him. He sat down and we had just a really good chat. In addition to being a really good writer, Geoff is a hell of as nice guy.
They got some group photos of all of us at Pappardella and then it was time to walk over to the nearby Beacon Theater for the premiere. We got off the buses and it was amazing: there was major security, both private and city, and barriers and people behind barriers looking for stars and celebrities. I was dazzled and dazed. I started to follow the herd towards the theater until I heard someone calling my name. It was Dan Didio as well as my date gesturing me over to a large air conditioned tent right there on Amsterdam Avenue. I mean, the air conditioning units were huge. I was supposed to go in that way. I wasn’t sure why but I went there.
Inside there was a backdrop and lots of press and photographers. I was in a spotlight and, swear to God, they were calling “John, look over here.” “John. Over this way.” “John, look straight ahead.” Flashes flashed and I had on my best deer caught in the headlights look. It was weird.
My baptism by strobes completed, I was escorted out of the tent and to the theater and given my assigned seat. The Beacon is no small theater (albeit a beautiful one) and every seat was assigned. I sat in the middle of the DC row and settled in. Geoff Johns was two seats to my right but the one right next to me was vacant. I decided that seat belonged to my late wife and frequent Squad co-writer, Kim Yale. Knowing Kim, she was having a blast.
Pete Tomasi, my one-time editor on a lot of The Spectre, Martian Manhunter, and The Kents, came over for a chat. It was great to see him; it’s been far too long. Pete‘s also a freelance writer these days and a good one.
I’ll admit to being dazzled. A lot of fuss was being made over me and more than a few people came up and said that this was my night as well; that none of this would have been happening without me. I guess that’s technically true but it’s a little hard for me to wrap my brain around.
Anyway, it comes time for the movie and the director, David Ayer, comes out to say a few words and he brings out the entire cast of the movie. Loud cheers all around. The cast walks off and the movie begins.
I reviewed the movie last week and I’ll double down on it. I’ve seen it again since then, with My Mary (who couldn’t make it to the premiere) at IMAX and in 3-D and I liked it even more. I understand that there’s people who don’t agree with me and that’s fine; different tastes for different folks. For example, Mary likes broccoli and I can’t stand it, referring to it as “tiny trees”. But I loved the Squad movie and I’ll see it still again.
One note about it and it’s a very minor spoiler. I knew ahead of time that they had named a building used in the movie the John F. Ostrander Federal Building. I knew it was there, I knew it was coming up and yet, somehow, I missed seeing it. The DC row cheered but I didn’t see it until we went to the IMAX. Go figure.
There were cheers when the movie was over and then it was time to get onto the buses and go to the after-party. It was held in a huge hall with parts of it made up to look like Belle Reve (I’m told it was on display at SDCC and then moved east). There was food, there was drink, there was a DJ and loud music; DC had a private area off to one side. I understood the stars of the movie were in attendance and had their own area as well.
This may surprise some folks but not, I think, those who know me well. I sometimes get a case of the shys; I feel awkward where I feel somewhat out of place. I saw Kevin Smith there and wanted to go up and talk with him but he was talking to someone else so I wandered off. I didn’t want to bother him.
The one person I did want to meet was Viola Davis who played Amanda Waller. Amanda is special to me and Ms. Davis did a superb job, IMO, and I just wanted to tell her so. First, I had to deal with security. I walked up to a guy guarding the artist’s area; the Hulk is smaller than this guy. Real tall, shoulders the size of a football field – nobody was getting past him. Nobody.
I went straight to him, explained who I was and why I wanted to see Ms. Davis. He was polite, got a hold of someone who had to go check on me. While I waited, he deflected two or three others. The guy was good at his job.
Finally, someone came up to take me back the handful of steps to –. I introduced myself and then told her how much I enjoyed her performance. She was very gracious and lovely. I think, although I’m not certain, that I did not babble unduly.
And then I was done.
I might have liked to say hello to some of the other actors and especially the director but, plain and simple, I’d run out of nerve. My date had already left to catch a train and it was time for me to do the same. Penn Station was only a block or two away and that’s where I need to go to get back to Tam and Kev.
