“When Magic rules the worlds, a lucky few are born with great power.

The rest of us… have to steal it!


Issue 1

Writer: Rich Douek

Penciller/Inker: Brett Barkley

Colorist: Jules Rivera

Publisher: IDW

“This was easier than I thought it would be… didn’t even have to pick the lock.”

“Well, that’s the thing with these wizards… they spend a fortune warding themselves against every spell in creation… then forget something as mundane as locking a window.”

In a not-so-distant future New York City, Cinder’s having a bad day.  After raiding a wizard’s stash, he’s got the last piece of a spell that could fix his connection to magic… only as a non-magic-user, he can’t cast it.  And just when he and his goblin friend Blacktooth figure out a plan, they run afoul of the The Morgue, who has sent the pint-sized Shiver and her hired muscle, the Ghost Boys, to bring Cinder in, dead or… well…

Gutter Magic is one of those rare books that gets it right, right out of the gate:  part Fantasy, part noir, it weaves elements of both in and out with nimble ease.   Cinder dresses like a steampunk hero, while Blacktooth sports a classic Sam Spade trenchcoat, a barmaid tells Cinder to forget his tab cause dead men can’t pay their bills, and it all comes down to who can outspend the others.

Writer Rich Douek has built his fantasy world on the bones of the world we know, and dropped just enough tantalizing clues as to how it got that way to keep readers enticed for more.  Imp and demon inhabited markets huddle in the shadow of the floating top of the decapitated Chrysler Building, and the Ghost Boys are right out of something dreamed up for Gangs of New York.

Douek’s story serves as a smart blueprint for artist Brett Barkley’s deft pencils and inks, filling the foregrounds and backgrounds with clever and interesting details that only add to the completeness of this world with a cinematic grace.  Colorist Jules Rivera wields his steampunk palette with great aplomb, adding a lushness to Barkley’s pencils and inks that most books sorely lack.  With their combined efforts, this book comes off as a fully-realized three-dimensional world (Check out their stellar depictions of battle magic early in the book!)

Smart.  Original.  Entertaining.  With only four issues, you’re going to have to savor this book for a while, but you won’t regret ponying up the cover price.  You’re getting in on the ground floor of what looks to be a great tale!

“Time to settle up.  Again.”

“We’re off to the Market.  Just tell Mary to put I on our tab.”

“You don’t have a tab, anymore.  New policy.  Absolutely no credit for people who are going to be dead before the week’s out.

VERDICT:       FIVE  Stolen Wizard’s Scrolls out of FIVE

This review was first published at Check out their site and if you like it, check out their podcasts or sign up for their newsletter (a daily highlight of the best in geek news). 


REVIEW: Welcome to Showside – Issue 1


Creator/Writer/Artist:  Ian McGinty
Publisher:              Z2 Comics

“And that’s the tru-for-real story of why weeping willows don’t grow in Showside.”
“Kit, dude, there no way that story’s even based on something real – much less the reason some crybaby tree doesn’t grow in town… If you believe that I got an island to sell you in outer space.”
“I’m not falling for that again, Belle!”

Writer-Creator-Artist Ian McGinty premieres his new original tale, Welcome to Showside with an ambitious opening.

Warring for centuries, two great armies battle on and on, with a secret in their midst: the daughter of the Yellow King has fallen in love with the son of the Yellow King. But because of their loyalty, they battled each other as enemies, save for the one night they came together as lovers… until they were discovered by the Yellow King.

Or so we’re told by the precocious demon-kid Kit to Belle and Moon, his best friends in the whole wide world of Showside, a bright and colorful Saturday morning TV show of a dream. Combining disparate elements as disparate as German heroic legends and a world referencing the giddy daffiness of SpongeBob SquarePants Bikini Bottom, McGinty gives us a new kind of hero in the green-skinned, puce-haired Kit, dedicated to keeping the town of Showside safe from the monsters and demons that attack it.

But Kit is hiding a secret, one directly related to the legends of old, and one that may wreak havoc on everyone is this wild candy-colored town.

McGinty’s all-ages/horror, one-stop shop of a book manages to both entice and delight readers, and he captures the daffy ping-pong attention short-attention span conversations of his little trio with amazing verisimilitude. Deep conversations are cut short by the need for a Beef N Dog Waffle Taco. Combat skills are gleaned from a hand-held video game. A magic portal is admired just before things “get monstery.”

