Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ready Player One


Last Monday on my lunch break around 1 PM , based on the recommendation of a number of friends, I picked up a copy of the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline from the Carnegie Library. I finished it around 11:30 that same evening. It was a quick read partly due to the writing style, but primarily because of the subject matter. For those who haven't heard of it, the following is the book description, lifted directly from the Amazon page.

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.”

It's a love letter to Geek Culture, very specifically Geek Culture of the 1980's. Not that it can't be enjoyed by someone younger. The setting is a World of Warcraft-like MMO, so anyone who plays modern video games can relate as well. But, for anyone who grew up at that time, listening to that music, watching those movies, and most importantly, standing in arcades playing coin-op video games, this book is a treasure trove of fun nostalgia and cultural touchstones.

I lost count of the obscure references that brought back memories for me. To solve the mystery/puzzle of the game world the characters need encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of Pop Culture topics. When a clue from the movie Bladerunner played a part I flashed back to the summer of 1982 when, working as an intern at the state capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, my friend and mentor Doc Falhaber and I came out of a dark theater feeling drenched and claustrophobic. Thirty years later the oppressive atmosphere of a neon-lit corporate oligarchy has become real life (which, in the reality of the novel, is part of what has led to the state of the world in 2044).

A significant puzzle is solved by knowledge of the lyrics of 2112, the magnum opus from the 1976 album of the same name by the rock band Rush. But not just the lyrics. The original album liner notes included written narration between the various segments of the song. These were not a part of the song and only existed in print. I hadn't thought of that in years but I immediately flashed back to sitting next to my record player, giant headphones clamped over my ears, and reading along with the gatefold album sleeve spread across my lap.

But it was the video games that brought back the most. Though I've played a few, I'm not really a video gamer now (partly because I know how hooked I can get and I simply don't have time in my life... it's a conscious decision on my part to avoid an addiction). But I used to be. I pumped way too many quarters into video games in the 80's. I played them all. I spent hours in game rooms at various malls. There was a Defender machine at Balsalmo's Pizza in Waynesburg, and I got really good at it. A few years later the same game at a pizza shop in Edinboro had a ridiculously low threshold score for winning extra lives. I once walked away from it with over 40 lives left. I simply couldn't play any more.



At that same time Fred and I would make a weekly trip into Erie to get comics. There was a game at the Millcreek Mall called Ry-Gar that we were stupidly obsessed with.




In the book there is a passing mention of a game called Gorf. I actually laughed out loud at the reference, simply because that game is so tied into something that has become a giant part of my life that I had simply forgotten the original video game.



It's like this...

If you go back several posts in this blog you'll read about the origins of the comic Fred and I created, Grey Legacy. The first appearance of the character Shadowlock was in a series of short, comedy novellas we wrote. It was in the fourth book of the series, the only one I wrote the bulk of. The title was Alpha Atari, and a lot of the story was based on our shared obsession with video games at the time. While reading Ready Player One I couldn't help but think of our story. A universe that was based on these video games is something we had written close to thirty years ago. Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying we were ripped off, or that our efforts back then were in any way comparable to what Cline accomplished in this book. We weren't the only ones influenced by this in the 80's. DC Comics released an officially licensed series called Atari Force (with beautiful art by Jose Garcia-Lopez). I was vastly amused at the surface similarities though. Anyway, in our story our heroes, all based on ourselves and our friends of course, travelled to the planet Gorf and had wacky adventures there.

A few years later, when Shadowlock became an actual ongoing concern for us in comic book form, as an inside joke we named his home planet Gorph. That name survived when we changed the title of the book to Grey Legacy and changed our entire approach. On the very first page of the comic the character Lesterfarr begins school at Gorphtek University.



I reference it in the Brix comic and comic strips I did in the last couple of years. Gorph has become such a common setting in the universe Fred and I created for our comics that I had not thought of the actual origin of the name for many years.

One note of complaint about Ready Player One, and this comes very specifically from my comic book back ground.

In the novel there is a reference to an 80's era video game called Swordquest. The premise of the novel is that there is a puzzle hidden within the game world and the first person to solve it wins untold riches. Swordquest was an actual game with the same premise. The first person to solve the riddle of the video game would win a prize, the "Talisman of Penultimate Truth." This was an actual prize, created out of gold and jewels and valued at around $25,000 at the time. It was won by a guy from Detroit named Steven Bell. I played Swordquest once or twice. My friend David Ealy owned the game and I spent a couple of days at his house, playing the game and poring over the clues, many of which were contained in a comic book that came with the game.