I’m reasonably certain in my heart that Kim was there at the party. She would have been in her element. She was an extrovert and she would have been dancing and drinking and chatting with the stars and flashing that megawatt smile. I’m also reasonably certain she’s still there; at many a Con, Kim would still be partying while I went to bed. I couldn’t keep up with her.
I said goodbye to Geoff Johns, got to Penn Station and went back to my friends in Jersey.
It was an experience totally unlike anything I’ve ever had. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another one like it. Even if I went to another movie premiere, this was my first one. As they say, you never forget your first.
I was a temporary celebrity. I’ve done lots of interviews connected with the event and I’ll probably do a few more, told the same stories or given the same answers a lot of times. I’ve been dipped in the waters of fame. There were faces on the other side of the barriers in front of the theater or the after party, looking at me, wondering who I was. I must have been Somebody. For the moment, maybe I was.
I’m home now. The dishes need washing, this column has to be finished, and one of the cats wants attention. That’s who I am and I’m happy with that. The rest will fade as it should. I’ll tell you this, though – it sure as hell was fun while it lasted! For that night, I was John Fucking Ostrander with my name of the side of a building in a big ass movie..
I love writing and I am so glad I’ve been able to make a living at it. I’m very thankful to all the fans and all the publishers who have enabled me to do that over the years.
The trick is in getting the work. There’s this malady known as “freelancer’s disease” which consists of a freelancer taking every gig offered because you’re afraid that if you turn down any, they will all go away. It’s not rational but it’s real and it’s how some freelancers wind up taking on too much work. I’ve been sick with that disease from time to time. To make a living from writing, though, depends on a publisher saying yes.
That’s changed a bit in recent years thanks to the phenomenon of crowd funding where the artist can put together a project and then, if they can, get it up on the Internet at a crowd sourcing site such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. There you ask the fans to fund the project– and its their interest in what you are doing that counts. You ask the reader to trust you and your past work and invest in this new one.
I’ve done it with Tom Mandrake for Kros: Hallowed Ground (vampires and the Civil War) and I’m trying to do it again with Jan Duursema for a science fiction project called Hexer Dusk. For over a decade, Jan and I did Star Wars comics at Dark Horse, acquiring a fan base and a rep for doing really good Star Wars stories spread over different epochs. We created a lot of new characters who also became fan favorites and we had a great time.
We stopped doing Star Wars because George Lucas sold his rights to Disney. Disney owns Marvel and the licensing rights for Star Wars comics, which were up, went to them. Since the franchise was re-defining itself and its continuity, Marvel was looking for new talent to do the comics. I don’t blame them at all; I understand the rationale completely.
Jan and I really loved doing Star Wars and had always talked about creating our own space opera – one that we would own with worlds and characters of our creation. Hexer Dusk is not Star Wars by any means, but it is informed by our work on Star Wars. We have a galaxy with space ships and blasters, yes, but there’s magic and monsters and horror as well. And humor. You can’t have a slightly off kilter combat robot without humor. It’s also gritty and grungy because that’s what we do.
Jan got the idea for the project from a dream she had of great sky cities floating above a planet that were at war with one another. There were massive explosions and both cities were destroyed. It was a very vivid dream and, when she told it to me, the images were very vivid in my mind as well.
Every story has a genesis point and that was ours for Hexer Dusk. We started riffing together, throwing ideas back and forth as we did when working on Star Wars. Jan brought in Xane Dusk, the Weird, KOMBOT, and beadies. I brought in scavvers–Prybar, Sooz, Captain Skargle and The Missus. Heck of a party! And then there are the Razers who want to destroy all remaining Hexers – including Xane Dusk.
Xane Dusk is one of the last of the Hexers. That’s bad news for the galaxy because, when the Sky Cities exploded and fell, they created an other-dimensional rift in the fabric of space and these strange nightmarish creatures started coming through. They’re called The Weird and they can only exist in Xane’s galaxy by possessing existing bodies – living or dead. It’s a problem because the only ones who can really deal with the Weird are the Hexers and, as I said, Xane may be the last of them.