Creator McGinty makes no secret that he wants everyone to feel free to play in his sandbox. The opening 5 pages of the book, detailing the battle of the two armies is lushly drawn by S.M Vidaurri, and provides a cunning counterpoint to the pop-candy world to follow.

With an animated cartoon series in the works, Welcome to Showside #1 is a brilliant entry into the mind of a creator obviously just raring to make a huge splash in the all-ages market, and this is a great start.

Moon: “Wouldn’t it be so awesome if it was a true story, though?”
Kit: “Hm?”
Moon: “Yeah, I mean not so much a mad demon king bent on destruction, but a whole ‘nother world of magical people in it, like The Light! You know, beautiful and noble. But strong and rad, that sort of thing. Like that girl from the stor-“

Verdict: FOUR Candy-Colored Dark Inheritances out of FIVE.

This review was first published at Check out their site and if you like it, check out their podcasts or sign up for their newsletter (a daily highlight of the best in geek news). 



Angela is my second name, not my middle name, my SECOND name. I don’t know what my real name was, or if I ever had one. I wish I knew what my real mother’s name was,I wish I knew if she had given me a name…

There are SO MANY THINGS I don’t know.”

Starting life as a twice-weekly online comic, Oh Hell has collected it’s first five chapters into one volume, entitled “Chyrsalides.”

Abandoned at birth in a dumpster, 15-year old blue-haired punkette Angela is a nightmare to her adoptive parents, causing trouble in whatever situation she ends up in.  But in their last-ditch effort to rescue her, her parents send her to the Academy, an elite boarding school for troubled teens…

… not knowing it’s actually the gateway to Hell and all the cast-off students are being trained to reap souls for Lucifer.  Their lesson?  Reap souls or be cast into the Pit.

Think Harry Potter with Hell standing in for Hogwarts.  Think Narnia for where Caspian hunts down and eats the Pevensie children, one by one.  Think Beverly Hills, 90210 with… well, just think Beverly Hills, 90210.

While a lot of people think high school is Hell, creator George Wassil has made it literal.  His cast of lost souls, condemned (sometimes unwittingly) are trying making the best of a bad situation.  Under the careful cruel tutelage of Mr. Ezel, a shapeshifting demon determined to bring out the worst in them, Hell stands in for high school quite nicely.

And, similar to high school, some students excel more than others at being evil.  While Angela strives to keep out of the pit, blonde busty Allesse uses all her Queen-bee manipulative skills to make life Hell for her and her crush, the stoic Zipper.  A field trip to reap a soul shows Angela just how out of her depth she really is, and makes you wonder… is she too good for Hell?

Owing to its online roots, “Chyrsalides” moves at a fast clip, pulling the reader along with the characters, making us learn as they do, and if a little confusing in some instances, the richness of Dave Hamann’s inks and pencils, combined with Michael Birkhoffer’s rich colors quickly overrides any of that.  Angela comes off as a very believable fifteen-year old girl and the supporting characters give off an air of authenticity (what teen isn’t full of conflict and angst?), and her growing but seemingly doomed relationship with Zipper only becomes more poignant with each chapter.

It will be interesting to see just how far down Wassil and Co. will take their heroine… deserved or not.

VERDICT:       FOUR   Hungry FireBrands out of FIVE

This review was first published at Check out their site and if you like it, check out their podcasts or sign up for their newsletter (a daily highlight of the best in geek news). 

REVIEW: Empty Quiver: Tales of the Crimson Son


“Empty Quiver (n) – A U.S. Military reporting term to identify and report the seizure, theft, or loss of a nuclear weapon.”

Following up his initial success with the YA/superhero mashup, Crimson Son, writer Russ Linton ( has achieved a remarkable hat trick with his follow-up novella, Empty Quiver, a quintet of tales that span from the dawn of the Augment age, long before the events of his prior novel, to near modern days, complete with sly references to Central American politics that still ring true.

Straddling the line between comic book heroics and dark revisionist history, Linton imagines a world where the Fat Man and Little Boy dropped on the cities of Japan were not nuclear devices, but Augmented beings, created to end the war.  But, like the events of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, not all Augments are welcome, and most are forced underground to continue doing their work at the behest of a government that is losing control of their creations.

