Stepping Away from Comics, Directly

This past week, a friend posted a video of a friendly local comic shop/bookstore. Used books are stuffed into every conceivable bit of shelf space, surrounding long boxes of comic book back issues, with memorabilia and figurines placed in strategic –and sometimes haphazard– locations. It’s almost archetypical for what you’d imagine a used bookstore/comic shop to be.

A week earlier, I stepped into that same comic shop for, if not the very last time, my last time regularly.

The reason I went there regularly — and in fact had been a “regular” for a good chunk of the past 30 years — was because I had a pullbox. For those who don’t know that term, I essentially had subscriptions to a variety of comics and I’d go into this shop every month or so and pick them up where they’d been kindly setting them aside.

That’s over.

It’s sad, but in a sense, it’s been a long time coming. For years I’ve stared at the $3.99 price tag on most single issues of comics these days and told myself that this was untenable. If a story was good, it would appear in much more affordable trade paperback form. Indeed, most comic runs these days seem to be in six-issue arcs so as to make trade paperbacks a more effortless part of the ecosystem. I’ve enjoyed Saga in this form for years now. Nevertheless, it’s the end of an era on the personal level, though not the first step in that direction.

My first step away from comics was around college, an ancient time technically not before Internet, but for the most part pre-Internet browser. In going to college, I abandoned my subscriptions to the omnipresent superhero offerings and have since come to understand how that has left gaping holes in my general comics-related pop culture knowledge. I’m certain there are no end of characters and storylines familiar to many that are completely new from my experience.

How far-reaching is this? Let me put it to you this way: Harley Quinn is a new character for me.

Lest you feel bad for me in any way, let me assure you I’ve found this to be a benefit as I watch the myriad superhero films and TV series. I have more than a little knowledge of who most of the central characters are (e.g. Green Arrow, The Flash), but pretty much no knowledge of the past 25+ years of established Marvel or DC canon (which they seem to blow up with regularity anyway). In this fashion, I’m able to enjoy countless adaptations of characters and storylines without any worry about their fidelity to the comic version.

But I’m not unaware of how the comics industry, which has given rise to the current juggernaut trend in entertainment, is failing — and may fail to even continue to be the “content farm system” it essentially is for the more lucrative divisions of its parent companies. And what does that mean for the future of superhero films and TV shows? What does this mean for comics publishing in general.

Augie De Blieck Jr. over at Pipeline Comics has a sober look at how the comics industry, which on the whole uses a business model called “the direct market” is, for lack of a better term, imploding. While it’s not necessarily a death knell for comics overall, not seeing a meaningful move en masse to a new business model is dispiriting. I suppose everything could go digital and maybe that’s the big move, but while I’ve gotten digital comics, especially when that’s the place to support indie efforts, I find a surge of luddite sensibilities at the thought of abandoning print comics altogether.

Part of the overall morose feeling is that I know I won’t pursue comic writing any time soon. There was a time when I was sure I’d be diving into comic writing and creating. I’d still love to see a version of The Broken Continent in comic form, that could continue the story more economically than our web series could. But that doesn’t seem likely given indie comics’ own challenges at being profitable.

But for now, I’m a reader of comics only… and only an occasional one at that.

The Show is Dead. Long Live the Show.

Okay, so what with streaming services, shorter TV seasons, and season premieres popping up whenever there’s a quiet moment, this list from the Hollywood Reporter doesn’t carry the same import, but I still find it interesting look over what’s been renewed, what’s ending, and what’s precariously on the bubble in terms of TV shows.

Depressing Plot Twist: Comic Book Edition

The other week, I saw an article from a local news station in Michigan about an established comic book artist who was now homeless.

The article mentioned that the comic artist was one-armed — and I knew it must be William Messner-Loebs.

This was depressing.

Although the article talked about him as a comic book artist (and the link above has a video where you see how skilled he is), I first came to know him as a comic book writer. Indeed, I first learned his name when he was the writer on the Jonny Quest comic in the late 80s. I’m overdue for re-reading it, but I am comfortable in saying it’s easily within my top ten favorite comic series of all time. Yes, I have read [insert your favorite mainstream comic here]. That may or may not make the list. Barring some awful discovery of how times have changed in the past 30 years that doesn’t jive with the comic panels created so long ago, Jonny Quest will always be on that list. Most of the Carl Barks stories are, too.