This story is going to happen. Our Kickstarter is basically funded with enough for printing, shipping, creating art rewards and Kickstarter fees and we’re now working on the stretch goals. Stretch goals are important because they will provide enough funding so that we can pay for art, writing, lettering, and colors as well as possibly adding pages to the story and a black and white PDF or print version of Hexer Dusk. Stretch goals are a way of bringing those kinds of extras to the backers of the project. If these stretch goals are achieved every backer gets more rewards. Which is cool.
Our Kickstarter project is at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/313324911/hexer-dusk and I invite you to come take a look. There are some preview pages up with some really nifty art from Jan as well as descriptions of various reward levels ranging from a PDF of the graphic novel to a printed book with sketchcards or a sketch by Jan. You can also read the first nine pages of the book by going to www.hexerdusk.com
We’ve still got a week to go before the Kickstarter ends so we’re hoping for more folks to jump on the Hexer Dusk train – and to spread word about Hexer Dusk to their friends. Getting more eyes on this project is important. People can’t support something if they don’t know it’s there and word of mouth really is the best promoter. As always, we depend on our fans.
As they used to say on the old Bartles and Jaymes TV commercials, “We thank you for your support.”
I recently was talking to my friend and frequent (and upcoming) collaborator, Jan Duursema, about just the technological changes I’ve seen in comics over the course of my career. It must be getting close to thirty years since I began all this.
When I first started, I wrote my plots and scripts on a manual typewriter with a carbon copy for me. For you boys and girls who don’t know what a carbon was, it was a black inked piece of paper that you placed between the first and second pieces of paper. As the typewriter key struck the first page, the force of it would penetrate the carbon and leave an identical letter on the second page. If you hit it hard enough. In theory.
When I began, I wrote out my plots and scripts in longhand on yellow legal sized pads of paper from which I would then transcribe to the typewriter. It was easier to make corrections on the yellow pad than on the typed page. There, if you even made a spelling mistake, you had to haul out the Wite-Out (sic) or Liquid Paper. These were small round bottles of white paint with a cap with a small brush in it and it was a pain to use. If you didn’t seal it up properly, the liquid would dry out and become unusable. Some inkers who use it to this day either for corrections or to create effects.
When I worked at First Comics, I lived in Rogers Park which is on the far north side of Chicago. The First Comics’ offices were originally in Evanston and I could walk there or take a quick elevated train trip and drop off the plot or script. It got more complicated when I started working for DC Comics as well. Their offices were in New York City and I couldn’t easily walk my stories there.
If I got my work done soon enough before deadline, I could use the U.S. mail but, as my good friend and oft-times editor Mike Gold could tell you, that is usually an unlikely occurrence. Mike once called me on a script I was doing for him and informed me I had gone past deadline and was approaching funeral line.
More often I used Federal Express and usually their overnight delivery service. DC and Marvel both provided pre-paid shipping labels in those days but, still, there were too often the mad dashes to the FedEx office. The closest one to me, by odd happenstance, was in Evanston near the First Comics offices. The key was to get there before it closed (promptly at 5 PM as I recall). If you missed it and you had to get the script in the next day, it necessitated the late night run to the central FedEx office out near the airport. When I finished the writing really late, it meant a mad dash to try to get to that FedEx office before it closed at midnight. I remember one especially hairy run with my wife, Kim, driving and running red lights while I stuffed the pages onto the envelope and completed the shipping label. Some nights it was like a gathering of the local comic book fraternity of both writers and artists as we all tried to slip in under our respective deadlines.
I thought I had graduated to technical nirvana when I traded the manual typewriter in for an electric one. This one had a correcting ribbon built in! However, this was also soon replaced when I bought my first computer. Mike and others in the industry had been pressuring me to get one but, as usual, I was resistant. I am usually not the first to embrace a new technology. I may not be the dead last to do so but it’s usually a near thing. I got a Mac because that’s what most of the people I knew in the industry had.
Side note: one of the beefs I have with the movie Independence Day was that, at the climax, the alien mothership is destroyed by a computer virus introduced into its systems by a Mac computer. Macs couldn’t talk much with other computers on Earth; it can talk to an alien computer? Bah!
