Well that was real mature...

Well that was real mature...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ashes of Experimentation Requires Praying for a Phoenix

Our fourth short story (fifth over all) for Adventures In Pulp, titled Ashes of the Immortals, is scheduled to launch Tuesday, and boy, is it going to be a little different.

I have often said that, as a writer, Adventures In Pulp was a big opportunity for me to experiment with form and style. Up until now my method of writing has remained the same since all of the stories have been full script mode. Our Ashes of the Immortals short story is going a different route. With Dick Ruby and the Case of the Little Green Men, Hawk and a Handsaw, and even our long form story Jigsaw World, I created each one and gave Matt a full script. When we did Four Horsemen, Matt and I developed the characters together, then I went off and plotted and provided a full script. The plan with Ashes of the Immortals is going to take a alternative approach. Matt came up with the idea for Ashes of the Immortals; I took that idea  and developed the characters and plotted the story and provided him with an outline that laid out the story beats. The outline ran about a paragraph per page. A few weeks ago Matt started drawing the pages from the outline and I will go back and script the text based on his images.

The Marvelous Stan the Man
I know this sounds a lot like the old “Marvel Way” of doing comics. Truthfully, no one actually does that anymore (except may be Eric Larson on Savage Dragon). It became known as the “Marvel Way” because it was pioneered by the great Stan Lee.  However, few know it was only born out of necessity. He was writing almost everything they had at the time, and just didn’t have enough hours in the day to do full scripts. We thought it would be a fun experiment. I mean, come on, if you are a comic book writer and you are going to copy anyone, who better than Stan "The Man" Lee? But, best laid plans...

The hammer fell, and Matt got clobbered with outside work (you did pick up the Army of Darkness 1992.1 oneshot, right?). Our original intent was that we would have Ashes of the Immortals completely ready by the time Jigsaw World wrapped Chapter One so I would have the whole 12 page story to script in a single shot.

Didn’t happen.

That mad genius in the window - Harlan Ellison.
Instead I may be doing it the “Harlan Way.” I’ll be scripting as Matt does the pages. I call this the “Harlan Way,” because it reminds me of a thing Harlan Ellison used to do. He would do a personal appearance at a book store and would bring his typewriter (usually positioned the front store window) and write a story while fans watched. As he finished each page, it would be put up in the window for all to see. No revisions. No edits. No tweaks. No backs-ies. That’s a stressful way to write. He made it look easy, but then he is a true master and genius. He loved the challenge. Out of necessity I may be embracing the challenge. 

Our grand experiment just got a little more grand and a little more experimental.

Wish me luck.

(Update: 7/26: The story as been finished for a few weeks so if you want to read it here: Ashes of the Immortals or you can read my writer's commentary go here: Steampulp: Pulpy Sci-Fi...)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The First Cliffhanger: How to Torture Your Main Character



Finally, on page 22, we wrap chapter one. The first Jigsaw World story arc is planned to be four 22 page chapters. Seriously, it is my hope that no one saw the chapter one cliffhanger coming then immediately said, "I should have seen that coming." If you did that. I succeeded. (If not then, I hope you loved the Dinosaur Men.)

The reveal that it was Dan's ex-wife under the mask was hopefully a shocker. It was important that she look the same but still look slightly different. Matt gave her a different hair style, but it is tricky. I was going to have Dan yelling "Cassandra!" but that seem vaguely insulting to the reader (and even the artist). We knew when colored it would be clear even with the different hairstyle, but I decided to have her simply introduce herself. Part of that decision was born from ambiguity of the black and white Rob-Con exclusive we put out before we put it on www.adventuresinpulp.com. Again, anyone who read the promo surrounding the series knows that this is probably an alternate reality version of Cass, but I don't actually spell it out (although a lot of the first few pages of chapter two has Dan dancing around trying to figure it out). I think anyone who discovers this later or comes into it cold will figure it out by the time they get halfway through chapter two.