But, Linton’s strength doesn’t come from the great tableau he’s building up in these tales.  It’s the small brush strokes that make these stories sing.  In an inspired twist, he’s managed to make his world do much bigger by going smaller.  A Hiroshima survivor tells what really happened on that day in August.  A ghetto child grown-up returns home to confront the secret his family hides.  A young girl’s idolization of a female Augment has deeper significance than she knows.  Linton has drawn his epic world best in the reflections of those impacted by it, be they Augment or human. Like an origami creation, he builds his tales in subtle layers, crisp folds of storytelling that make a shape far different than first expected.

You don’t have to have read Crimson Son to enjoy these tales, but the “guest appearances” and subtle hints of the darker future to come make it that much richer, and you’re probably gonna wanna pony up the couple of buck to get that, too.  And, you know what?

You won’t regret it.

“A damn kid, like Little Boy had been.  But, this one was scared s–tless, unlike Little Boy.  Joy had burned in that pint-sized monster’s eyes as the city burned to ash around them.  A terrible fire consuming something inside of him, fueling him, eating him alive.  Eldon understood the hate and anger.  The kid had been God’s own righteous fire that night, whipped into a frenzy by Hurricane’s winds, but Eldon had always felt that kid would have scorched every inch of the planet if given the go-ahead.”

Available now at

VERDICT:       FIVE Crimson Mask Alpha Injections out of FIVE

This review was first published at Check out their site and if you like it, check out their podcasts or sign up for their newsletter (a daily highlight of the best in geek news). 



“Spry, I know this is hard for you.  I’m going to give you some good advice, but it may sound terrible.  So, bear with me.”
“Eighteen years is a long time to wait for anything. It’s your whole life. But, for my people – for other races – it’s the blink of an eye.”
“It may take you a little longer than your classmates to figure out where you go from here, but your path will be revealed soon.  I know this. And, I’m rooting for you, as always.”
“You’re not alone.”

Eighteen-year-old Spry has no place in the universe.  A boarding school refugee from a broken home with a dead-end job and no prospects, his only refuge is the card game “Heroes of the Caliphate” (in which Armored Hoplite soldiers seek to capture shape-shifting aliens called Shapers), and his only real friend is a teacher named Niva.

But, that’s all about to change as the revelations pile up around him, and he learns that those around him may be more than they seem and the game may be more than just that.  And, he’ll have to embark on a desperate quest with little training and no clear direction; he’s going to have to rely on the last person he can: himself.

Drawing from a rich genre of lost and outcast youth, writer Eric Heisserer [The Thing (2011), Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)] imbues his lead, the stubborn, loner, underdog Spry, with an arrogance that counterpoints the deep yearning inside him.  The dialogue is crisp and the storytelling tight and fast, layering subtle nuances in both word and silence.  Artist Felipe Massafera ramps up the excitement, moving capably and briskly from small, intimate scenes to wild battles with cinematic grace and style, letting his lush lines set up a fully realized world, with Wes Dzioba’s deft coloring bringing it all to life.

Heisserer has made a career on solid, seat-of-the-pants scare films, but as evidenced in his afterword and the pages of this issue, his real love is the space opera. Originally conceived as a spec script, the studios ignorantly passed.  The reason?  Basically, it was too original.

For the studios, maybe.  But, luckily the folks at Dark Horse were smarter and gave it a perfect home.  And, luckily for us, too, because this is the kind of rollicking, original, and exciting comic that people are constantly looking for, that feels familiar and fun and new all at the same time.  The kind you want to buy multiple copies of and give out to your friends when they complain about the lack of good storytelling out there and say, “Shut up and read this!”

And, I gotta get me a deck of “Heroes of the Caliphate” trading cards!


This review was first published at Check out their site and if you like it, check out their podcasts or sign up for their newsletter (a daily highlight of the best in geek news). 

REVIEW: 1957 Issue #1


“It was 1957, and life was still finding new ways to punch Bonnie in the face.  No more playing in the Southern California Orange County shorebreak.  No more walks up and down Avenida del Mar.   No more sunsets on the pier . . . Things change.  People don’t.  And, the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Two years after the fallout from the events of Hit: 1955, Bonnie Brae thinks she’s found safety in the small, seaside town of San Clemente.  She’s wrong.  LAPD Detective Harvey Slater thinks he’s seen the last of her.  He hasn’t.  And both are finding out the ghosts of the last two years are restless.