Working with a computer enabled me to quickly correct mistakes and, as I went on, I discovered spell-check. An even bigger discovery was the Internet and email. With email, I could simply send my work in and the offices would get it the next second. Which of course enabled me to push the deadline even harder.
With the Internet, I also discovered I could do my research when I needed it without setting foot outside my door. Previously, I had to go to the nearest available library during library hours, hoping they would have something. That wasn’t useful when I was working on something in the middle of the night. With the Internet and search engines, I could look up anything at any time.
Sometimes, however, you can get lost in research. I remember on an early Suicide Squad story I spent a lot of time looking up Soviet train schedules to see if my team could possibly get to certain places I said they got at the times when I had them doing that. Was that strictly necessary for the story to work? Well, no. But I think I hit my obsessed button and I couldn’t get out.
Another advantage of working with computer was that I could work more efficiently and could take on more assignments. OTOH, it also offers many more ways of goofing off. Hellooooo, Facebook!
These days I no longer write my stories out long hand; I compose right on the computer. However, I do use a written journal with which to work out the stories and characters. That still feels more natural. My thoughts seem to flow from my brain down my arm through my pen and onto the page. It’s more organic, more creative, for me that way.
The point of all this is that while I have had a good long career it hasn’t been that long since my days with the manual typewriter and the Liquid Paper. I’ll probably be getting another computer fairly soon; I’ve had the one on which I write this for more than a few years and it’s time. I suspect I won’t fully understand everything the new computer does; I doubt if I really understand even half of what my current one does. Technology has made me a more prolific writer – but has it made me a better one? Actually, I think it has. Re-writing has become easier, for one thing.
However, I don’t think it has made me better on my deadlines. How close am I to the funeral line, Mike?
New Girl On The Block. Samantha Bee has launched her new weekly news round-up show, Full Frontal. Two episodes have aired so far and, IMO, both were killer. I always loved Samantha Bee on The Daily Show – she was a great combination of fearless and shameless, and she carries that over to her new show. The writing is sharp and the delivery dead on. I loved the segment she did last week on the so-called constitutional crisis arising from the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and how it really isn’t a crisis; it’s the Republican leadership in the Senate refusing to do their job. Check it out.
I love Noah Trevor, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, and Bill Mahar but, right now, I love Samantha the most. All hail Queen Bee!
Commercials. I usually skip most TV commercials. Not all. And some I actually enjoy for one reason or another. Some I hate with a passion. Some are so stupid that I remember the product’s name just to make sure I never buy that product.
There’s one for a car insurance company that has me diving for the mute button every time I see it. A young woman comes on and talks about her car that she named “Brad.” They did everything together, she says, which gives a new meaning to the word “auto-eroticism.” (Maybe that’s just me and my filthy mind.) She totals it and moans that nothing can replace “Brad” – until the insurance company calls and she goes into her “happy dance.”
This woman is psychotic. She’s off her meds and somebody needs to get her back on them – stat!
Who is this commercial being aimed at? I take it for granted that it’s not me (I’m too old to be the target audience for any commercial except for ads for walk-in tubs) but who do the advertisers expect to reach? Shouldn’t the ad make you identify with whoever is making the pitch? Who ldoud identify with Little Miss Psychotic?
There’s lots of commercials like that out there. Why? To me, they just seem that the ad agency folks got high and then proposed anything that made them giggle – and they sold it!
Beats the hell out of me.
Credit Where Credit Is Due: I recently picked up a Star Wars novel – Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – because it featured a character created by Jan Duursema and myself for the comics. The character is Quinlan Vos. The book is well written – Ms. Golden is no stranger to novels, especially franchise books – and I’m okay that the characterization of Quin doesn’t really match up with what we did. The story was adapted from some scripts for the Star Wars Clone Wars animated series and Quin was an alternate universe version. Oh, he shared some looks and traits with the original version but in many respect he was a very different character.
Look, I can deal with that. I knew from Day One that whatever we created belonged lock, stock, and dreadlocks to Lucas Film Licensing and, now, to Disney. I do wonder why you use an existing character from another medium and then change him so much. However, that’s their prerogative. So be it.