And here's where my problem with the book comes in. The premise of the entire novel is that knowledge of obscure Geek Culture references were essential to winning the game, and there are countless examples of references to game designers and movie stars, but when the Swordquest comic is mentioned there is no mention its creators. The comics were written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, and drawn and inked by George PĂ©rez and Dick Giordano. These are all legendary names in the history of comics, and in a book that celebrates Geek Culture, the comic book guys still got ignored. It's a really minor gripe based on my own interests, and I really recommend the book, but would it have killed the author to give credit where credit is due in the world of comics, just like he did with every other topic in the book?

Anyway, go read it. It's a lot of fun. One of the most purely entertaining reads I've had this year.

For the Novel


For the Kindle Edition

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review!

I received my first review for Scratch on Amazon. You can see it on the Amazon book page HERE.


Or, you can read it here.




5.0 out of 5 stars Good solid entry into the horror/fantasy arena, December 14, 2011

By iloveclones - See all my reviews

This review is from: Scratch (Kindle Edition)

Scratch is my first foray into Amazon's program in self-publishing. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend who knows I like this kind of fiction (horror/fantasy) and because the beginning takes place in a location I'm well familiar with: Pittsburgh Pa, specifically Oakland, the area containing University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. Anyone who has ever gone to school here will get a kick out of a VERY accurate footchase from Craig St past the Cathedral of Learning and Carnegie library, and into Schenley Park!

Scratch is a story of a town (Canaan, West Virginia...that one appears to be a fiction, if Google Maps is correct) that is hiding a secret (two actually). It seems some of their ancestors bound a healing angel Gabrielle(and her not so healing brother, Scratch) a century ago. They've been using her to heal their nicks and bruises over the years. It seems a town with a secret like this is prone to some pretty decent nicks and bruises, and would do anything to keep their secret.

The book moves along briskly, but gets bogged down a bit in some dream sequences that I personally am never fond of. The characters are an interesting mix. My one complaint is that I wished that a little more time were spent fleshing them out a bit more. It can be a trick to make "bad guys" sympathetic and vice versa, but I think it was pulled off here.

By book's end, there's a hint of what Gabrielle and Scratch's nature is, and I would like to see a little more. Maybe a sequel.

I'll definitely give Mr Wise's other books a whirl (In fact, the price alone got me to send a digital copy to my friend, another ex-Pittsburgher living in LA)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Old Time Rock and Roll

Earlier this year I purchased a music CD at an antique mall. Okay, to be fair, there were only a small handful of CD's in a booth that specialized in vinyl records, but yeah... CD's are now antiques.

Of course this had the effect of making me feel old. It hasn't been that long since they were the brand new technology that everyone was either excited about or dismissive of (“they'll never replace vinyl!”). The band Big Black referred to CD's as the “Rich man's 8-track,” comparing them, of course to a format that had a very short duration. A mere 20 years later and Big Black was right. I remember the first time I ever heard a CD. I was in grad school at the time (this would have been fall of 1987, the evening of December 4th specifically... I have other reasons to remember the date). I was living with a group of guys in a college apartment. One of my roommates had an amazing and enviable record collection comprised of tons of bands I had never heard of before. Though I had always been a music fan this was a musical awakening for me that has forever changed the way I listen to and consume music. But it was vinyl. I had gone to a friend's house for dinner one evening. They had an enormous, state of the art stereo system with, of all things, a CD player. At this point I was barely aware the technology existed. I had seen a few of the small jewel boxes, imports mostly, on the counter at the Record Den (one of the best music stores I've ever frequented), but really knew very little about them. We put on a CD, something classical that I can't name, and laid down on the floor to listen. The clarity of the sound, and the vibrations I felt through the floor beneath me just simply blew me away.

A year later, with money made from my first post-grad school real job, I had my own expensive stereo system with a CD player. This system also had a turntable and a cassette player, but I made the transition to CD's pretty quickly. I understand those record collectors who maintain that the sound of vinyl is warmer than digital music, but for me personally, I simply didn't miss the scratches and hissing that accompanied records. I bought not only new CD's but I spent a lot of money replacing my vinyl collection in this new format (I bought Cheap Trick's Heaven Tonight on vinyl, cassette, and CD... You're welcome, Robin Zander).

There were things I missed. I loved album covers and the liner notes that came with them. The new format changed that experience, but this was not really a detriment to my collecting.

I used to love going record shopping. Before CD's I would dig through album bins looking for new releases and checking out records. Digging through used album bins was always a treat. In the 80's, before I moved to Pittsburgh, friends and I would periodically make Saturday pilgrimages to go comics and record shopping. We would stop at Phantom of the Attic in Oakland (where I now work) for comics, and then hit Eide's for records and comics both. Eventually we discovered Jerry's Used Records in Oakland and Jim's Records in Bloomfield. Jim's eventually became Paul's CDs. In either version it was, for my tastes, hands down the best record store, new and used, ever. In all of my travels to other cities I would always compare record stores and comics shops to Paul's and Phantom of the Attic and everyone else always came up short. There was a lifestyle here that was beautifully captured by High Fidelity, both the movie and the book.

