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REVIEW: SHAPER – Issue #1

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“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!

VERDICT:       FIVE MINT TOR AJAX CARDS out of FIVE

This review was first published at Fanboycomics.net. 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). 

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REVIEW: 1957 Issue #1

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“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 Fanboycomics.net. 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

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“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 www.decoderringtheatre.com/books.

“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 Fanboycomics.net. 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). 


How Beginnings Work (and other neat tricks)

What a good opening page looks like…

I’m a slow starter, and this is why.  This is a story about beginnings:

Once upon a time…

Now that’s a good opening.  Short.  Simple.  Sets a mood.  Makes you wonder what could come next.  Everything a good opening should do. Those Brothers Grimm knew a good thing when they saw it.

… there was, to a king, a girl born with hair as black as coal, lips as red as roses, and skin as fair as snow…

This is what’s known as your protagonist, your main character.  You can visualize this one pretty easily, and while our interpretations may vary wildly, I’ll bet most of us think of the Disney Snow White (1937) when you hear those words.

… but she was lonely because her mother died birthing her, and the king was busy ruling his Kingdom…

This is known as a sympathetic trait.  Something to invest you in the character.  As a children’s tale, the loss of a parent is one of the most powerful elements to bind a reader to a protagonist.  Think of what you did when Bambi’s mother was shot, or when Simba’s father faced the wildebeest stampede, or when Nemo’s mother met her fate.  There’s a reason Disney is so cruel to parents.

It’s called a profit margin.

OK, not really, they use it because it works.  It’s emotional shorthand.  And while you can say its just a cliché, its a cliché that works.  Because it’s universal.  All of us have parents.  Most of us know who they are.  Issues with parents are things some people never work out.  And when children become parents, it’s a chance to look at the whole thing from the other side.  Kind of like starting over from a taller viewpoint.

So, we have our setting, our protagonist, and our emotional stake.  What else do we need?

… and the King married a Queen, a proud vain woman who longed to be the most beautiful woman in the Kingdom, and watched her budding step-daughter with calculating eyes…

Good.  An antagonist.  Just what every solid story needs.  And we can see the set-up of the conflict.  The Queen is feeling her age, seeing faint lines appear on her face that weren’t there before.  And Snow White is a little hottie.  Lush young body, burgeoning sexuality, still that tinge of sweet innocence.  Unaware of the power she’ll have over men.  True, she’s the King’s daughter and the Queen is knocking boots with the old guy whenever he commands, but still…

Yeah, that’s not in the story…  not exactly.  That’s what we call subtext, and I’ll talk about that some other time.

… so each day, the Queen would ask her magic mirror who was the fairest in the land, and the mirror would answer “You are fairest, My Queen” and the Queen would be satisfied.

But one day, she asked the mirror her question and the mirror responded “You, my queen, are fair; it is true. But Little Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you.”

And the Queen’s heart hardened.

And with that, we have all the pieces we need to set our story in motion.  A sympathetic hero/heroine, a villain, and a drive.  With that proclamation from the mirror, our story is set in motion.  We have a villain who wants something and a hero that prevents them from getting it.  Everything that follows will spring from that basic story.  All the details that follow are window dressing for that one simple story: Will Snow White escape the jealous Queen and live happily ever after?  The dwarves, the Huntsman, the Prince, the poison apple, the glass coffin… all of that serves the central question.

This is all that good storytelling embodies;  Someone who wants something and someone standing in their way.  How badly they want it and how strongly the other resists, well that’s a mark of how good a story can be.