My complaint, however, is that there are two sets of acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, one from the author and another from one of the co-writer of the animated episodes who also happens to be George Lucas’ daughter. Nowhere in either of them are Jan and I acknowledged or thanked. Really? I understand that I own no part of Quin. Unlike Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad, I don’t get any money when Quin is used elsewhere. That was the deal from the start. However, if you’re thanking folks who made it possible – why not the two who originated him?
Boy Toys, Girl Toys: Martha Thomases wrote a really good column this week about how the Big Two comic book companies, movie execs, and toy companies have problems with gender assignments for their products. This product is for boys and that product is for girls because the products has either a penis or a vagina and that’s all there is to it.
I remember reading how Daisy Ridley’s character Rey who (spoiler alert) is the central character in The Force Awakens is absent from figure sets (they’re “action figures” you know, not “dolls”) and from the new Star Wars The Force Awakens Monopoly set. The justification given by Hasbro is that they didn’t want to “give away” a major plot point which featuring Rey might have done.
I’m calling bullshit on this one. There’s no concern that featuring any of the other new characters like Finn or Poe might reveal a plot point. In the action figure set of six, they include an unnamed storm trooper with the new characters. Rey is conspicuous by her absence.
Isn’t the real concern that the boys literally won’t buy a Rey figure? And that girls don’t buy that kind of stuff because, you know, they want pink toy oven sets? They aren’t really into that boy stuff. Except that, as Martha points out, they are and Hasbro’s decision is just another example of hide-bound old boy thinking. You’d think that the outcry would make these execs’ faces blush pink with embarrassment.
Before I was a professional comic book writer, I was a fan. I still am. I was going to comic cons long before I turned pro. Some are good, some are not so good, and some are the San Diego Comic Con which is too large to fit into any category. For me these days, cons are mostly working weekends where I meet with fans and fellow pros, sign some autographs, maybe sell a few of my trade paperbacks.
Last weekend, I and My Mary were at the Motor City Comic Con in Novi, Michigan, and we had a great time. It’s close enough to where we live so that we could just drive there and the Con gave us a hotel room so we didn’t have to drive back and forth. The cats weren’t pleased that we were gone but they survived and, once we fed them, forgave us our absence.
Last time I had been to Motor City was maybe a decade ago and it has really grown. My understanding is that they had over 50K attendance over the three days this year. It was large but not too large and, while it had a nice selection of media guests, it was still a con focused on comics.
I managed to make contact with some old friends such as Jim Calafiore (we worked on Magnus, Robot Fighter together) and current ones such as Chris Scalf (we have a new project we’re working on). I also met Mike McCone, with whom I had done one of my favorite Batman stories (a three-parter in Detective) but whom I had never actually met. (Comics are often like that; you work with someone but you may not actually meet them in the process.) Arvell Jones was at the table next to mine along with his family; really nice folks and a pleasure to meet them.
One of the media guests was Michael Rowe, who played Deadshot on Arrow when the Suicide Squad appeared there. I thought it would be interesting to go up to his table, introduce myself, tell him I had defined Floyd Lawton in the comic. Surprise! He showed up at my table first. He knew exactly who I was and told me he had read everything I had written on Deadshot and used that as the basis for the character he played.
I knew there was a reason I liked his version.
He was really nice and actually had me sign some of his comics. That can make your head spin around. I remembered the movie Stranger Than Fiction in which a writer discovers a character she is writing is real and they meet face to face. I’m not sure I would want to do that, given what I’ve done to a lot of my characters – especially Deadshot – so meeting Michael was a little surreal but very pleasant. He didn’t hurt me at all!
There were a couple of things that really struck me about the Con. One was not only the number of cosplayers present but the overall quality of their costumes. I know some folks are not all that keen on cosplayers at cons; some actually want them banned. For me, I really like what they add visually to a convention. It becomes like a great Halloween party.
