Heroics: Strange Tales of Absurd Superheroes
I’m very excited for this news, and I hope you’ll share in some of that excitement with me. My first short story publication, “Henchman: Origin,” is coming out on October 16th in the Boxfire Press anthology “Heroics: Strange Tales of Absurd Superheroes” edited by Brian Moll. Boxfire recently posted an excerpt—the first few paragraphs—on their blog to promote the upcoming book.
This is clearly a self-plug, but the anthology’s theme is also relevant to the interests of our readers here. So I hope you’ll check it out and I hope you’ll enjoy my story. Other authors appearing in the collection are Keith Kennedy, Glenn Yonezawa, Jason T. Lewis, Wayne Ligon, Quincy Jones, Rebecca Gale, and Stephen Graham Jones.
“Heroics” is available for preorder right now, paperbacks are going for $16.99, and you can snag it for $5.99 for the Kindle.
Also, if you want to keep an eye on my writing going forward, you can always like me on Facebook.
REVIEW: Heavy Metal’s Helldiver: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Book One
[Originally published July-2012 on BigShinyRobot.]
If by some strange chance you’re unfamiliar with the “Heavy Metal” brand, the first thing you should know about Helldiver is that it’s full of gore and nudity, both gratuitous and exaggerated. Let’s put it this way: this isn’t one you’re going to want to read on the bus or subway. Helldiver‘s story also rides steady in the realm of “pure badassery,” so don’t expect any revelatory literary experiences. Do expect: demons, swords, guns, and a High Archon of the Order of Solomon with a black trench coat (stylistically reminiscent of Spawn’s cape) who uses the aforementioned lethal implements to dispatch many of the aforementioned demons. It’s a fun experience, to be sure, as long as you know what you’re getting into.
Not sure if you’ve noticed this, but the new “thing” around the pop culture scene seems to be angels and demons. (I guess everyone is over Vampires? Here’s hoping, anyway. Maybe they can be cool again in another few years. Damn you Stephanie Meyer!) So the Four Horsemen books are well timed to take advantage of the new trend. Our protagonist, Adam Cahill, is a man who’s given his life to his faith as a High Archon of the secret society The Order of Solomon. The Order has protected the Seven Seals—you know, the biblical ones that, once broken, usher in the end of days—but now they’ve gone missing, and a group known as the Nicolaitans are behind it. The Order calls in Adam, their heavy hitter, to take action. Bloody, bloody action. Eventually, Adam is sent to Hell—sorry, is that a spoiler when we’re talking about a book entitled Helldiver?—where he must track down some misfit companions, damned souls to help him save the world.
Michael Mendheim’s story is very entertaining, with great pacing that moves swiftly from important scenes to set pieces with very little lag time. Mendheim clearly has a knack for Heavy Metal’s particular blend of sex, violence, and incontestable badassery. He weaves the story all over the world and to realms beyond without leaving the reader disoriented, but it’s when we get to Hell that the fun really starts. The realms of Hell are many and personal, peopled by demons in disguise, and the first soul we encounter doesn’t even know she’s dead. From there, things move into a very surreal realm that Adam calls a “patho-reactive plane,” a manifested representation of the soul’s beliefs, fears, and inner demons which she must face. Pretty cool. There are a few off-moments in the writing, like when we get a flashback to something that happened all of six pages previous, or the odd, expository line once Adam gets to Hell, “Your soul can be extinguished, so don’t die again.” This raises the stakes, sure, because otherwise the reader might wonder, “What happens if he dies in Hell? Shouldn’t he just wake up back in Hell like in South Park?” but it still feels a little forced. Luckily these are infrequent, and the majority of the script feels pretty organic.
