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

Goodnight, Gord

Gord

My heart breaks today.

The Tragically Hip has long been a favorite band of mine since the early 90s when my Uncle Michael introduced me to them with the song, “Blow at High Dough.” Ever since that moment I’ve been mystified by the raw, poetic storytelling of Gord Downie. He was one of the very best lyricists in the history of rock ‘n roll, painting gorgeous vistas of remote Canadian towns, emperor penguins, mysterious hockey player disappearances and true nautical disasters with his words. And on stage, he was one of the most engaging, theatrical performers I’ve ever seen, with a voice like no one else.

But Gord also transcended entertainment. He showed the world what courage looks like in the face of adversity when he went on tour after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. And he spent his life spotlighting social injustices, like the long-supressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system in Canada.

In his home country, Gord occupied a place of honor that doesn’t have a close parallel in the United States. He was and always will be, a philosopher poet-king who represented Canada in ways no one else could, illuminating its triumphs, as well as its dark corners with grace. Growing up in Central NY, just a couple hours from our Northern neighbors, I was lucky to be in the splash zone of Hip adulation. They often played Buffalo and Syracuse, so I got the chance to see them live many times. Every single time I did, I walked away thinking I’d seen the best concert in my life. Watching Gord perform his poetry on stage made me feel connected to music, to community and to life in ways few artists ever have. Fully completely.

Goodnight, Gord. Thank you for activism, your music, your beautiful words. You will be very much missed.

Goodnight Gord

Illustration by Jeff Lemire

DISASTERHAWK

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Just crossed off one of the things on my To-Do List and retooled this website.

Some of the new: Finally figured out how to do drop menus. New masthead with quotes about how awesome I am. Fancy as f@#% Press Kit with bios, quotes, pages from VORACIOUS, etc. for all of you who require that sort of thing. All the interviews I’ve done about comics in print, audio and video are now cataloged with links to them. I have a store with stuff you can buy. Contact section has a contact form. You will now send me your thoughts, job offers, or suggestions for metal records that have recently blown your face meat off your face bones.

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I’ve received quite a few messages about Appetite for Destruction, the third and final volume of VORACIOUS. Specifically, “When is it @#$%ing coming out?” Don’t know yet. Jason and I are working on it. It’s going to be a graphic novel. Probably no single issues. So, we have to finish the entire thing first. That takes some time. But we’re waist deep in the dino sauce now and we’re having a blast. Want a peek? Here you go.

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I’ve also been asked, “Are you going to write more comics?” Yes. Currently, I’m writing an action-fantasy series that will not be about a chosen one or have vampires in it. I am also working on a heavy metal love story. It’s completely plotted out and I’ve written the first issue. I have artists attached to both of these projects and I’m very excited about seeing them come to life.

I’m also working on two, all-ages graphic novels. Hope to have those completely written by the end of the year. After that I am going to do a sci-fi mystery comic that has been punching the right hemisphere of my brain for nearly 6 years. It’s going to be a completely different kind of story for me. Slow. Cerebral. Dark. Can’t wait to turn the lights low and write the crap out of it.

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Really enjoyed my last appearance of 2017 at the Baltimore Comic-Con in September. Mostly because I tabled with my buddy of over 20 years, Dan. He hand carves superhero and pop culture characters out of wood. Check out this bloody, battle-damaged Moon Knight I commissioned from him a couple years ago.

Awesome, innit? Check out more of his work at his Spandex Splinters page. Dan’s stupid talented. I’ve never seen anything like what he does. He will carve whatever you wish. And (hint) the holidays are coming (hint).

We had an amazing time at the show. Met two VORACIOUS fans who cosplayed the book. Spent many hours laughing with my good chums, the Machlers and Tex, and with new friends we met in Artist Alley. We promptly initiated them with beer. Large quantities of beer. I also gifted the legendary Walt Simonson a special version of my homemade mead because I didn’t think “Thank you for all the stories that made my childhood matter” was f@#$ing good enough.

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Blade Runner 2049 is an incredible sequel to my favorite film of all time. It’s also the best movie of 2017. Unfortunately it only made $30 million on opening weekend and everyone is now speculating on its box office failure, like the writer of this interesting Wired feature. The low turnout is not all that surprising to me, but I can’t help but wonder if Blade Runner 2049 will be more appreciated down the road, like the original film was. For now, however, I command you to see it immediately.

