Friday, January 27, 2012

4-Star Review for Scratch on Amazon

Another good review of my ebook Scratch appeared on Amazon.

4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific book!January 26, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Scratch (Kindle Edition)
I found this book to be well written, with well defined, intriguing characters and a unique premise. Mr. Wise does a great job of keeping the story moving at a good clip, juggling various story lines, and making the fantastic seem entirely plausible.

The book is very cinematic in its presentation, and played out in my mind's eye as a gripping film.

This was a fun, engaging read, and I'm looking forward to lots more from this author, who reminds me of a young Stephen King. Don't mistake this analogy - Mr. Wise isn't a match (yet) for Mr. King in his prime, but he shows great promise and deals with similar themes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Small Press Interview: Scott Hedlund

Scott Hedlund is a Pittsburgh-based small press comics artist. I first met Scott as a customer at Phantom of the Attic Comics and in the course of the last fourteen years we have become friends and artistic collaborators. Several years ago our mutual friend, writer Brian Babyok, asked if I would ink Scott's pencils on a comic called Chaos Punks. This was a project that was not only a lot of fun, but very seminal for me as well. After many years of not working on comics, this project got me back to the drawing table.

We worked at a rate of a page a week. Each Wednesday on new book day at the store Scott would bring me a new, completed page of pencils. I would return them, fully inked, a week later. This weekly deadline and expectation was a key for both of us in terms of production. Over the course of forty-eight weeks we both grew as artists and learned from each other.

Scott continues to grow as an artist and to work on a number of projects.

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

I like to draw a lot of different genres mainly because I'm interested in story-telling. I typically work with a writer on stories. I think it adds something to comic books to have more than one creative person's input on the project. I like to let the story influence me as far as page layouts and finishing techniques play out. This keeps me entertained and challenged to improve my work. Check out Weirdlings Press ( for most of my comics. Some of the more notable projects that I have contributed to includes: Weirdlings, Chaos Punks, World of Orenda, and Fairhaven.

2) Why comics?

I love the art of telling a story. And drawing comics is one of the easiest forms of expression. I put pencil to paper and I am doing just that. It's very satisfying to me personally and I enjoy the community that goes on with other comic creators and comic fans in general.

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

Ron Frenz was my first favorite comic book artist with his run on Marvel's Star Wars comic. Later I got into John Romita Jr's Daredevil run. Nowadays I'm inspired by people like Terry Moore, Adam Hughes, Yanick Paquette, Edward Risso and Guy Davis. As far as writers go, I like Peter David on X-Factor, Jonathan Hickman on Fantastic Four, Mark Waid on the new Daredevil, Brian Azzarello on 100 Bullets and Wonder Woman, and Scott Snyder on SwampThing.

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

Currently, my favorites include: Swamp Thing, X-Factor, The Walking Dead, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Ultimate Spider-Man, I, Vampire, Justice League Dark, Rachel Rising, Voodoo, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, FF. I don't even want to get in to past comics. There are too many!

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

I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and received a degree in Visual Communications. Drawing comics though pretty much comes from "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" and then I went from there.

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

I guess I answered some of this in question 1 as far as how stories come together. The actual drawing part starts with a script, finished or loose and I break down the script into thumbnail drawings. This part defines story-flow/pace, overall page layout, character positions and space for word balloons. I then move right up to the full-sized 11x17 page and draw in the details. I use reference when possible. A little bit of accuracy doesn't hurt but I am also conscious of keeping the lines loose and I try to avoid stiff poses. In the last year I have been inking and coloring using the Wacom: Cintiq 12 using Adobe Photoshop. Then I do the lettering in Illustrator and place it into the Photoshop file.

7) How do you promote your work?

I promote through social media and person to person. I cohost a Comic Book Podcast called the Comic Book Pitt ( and I make sure to mention any comic projects that I am working on. I use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+, and of course is where most of my work is on display. In person, I go to a handful of comic book shows every year. Whether it's as an exhibitor or fan; I always bring something to give away that mentions my next/current project and what website to go to for more information.

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

I enjoy the story-telling and the community of comic shows. The friendships that I have developed through this common love of the medium are what give me purpose and satisfaction in life.

9) What do you find most difficult about being a comic’s creator?

Probably the long hours it takes to draw a story and the low return financially. I see so many artists that make an easy buck on pinups of established characters. 22 pages of sequential art carries a lower value than one slick image.

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

Ha! Probably telling the story, since I keep blabbing on about it! I think the art should serve the story, but there is an infinite amount of ways to push what works artistically and still tell the story.

