Category Archives: Writing

Arguing for the Golden Goose, Comics Edition

One trend I continue to follow is the decline of “mid-tier” creative works, whether they be “mid-budget” movies or “middle tier” novels.

I touched on this just over two years ago when I was looking at the film Warcraft in particular and film budgets in general. At the time, I also noted how the erosion of the mid-budget movie and how a similar trend seemed to occur with “mid-list” authors.

Now, superhero movies in general are not likely to be modestly budgeted these days: they’re too tempting to be used as tentpoles by the studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought in over $7 billion. Disney’s not about to abandon using them as tentpoles.

But what about the the medium where these superhero stories first appeared: comics?

Now, going into the whole state of the comics industry, what the direct market is, and so on, is more than I can cover briefly or authoritatively. Suffice to say, fears regarding a dire fate of the comic industry have been around for a couple years, the direct market business model seems to be poised to change, and, well, stats back up the thought that the market is struggling (even with bright spots).

So all that made the article I read about Marvel comics editors advocating for different tactics recently at SXSW all the more interesting.

Parts of their argument is that comics –even if they aren’t as all-fired profitable as their big screen offspring– serve an important function as idea incubators. In a sense, they’re narrative R&D projects. Certainly, good periodic comic books and graphic novels aren’t the cheapest things to produce — many an indie creator colleague has made me aware of that. But they are a darn sight cheaper than bankrolling a $120 million tentpole movie. And in fact, just about all the tentpole movies owe some of their “genetic material” from the comic form.

Another way they could be thought of is as the “narrative farm teams” for some of the bigger budgeted stories. And, of course, I’m thinking of that mainly for the business folks to better reconcile the numbers. The creativity and storytelling on display in so many comics is not “minor league,” but bean counters usually don’t care if a comic book was emotionally impactful, just how many units it sold. So whatever keeps the presses rolling.

Taking Silly Very Seriously

As mentioned earlier this week, I will be appearing at this year’s Escape Velocity on Memorial Day weekend, both presenting a producer’s guide to moviemaking and with Jabberwocky Audio Theater (JAT) doing a live performance.

Last year, JAT did an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds since it was the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast. It was great fun to update a radio adaptation to the present day and set it in and around Washington, DC. Several members of the troupe said they’d like to do something far less serious… which also might be well received by the convention crowd.

This year, we were asked to once again pick a known work (as opposed to something original like Rogue Tyger or Quorum). However, the organizers also said that parody was an option and it’s the 40th anniversary of both the original Alien and the TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Ladies and gentlemen –and assorted aliens– get ready for
Nostromo 2: Electric Alien Boogaloo (featuring Chuck Codgers).

I have all sorts of tropes that I look forward to sending up as well as numerous references to classic works I want to work in. Of course, the trick is to make jokes that are funny in and of themselves, yet have the references add another layer of humor. I can’t guarantee everyone listening will have watched Stargate, Monty Python, and the classic Day the Earth Stood Still, after all. As veteran comedy writers have taught me, one must take ‘silly’ very seriously.

So, I’m still working on the script and last week someone posted a link to the full runthrough to Space Ace, the sci-fi themed sequel to the interactive animated video game Dragon’s Lair.

Beats having to cough up a whole lotta quarters to try and get through it all, right? (Actually, I’ve only done that with one game, and it’s because some brilliant entrepreneur had put a video game arcade in an airport terminal, so people waiting and waiting and waiting for their flight would have something to do).

Anyway, it’s been a fun, silly inspiration as I continue to work on the script. I know we’ll have room for a slide whistle and I’m hoping the O.G. sci-fi instrument, the theremin can make an audio appearance. More details to come as we get closer to May!

Where I’ll Be: Escape Velocity 2019

Last week, I got confirmation that Jabberwocky Audio Theater has a thumbs up to do a live performance at the Museum of Science Fiction‘s annual science-expo-meets-pop-culture-convention, Escape Velocity!

Escape Velocity 2019 Promo from Museum of Science Fiction on Vimeo.

We had a chance to do a live performance of War of the Worlds last year which was well received (and a lot of fun to do as well).

We don’t know the exact date and time of our performance –it’ll be sometime that Memorial Day Weekend– but the whole convention is a lot of fun.

In addition to the live performance, I’ll be joining one of the Museum’s production counsels in going over the legal and practical aspects of making a movie.

If you’re going to be in the Washington, DC area that weekend, please come by National Harbor. We know that tickets are now on sale.

More details as we get closer to the event!

Choose Your Own Theater Adventure

I’ve enjoyed more interactive theater for a long time, whether it’s traditional audience response (applause/boos/hisses) or more modern breaking of the fourth wall or simply the immediacy of staging a show “in the round.”

I’ve often thought about staging a play for our local Fringe festival whose outcome is decided by the audience… perhaps after they’ve weighed in on several decision points.

I thought about those ideas again when I read a piece by Alysia Judge from the Guardian about Felix Barrett and his company Punchdrunk. Their form of theater is often site-specific, non-linear, and immersive. In fact, it sounds kind of like a limited LARP or other character-driven game (board or video) that isn’t completely open-ended.

Resisting the urge to have this be another new project (I have one that’s taking more than enough time, thank you) and remembering that not every interest needs to be another side hustle, I hope to attend a show one of these days. It feels like something that will only grow in popularity.

This Year, Resolve to Make Art

I thought I had already posted this article by Sean Kane from 2016, but evidently I hadn’t. So go ahead and read up on seven darn good scientifically-backed reasons why you should make art even if you’re not “any good” at it.