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Here are a few things that made me smile last week:

Atomahawk
Story: Donny Cates // Art: Ian Bederman, Taylor Esposito
Basically Cates and Bederman decided to tour a Space X module with a bottle of mead and ended up creating this space metal fantasy about an axe with a neverending thirst for battle and its robot barbarian servant who is compelled to feed it. Big fun.

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The West Wing
Donald Trump is a disaster sack of tiny dicks. Watching this show on Netflix makes me feel better for a little while. Never watched an ep before this week.

Banshee O Beast by Unfold

“A mix of incredible metal heaviness and massive hardcore slowness, twisted by a deep sense of how melodies are supposed to sounds in hell.” Never heard of this band even though they’ve been around since ’95 but I love the hell out of this. Played this record at least 6 times in the last couple days. Had to order the vinyl.

It seems Switzerland doesn’t like to share their musical secrets with Americans. I recently discovered another excellent Swiss band called Impure Wilhelmina. Been spinning it a lot lately. This band kinda sounds like the Smiths and Katatonia got merged in a Brundlefly telepod.

Radiation by Impure Wilhelmina

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Gonna try and do a newsletter-ish post like this every week. Until then, you try and keep your brains from being punched.

M

FINAL FEEDING

Hi everyone. Been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d give you an update. VORACIOUS: Feeding Time is about to wrap up with issue #5 next week! Very excited for the issue to hit shops for a number of reasons.  If you’re a Maribel fan, issue #5 is going to make you happy. The issue features a pretty huge reveal about her past and details her earliest history with Tony.  The issue also features a limited edition variant cover by me! I dusted off my drawing pens after 20 years and illustrated young Maribel. And skulls! It took me a long time to get it right, but it was something I was really motivated to do. I love the story and the characters so much that I was compelled to do something extra special. Thankfully Andrei’s amazing colors made my art look halfway decent.

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VORACIOUS: Feeding Time #5 also marks the completion of my second ever comic book miniseries. That’s just weird for me to say.  Being a comic writer still feels like a bit of a dream and I have no idea if that’s ever going to go away.  I hope it never does.

This month you can help us celebrate the completion of miniseries 2 at C2E2 in Chicago, April 21-23. I’ll be there with VORACIOUS artist Jason Muhr and we’ll have lots of great VORACIOUS stuff. We’ll have the Vol. 1 TPB, a limited number of 1-4 sets from the first series, all the Feeding Time issues and variants, prints, shirts, free buttons, Jason’s sketchbook and 5 (and only 5) issues of Cretaceous #1, the very first attempt at VORACIOUS that we used to pitch publishers. You can find us at Table R16 with writer Ben Kahn (Shaman). Hope to see you there!

COMICS ALLIANCE NAMES VORACIOUS ONE OF THE BEST NEW SERIES OF 2016!

So this happened yesterday! The whole team is incredibly honored to make this Best New Series list. VORACIOUS is by far the least known and most indie book selected. It’s an amazing feeling to know that our work and passion on the series is getting noticed. We’re in some truly remarkable company with the other 5 selections. Excited. Humbled. Grateful. Thank you, Comics Alliance!

IT’S FEEDING TIME!

VORACIOUS returns this week (Dec. 7) with VORACIOUS: Feeding Time #1 (of 5)! This arc takes our story in a new direction, following the big twist ending in VORACIOUS #4.

The issue features 2 cover designs. The regular version by my buddy and series artist Jason Muhr, and a limited edition, wraparound Smiths tribute cover by Wuvabale Oaf creator Ed Luce. Ed, Jason and I designed it together to look just like a cassette insert, which I’ve never seen done in comics before.