But times change. Money gets short and hobbies suffer. I eventually stopped buying vinyl entirely. Phantom of the Attic helped open a new record store, Brave New World, where I received an employee discount. As much as I loved Paul's CD's, budget led me to buying most of my new music where it cost me less. I would still go to Paul's to browse and buy from the Used section, but my visits became less and less frequent, to the point where I began to feel guilty when I did go.

Then the mp3 digital revolution began. I was resistant to the idea of the Ipod when it first came out. Like a lot of technology, I didn't really understand just how revolutionary it was until I had one.

I really never bought a lot of digital music. Some, certainly, but Itunes never claimed a lot of my money. I ripped all of my old CD's and created digital files, so my actual CD's began to just sit on the shelf. I would still buy new CD's, but I would immediately rip them to mp3, so the disc and the jewel case and the liner notes just got filed away. I borrowed CD's from friends and ripped them. I did some downloads of questionable legality. CD's became expensive, and I just didn't go shopping for it the way I once did.

The music began to exist at more of a distance from me. In my teens I would sit and listen to an album while reading the lyrics included with an album, or looking at the album art. The packaging was part of the initial experience of new music, engaging more of my senses. That became less and less true. As a result, very little music of the last decade or so has had the kind of lasting impact on me that earlier music did. Some of that is where I am in life. I simply don't have the time to dedicate to the hobby I once did. I'm not a 14 year old, just forming musical tastes that will accompany me for the rest of my life. But I am still always hungry for something new.

Even though I haven't had a working turntable in years the used record booth at the antique mall reminded me of the old days of record shopping. What drew my eye in the first place was a record sleeve, one of many, displayed on a rack on the wall. Adolescent Sex, the very first album by the post-glam, pre-punk, New Romantic band Japan (and all of those labels are used in a pretty tongue-in-cheek fashion).

Japan was one of the bands I was introduced to by my roommate with the amazing record collection, and their album Tin Drum was the first import CD I ever bought (at Jim's Records). For a long time their first two albums were not available on CD in America. I had bought the second one on vinyl but hadn't listened to it in years.

No turntable... Remember?

Seeing Adolescent Sex in Washington, Pa was surprising, simply because Japan is not a band I expect to find very readily anywhere, let alone displayed at an antique mall record stall. For a moment it brought back all of the excitement of the old days when I would find an unexpected treasure for my collection. The fact that this was something I had never owned only heightened the sensation. I realized how much I miss this aspect of my hobby. I miss the hunt and the unexpected find.

I didn't buy it because I have no way of playing it. When I returned home I started doing some web searches and within ten minutes found a source to download the album. I now have the music, after all these years, but it was a little anti-climactic.

Before I go on, I want to say that I know I could have continued to have this experience. Paul's CD's is still here. Jerry's Used Records is still considered one of the best sources of vinyl anywhere. I have a lot of friends who still buy and sell used vinyl and are still actively engaged in this hobby. I'm the one who stopped participating because of finances and the convenience of changing technology.

Sometime in the last year or so the comedian Patton Oswalt wrote an article for Wired Magazine called “Wake Up Geek Culture, Time to Die” in which he addressed this type of cultural change in geek hobbies (and I count record collecting as one of them). He talked about how there was a time when, if you were involved in any of these specialty hobbies part of the thrill of them was the outsider status and how tracking down and finding obscure memorabilia was part of the whole experience. He introduced the concept of ETEWAF - “Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.” With current technology and internet access, finding obscure memorabilia has become easy. Looking for a rare Star Wars action figure? Go to Ebay. Want to buy Adolescent Sex, the first album by Japan? There it is. Nothing is rare, and maybe, because of that, it no longer has any meaning. When friends and I were record shopping and that copy of The Gift of Music by the Jazz Butcher turned up in a used CD bin it was cause for celebration and created memories we still share. Now, anyone can have it.

Which brings me to a new online experience called Spotify. I've just started using it and already I can see that this is the direction the consumption of music is going to go (I may be wrong... I don't claim to be a futurist). It works like this. For a $9.99 a month fee you have unlimited access to streaming music (there are free options as well that involve advertising and some other restrictions). You can create playlists, listen to entire albums or single songs, streaming over your computer with a pretty amazing sound quality. You can make any of these available for play on your Ipod or other mobile devices even when you are not connected to the internet. In the last month I have listened to old albums I haven't heard in years. I've gone back and heard albums I completely missed. I've listened to new releases on the day the CD came out. I've explored some Blues and Jazz artists I have always heard of but never listened to.