In a movie, you’ll be somewhere between 14 to 20 minutes in when you see the story.  At that point, you will know who the hero is and what they need to do.  In longer movies, it can occur later, but you’ll still learn pretty early in that Frodo has to take the One Ring to Mordor, that only the Wizard can help Dorothy get back to Kansas (in one of the great movie fake-outs), that Rick Blaine will have to confront his past in Casablanca, that Simba will need to overcome his guilt and return to lead his pride, that Marlin will have to venture into the great unknown world to find Nemo, that Michael will have to join the Corleone family business (no matter how much he denies it).  And so on and so on and so on…

It’s like gymnastics or running or skating.  When done right, it looks effortless.   Yet it is anything but.  Beginnings are easy.  But the easier they look, the more effort usually goes into them.  Each minute on the ice or the balance beam represents 10,000 hours or more of painstaking practice and effort, of sweat and straining to make it just so… to make it appear easy.  Yes, beginnings are easy…

… but Good beginnings are hard, and usually come about only after you’ve written the end, several drafts down the road.  And the more you write, the more you know just how complex and elusive things that look easy can be.

But this is just my quick take on them.  And that’s why I’m a slow starter.

Page Tally:  last week, I wrote 22 pages of audio drama, 2 blog entries, and 6 pages of original script. Most of the audio drama will stay, but the 6 pages may be rewritten if they don’t fit.  For now, they go into the first draft pot.


The Rule of Five

Contrary to popular belief, I do not have ADD.  Not to disparage anyone who does have that affliction, but my condition is far worse.

I have a Writer’s Mind.  This means that I can find interest and meaning in the most mundane and trivial of things.  I also have a short attention span and get easily bored.

Because of this, I often find it hard to concentrate solely on one project at a time.  However, the alternative of concentrating on every project at one time isn’t much better.  It’s like the old joke about why you can’t have everything… where would you put it? (Answer:  Everywhere… yeah, I think about these things…)

So after several years of trial and error (and yes, I am a slow learner), I’ve decided that five is the magic number, the optimal number of projects I can keep active at one time.  This doesn’t meant that I am actively working on all five at once, it just means these these five are the ones I’m allowed to work on.  And I stick Post-Its with their names on the shelf above my computer to remind me which ones are current, just to keep myself honest.

Well…. “Honest” is a subjective term here.  Yes, I agree, this does sound like a cop-out.  You could say it’s an easy escape clause I could use whenever I get too rattled by the size of the wall I’ve built with my Writer’s Blocks.  And you know what?

You’d be right.

Another writer friend tells me over and over that any writing is good writing, even when it’s bad, because at least you will have written.  So, believing this to to be true, I use the multiple-project approach as a way to keep moving forward.  If I get stuck on one project, rather than wallowing in the abject and tooth-pulling misery of being unable to come up with the… exact… right… word, if I get stuck, I can just lateral the ball onto another project and keep moving down the field.

And (mixed-sports metaphors aside) I’ve found it tends to jar loose whatever block has intimidated me that day.  Yes, it is intimidating to me.  I’m of the perfectionist school of writing, where I want it to be perfect when it flows off my fingers and onto the page.  I want pearls of perfect prose to prance about the printed page.

It doesn’t happen.

Ever!

Ok, sure, Callie Khouri says her first draft of Thelma & Louise was the one they bought and filmed, but we hate her so that doesn’t count (j/k, Callie).

More often than not, good writing comes from rewriting.  And I hate rewriting.  However, it is the most necessary evil out of a world of necessary evils, at least for me.  But to get to that necessary evil, you have to write your first draft… first.

As this blog is designed to keep me on track and honest,  I’ve decided to list the Current Five Projects of Doom, so that I can refer to them in shorthand and you can hold me accountable for their progress.  Some are externally driven, which is a good thing, but most are internal which means that I am the only person accountable for their completion.

1)      Graphic Novel – Being written as a script, as I am most familiar with that format.
2)      Audio Drama – Adaptation of Best-selling novel, being done as online radio drama.
3)      Historical Script – Action period piece.  Still in planning stages.
4)      Mystery Novel – An ongoing project that started in college but shifted dramatically after I started reading real mystery writers
5)      Myth Script – Based on Arthurian Tradition.

So those are my targets.  And I’ve shared them with you.  Now comes the time to see if I have enough arrows in my quiver and a strong enough bow to hit them.

Talk to you soon.  I’m off to get inspired by Bruce Springsteen at the Sports Arena