We’ve already started to receive some amazing reviews for the new issue. Check out these advance critiques:

9.5/10 “A comic with only one, albeit pretty major, downside: the long wait to the second issue.”
-GraphicPolicy.com Review

Incredible story with just as incredible illustration. This latest issue goes to prove we knew a good thing when we saw it.”
-Sci-Clops.com Review

I will be signing copies of VORACIOUS: Feeding Time #1 with Jason at comic shops here in Chicago to celebrate the release. Here’s a rundown of where we’ll be appearing in the next couple weeks:

December 7, 2016
Graham Crackers Comics
77 E Madison St
Chicago, Illinois
Signing 12-2 PM
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December 7, 2016
CHALLENGERS Comics + Conversation
1845 N Western Ave
Chicago, Illinois
Signing 5-7 PM
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December 11, 2016
The Lazarus Pit Comics
47 Highwood Ave
Highwood, Illinois
Signing 1-4 PM
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December 14, 2016
AlleyCat Comics
5304 N Clark St, Rear
Chicago, Illinois
Signing 5-8 PM

In January Jason and I will be hitting the road to sign at shops in surrounding states, and we are also starting to fill our schedule with conventions. Take a look at the FIND section of my website for all the appearances currently scheduled for 2017. I will update the calendar as we solidify events. We’re hitting the West coast in July and hopefully the East coast in the Fall. VORACIOUS can no longer be contained!

Hope you enjoy VORACIOUS: Feeding Time #1. Jason and I could not be more proud of the book.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

It’s official! The next VORACIOUS story arc starts in December! It’s called VORACIOUS: Feeding Time. It will run 5 issues and it picks up right where the 1st volume left off. You can pre-order the new series at your local comic shop right now by giving them this fancy order form we created for the series. Check out Jason’s glorious cover for the 1st issue and the amazing Smiths “Meat is Murder” cassette tribute variant by Wuvable Oaf creator  Ed Luce!

 

 

 

Hook, Line & Sinker

A couple years ago when I pitched VORACIOUS to Jason, I revealed that the book really had two hooks. The “Jurassic Park meets Top Chef” high concept that everyone would know about right away. And a second, secret, game-changer that would be revealed at the end of the first arc. In VORACIOUS #4 (which came out yesterday),  you get that big, second hook.

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VORACIOUS #4 marks the end of our first story arc and concludes my first comic book mini-series, which is a little hard to wrap my head around. I could not be more proud of the work we’ve done on the series so far. Jason and Andrei astonish me every time they send me a finished page. When you see what they’ve been doing for the next arc, just make sure you’re prepared to pick your jaws off the floor every time you flip a page.

VORACIOUS: Feeding Time is the next mini-series and it picks up right where VORACIOUS #4 left off. Five issues. On sale this Winter from Action Lab.

Voracious_TPB_Cover_Vol1Our first trade paperback collection is dropping hot on August 10. It collects issues #1-4 in a 160-page volume. You can pre-order it at your local comic shop by bringing them this handy form. The book is also available for pre-order on Amazon. We are setting up signings for the book in August. Check the Find section of my website for dates. They will be updated as we confirm signings. Or, like our Voracious Facebook page for more news and event announcements.

For those of you who have already found VORACIOUS, thank you so much for reading. Big internet hugs and sandwiches for all of you!

Goodbye to the Greatest

My Pop used to host boxing parties when I was little. For a long time I wasn’t allowed downstairs to see the fights because I was too young to stay up late. But in my room there was floor vent that happened to be located directly above the family room where all the big events took place. It went straight through. I would lay next to it whenever my Dad and his friends gathered to watch a fight on HBO or Pay-Per-View. I remember listening to the announcers call the battle, trying to catch every word. I remember covering my mouth tight with my hand so I didn’t let out my excitement whenever my Dad and his buddies cheered.

When I was finally old enough to watch the fights with the boys, my Dad taught me all about boxing. We watched hundreds of old fights together that he had recorded on BetaMAX in the eighties. Sugar Ray Leonard. Roberto Duran. Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Mike Tyson. But my Dad especially adored Muhammad Ali and he made sure I did too. I remember watching as many Ali fights as I could, including rebroadcasts of The Fight of the Century, The Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Ali’s unique personality and talent cemented my father’s love for the sport of boxing, and it was the same for me. I instantly adored him. For his supreme skill in the ring, his quick wit and bravado, his sting.

Boxing is the only sport I watch now. It’s the only sport I love because of those late night listens and the time I spent with my Pop marveling at all the great fights and the great fighters who laced up their gloves and stepped inside the ring. But none more so than Muhammed Ali.

Tonight we lost The Greatest of All Time.

Thank you for all your talent and passion, Ali. Thank you for all your unmatched showmanship and skill. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in. And thank you for giving me so many treasured moments with my Dad. Wherever you are, I hope you’re floating like a butterfly once more.

#RIPMuhammedAli