Noir is always a rich genre to mine, and after BOOM! Studios’ 4-issue run of Hit: 1955 about an undercover LAPD wetworks squad taking down organized crime, writer Bryce Carlson has returned bearing pages of rich, bloody treasures.  In the tradition of James Ellroy and Mickey Spillane, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker, Carlson has taken aim at the giants of the genre and proven himself worthy again.  His story burns with stale smoke and gunpowder, the sour sweat of dreams denied and potential lost in the understew of the City.

And placing it in this pivotal era of change for the LAPD only serves to give him a bigger, deeper sandbox to play in.  The fall of organized crime, the shift to Parker Center, and the looming modernization of the police force as the LAPD seems to have taken control of the chaos from before; all of these are looming over the men fighting the real fight for Los Angeles, as threats to them come from their own people and their own souls.

Perfectly capturing the noir sensibility, Russ Manning Award-winner Vanesa R. Del Rey also returns to ink this gritty tale, aptly drenching her frames in the darkness of the story, allowing the desperate faces of the characters to serve as the only flickers of dim hope.

Pick them up individually as they come out or deny yourself a great pleasure and wait for the collection.  You’ll only have yourself to blame.

VERDICT:             Five Smoking, Empty Rounds out of Five

This review was first published at Check out their site and if you like it, check out their podcasts or sign up for their newsletter (a daily highlight of the best in geek news). 

REVIEW: Night of the Red Panda. Issue #10


“Dozens of crimes committed in the last hour and who knows how many more to come.  And, do you know what was missing in all the reports?”
“A sassy sidekick punching things in the face?”
“Yes.  But, also baboons.  The Mad Monkey has his baboon army back.  But, they weren’t seen at any of the crimes.  Why?”
“And, this is what bothers you?”

With dialogue like that, it’s no wonder The Red Panda and Kit the Flying Squirrel are one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years.  And now, they’re back in another exciting adventure with Part 1 of “Monkey See, Monkey Do!”

While Doctor Sennick prepares to unveil his new invention, a device to amplify the untapped potential of the human brain, master villain The Mad Monkey has other plans for the device. Armed with his army of escaped baboons, “that sinister simian, that pernicious primate” instead intends to extend his control to mankind itself!

Artist Dean Kotz amps up the excitement with giddy glee (How can you not have fun with an army of monkeys?), washing his frames in three-color glories, making his layouts pop and sizzle, and heightening the pulpy fun of a gloriously campy story.

Monkeybrain also fills out the issue with a great article by writer Gregg Taylor, covering the creation of this issue’s villain and its vocal realization in the audio drama by actor Christopher Mott.

Also in this issue,Chapter 11 of the novel Tales of The Red Panda: The Pyramid of Peril!  And, if you’re too eager to wait for the monthly installments, the whole rollicking adventure is available in it entirety at

“Any sign of our friend?”
“I’ve got good news and bad news . . . Ah scratch that, I just got bad news.”

VERDICT:       FOUR Escaped Toronto Baboons out of FIVE

All of  my reviews are first published at Check out their site and if you like it, check out their podcasts or sign up for their newsletter (a daily highlight of the best in geek news). 

A Life Too Short – Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

(Today marks the 3rd Anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.  Yes, it’s been three years since he passed away.  And it made me think back to those strange sad days.  I was lucky enough to attend the funeral, and wrote about it back then, and in honor of the anniversary, I thought I’d post it once more.  If you’ve seen it before, a new column will be up shortly, so please excuse my indulgence and come back soon.  And thank you.)

July 8, 2009:

What you saw on television was not what we saw inside the Staples Center yesterday.

Yes, you saw the crying family, the heaped accolades, the well-deserved praises and the joyful singing.  You might have even seen the crowd walking in, with their gold and silver wristbands, denoting whether you got to enter the actual event(gold), or were relegated to the smaller Nokia Center (silver) across the way to watch it on video.

I had a gold wristband.  Did I win it in the massive email raffle that threatened to crash the internet?  Nope, wasn’t that lucky.  But I did have a good friend who had a friend in Scotland who was unlucky enough to win.  I say unlucky, because once he had the code, he couldn’t get a flight out in time to be here. So he gave the code to my friend, Salena, who invited me.

Was I the biggest Michael fan?  No.  I never bought the shiny single glove or the red leather jacket, and only ever attempted to moonwalk (badly) on skates.  But was Michael a part or my life?  You can ask anyone from 5 to 50 the same question, and if answered honestly, the answer would be a resounding “Yes”.  Growing up, I’d listen to the music of Michael and his brothers as my mother and I struggled to make ends meet on her single income.  A cassette of “Thriller” escorted me through England and Europe in the 80’s, and I met people who didn’t speak my language there.  But they knew those songs.  We all knew those songs.  His music is part of the soundtrack of our lives… all our lives.