Simon Bisley’s art is really incredible, and so gritty you won’t believe it until you see it yourself. Unfortunately, this also makes the art occasionally unreadable. Sometimes there is so much going on in a single shot, and the frame composition doesn’t always help you parse out the action very well. These issues are (again only occasionally) exacerbated by strange proportion and foreshortening issues. (The Horsemen website offers a free, seven-page preview. If you’re interested, you would do well to check it out. Especially the gateway to Hell two-page spread, which is a guest painting from Joel Boucquemont.) Those minor issues aside, the art is a pleasure to behold. Chad Fidler’s coloring is vibrant, gorgeous, a great compliment to Bisley’s work, and just excellent all around. Strong color is a huge asset here, considering how many bullets and flames are in the book. There are plenty of frames that will just grab you and force you to examine them down to every detail because they’re just breathtaking. If you’re into totally-metal depictions of Hell, complete with melting faces, crazy demonic monsters, and absurdly-proportioned naked women, you’re going to want to check this one out.
Besides Bisley’s art, the graphical elements of the book are a mixed bag. For instance, the page frames are these lovely, grungy, organic things, they set such a perfect mood against Bisley’s art. On the other hand, the lettering and typographical sensibility is just awful, and this is simply bizarre considering the high production value in every other aspect of the book. It will probably bug some less than others, but to reference the free preview again, look at the voice of God on that same two-page gateway to Hell spread. I’m pretty sure that’s Times New Roman, and the speech bubbles are these ugly blobs that look like built-in Photoshop brushes. Many of the book’s sound effects also look like Microsoft Word WordArt (there are no examples of this in the preview, though). This does not look like the work of a professional letterer, and feels very out of place in an otherwise high quality comic.
Overall, if you can avoid rolling your eyes at some of these admittedly minor flaws, you’ll find an excellent read and a visual pleasure (mostly), but you have to be in the right mood for it. If that right mood strikes, you’re not going to want to miss this book.
(One last thing: Throughout the book, random letters in dialogue are colored red, so if this is some kind of letter jumble, and you can make any sense of it, be sure to let me know.)
[Connor Cleary is an author, video game columnist and critic, and a freelance web-slash-graphic designer. He is a reviewer at GameShark and an occasional opinion and analysis columnist at Gamasutra. His freelance design business is Four Stair Multimedia and Design. You can follow Connor @The_Blue_Key, or at fb/TheBlueKey, or check out his writing archive on tumblr, The Blue Key.]
Borderlands 2 Skill Tree Builder Now Available
[Originally published September-2012 on BigShinyRobot, just before the release of Borderlands 2.]
You know those pants you’ve got that are all soaked-through with excitement-piss because Borderlands 2 is coming out in 10 days? You may want to put those back on for a moment. I mean, there’s no sense ruining those pants you’re wearing. That is, of course, assuming you’re wearing pants at the moment. But since this is the internet, that’s probably not a safe bet.
In any case, Gearbox just released a little web app you’ll want to check out. The full skill trees for each of the four basic classes in Borderlands 2 are not only available, but usable. That’s right, you can hop onto a browser-based skill tree load-out for each class and plan out some character builds, Gearbox has given you 46 skill points to play with, which is just enough to make some interesting builds.
You can access the skill tree builder through the main site’s characters page, then click your badass of choice and look for the giant yellow “View Skill Tree” link in the bottom left. Alternatively, you can use these fancy direct links provided by me at no extra charge:
Gearbox is still working on adding more functionality to the app. Soon (hopefully) you’ll be able to share your builds with friends and right-click to remove skill points. (At present you have to use the “Reset” button if you add a skill point to the wrong place accidentally.)
And while you’re there, be sure to check out the awesome and informative new video on their media page called “Borderlands 2: An Introduction by Sir Hammerlock.”
Enjoy, fellow gaming enthusiasts. As for me, I’ve got to go put my own excitement-piss-soaked pants in the washer. Just kidding, I’m not wearing pants either.
The Border Lands (Borderlands 2 16-bit Style Demake)
[Originally published August-2012 on BigShinyRobot.]
If you’re anything like me, right about now you’re wishing you had a Futurama-style cryogenic tube so you could freeze-sleep away the remaining three weeks and change until Borderlands 2 hits the shelves.