And while I was thinking about this blog post I looked up Adolescent Sex by Japan, and looky there... It's available. I'm streaming it on Spotify as I write these words. You can listen while you read.

Japan – Adolescent Sex

The Spotify catalog, while not complete, is extensive. It's a different approach to the concept of ownership when it comes to music. You don't download songs. You can't burn the mp3's to disc. I don't “own” any of the music, but it's always available. It's like streaming Netflix, only with music. I don't need to own the music if I have access to it.

Which makes me feel a little guilty. I realize that my buying habits when it comes to music are partially responsible for the death of the brick and mortar record stores I used to haunt and love. Word on the street is that Paul's CDs is undergoing a significant change in the near future, and while I haven't shopped there in ages I maintain that it was the best music store ever, and its loss is a loss to our community and the culture of music.

And I contributed to that, simply by moving along with the inevitable changes in technology and the results of those changes.

And in the news recently is the announcement that most big record companies plan on discontinuing the manufacture of CD's by the end of 2012.

And though I know I will continue on my current path and will never really recapture the old feeling for more than brief moments, I'll still miss the days when I did participate. It wasn't just about the music or the collection. It was part of a lifestyle and something I shared with some very specific friends. That's the stuff that has really changed. The way of life that was so well represented by High Fidelity just doesn't exist in the same way it did before, at least for me. There are certainly people who are keeping it alive in small ways. There are still good record stores out there, and I encourage anyone with an interest to check them out. The biggest loss the closing stores represent is the shared community. Online message boards and blogs just can't replace the experiences of actually being there and participating. I miss it and at the same time know I'll never really go back to it in the same way. That probably makes me a hypocrite in some ways.

But while I appreciate what went before, and miss it, I also recognize that the tides of progress will continue, and every new technology creates casualties. Appreciating the old is very different than the inability to adapt to the new.

That's what creates antiques.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review!

I received my first book review for Bedivere: The King's Right Hand, and it's 5 stars! You can see it near the bottom of the Barnes and Noble page for the book HERE.
Or for convenience, just read it here.

Excellent- highly recommended

I've read many versions of the Arthurian story and this ranks with the best. The author has done an excellent job of weaving together traditional legends with original storytelling. The characters are well-drawn and fleshed out. and the action kept me turning the pages even when I should have been studying for a test. I particularly liked the way he acknowledged the opposing forces at work - pagan vs. christian, masculine vs. feminine - using the tensions to move the story with out taking over the story. All in all, an excellent effort. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Small Press Interview - Nick Marino

Nick Marino is a Pittsburgh-based creator involved in a wide variety of comics related endeavors. He is a writer, an artist, and a podcaster, among many other things. Nick stays very active in the small press scene in Pittsburgh, working with an assortment of other artists. He's up for this installment of my small press interviews. You can see samples of Nick's work at the end of the interview.

1) Tell us a bit about your comics and where they are available.

Super Haters is an irreverent superhero satire webcomic that runs Monday-Friday. http://comics.superhaters.com/

Time Log is an (almost completed) weekly webcomic about time travel and music history that runs (somewhat) weekly on Thursdays. http://timelog.audioshocker.com/

Stick Cats is webcomic about stick figure cats that's just been bumped up to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. http://stickcats.nickmarino.net/

And those are just my current webcomics... you can check out more about my past, future, and side projects (as well as my print comics) at NickMarino.net. http://www.nickmarino.net/

2) Why comics?

Time and space.

3) Who have been your biggest influences, both in writing and in art?

I have two types of influences -- professionals whose work I find inspirational and friends whose work I find compelling.

Friends go first because they're the most important! They include Shawn Atkins, Ross Campbell, Dan Greenwald, Justique Woolridge, Nate McDonough, and lots of other local Pittsburgh comics creators.

The professionals I'm inspired by are a mix of superhero comic book storytellers, cartoonists, and comedians. They include Matt Groening, Max Cannon, Jim Starlin, Grant Morrison, Chris Bachalo, Chris Giarrusso, Zucker Abrahams Zucker, Bob Layton, Chris Claremont, Paul Fusco, Dave Chappelle, Tim Meadows, and the Farrelly Brothers.

4) What are your favorite comics (whether you consider them influential on your style or not)?

I love all comics!

Okay, not really. But I do appreciate all kinds of comics, even if I don't love every single story. My favorite works inspire deep thought, push my imagination to new limits, and tug at my heartstrings.

So, basically, Garfield.

Just kidding! Although I do appreciate the more ambitious Garfield strips, here are a few of my favorite comics: We3, The Thanos Quest, R. Crumb's "Joe Blow," and Ral Grad.