So, you can imagine I was thrilled to learn that he won the Bill Finger Award last year, which focuses on a lifetime of work as a comic book writer. And that occasion served to remind me all of the tremendous work he’s done since Jonny Quest.

So that’s why reading the article and seeing the video was depressing.

However, I do urge you to check out the video, because you’ll see Mr. Messner-Loebs retains not only a wry sense of humor, but a tremendous sense of grace about his current situation. And I agree with Mark Evanier, chair of the BIll Finger Award, what would be most awesome is that some people can give this very talented man some work: he’s ready and he’s good.

Were I pursuing comics publishing, I would totally be concocting some insidiously nice plot to do just that.

My Favorite ‘Scape

Thinking of last week’s post and the general notion of sharing creative work that excites, I stumbled across an interview with Rockne S. O’Bannon about Farscape, the sprawling space opera that ran on TV from 1999 to 2003.

How much do I like Farscape? Let me put it this way: I’ve introduced many, many people to Firefly: lent them the DVDs, pestered them via social media when it’s been streaming on Netflix. If I learned a new installment of Firefly existed, I would schedule some time to watch within the next few weeks.

If I learned Farscape was back, I would body-check man and muppet on my way to tune in. I wouldn’t even care that’d it’d probably be “on demand.”

(And yes, I know comics “continue the story” for both. I’ve checked ’em out and I still want the screen versions).

So why would I recommend Farscape?

It’s continually visually inventive. Beyond what you’ll probably hear that Farscape revels in getting weird –which is both true and delightful– both the visual effects and the creatures cooked up by the Jim Henson company are astounding again and again. It blows the Next Generation’s minimalist “forehead variation” makeup out of the water. I’ve heard from some people who can’t abide by anything slightly Muppet-like, so if Dark Crystal isn’t your bag, there may be moments of dislike. I’m biased, of course, but I think any of those moments are far outweighed by true “wow” moments.

It is equally at home with comedy and drama. Much like Deep Space Nine, Cowboy Bebop, and, yes, Firefly, it contains narrative multitudes. And importantly, it is driven by the story. The episode where they switch bodies is just as ridiculous as you’d expect and the episode “Season of Death” fully lives up to its title.

The heroes are heroic in spite of constant screw-ups and curve balls. Much in the tradition of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the heroes aren’t compelling because they win all the time, but how they deal with losing. And they get very inventive at trying not to lose. The fact that the very first episode shows the main hero thinking his way out of the episode’s dilemma is refreshing (though he proves to be quite adept with a pulse pistol).

The stories keep moving. They pack what might have made for an older TV show’s two-parter into a lean 45 minutes — and their three parters were usually wondrous. Just as you’re thinking “what if they…?” they go ahead and do it. It’s like the writers wanted to cut to the chase and get all the ideas on screen while they still could. Viewers of Castle in its prime as well as the best of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will recognize this breakneck pace. It’s exhilarating.

So there you have it. It’s sadly no longer on streaming Netflix nor Amazon Prime, but it is available on DVD via Netflix (I’m not the only one who uses that, right?)

Update: a filmmaker friend passed along this video extolling the virtues of Farscape:

Doing Without Bile

Blogger, and fount of seemingly endless pop culture knowledge, Mark Evanier had a post earlier this month, right before his birthday. It was about getting older and just not caring about… I guess we could call it “irrational umbrage” about certain pop culture things like specific comics or movies or music or whatnot. You can read the post here.

One of my brothers has a habit that I’ve tried to cultivate in myself: when someone expresses adoration for a work you don’t like (e.g. a film, a book, a TV show, etc.) ask them what they like about it. Granted, in order to be a less-than-obnoxious conversationalist, you usually do need to own up to the fact that the work didn’t work for you and then segue into your query. This approach also lends itself to being less snarky, which also tends to help in being a better conversationalist.

People who revel in being brusque — and generally dislike using the words ‘brusque’ and ‘conversationalist’ — will find this crazy talk.

And, of course, maybe you don’t want to have a conversation, you want agreement — or possibly snarky argument. I suppose that’s valid, but as I get older, I’d rather have discussion — especially if it’s a choice between discussion or vapid agreement. And if we’re not going to actually have a discussion about some work, why don’t we get back to our own work? Alluding to the post above, I’d rather work on my own crap as opposed to spending a lot of time talking about how some other work is crap. I guarantee there is someone out there who will deem my work crap when it goes out into the world.