Now, there’s a strange vibe about this event.  Yes, the King of Pop is dead.  Yes, we all know that.  It’s not in dispute.  But the event itself is a living thriving thing.  It pulses with life and energy and joy and grief, all intertwined.  When I left work on Monday, my staff told me to have a good time, to have fun.  I readily accepted these wishes, but then was staggered.

This was a Memorial event…. akin to a public funeral.  With 9,000 special guests, and 17,500 more attendees.  How do you dress for something like this?  How do you act?  What is the etiquette we follow?  This was not a Head of State.  Not Royalty. Not a politician, or war hero, or great scientist.

No, this was an entertainer… possibly one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived.  This Memorial could never be a somber, sullen affair.  This had to be a celebration, a time of remembrance, of shared joy and shared grief.

And what you saw on television was not what we saw inside the Staples Center.

You may have seen Smokey Robinson read the telegrams and messages of remembrance from those who couldn’t be there.  But you didn’t experience the long reverent silence that followed.  Not really.  Some commentators filled in on TV, from what I understand, but being there, in the arena, the minutes of respectful quiet was a centering experience.

The familyYou saw the gold coffin, draped in roses, being escorted in by the mourning brothers.  But you didn’t feel the almost electrical jolt that pulled 20,000 people to their feet as they realized what was happening.  The applause you heard was the joy and grief of 20,000 people being given the honor of giving Michael his final standing ovation.  And while you may have seen the family sit back down, you didn’t see that every other person in the Staples Center waited until they were sitting again before they sat themselves.

Our Memorial programs were collections of letters and pictures, but no listing of speakers and guests, so we were as surprised as you as each new person came up to speak and honor Michael.  The entire arena seemed to hold its collective breath as Queen Latifah read Maya Angelou’s touching heartfelt poem to Michael “We Had Him.”  When Stevie Wonder said that “This was a moment I wished I didn’t live to see come,” we were all up on that stage with him.

My friend Salena held herself well until Brooke Shields began to cry and then it was over for her.  And as Shields read from Atoine de Saint-Expurey’s the Little Prince, you could imagine Michael in his possibly greatest role, the one he never got to play… because he was living it instead.

You may have heard the random shout-outs and blessings to Michael and the Jackson family, but you didn’t see the Japanese girl weeping softly behind us, rocking herself and whispering “I love you, Michael. Sayonara, Michael” over and over.  Occasionally, she would reach out inconsolably as if she could touch him.

But when Marlon spoke, choking back tears, asking Michael to hug his twin brother(Brandon, who died at birth from respiratory failure), and was followed by 11-year-old Paris-Michael Jackson, who choked out her simple declaration of love for her father and caused 20,000 people to want to rise as one to hug her and comfort her in her grief, we knew we were embarrassingly, heartbreakingly in the presence of a greater truth.

Because as much as he was idolized and adored by his fans and followers… as much as he was one of the best-selling artists of all time…  as much as he was celebrated and scandalized in his lifetime… as much as he was a great many things to a great many people… in the end, it came down to an eleven-year-old girl who put it all into the proper perspective:  He was a human being and a beloved person.  A father.  A brother.  A son.  A part of a large and loving (and even sometimes dysfunctional) family.  And like a great many families, when someone is taken too young, the void left behind is great and deep.  Sometimes it takes a great many to start building the bridge across the chasm.   Sometimes strangers can help.  20,000 of us tried yesterday.

So for those who would disdain the event as undignified or self-serving or too carnival-like, too Hollywood… for those who can’t comprehend the simple act of honoring another human being for their life and ignoring their shortfalls… for those who don’t understand that a larger-than-life public figure can also have a very different private life… for those whose hearts are too small and closed to understand that mourning and celebration can go hand in hand, and that grief shared is grief divided… to those people, I can only say one thing…

What you saw on television was not what we saw inside the Staples Center yesterday.

Childhood’s End – Part I

“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

I blame Maurice Sendak.  It’s all his fault.  And when he died last month at the age of 83, it all came back.

This is about the things we carry from childhood into the rest of our lives.

There are stories that shape us, stories that teach us new ways to look at the world.  If you’re lucky, you read one of those when you were young.  If you’re very lucky, you might write one of those.  And if you’re truly blessed, you might write more than one.

