SIMPLY SPARKS

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Gord Downie’s death hit me a bit harder than I thought it would. I became a fan of The Tragically Hip when I was a teenager in the early 90s. That time really defined me more than any other. Truly special musicians like Gord Downie were more than just great songwriters to me. They profoundly influenced my writing. For some reason I felt a creativity and an honesty in song more than I did in books or comics back then. A lot of authors point to other writers as influences but I honestly don’t have many of those. For me writing is more about capturing a feeling or atmosphere. Music does that for me in a way nothing else can. I am moved by the imagination, the energy and the rhythms of music; by the way a good song can make me remember something old or visualize something completely new with a single chord or a growl. Music simply sparks something in me.

So, I spent a lot of time listening to Gord’s music this week, watching the documentary Bobcaygeon and getting misty-eyed over the Secret Path concert special. The sadness of his passing lingered for a while as I listened, but then I suddenly thought of a new story to write. And another. Thank you, Gord. You may be gone, but you’re still inspiring me.

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One of the new comic book series that I thought of while listening to the The Tragically Hip all week is a western. Having the idea reminded me I need to re-watch Have Gun Will Travel and Deadwood. I also need to find out if any good western films were released this year. The genre is definitely waning these days in Hollywood, but it still feels like there’s at least one good cowboy movie released every year. These films don’t typically get much press and they ride in and out of theatres, but sometimes I manage to catch them during their limited runs. Unfortunately, the only promising western film I’ve heard about this year is Hostiles. It must have been a small blip at the box office because I missed it and no one I know saw it. I would love some good gunfighter crack right now that isn’t that Dark Tower film.

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My cat forgot the face of his father for a few days. He normally snuggles me on the couch most of the day and late at night. For some reason he did neither of those things for nearly a week. I spend more time with Mos Eisley than any other creature on this Earth (including my wife), so this was a big deal to me. I felt betrayed. I felt like we had a fight and he moved out. Then I realized he’s a cat. Cats are weird and mysterious as shit. They want to kill everything. They can lick a pound of fur off their bodies and don’t die. They stare at you endlessly. They twist their bellies to the sun god and sleep for 16 hours a day.

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Today Mos Eisley snuggled me again. Happiness.

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Last week I also spent time researching a trip to Norway with my wife for Summer 2018. I do detailed planning in Excel with daily itineraries broken up by hour. It’s all about  taking control; being the master of my fate. When we actually get to Norway, I am perfectly willing to forego any cell in a spreadsheet if a local recommends something I haven’t thought of, or we want to spend more time throwing battle axes. I love being spontaneous, as long as my vacations have a spine. It works the same way for me when I write. I will plot out an entire comic series in detail before I start typing up scripts. But when I do write, some lines in the blueprint may change or shift. My characters may forge a slightly different path than I expected. I always hope so. As much as I adore the architecture of writing, being surprised is honestly the best part.

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Speaking of writing, one of the questions I’m asked most — other than “Did dinosaurs taste like chicken?” — is “I’m a writer. How do I create a comic?” So, here are some tips:

  • Write a lot. Write anything. Get better. Write more. Get better.
  • Come up with a comic book story. There are a lot of comics out there, so try and create something unique; something that will stand out. Start off small with an 8-page tale for an anthology or a one-shot. Put your groundbreaking 150-issue epic on the back-burner. The goal should be to write something you really love and finish it. If your goal is to be famous or make the most amazing comic the world has ever seen, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You’re also writing comics for the wrong reason.
  • Write a script. If you don’t know what a comic script should look like, search online. Many writers offer free examples. Here’s one from legendary writer, Warren Ellis — Trees #1 Script
  • Write multiple drafts and ask people to read over your script. When people pick up your book, the story should be clear and easy to understand. Work on it a lot. Be familiar with the genre you’re writing in. Make sure you know what your main character’s goals and challenges are. Include a beginning, a middle and an end. Have friends or peers look over your work. They may notice something off in the script that you can’t see because you’re too close to it.
  • Look for an artist to draw your story. Browse comic book message boards, online art communities, social media, or meet artists at cons. You want to find an artist who can draw sequentially, not someone who just does pin-ups. Lately I’ve noticed that cons are offering sessions specifically designed for writers and artists to meet. Give those a shot.
  • Work out the writer/artist arrangement. Don’t expect an artist to work for free just because you have a great idea. Drawing a page takes much more time for an artist to do than it does for you to write, Page 6 – The fleets engage.  Pay him or her for the work, or possibly work out a co-creator deal for rights, profit, etc. You should also discuss how much time it will take to draw. Whatever is decided, make sure it’s in writing. You can find simple contracts online. Or talk to a contract lawyer.
  • Work on designs with your artist. Start with your main characters, settings and logo design before your artist starts drawing any pages. Locking down a look for the protagonists and the environment will make the art process go a lot more smoothly. An artist won’t be happy if she draws a page and you tell her to completely change your lead character’s pants afterward.
  • Ask your artist to do thumbnails before drawing pages. Thumbnails are rough panel layouts for the book that show you exactly how your artist intends to tell the story visually. Think of them as a map. If something doesn’t seem right, discuss it first with your artist first, before she moves on to drawing the actual pages.
  • Find a colorist and a letterer to complete your story. Search online art communities, comic book message boards and social media to find people you can hire. There are many quality letterers online looking for work. Lots of colorists out there as well. Colorists are definitely artists and each one has a different style, so make sure you flip through their portfolios to see if their work would be a good fit for the art in your book. if you aren’t sure, ask a colorist to do a paid test page before offering him the full job. You can also choose to forego coloring. There are lots of amazing black & white books on the stands today, like The Walking Dead.

When your comic is done, you can self-publish it, or start pitching it to comic book companies, based on their specific submission guidelines. Pitching is a whole other animal and it’s often more important than the comic itself. I’ll write some tips on that in a future Skull. For now, get writing!

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Smile Log: Star Date 10241.7

Star Trek: Discovery
I absolutely love this show. I find myself looking forward to it more than anything else on television currently. It’s a gorgeously shot series that isn’t like any other Star Trek, largely thanks to Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham. She isn’t a Captain, but after just 6 episodes, she is one of the most interesting and well-rounded characters ever in the Star Trek universe. The Klingon story of reuniting the fractured houses is equally fascinating. I’m awed by their overhauled design, which looks way better and more alien than previous Trek shows, as well as the heavy use of Klingon beliefs and their native language.

I’ve heard some complaining about Discovery’s continuity, but the show runners can easily connect the dots as it goes. I think they will. But even if they don’t, I doubt that will matter much to me if the series continues to be this engaging and daring. I’m a Trekkie. I’ve watched every Trek episode more than once. I’ve waited patiently for a new series as I suffered through the regurgitated jokes and vacuous characters of the last two films. Discovery is exactly the kind of Trek I’ve been hoping for. It has the retro heart of Trek with a modern brain. It’s about discovering the universe and discovering self in the midst of an epic war. It puts the bold in boldly go. Can’t wait for episode 7.

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Mirror Reaper by Bell Witch

Mirror Reaper is a funeral doom masterpiece. The album consists of one, haunting 84-minute track of deepest sorrow and loss. Like a black hole that sucks the light out of the galaxy, this album is a heavenly body of beautiful destruction. It ebbs and flows perfectly with tenderness and malice, crafting a dark universe unlike any doom record I’ve listened to before.

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Until next time, keep looking up at the stars and snuggle as many cats as you can.

M

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