The 501st Legion was well in evidence and they always have great costumes. I got to meet and chat with Thomas John Spanos who I first met when he was cosplaying Ganner Krieg, an Imperial Knight that Jan Duursema and I had created for Star Wars: Legacy. This time out Thomas was in his Clone Emperor incarnation. Really nice guy. I’ve been struck by his artistry and talent and attention to detail, something I find in all of the 501st members and the cosplayers in general that I saw last weekend. For example, I saw a really well done Groot posing for pictures, especially with kids who were thrilled.
Which brings me to another thing that really struck me about the Con – the number of kids I saw there, from very small to teens. About ten years ago, I saw a drop in kids at Cons and that worried me. It seemed they were all going to video games. I felt that wasn’t good for the Comics Industry. The kids are where the next generation of readers would come from and I was afraid we had lost them. I personally think that unless you start reading comics by a certain age as a kid, you don’t get into them and they’re never going to be a part of your life.
What’s changing that? Less the comics themselves with all their relaunches, new directions, and crossover events than the movies and TV shows based on comics. (They may also be more coherent and accessible than the comics.) In any case, there were a lot more kids at the show than in the past and it’s amazing how many of them were cosplaying as well.
One last thing about a Con the size of Motor City; while I was pretty busy autographing books and doing interviews, I still had time to chat with those who came to my table and I really like that. I managed to tell a lot them about the new project Tom Mandrake and I are getting ready to launch and don’t worry, I’ll be telling all of you as well when the time comes. The fans and I talked about what I’ve done in the past and hope to do in the future. I am so appreciative of the support that the fans have given me and my work over the years. Thank you.
So it was a good time and more than just a “working weekend.” I hope to do more Cons in the future and, if I do, come by and say “hi.” I give good blather, I think you’ll find.
I’ve worked on/created a number of characters in my writing career, trying to define them through my writing. They exist first in my head and then become incarnated through my words and stories and the depictions by the artists. In some ways, they are like my kids – my murderous, nasty kids.
In the movie Stranger Than Fiction (one of my Mary’s fave films and the most atypical Will Farrell movie ever), the writer of a novel finds that her lead character – who she was planning to kill off – is a real person and comes face to face with him. I don’t think I’d ever want to do that for the main reason that I tend to make the lives of my protagonists pretty miserable. If I’m their creator, I’m a pretty asshole god. I have very good reasons for doing these terrible things – it reveals character and makes a better story. At the same time, I’d never want to meet any of them face to face. I’ve given them cause to do really nasty things back to me.
This is not a situation likely to come up… except that every now and then one of the characters goes walkabout. They slip away from my stories and show up elsewhere, doing and saying things that I never gave them to do or say.
With Jan Duursema I’ve created lots of characters for Star Wars in the Dark Horse comics I did for almost a decade. Two of them – Aayla Secura and Quinlan Vos – have shown up elsewhere. Both of them have shown up on the animated series, The Clone Wars, and Aayla went live-action in Episodes II and III of the Prequel Trilogy. In the animated series they gave her a French accent which threw me a bit – I never heard her that way in my head when I wrote her. In Episode III she was gunned down by her own troops who continued to fire shots into her back when she was down. That was harsh to watch. My baby!
Even my character GrimJack has done walkabout a bit. I was – and am – a big fan of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series of novels. Evidently, Zelazny was also a fan of GrimJack. In one of the later books, he introdued a character called Old John. Oh, you might have been using an assumed name but I knew it was you, Gaunt! Zelazny described him to a tee and caught his personality perfectly. We later got Mr. Zelazny to do an introduction to a GrimJack graphic novel. That was so cool!
The character that I created who has done the most walking about has to be Amanda Waller, the leader of the Suicide Squad. She has had the most incarnations in a variety of looks of anyone that I’ve created. Amanda has shown up in animated features on both TV and in films, video games, and television shows. On Smallville she was played by Pam Grier – which is beyond cool – and in Arrow she is considerably younger and more svelte. Hey, it’s the CW.
She’s also been in movies. Angela Basset played her in the Green Lantern movie. Okay, I know mostly no one liked the GL movie but – Angela Basset?! That’s amazing right there.
And, of course, there’s the Suicide Squad movie that starts filming any day now where she will be played by Academy Award nominated, Tony award winning star of How to Get Away With Murder actress Viola Davis. Boo-yah!