I learned to read very early on.  Until high school, I was usually the most widely read person in my class.  I read everything.  I never got beat up, because I always asked bullies to let me finish this chapter first, and they lost interest.  A teacher later called me an “omnivorous” reader.  Since I didn’t recognize that word, I went and looked it up.  And it was true.

Luckily for me, my mother recognized this early on, and always kept the shelved stocked with books.  I tore through Dr. Seuss in the summer before 1st grade.  By third grade, I had moved to Jack London and Lewis Carroll.  Because she never censored or forbid me from reading anything in the house, I raided her Harold Robbins novels, and in 4th grade, I may not have understood why things were “turgid” or “heaving” but I knew it must be good.   A 4-volume set called the Life Cycle Library taught me about reproduction in 3rd grade, so I didn’t understand why it was such a hush-hush thing to talk about it in 6th grade Sex Ed.  You want to talk about where babies come from?  Sure, what do you wanna know?

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another.

But the first book I ever bought with my own money was a slim little volume, maybe 48 pages, that was more picture than word.  That book was “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak.  I remember seeing the blurb in my schools book club flyer and liking the art.  So I carefully gathered my nickels and dimes together and placed my order, and when I got it, I took it home and devoured it.  It’s slight in terms of verbiage, running just over 330 words.

But in those 330 or so words…

My first inspiration

If you haven’t read it, then your childhood was for naught.  Telling the story of a wild child named Max, who goes on a fantastical journey to a lush island to become King of the Wild Things, “Where the Wild Things Are” opened my eyes to what was possible… how powerful we children were.  Because of our imaginations.  Our wonderful, terrible imaginations.  This was special secret knowledge, and it must have slipped through the barrier of “you’ll understand when you’re older.”

Knowing this, I hid the book under my mattress, because if my parents ever found out about this, there must be terrible repercussions.  They couldn’t know anything about this.  So I hid it away and read it in secret, my wonderful private piece of truth.  They first thing I ever remember hiding from my mother.

But one day, I accidentally left the book out, and my mother walked in, and the book was right there, right in the middle of the floor.  I held my breath, not listening to a word she said, making acknowledging sounds.  Chores?  Uh-huh.  Homework?  Sure.  Feed the dishes, eat the dog?  OK, fine. Yeah, mom, I feel great, why?

And when she left without commenting on the book, I realized something…

Oh my god, my parents are blind!!  They must be, to ignore something ticking like a time bomb right in front of them!!  How could she not see it?  Or maybe something more…. Maybe the force of my will was so great that I made her not see it.

Or maybe… maybe it was something else.  Something darker.

Maybe when you grew up, you forgot the power in words, in images.  The sense of wonder.  The limitlessness of your mind.  Maybe it got shrunk by bills, and work, and daily mundane chores, and even by us kids themselves.  Maybe it grew dim and faded under the weight of numbers and calendars and books without pictures.

Or maybe you chose to let it go, because it was easier to lead a simple, unimagined life than to live with the weight of what you had lost.  Peter Pan took Wendy and the boys to Neverland, but when she grew old, she lost the strength of her Happy Thoughts.  Maybe that’s what happened to my parents.

“Then from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat, so he gave up being king of the wild things.”

Max’s mother sent him to his room, and he ended up in another place completely, but was still home in time for a warm supper.  Because that’s what parents do.  They give us roots and wings.  I look forward to the day when I can share this book with my children.

Or even better, pretend I don’t notice it on their floor.   And see where their imaginations take them.

I write not because I want to be rich and famous (though I do), or because I want to leave a legacy of some kind (also true), but because I want someone to feel the same things I felt when I first read that books.  I want a reader to realize how great and complex and beautiful and tragic and emotional and ordinary and extraordinary the world is.  And it all started with “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Like I said, I blame Maurice Sendak.  And bless his every breath.

What book did it for you?

“Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.”
As quoted in “Questions to an Artist Who Is Also an Author : A Conversation between Maurice Sendak and Virginia Haviland (1972) by Virginia Haviland”
Maurice Sendak

The Ascension of Joss

The Master at work
”Joss Whedon is My Master Now”

That was one of the more popular shirts at San Diego Comic-Con in recent years.