5) Have you studied art or writing in college, or are you self-taught?

I never studied creative writing in a classroom, though I've done extensive independent research on character and story structure. However, I did take screenwriting classes in college. I enjoyed those because they were technical -- they focused on formatting and pacing.

As for art, I studied drawing off and on for years. I learned enough to know the basic elements of anatomy and composition, despite the fact that I like to ignore most of that when I sit down to draw.

In general, I've had a hard time learning creative skills in the classroom. I've studied graphic design, animation, filmmaking, cartooning, and illustration throughout the years, and I've found the school setting to be very discouraging.

But I love learning through trial and error! (Mostly error...)

6) What’s your normal process for creating your comic?

"Normal" process? HAHAHA!

I have no one process for creating comics. Each one of my comics has a different creation process, and even those evolve over time.

I tend to be very collaborative, so I'm often consulting other writers and artists from the beginning. I also do most of my writing and art digitally, especially for Super Haters. In particular, I like to write in Google Docs because it affords me the ability to work from anywhere with an Internet connection.

I tend to draw on paper and scan it in. Then I tweak the lines on the computer. I normally draw in ink and skip the penciling stage. I've never liked pencils. They're too smudgy and gray. Yuck! Most of the time, I letter and color digitally. I've never enjoyed doing either of those on paper.

But I'm generalizing. There's no single process that I use over and over again. For example, Stick Cats was created as a reaction to my reliance on digital methods. So I write that one as I draw it and I do everything by hand on paper.

As for comics that I only write and don't draw, my story proicess goes something like this: I identify my beginning and end first. Sometimes I'll outline, sometime I won't. I do A LOT of research when I write. I enjoy that part.

I typically write the first draft of my story in loose prose. Then I edit things and tighten up the pacing as I convert the story into script format. From there, I'll edit another couple of times before I give an artist my finished script.

7) How do you promote your work?

Relentlessly! Mostly through the Internet. I link to my comics from every social media imaginable. I also podcast about my comics work, and interact on message boards and blogs about other comics.

In person, I do conventions. I drop my books off in stores when I have a new title, or if I'm in a new city. In Pittsburgh, I stay extremely active in the local comics scene, working to promote my comics by simply being everywhere that I possibly can!

8) What do you enjoy most about being a comics creator?

I love telling stories, and I love the way that comics carry my stories. More than anything else, I delight in the finished product. I enjoy promotion, although it's daunting. And I love creating!!! It's so hard to pick just a few things that I enjoy because I enjoy so much about creating comics.

9) What do you find most difficult about being a comics creator?

The printing process. It's frustrating, time consuming, and expensive.

Also, I sort of hate drawing. But not nearly as much as I hate printing!!!

10) What's more important to you: Telling a story or pushing the bounds of comic book art?

Storytelling. If I push the boundaries in the process, then that's an added bonus.

11) Why self publish instead of submitting your work to the majors?

Most of my work is "not ready for prime time" either in its themes, content, or quality. However, I'm still pretty new at self-publishing -- I just printed my first minicomic in 2008.

I have plenty of plans for submitting my work to publishing houses. I'm not sure that I'll be going to the "majors" (at least, not off the bat), but I'll definitely be approaching smaller publishing companies within the next few months.

12) What are your long-term goals with comics?

Creatively, my goal is to tell stories that resonate with readers and excite them to pick up more of my work. Professionally, my goal is to forge a sustainable, lucrative career by publishing a large body of work that meets my creative goal.

13) You are pretty heavily involved in the world of podcasting, about comics as well as other topics. What can you tell me about that? What got you interested in that in the first place?

I love working with audio, and I have long history of recording and editing. In the early 00s, my friend and I tried to start an "audio magazine," but it never really got off the ground.

Years later, I discovered comic book podcasts. Inspired by what I heard and aching to put my stamp on the medium, I contacted my friend and we revived our "audio magazine" idea as a general pop culture podcast in 2007. We've been going weekly at AudioShocker.com ever since. http://www.audioshocker.com/

However, I struggled for years to find the right podcast forum to discuss comics on a regular basis. After tons of trial and error, I settled on two shows that focus on comics creation -- Sequential Underground and A Podcast with Ross and Nick.

14) Where can you be found you on the web if anyone wants more info?