When developing a cast, I knew I wanted a character that Dan knew from his previous life but now has to get reacquainted because they are from a different reality. I could not imagine a more painful direction to go in than to have it be his ex-wife. Just imagine someone you love and have the whole history with and now they have no idea who you are and they have all these new abilities and experiences you can't even imagine. I may be getting ahead of myself but as he gets to know this version of Cass, Dan has the painful realization that Cass may have become the best version of herself without him in her life. Ouch.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Action Climax: Welcome to the Jungle (aka It has Dinosaur Men for God's Sake, How Can You Not Love It!)



As you can see on pages 16 through 21, it's a new world for sure. Just a few steps into the jungle and Dan and Titan encounter Dinosaur men. Yup. If you don't get the excitement of Dino-Men then you smothered your inner child to death years ago and there is no hope for you.
Matt gifted me with the original art for page 17, the beautiful single panel page with the fantastic reveal of the Dino-Men hunting party. Again there is not much to say because of the nature of the action sequences. Matt nails the action sequence and after pages of people arguing; he was probably dying to do it. He makes pages 18-20 look effortless and they move like a freight train. I particularly loved panels 4-6 on page 19 and the 2nd and 3rd panels of page 20.
I hated scripting the action because there is no dialogue or text to move it along. You have to be careful in the descriptions because, if you screw it up, you have wasted the artist's time and effort. It was a long wait for action on chapter one but I feel like we deliver in spades when we get there. Other than action, my main goal was to give Dan one win but then put him in a position where he needs to be rescued so we could introduce another regular character in grand fashion.  I also wanted to give Titan some heroic daring do as well. Page 21 introduces the new character, dressed ominously in armor (at first I hope people thought it might even be a robot), but really it just sets up the big twist reveal on the final page...

Friday, January 2, 2015

The World Can Change In a Flash (or Three Pages)



            Pages 13 - 15 are the turning point for the story (as well as Dan's life). Anyone who has seen any promo for the book can figure out that "the event" is the moment when Dan and everyone on his "slice" of Earth get kidnapped and transferred to the Jigsaw Earth. For those who come to it late or go in cold, it will be spelled out later (top of chapter 3). It's a pivotal and mostly quiet sequence that Matt illustrates with deft simplicity. In fact, there isn't much else to say except to praise Matt's handling of the material. I particularly love the almost X-ray look of Dan's hand on page 13, the off kilter panels on page 14 and the fantastic reveal of the jungle on page 15. He really nailed the sequence. The story has it's first major turn and nothing will be the same again.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Calm Before A Storm (aka Cheap Emotional Manipulation)



Pages 11 & 12 were a quiet but still important sequence. Emotionally it lets us take a breath after the heat of the last pages and let's the exposition settle in. On page 11 we introduce Titan.  Originally named Titus, I changed it since Robin got a new Bat-Hound named Titus over in the Batman books. Titan is the heart of the group, if you ever want to know how Dan feels (or should feel) look at Titan. He really is an extension of Dan's personality as well as his tether to sanity. Without his best friend he may well have given up. On page 12, we give the big emotional reveal. I assumed most readers had figured it out already by reading between the lines but I wanted a moment where he says it would loud. I wasn't doing it as an insult to the readers intelligence, but rather a character beat. In my mind that is probably the first time in years Dan has been able to actually say it out loud. Structurally, it was the absolute worst thing I could do to a character to create sympathy. No one should outlive their child, but writers do things like this all the time. If they want you to like someone, they will hammer character loss in the character debut to make you feel sorry for them. Don't believe me: I'll go through a few of my favorite characters: Both Ben Sisco and John Sheridan on DS9 and Babylon 5 lost wives. Sinclair on B5 lost his entire team. The Fugitive's Richard Kimbel's wife was murdered. Ollie's dad committed suicide in Arrow. Barry's mother died on The Flash. Peter Parker's uncle. Batman's parents. On StarGate O'Neil lost his son. I could keep going, but the point is made, it's cheap emotional manipulation but it works, even when done ham-fistedly by a hack like me.