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it should. He’s kind of been in the news lately. You might have heard of a little movie called “The Avengers.” Or maybe “Cabin in The Woods?” Two of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies released in the last month. He co-wrote and produced “Cabin…” and co-wrote and directed “The Avengers” and in between production and post-production on that one, in his spare time, he gathered a few friends and filmed an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing.”

Let me repeat that…. in his spare time…

He’s only been responsible for some of the most culturally influential genre works in the last 15 years.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel. Firefly and Serenity. Dollhouse. When he premiered his online musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” demand was so high that servers crashed and critics accused him of breaking the Internet. And then it went on to win a People’s Choice award, a Hugo, seven Streamy Awards, an Emmy, and was named one of Time magazine’s Top 50 Inventions of 2008.

And until now, he’s been one of Hollywood’s best-kept open secrets. They knew what he could do and seemed hellbent through either incompetence or malicious intent (because nobody could be that willingly stupid, could they?) on keeping him from doing what he does best. But after the last few months, the world knows just what he is capable of.

So why am I going on about this guy on a blog that’s supposed to be about writing? Simple.

Because he knows what he’s doing. And he’s doing it very well. Joss Whedon may be a cruel sadistic bastard who delights in making you care for his characters then dropping them into a meat grinder with a side order of big-eyed puppies and fluffy baby ducks, but that’s only because he’s so good at what he does.

Joss Whedon makes you care about his characters. And none of them are perfect. In fact, far from it. They are well-rounded, deep and fundamentally flawed. Because Joss Whedon knows that in order to make a story good, you need three things:

– A flawed character who wants something.
– Someone who is preventing them from getting it.
– And a mudpit/arena/battlefield for them in which to fight to the death.

Everything else is just window dressing and budget size. In the 200-million dollar epic, “The Avengers,” the team must prevent Loki from unleashing an alien army on they earth. In the micro-budgeted “Dr. Horrible..”, the doc must overcome his nemesis, Captain Hammer, in order to join the Evil League of Evil. In the multi-season TV series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Buffy must embrace her destiny to be the Slayer, the Chosen One of her generation.

What do these have in common? They are all damaged characters. They all have deep internal flaws they need to overcome in order to defeat the external force opposing them. The thing inside them preventing them from achieving their goal is as powerful as the external force.

The Avengers are all individuals who must learn to come together as a team. Dr. Horrible wants to be more evil than he actually is. Buffy wants to have a typical normal life and boyfriend. In some of these examples, they make a choice. In some, the choice is made for them.

But all of them come at a cost, as most good internal conflicts do. Because if what your character wants isn’t the most important thing in the world to them, then it won’t be to a viewer or reader. And if the lengths to which they go to achieve it (either willingly or unwillingly) aren’t comparable to the ends of the earth for them, then your audience has changed the channel or gone out for popcorn or put down the book and picked up the latest part of the Twilight saga instead.

If you aren’t willing to have your character give up everything they have to get what they want, then they don’t want it very much.

And no, the stakes don’t have to be world-shattering. The fate of the entire universe doesn’t have to hang in the balance for everyone in the universe. It can be as simple as a new bike for a ten-year-old boy, or a Brownie’s desire to sell the most Girl Scout cookies. Pretty inconsequential to the average person on the street.

But to that boy and girl? Let’s take it deeper…

Let’s say that boy is the only healthy child of a mother with tuberculosis, abandoned by her husband, with a younger sibling in need of an operation, and the only way they can afford heat in this worst winter in a hundred years is if he can complete his paper route. But to do that, he needs a new bike.

And our little Brownie? She was the darling only child of her parents… until her new little sister was born. And now the only attention she gets is from the Girl Scout troop that her parents made her join to get her out of the house so they could spend more time with the new baby. So she believes that if she sells enough cookies, she’ll prove her worth and her parents will love her again.

A bike. A Girl Scout cookie sale. The loss of family, the loss of love. It’s a matter of life and death.

Last year, an interviewer asked Joss why he writes such strong female characters. His answer? “Because you still ask questions like that.”

See, he knows it’s not about male or female, gay or straight, black, white, or green, or even human.

It’s about character. What does your character want? What’s keeping them from getting it? What are they willing to give up to get it?

If you can quickly and compellingly answer those three questions, then you have a successful career awaiting you in Hollywood.

But don’t tell anyone. Because it’s a secret. Like Joss Whedon’s omnipotence.


Oh yeah, if you want more of Joss’ wisdom on writing, check out his top ten writing tips here, originally published on BBC’s channel 4 Talent Magazine.