NickMarino.net is the best place to find links to all of my work, as well as links to my social media profiles. http://www.nickmarino.net/

Also make sure to stop by the AudioShocker and give us a listen! In particular, make sure to check out Wayne's recent guest appearance on Sequential Underground #25. You dropped some serious self-publishing knowledge on that episode, Wayne!!! http://www.audioshocker.com/2011/09/21/sequential-underground-25-self-publishing-with-wayne-wise

Time Log
Taste of the Sea
Super Haters
Stick Cats

Monday, October 24, 2011

This Creature Fair Interview

Another interview with me has been posted online. This one is primarily about This Creature Fair.
Check it out at:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Small Press Interview - Marcel Walker

So in an effort to create more content for my blog I have decided to take advantage of the wide network of friends I have who self-publish in the comics field. I plan on submitting a list of interview questions about their comics to many of them. My goal here is two-fold. First is the completely self-serving desire to offer content and hopefully drive new traffic to my blog. The second is to highlight and promote work by people I genuinely admire. The questions below are a pretty standard list. As I move on with this project I will probably vary this to suit the various artists and writers I talk with. If you're interested in being a part of this, drop me a line.

First up is my guinea pig for this project, Marcel Walker. Marcel is a long-time friend and sometimes collaborator. He is the artist who took my little doodles and turned them into book covers for Scratch and This Creature Fair. I'll let him describe his work. Below the interview are a series of images showing his working process from initial rough sketch to full color final product.

Without further adieu, Marcel Walker...

  1. Tell us a bit about your comics and where they are available.

The comic-book I was most well-known for, until the last year or so, was SMOKING GUNS, a mash-up of personal interests (noir-ish detective stories amidst a futuristic setting, at once idealistic and dystopian); currently I’m working on HERO CORP., INTERNATIONAL, a more ambitious project from the ground up. It’s to be a six-issue mini-series, following meta-agents (i.e. super-heroes) who work in a corporate environment, much like those we work for in the real world.

Currently, you can find my book in comic-book stores in Pittsburgh (notably PHANTOM OF THE ATTIC in Oakland and BILL & WALT’S in Downtown) and Chicago (at CHICAGO COMICS). It is also available online from COMIXPRESS.COM.

  1. Why comics?

After I first read comic-books, it wasn’t gonna be anything else! I’ve found emotional touchpoints and methods of expression with graphic prose that are impossible to achieve within any other medium. That’s not meant as an insult to those other media; it’s just a fact. On some level, I enjoy exploring all forms of narrative and storytelling, and I feel a kinship with creators of all kinds.

But comics? I cut my teeth on them. I know them like I’ll never know anything else. And it’s a medium where you’re only limited by imagination and talent…and if you want to, you can do EVERYTHING to tell your stories, if you’re determined enough!

  1. Who have been your biggest influences, both in writing and in art?

Inside of the comic-book field, Will Eisner represents what I most aspire towards. He had singular vision and foresight, tempered with practical sensibilities, and he was dedicated to the preservation of his craft. As both writer and artist, he was clearly a master of his medium, and his career stands as a testament to the power of sequential art. Otherwise…

Art: Curt Swan, Brian Bolland, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Don Newton, John Romita, Sr., John Buscema

Writing: Elliot S! Maggin, Denny O’Neil, Alan Moore (of course!), Mark Waid, Marv Wolfman

Outside of the comic-book field, the influences are vast. However, I’m firmly of the opinion that Michelangelo would have made the BEST comic-book artist ever. And the first four books by S.E. Hinton really put the notion into my head that I NEEDED to start writing.

  1. What are your favorite comics (whether you consider them influential on your style or not)?

I like comics that reflect a specific sensibility. AMERICAN FLAGG by Howard Chaykin is an all-time favorite. I also liked his revisionist take on THE SHADOW during the ‘80s. Concurrently, I was a big fan of JON SABLE: FREELANCE by Mike Grell. (I’m showing my age with these answers, I know!) The first six or seven issues of THRILLER by Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden were great. I enjoyed the full run of HITMAN by Garth Ennis and John McCrea.

Alan Moore has such a reverent-yet-revisionist take on characters, I have a fondness for a lot of his writing. His THE KILLING JOKE is arguably my favorite comic of all time. (Also, you just can’t beat Brian Bolland for drawing anything!) WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW? likewise strikes some deeply emotional chords with me.

I can also never forget to mention Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s ALL-STAR SUPERMAN…’cause that’s how you make some comics, folks!

  1. Have you studied art or writing in college, or are you self-taught?

I graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in late 1989, having ironically attended in-between periods when they offered comic-book illustration as part of the curriculum. Other than that, I’ve learned from observation and dedication, and artists who have been gracious enough to allow me into their studios. “Self-taught” is something of a deceptive phrase – we all learn from someone else; it’s just a matter of picking the correct teachers, and being an attentive student.