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

Honestly I don't see myself succeeding in the professional market. There is a consistency of quality while maintaining a grueling schedule that I don't think I can live up to. Maybe I'm just a realist.

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

I don't have any long term goals beyond next summer's comicon season. I have a few books that need printed. I will be working on a new story in the New Year and I'm excited about drawing it!

13) I've personally seen your work improve dramatically in the past few years. It seems like there was suddenly a point where you made a quantum leap in ability. What do you think happened to make this take place?

Thanks Wayne! That means a lot to me. I could name a few things that happened. I think our team-up on Chaos Punks helped me to improve my line work. Drawing for an inker is a whole other mindset than drawing something that I would ink myself. I also started using some photo references to get the character's looks and personalities down, as well as settings. It could also just be the volume of pages that I have drawn over the years and I finally drew enough bad ones. Ha!

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

Most of what I have drawn can be found at Weirdlings Press ( Also the Comic Book Pitt podcast ( airs pretty regularly. Thanks Wayne!

This is a page from Chaos Punks, written by Brian Babyok,
pencils by Scott and inks by me.
Pencilled panel from Weirdlings

Finished inks and colors by Scott

Pencilled page from Weirdlings

Finished page

Finished page from Weirdlings

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 – The Year in Review

So it seems that New Years is the time to take stock, to look forward by looking back. New Years Eve is an arbitrary demarcation that nonetheless makes most of us review where we've been and make ourselves promises about where we want to go.

If we're honest with ourselves, every year has its share of good and bad. I was surprised at how many posts I read on Facebook from people who were happy to say goodbye to a terrible year. It says something about our perception of events. Don't get me wrong... If you had personal tragedy in your life then the decision to try to move beyond it is a good one. I know lots of people who lost loved ones this year, or went through a divorce or a breakup, or lost a job, and if you are one of them, I am sorry. But these things happen every year. They will happen in 2012 as well. Maybe not to you, but to someone you love. Cycle of life and all that... The secret of looking back and taking stock is to come to terms with what the previous year has taught you about dealing with the issues life inevitably throws at us every year. Simply saying goodbye to what has gone before without making the changes we need to make only guarantees we will suffer many of the same misfortunes in the future.

I personally had a pretty good 2011 (and if you've been reading this blog regularly you might want to skip this part... it's a recap). Not that everything was perfect or that there weren't events I wish I could do differently.

The year started with my opportunity to teach at Chatham University You can read my blog about the experience HERE). Being a college professor, on some level at least, has been a long-time goal, and to finally realize that was a dream come true. But, it wasn't a dream that just fell into my lap. Part of this success of mine in 2011 was due to events I set in motion and work I had done in 2010 (and lots of the years of my life prior to that as well). It was a wonderful experience. One that I hope to get the chance to repeat, at Chatham or elsewhere. I'm not teaching this year, due more to budget constraints than any dissatisfaction with my performance. I'm disappointed because I did truly love the experience. But, if I want it badly enough, and do the work necessary, I will have the opportunity again. My association with Chatham continues, though. One of my students asked me to be on her advisory board for her senior thesis paper, and Chatham agreed to it. It's not a full class like last year, but I am still involved in comics academia, helping out a student I have a tremendous amount of belief in.

Two weeks into the semester the most difficult part of my year began. My mother went into the hospital, which led to an incredibly stressful and difficult month. My parents are both elderly. Dad turned 92 this year and Mom turned 89. Given their ages they are in amazing health, and I am aware, every day, of how lucky and blessed I am to have these amazing people in my life. Without going into a lot of detail, Mom went into the hospital to have a stint installed in a heart valve. That procedure went well, but while she was there she reacted very badly to some of the meds she was on. Her age and some other health considerations led to complications. She was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then transferred to a personal care home for around three weeks. Eventually she went home and resumed her normal routine, and at the moment is in pretty good health. Much better than we would have guessed last spring, anyway.

But while it was going on, in the middle of my first month of teaching, it felt touch and go, and I have rarely been more frightened and sad.

The good and the bad, living side by side, day to day. Just like every year.

I turned 50 this year. It's still hard for me to believe this. I don't feel 50, at least not what people think 50 should feel like when they're younger. Maybe everyone feels that way. I know for some, this kind of milestone is cause for a mid-life crisis, but I felt good about the whole thing. We had a birthday party, mostly organized by my friend and roommate Marcel. It was amazing and humbling and a reminder of how blessed with friends I am. We don't have a specific head count, but somewhere around 80 people showed up, from many different phases of my life. Old friends from high school and my youth, as well as some fairly new friends. I felt embraced by love and camaraderie. It was a little overwhelming, and happy simply isn't an adequate word to describe my feelings that night.