There’s enough crazy and negative stuff in the world besides all the creative work we and others try and produce. In other words, there’s plenty of stuff to drag us down. When it comes to creative works, I’m way more interested in what pulls you up.

A Look at the State Of Publishing: Traditional, Indie, and Self

I know author Kristine Kathryn Rusch mainly from her short stories in various science fiction magazines, but the truth is she writes across multiple genres and –apparently because sleep bores her or caffeine works particular wonders on her nervous system– she also edits, publishes, and shares all sorts of insights about said writing, editing, and publishing.

So when someone posted her thoughts about state of publishing in 2017, I thought it was worth a read… and you might, too.

Voiceover Update: And Bjorn Munson as the Vorta

Last Fall, the launch of Jabberwocky Audio Theater was still over half a year away, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring to act in a Star Trek fan production. I got the opportunity to play a Vorta, one of the Dominion’s genetically engineered races. The Vorta might be described as the carrot to the Jem’Hadar‘s stick, but let’s be honest: Vorta are perfectly happy to abandon the carrot when they can make a veiled threat in a voice that would make Dolores Umbridge swoon.

Anyway, I naturally looked to the portrayal of Vorta in official Star Trek for guidance. The wonderful Jeffrey Combs, in his portrayal of the various versions of Weyoun sets the standard for Vorta and unctuous menace (seriously, how he comes across as both a people-pleaser and a pitiless martinet is marvelous). However, I also noted Gelnon (played by Leland Crooke), who first appeared in “One Little Ship” as a good model. He seems to take quiet satisfaction in furthering the Dominion’s ruthless goals — which, I guess, is my way of saying this Vorta is not a nice guy.

Ruthless Vorta aren’t the only familiar thing you’ll hear in this series. If you’ve heard or watched other Star Trek fan productions, this will ring true. Shields will go down. Evasive maneuvers will be made. Loyalties will be conflicted. And all of it will connect to events and characters you’ve seen in official Trek.

Enjoy!

The Nitty Gritty of Writing a Non-Fiction Book

As I mentioned last week, I’m giving a talk tonight for actors on mass auditions and indie casting. And I’ve previously written a lot on my company website about indie casting.

So, it probably comes as no surprise that I’ve thought about distilling and refining those thoughts into book form (and several people have suggested it — leading me to believe it’s a decent idea).

Enter Joanna Penn’s exhaustive article about how to write a nonfiction book. I especially like the time she takes on breaking down why one would want to write a nonfiction book and how that would translate into the audience one goes after. That’s one of those angles that can be all-too-easy to forget until you have 20/20 hindsight. I also appreciate the way she demonstrates how a book can factor into selling your overall brand or business, which should probably be part of one’s strategy.

It might be time to revisit the notes I’ve made about potential casting books…

 

Actors and Cats

I have a number of events coming up in the next 30 days, so I fear my posts may become a tad more erratic. Luckily, indomitable blogger Mark Evanier had a post this past week that perfectly meets my needs: how actors are like cats.

Yes, I know many actors who are dog lovers. Don’t worry guys and gals, you can still love your dogs (just as surely as they love you), but you’re still cat people. I’m with Betty White on this one.

As it happens, I’m speaking at the Women in Film & Video (WIFV) Talent Roundtable next week about something of a related subject. I’m mainly going to talk about mass auditions, since I’ll be running one the following week. But part of what I’ll be talking about is how actors can remain sane while looking for their next acting gig.

Hey, I know it’s not easy. Just refer to what Betty White told Mark Evanier. However, it’s doable. For more details than that, I’ll see ya next week.

Peak TV, Sci-Fi Edition

Somewhat riffing off my post from Wednesday, I’m once again considering our current golden age of television (aka Golden TV Age II: Serial Storytelling Boogaloo).

There’s so much great television to check out, there are whole series that have come and gone that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Alison Herman over at The Ringer delves into what this means for science fiction –and “genre fiction” in general– as they hold greater sway over pop culture on both the big and small screen (and yes, the screen definitions are becoming more moot in some ways). It raises many big and small questions. For example, will people who’ve read the Silmarillion more than once feel vindicated by Amazon’s 4,000 Tolkien series? Will Adam Savage make another appearance on The Expanse? Will I ever get around to watching more than the first episode of Lost?

As always, stay tuned.