  1. What’s your normal process for creating your comic?

It always starts with an idea…and sometimes they germinate for YEARS, during which time I’ll write notes and draw sketches. But once it’s time to get down to business, I tend to be pretty methodical. The current routine is to start with a scroll of paper thrown onto the floor of the studio, and laying out a story in black marker. This is the most free-form part of the process for me, and I’ll do everything from character design to page layouts to scripting dialogue to plotting future issues at this stage.

This may take a full day or two, and then I’ll create tighter individual thumbnail layouts from the best of my rough marker layouts. I scan and print these pencil layouts at the full 11” x 17” size, and they then become the basis for the full pencil artwork. I lightbox and finish the thumbnails to retain the looseness and “snap” from the original idea.

I then ink traditionally with a brush and Higgins ink. (I keep other inking tools around as well though, like tech pens and quill pens. One never knows…) The artwork is scanned and cleaned up in PhotoShop, then I add lettering in Illustrator. I know purists decry anything other than hand lettering, but I save that for specific things or effects.

My hands-on approach has also led me to print some of my own books as well. It’s safe to say I know a little something about do-it-yourself comics!

  1. How do you promote your work?

Honestly, not frequently enough! (Although, I also only promote when I’ve got something to promote, so that’s the hard part – keeping the work flowing.) I have the requisite aFcebook page for HERO CORP., INT’L, as well as a blog. The best networking though is just getting out into the world and meeting people, and being as fearless about that as possible. I try to attend conventions and expos whenever possible, even just as an attendee, and talk to other creators. I tend to spread the word about my stuff pretty thick when I’ve got something new to promote, and I’m not shy about it.

Often though, I’ve found good work tends to promote itself. Just over the last few days, some people who I thought knew I made comics found out about H.C.I., and asked for copies. I would have never predicted their enthusiasm! Apparently, they were passing them around between coworkers, because I had other people complimenting the work all day. THAT’S a great feeling!

  1. What do you enjoy most about being a comics creator?

Autonomy.

  1. What do you find most difficult about being a comics creator?

Autonomy.

  1. What's more important to you: Telling a story or pushing the bounds of comic book art?

That’s kind of like asking a parent, “Which of your kids do you love most?” The best answer I can give is one I heard a parent give in regards to child rearing: I love them both equally, but sometimes one will require more attention than the other.

  1. Why self publish instead of submitting your work to the majors? Have you done both?

If you’re familiar with my continuity (and if not, read the back-issues!), you know about my history of pitching to the majors. That said, I believe continual self-publishing, with an eye toward always improving your craft, is the most assured path toward finding work with a major publisher.

That said, in this day and age, with so many avenues of publishing available, self publishing opens up a LOT of avenues. Being creative doesn’t have to stop with the printed page anymore.

  1. What are your long-term goals with comics?

A self-sustaining career that flourishes.

  1. Where can you be found on the web if anyone wants more info?

Find me on that Facebook-thing. Or contact me at MagnificentMarcel@gmail.com. Or run my name through a search engine. I’m a pretty big deal; you can’t miss me!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Pittsburgh Toonseum is one of only three museums in the United States dedicated to the cartoon arts. This is a great, short documentary that just happens to feature me, along with a number of other awesome people from the Pittsburgh comics scene.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Author interview

David Wiseheart has posted an author interview with me about Scratch on his blog. You can read it at http://kindle-author.blogspot.com/2011/10/kindle-author-interview-wayne-wise.html?spref=tw
Poke around while you're there to discover a lot of new authors. He's providing a lot of press and promotion for Ebooks, as well as information on the whole topic. You can check out his books as well.
Thanks Dave!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

David Bowie: Starman

I just finished reading David Bowie: Starman by Paul Trynka. What follows isn't a review as much as it is personal observations.

Anyone who knows me knows that I've been a music fan from a very early age. It accompanies me every day. I listen at work. I listen in the car. I listen when I'm writing. I'm listening to an obscure Bowie release right now (In Bertolt Brecht's Baal). I'm a fan of music, but as a part of that I have always been a fan of the musicians. For me to really get into a band or musician I need to be fascinated by them as people. I follow careers.

I'm just young enough to have missed the whole Glam era of David Bowie, and as much as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is respected now it wasn't a massive hit in the United States when it was released. I didn't become aware of Bowie until his single, Rebel, Rebel was released in 1974. The opening guitar riff of that song is one of the key moments that made me a rock and roll fan. The other was the opening of Alice Cooper's School's Out. Nothing can make me twelve again like hearing either of those.

I bought Rebel, Rebel and played it over and over on my tiny, mono speaker record player. The b-side was the song Lady Grinning Soul. At the time this song did nothing for me. I think I only played it through a couple of times. Now I love it. I was thrilled to see this was the song that Dakota Fanning, as Cherie Currie, lip-synched in full Aladdin Sane makeup in The Runaways.