Amanda also sends home money. Every time she appears outside of the comics, I get what they call “participation”. If they reprint my work with her in TPBs, I get money. My Star Wars kids? Not so much. GrimJack? He would but so far he hasn’t. But the Wall? Oh yeah. Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money – you bet. I love that Amanda.
It is interesting to see characters that you created or defined show up elsewhere (for example, I defined Deadshot although I didn’t create him). Sometimes it feels a little surreal. As I said, they started up in my head and then to see them and hear them walking around doing and saying things that I never wrote can be weird. It’s also nice. My kids are out in the world with their own lives. That’s interesting to experience.
Of course, would it kill them to call home now and then? Well, maybe not Gaunt.
Starting April 1, DC Comics is launching its new meta-Crisis series, Convergence, in which characters from different planets and timelines will be thrust together on the Blood Moon to fight fight fight. In May, all of Marvel’s multiverse will go blooey with bits and pieces being recombined into a single place called Secret Wars: Battleworld and, no doubt, every one will fight fight fight. Worlds/characters will live, worlds/characters will die, and nothing will ever be the same yet again.
It’s the same concept as DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1985 (and Convergence, at least in part, is a thirty year Anniversary celebration of that event). For you young’uns who weren’t around, COIE was a 12 issue maxi-series with a very real purpose – to modernize and re-boot the DC Universe and continuity.
To be honest, I think that’s a necessity every so often for every continuity. Over the years, narrative barnacles form on characters and concepts and its good every so often to scrape them off and get back more to the basic concepts that attracted us to the characters/books/universes in the first place. That’s what the movies and TV shows made from comics have been doing – they take what is essential, respecting the source material without being bound to every bit of it, and re-interpreting it and presenting it fresh for a large audience, as if those stories were being created today. Fanboys may protest, fanboys may cry, but nothing remains the same.
IM-not so-HO (to steal from Mindy Newell), that’s a very good thing. It makes the characters and stories accessible to a larger audience, usually a much larger audience. It has the potential to grow the audience for these characters – except that the versions they see on TV or in the movies bear no resemblance to the versions they find in the comics. For example, if you like Chris Hemworth’s Thor and go to the comics, you’ll find Thor is now female. Remember that cool character the Falcon in the last Captain America movie? He now is Captain America.
It’s hard to make the comic characters track with their movie/TV versions but not impossible. When Jan Duursema and I were doing Star Wars set on the time between Episodes II and III before III came out, we had access to an early version of the script for III. We had to sign stiff non-disclosure statements but we were able to make our stories work within that time frame.
Of course, DC has said that the cinema versions of their characters do not match up with the TV versions but Marvel has gone out of its way to make TV and movies all part of one version of the Marvel Universe.
Marvel Comics has always disdained the reboots that DC has done, claiming they don’t need them but, in fact, they do. One of the really interesting aspects of Captain America is that he was frozen at the end of WW2 and wakes up in a modern world. That became a trope that you couldn’t keep repeating as the comics aged; it was no longer the Sixties and having Cap whine about being out of time for 50 years would be very tiresome. But being able to say he was thawed out in our day revives that trope and that makes it interesting again.
Continually re-inventing the characters can make them fuzzy and blurred. I’ve heard artists talking about “noodling” a page to death or erasing your pencils so often that you only get muck on the page. Doctor Strange has suffered that as every new writer coming on wanted to give their version of his origin with the “Everything you thought you knew is wrong!” schtick.
Crisis on Infinite Earths suffered from not having a clear idea of who the characters should be once you finished deconstructing what you had. To my mind, reboots need to get back to core ideas – what is unique about a given character or concept. Write them for modern audiences while capturing their essence which is what many of the movies and TV shows have done.
What will be most important about the two events – Convergence and Secret Wars: Battleworld – is what comes next. How will the companies and their writers and artists re-interpret their classic characters so they seem fresh and new and relevant for the here and now. Capture our loyalty again not with stunts (which may fuel sales but not imaginations) but with new visions of who these classic characters are. Make them familiar and yet new.