Of course you could pop in that archaic, dusty relic of a game you call your copy of Borderlands the First*, or you could try this shiny new, super-retro style Borderlands 2 Demake created in the style of Smash TV, but with a variety of weapons and trademark Borderlands enemies like Skags, Psychos, and Bruisers. Their gimmick here is calling this “the 1989 16-bit original,” which is cute but doesn’t go beyond that.
*Kidding, of course. Pretty sure my copy of Borderlands has been in regular rotation longer than any other game I’ve ever owned.
Okay, so it won’t bring the real Borderlands 2 any closer to your disc slot—which is positively quivering with anticipation… what? yours doesn’t do that?—but it might take your mind off it for a few seconds.
It’s a ton of fun, and definitely one of the better marketing games I’ve played. You can plan on this sucking away a lot of time as you first get the hang of it and try all the different characters and weapons and firing patterns. Maybe you’ll have a different playstyle than I tend toward, but I found myself narrowing my gun choices down to a very small selection pretty quickly. Eventually I simply refused to pick up anything that wasn’t a—(minor spoiler incoming)—railgun with 2-way firing pattern because it was just so damn useful. Obviously it’s a free, tiny, in-browser marketing gimmick so it’s not a polished work of retro-gaming art, but it’s pretty damn good. I especially appreciate the enemy death sounds, they are appropriately Streets of Rage-y. It would have been really nice if they found a way to support X360 controllers but you can’t really complain.
Read on past the link for some tips and tricks I picked up along the way, or just head straight there and explore the game for yourself.
Some tips and tricks for not having a bad time:
The first thing you’ll want to know is this, and I’ve gone ahead and meme-ified it for you.
Seriously, be careful which weapons you pick up. There are some terrible guns in this game, and a single mistaken press of the right or left arrow can ruin your game. Train yourself to look at the firing-pattern stat first and avoid “random” like the plague. Because much like the plague, it will kill you. (Caveat, if you’re going with Salvador, or maybe Axton and you like getting surrounded and swarmed, random might possibly be a viable firing pattern for “Flame” and “Shotgun” weapon types.) With weapons, utility trumps stats, so find one that works and get comfortable.
Eventually you’ll find a handful of weapon-types and associated firing patterns that work for you, so once you pick up a gun that’s doing an admirable job, don’t be in any big hurry to replace it. While we’re on the topic of not hurrying, never rush a new-weapon pick. Pressing “down” to cancel weapon pickup should always be your default move. Watch out for accidentally running into chests, and don’t approach a chest unless you’ve got some hit points to spare.
Again, spoilers ahead: You can absolutely school the early stage of every level with just a decent 2-way Railgun, just keep alternating between shooting horizontally and vertically and the enemy spawners will be choked with loot chests in no time. But don’t worry about those, later on in the levels you’ll always face a bruiser wave. Since bruisers always drop a loot chest, you’ll have plenty of time to hunt for a new 2-way Railgun when the level is nearly empty.
Get down with the Denver Chiptune Society
[Originally published July-2012 on BigShinyRobot.]
If you don’t know what Chiptune is yet, and you played video games on some of the earliest gaming consoles (or you’re just a gamer geek in general), you’re in for a treat. Take all the joyous nostalgia of your favorite retro gaming music, then cram that like stuffing down the turkey gullet of fun, awesome dance music and you’ll start to get the idea. It’s a great scene, full of genuinely nice, enthusiastic people. If you like to dance, and you enjoy electronic music (and maybe you’re just not that into the club/party scene) then Chiptune might be right up your alley.
The Denver Chiptune Society threw an impromptu show at the Mercury Cafe in Denver last night, and rocked the audience down to their nerdy, 8-bit cores. The night started off with The Ghost Servant, followed by EZKL, Aethernaut, and Champion—all Denver locals. There was an impressive variety of musical implements on stage throughout the night: iPhones, guitars, Gameboys, keyboards, electric drums, but taking the cake had to be Aethernaut’s MIDI-compatible violin, custom-built in 8-bit style (pictured above). It is, without a doubt, one of the coolest things you’ll ever see on a stage, and he rocks it like a champ.