I saw very few pictures of Bowie during his glam years back then. Diamond Dogs was the first album of his I was consciously aware of. Either he wasn't getting a lot of coverage in the music mags I was reading or he had moved into his Thin White Duke persona by then, wearing tailored suits instead of colorful spaceman outfits and makeup. If I had seen the Ziggy or Aladdin Sane outfits I'm sure I would have bought the albums. I'm pretty aware that it was the costumes and makeup that made me interested in Alice Cooper, KISS, and even Elton John at the time.

I bought the single for Fame and even then I think I would have listed it as one of my favorite songs of the era. But for some reason, as I moved on into buying albums instead of singles, I never picked up a Bowie album. At the time I was most into KISS and Queen, Bowie was recording his Berlin trilogy of albums, Low, Heroes, and Lodger. The singles from these didn't get a lot of airplay in my market then, and even if they did, these albums were so experimental that I don't think my 1970's KISS-addled Rock and Roll brain would have appreciated them.

Around 1980 I bought a used, dull primer gray-colored Ford Granada with an 8-Track player built in. The previous owner had left his copy of Heroes in the dash. This was the first time I ever listened to an entire Bowie album. Like I said, it was experimental, and not what I was used to at all. But something about it clicked. I loved the album, weird instrumentals and all. The song Heroes quickly became a favorite and remains one to this day.

Even then 8-track players were becoming a thing of the past, and I installed a cassette player. Most of what I played in it were home recordings of the vinyl albums I owned, but I did purchase a few new cassettes. Ziggy Stardust was among them. Somewhere in there it became a desert-island album for me, one of the few records in my life that I think of as a perfect album (and I recognize how debatable that statement is about any album).

But I still didn't really go back and explore his career or catalog. He was always there in some form, but for some reason he remained on the periphery of my musical life. In one of my early excursions into the world of dance clubs and bars a friend and I went to a club in Wheeling called Tin Pan Alley. There was a lighted dance floor straight out of Saturday Night Fever, playing all the disco hits. I settled into a chair in the smoky attic room and listened to a cover band. The only song of theirs I remember is Space Oddity (Ground Control to Major Tom). I did buy that album around then, along with Aladdin Sane.

Bowie was part of the video revolution of the 80's. I remember seeing the videos for Let's Dance and Ashes to Ashes and liking them. I loved the song Blue Jean and remember seeing the extended 20-plus minute short film. I cracked up at the antics of Bowie and Mick Jagger trying to outdo each others mugging for the camera in their Dancing in the Streets video (which I remember first seeing on the big screen in a theater for some reason).

I saw Bowie on his 1990 Sound and Vision tour, billed as the last time he would ever perform his hit songs. That wasn't true of course. This was my first trip to the Star Lake Amphitheater. The show was amazing.

Finally, as part of the CD revolution, I started going back and picking up Bowie's back catalog of records. They were being released with tons of extra tracks, so my timing was good. In the intervening years I've become a little obsessive and have most of his available work.

Back to the book.

I enjoyed the read. Bowie is a complex person, and I don't think I know him any better now than I did before. But that seems to be part of the theme of the book. Lots of people who know Bowie don't seem to know him very well. I don't read a lot of biographies, so I don't know how this one stacks up. There was a lot of information, and reading what was going on at the time of the recording of the various albums gave me new insights into a lot of the songs.

But, what I found most interesting wasn't inherent in the book itself, but the multimedia experience it became for me thanks to modern technology. In the introduction Trynka describes an early appearance of Bowie performing Starman on Top of the Pops in Great Britain and the effect it had on the country and an entire generation of viewers. He described it in great detail: the costumes, the implied bisexuality, Bowie wrapping an arm around guitarist Mick Ronson. While reading I wished I could watch the video. I quickly realized that thanks to YouTube, I could.

This proved true throughout my reading of the book. I had seen many of the videos, of course, but it was fascinating to read of some specific performance and then to be able to watch it immediately. This added greatly to my enjoyment of the book. I read about Bowie's coke-infused appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, and then saw it for myself. In the section that described the writing of the song Jean Genie the point was made that the guitar riff came straight from the Yardbirds version of Muddy Waters song Mannish Boy. The musicians were afraid to release it, but did so anyway. Three months later, glam band The Sweet released their song Blockbuster with the same riff. Thanks to YouTUbe I watched Muddy Waters, then the Yardbirds, then Jean Genie, followed by Blockbuster. These are all songs I'm very familiar with but hearing the musical throughline once it was pointed out to me was amazing.

If you're a Bowie fan, I recommend the book. Keep your computer nearby to enhance your experience of it. Someday books like this will have these things embedded right in the text (like I've done a little bit of in this blog).