But there was some melancholy as well. As many people as did show up, there were significant absences as well. A few of the most significant people in my life simply couldn't be there, for reasons I completely understand. I'm not upset with any of them for not making it. But their absence at the party reminded me of their absence in my day-to-day life. Once again, this is not meant as a complaint against any of them. Life has taken us to different places, and in most cases it is distance and life responsibilities that kept them away. We are still friends, and the core of our friendships remain. But there are still holes in my life where these people used to be. My feelings there simply boil down to “I miss you.”

I made new friends this year. I met people I really like and enjoy, some of whom may be significant people from this point on. New friends and new relationships have been a part of every year for me. I hope that continues every year. New friends don't fill the holes left by old friends, but they do expand my life and make it more full.

In August I went to Chicago for the first time (and spent time with one of those new friends). It was a great trip and reminded me I need to make the effort to travel at least a little more often than I usually do.

When I got back from the trip I was asked to host an event at the Toonseum, where I had the opprotunity to interview Jerry Robinson, creator of both the Joker and Robin, and one of the legendary pioneers of the comics industry (my blog on that experience is HERE). As it turns out, this may have been Jerry's last interview. I'm sad to report that Jerry died on December 7. Joe Simon, creator of Captain America, died a couple of weeks later. Tough year for comics legends.

The year has been creatively fulfilling for me. I wrote (and got paid for!) a couple of entries for an encyclopedia of comics. If you've been following my blog at all you know I jumped into the world of epublishing. In August I published three complete novels as ebooks, in formats compatible with Kindle, Nook and a variety of other ereaders (take a look at the sidebar for links to each of them, or you can read my blog post about it HERE). It has been a slow build, in terms of promotion, but I'm starting to get reviews (and a couple of small checks from Amazon). Obviously, I believe I write at a professional level, but it's nice to see that reflected in a couple of 5-star reviews.

That said, I spent so much time figuring out the ins and outs of the epublishing business that I didn't actually write as much as I had hoped. I came back to the manuscript for the second book in my Arthurian trilogy, and started a new project about comics that is part history, part academia, and part autobiographical commentary on the topic. Neither went as far as I had hoped. Somewhere around mid-October I hit a creative low-point and haven't really come out of it. It's frustrating, but I also recognize it as part of my life-long pattern of creativity, at least the production end of it. I hit the dead zone, and then spend some time beating myself up for it, which only makes things worse and leads to some depression. Eventually I remember that this is part of the process and just allow myself to lie fallow for awhile. The muse (and my discipline), will return. I just need to time to recharge. The upside of the creative low is that I've got a shit-ton of reading done, so that's always good.

At a holiday party this past Friday there was a little ritual where we were asked to write on a piece of paper the things we wished to say goodbye to in our lives: bad habits, attitudes, beliefs, whatever. We then burned the slip of paper. It's a nice physical manifestation of an interior wish (an act of magic). I had a really tough time coming up with something to write, and I don't know if I'm happy with what I chose. I've thought about it since, and have come up with a few better options. I want to let go of taking the impersonal whims of the universe personally. It's a Buddhist, “letting go of ego” thing. Not the ego that allows me to feel good about myself or my accomplishments, but the ego that makes me crazy about things and events that really have nothing to do with me.

But there are things I don't want to lose, even if they are difficult at times. I wrestle with my creativity, and that can frustrate the hell out of me. But the wrestling is part of the process that leads to good results. There are times I wish I could let go of some of the melancholy that wends its way through my heart, but melancholy, at least for me, is the minor chord of life that gives resonance and depth to everything else. I value my ability to feel, and that needs to embrace all feelings.

More important than what needs to be left behind is what I want to lie before me. I've never been much for New Year's resolutions. Most of them seem to be easily broken and, as a result, not taken seriously. It's not so much about what I want to accomplish in my life in 2012 as about what I hope to manifest for the rest of my life.

Let me nurture and value the family, friends and relationships I have while being open to cultivating new one.

Let me continue to wrestle with my muse and progress in my art, my writing, and my ability to live in a creative and fulfilling way, to be a laureate in the art of living.

Let me be a positive influence, mentor and role model to those around me who see me in that fashion.

Let me balance all that comes my way in the future, the good stuff and the bad, because life guarantees both of those things no matter what I do.

Let me be centered and act in ways that are consistent and rewarding to my innermost self, and let that authenticity in my life bring good things into the world around me and to those I love.

Happy 2012 to everyone. May it be a year that brings better understanding to us all.