A perfect example of simply making art is Inktober, an annual event to do an ink drawing every day during October. I did this with my son –and moms and dads reading this, that’s reason enough to give it a go. Because while I tried things with shading and perspective that were hit or miss, he developed recurring story elements in the scenes he drew throughout the month that was a delight to witness (and on a parental note, it was a good transition to bedtime).

So go ahead, get your art on, whatever way you want to. You don’t need to share it with anyone. Science has your back.

The Bookstore is Dead. Long Live the Bookstore!

One of the biggest issues plaguing independent entrepreneurial creators (authors, artists, filmmakers, etc.) would be how to find an audience — and even if that nut is well and truly cracked: how do you maintain or even grow it?

That’s a topic for many another post, but amid forums and social media I follow where people discuss the topic, there’s the inevitable discussion of what Faustian bargain should be made with Amazon, the everything store that wants to be your alpha and omega. I was reminded of that when I came across this Axios article from October musing about the slide of Barnes & Noble.

It’s all the more interesting because independent bookstores have apparently made a resurgence, as per articles found on NPR, CBS, and a huge compilation of articles on the American Booksellers Association page (an interested party to be sure, but still…).

I have my caper film!

Well, I mean, realistically, someone else might leap into action and have a caper film on the subject of produce theft, but Rene Chun’s article about a Virginian vineyard being robbed of grapes made me think this could be a movie to be made in my backyard.

In fact, I forwarded it as a possible entrant for Scriptnotes’ periodic segment “How would this be a movie?

So, I guess what I’m saying is I’d be happy for someone to tackle this before I do, but if you don’t, I know one feature I’ll be writing.

Being a “Useful Writer’

Perhaps it’s the human predilection for pattern recognition, but because of the recent passing of William Goldman, I’ve been thinking a good deal about writing as it relates to getting one’s writing produced in Hollywood… and how random the process can sometimes be.

In Mark Evanier’s latest intallment of his “Rejection” series (which is worth checking out if you haven’t already, he notes that elusive, yet absolutely real writer quality of being “useful.”

You absolutely want to be a useful writer.

Inconceivable! William Goldman Dies at 87

I’m still reflecting on all I got out of the characters created and championed by Stan Lee and now another epic storyteller, novelist and screenwriter William Goldman, has died at the age of 87.

Goldman was, and will continue to be, enormously influential for writers and his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, is one I’ve given as a gift to several fellow writers, not only for its insights about writing and the writing process, but of that crazy fantasy land known as Hollywood.

There’s a nice piece in the New York Times and also CNN about him. I know there’s more, but I need to go and watch The Princess Bride just now.

Stan Lee: The Once and Future Pop Culture King

Stan Lee has died at the age of 95. Tributes, remembrances, and obituaries have come from the New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter, NPR (and a longer piece here), Variety, a nice one from Marvel, and even one from The Onion.

Like countless others, my connection to “The Man” now best known for cameos in the films of a billions-dollar film franchise came early on. He represented my “ur-fandom.” Before Star Trek or Doctor Who, there was Stan Lee.

Me and Stan Lee, 2011

I am given to understand I am but one of many billions who met Stan. It was still wonderful to do so.

Even though films dominated my childhood, trips to the movies were not as frequent as trips to the library. And more often than not I would go straight to a well-remembered section of the Cherrydale branch library and check out Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, and, the perennial favorite: Bring on the Bad Guys.

Within those tomes were just not the stories of heroes and villains, but insight into Stan Lee’s origins as well. In his writing, he created the accessible yet aspirational persona of “Stan Lee” as surely as he conjured any of a seemingly infinite number of characters that appeared in Marvel Comics. “Stan Lee” was the indefatigable image of a creator and a writer: someone who used all the history and mythology and tales they’d grown up with and channeled them into his own stories. What kid couldn’t help but love that?

This persona became bigger for me and a whole Saturday morning cartoon generation with his narration of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. And “Stan’s Soapbox” in comics. And all the other small ways we fans were able to piece together information back when Chrome was a 50s car characteristic and before Netscape navigated a single web page. Okay, I’ve lost the younger folk.

Long story short: the character of Stan Lee was like a slightly dignified, but just goofy enough cousin of Uncle Grandpa. His passion was pure, his heart was consistently in the right place, and his enthusiasm was infectious. One of his superpowers was validation: you were right to be a fan, you were right to enjoy these stories, and for scores and scores of us, you were right to be an aspiring creator. That’s a hero to look up to. All the entertaining alliteration helps too.

Of course, the human Stan Lee had more nuance and shades of grey. As much as I and the all the remembrances of the past day cast the Stanley Lieber himself as a hero, that’s not ’nuff said. This long-form exploration of Stan Lee’s legacy from early 2016 by Abraham Riesman in Vulture nails some of the complexity behind Lee’s legacy. I promised myself when I read it, I’d include it in the remembrance I knew I’d one day write. It’s important to know that the creator of so many iconic heroes had flaws of his own. So do we all. In a sense, that’s the Marvel way, isn’t it?

Stan Lee was and is a legendary creator, but he didn’t create alone. As Mark Evanier points out, “Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw” does not mean that Clayton Kershaw is the only Los Angeles Dodger. But you can still have Kershaw’s poster, if you follow the example. And Stan Lee, in so many ways, is an extraordinary example to follow. May his memory be a blessing.