As one enthusiast explained to me last night: Chiptune is more a style than a genre, and any genre can be created and performed in the Chiptune style. That said, most of the show last night was uptempo with strong, danceable beats—and the crowd was loving it. The dance floor was such a purely joyful display, no one was dancing to impress anyone else, and no one was judging anyone else, everyone was there to have a good time and a good time was had by all.
The Mercury Cafe is a cool place; restaurant downstairs, with a little venue and satellite bar upstairs. It was only five bucks at the door for entry, and well worth it. It wasn’t a typical set up for a show, though: for an additional fiver you could get all-you-can-eat access to a small, vegan buffet. The room was set with tables and chairs, leaving ample space between the stage and the seating for the riotous dancing that was sure to ensue, and there was plenty of self-serve water pitchers by the bar—no five-dollar bottles of water at this gig!
One unique thing about Chiptune artists, at least the Denver Chiptune guys: during certain songs they can hop off stage and dance with the rest of the crowd. They’re better showmen than you might expect, being that they’re a bunch of guys who grew up on video games, and their enthusiasm for their own and each other’s music is completely genuine. As EZKL said, “That’s basically how I make my music. I just keep working on a track until I start dancing.”
It’s a brand new scene, and one worth supporting. They need all the love they can get, so if dance music with a retro gaming edge sounds like something you might be interested in, definitely keep an eye on the Denver Chiptune Society’s Facebook page and Twitter feed for upcoming shows. On the other hand, if you happen to be a Chiptune artist yourself, looking for a group to get associated with and maybe get in on some shows, then drop these guys a line.
Plus, if you get in on DCS now, then in the future you’ll have the hipstery right to say you were into it before it was popular.
But what do the heroes look like?
[Originally written following, and as a response to, the tragic shooting at an Aurora, CO movie theater in July-2012.]
We woke this morning to the news of the shooting in Aurora, CO and reeled in horror. We read the witness testimonies with tears in our eyes, unsure of how to process this senselessness. Our hearts and minds and thoughts are with the victims, their families, their friends, and anyone who was directly or indirectly affected by these events. People all over Colorado are flocking to blood drives today (locals can visit http://www.bonfils.org/ to find a blood drive near you), and the Denver Comic Con staff is working with Dark Knight creator Michael Uslan on a fundraiser for those affected. (More details on that later today.)
In the wake of tragedy our noblest selves are certainly brought forth. What we saw early this morning was a genuine outpouring of emotion, empathy, and support. This was a good thing. But from here forward, we know how this media frenzy goes, and I would like to editorialize on these events. It is not my intention to be the least bit insensitive to those affected, but it might not be wise for anyone even remotely affected by this tragedy read on. This op-ed is written from an outside perspective, as a spectator of the news.
I think it is warranted to examine our reaction to these kinds of events, because sometimes in our quest to set things right, and seek reason where there is none, we place blame on the blameless, forget to celebrate those who deserve to be hailed as heroes, and make stars of monsters.
These acts of mindless violence are more common than any of us would like–more often than “never” is too common–but from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Aurora (and many, many others), we’ve all seen this too many times.
(That’s to say nothing of violent regimes or extremists, of anyone who kills for a political purpose, for power, or in the name of a high-minded ideal. All these are outside the survey of what is being discussed here, namely: American lunatics with access to heavy weaponry committing unspeakable acts unprovoked. Further, while there is a legitimate debate to be had here regarding gun control, that is not what this article is about.)
What happened last night was not motivated by a purpose of any kind, as far as we know, and even if the shooter has concocted some twisted rationalization, that doesn’t really matter. A person with the capacity to do this is a monster, no one denies that, but there is this prevalent notion that something must have triggered this person, and we should go after that thing so this doesn’t happen again. This is flawed logic. A person with the capacity to do this is already deeply troubled and doesn’t really need a reason, just an excuse. If it wasn’t one trigger it would have been another. There is an unfortunately appropriate quote from the previous Dark Knight, Alfred (Michael Caine) says, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
That gets to the heart of what will surely become the tone of the media frenzy in the coming days, as it always is: Who and/or what can we blame for this? As we saw in the recent coverage of the Norway shooter, news media has not evolved beyond hurling the blame at entertainment media and riling up a witch hunt. Whether the blame is thrust at books, or comics, or music, or movies, or video games, the story is always the same and has been for decades: banned books, the Comics Code, the case against Heavy Metal, the case against Hip Hop, the recent Schwarzenegger vs. ESA trial.
Many are quick to decry the rise of violence in popular media and wag a self-righteous finger, but let’s not forget that violence is nothing new. From our oldest mythology to our newest media, violence has always occupied a macabre fascination in our artistic and narrative spaces. That’s not to say violence is a good thing, but that it seems to be in our natures to find catharsis in violence when handled properly in the context of narrative, and as such has always been a part of human culture.
And if it’s not the media, it must be politics. According to an article from Mother Jones, people are already trying to speculate about the killer’s political affiliation as if that’s relevant. Matt Drudge falsely tweeted that the killer was registered Democrat. ABC News’ Brian Ross falsely speculated on the killer’s Tea Party affiliation. According to a Huffington Post article from earlier today, Rep. Louie Gohmert has somehow contorted the attacks of a lunatic into what he perceives as “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” No one in their right mind would even contemplate actions like this, much less meticulously plan and go through with it, so whatever affiliations or interests he may have had are immaterial.
This thing will be spun in every possible direction, and every time, reality will take a back seat to agenda.
The reality: He is a psychopath, end of story.
(There is also a legitimate debate to be had regarding access to mental health services, but that is, again, beyond the survey of this piece.)
You might as well blame Homer for writing The Iliad, or Salinger for Catcher in the Rye. Or hey, why not Katy Perry for Firework? That makes about as much sense as anything. It’s absurd as well as distracting us from the reality. In the end, that’s what all this finger pointing is about: we can’t deal with the notion that a person in their normal state of being could do this, they must have been twisted up by something.
Who could blame us for wanting an out? It’s unconscionable, psychotic, so far beyond comprehension as to be unimaginable. So we want to tie our fears around stones and hurl them at something we can wrap our heads around, something we can blame.
But in the end, it’s at least partly us too, isn’t it? We scour the internet, the local news, the paper, we consume every piece of information we can. We read witness accounts with terrified fascination, like a car crash you can’t look away from. The articles are riddled with live video coverage, witnesses with tears streaming down their faces, slide-shows and picture galleries, it’s a goddamn media circus. We want to know who did this? What is their name? What did they look like? Who were they before? We slurp down this coverage ostensibly because we care and we want to empathize, but there is an unfortunate side effect. It’s very possible that we are, right this very instant, giving this man exactly what he wants: fame, or infamy.
You may have noticed that I have not used a single killer’s name, this was intentional. In Marilyn Manson’s still-relevant Rolling Stones commentary on the Columbine shooting, he wrote, “America puts killers on the cover of Time magazine, giving them as much notoriety as our favorite movie stars. From Jesse James to Charles Manson, the media, since their inception, have turned criminals into folk heroes.” Whether you usually agree with him or not, the validity of this point is hard to argue against. If only we could take down this man’s picture and scrub his last name from every article, not give him the satisfaction of stardom.
We all know their faces, these killers, but we don’t know the faces of our heroes.
Let’s see portraits of the police who responded on scene prepared to risk their lives for strangers, let’s see pictures of the doctors and nurses and EMT’s who saved lives and limbs, let’s see the face of anyone who provided safety and comfort to the victims of this crime.
Let’s plaster their faces all over the news instead.
And let the nameless psycho drown in obscurity.
-Connor Thomas Cleary, July 20th, 2012
Assassin’s Creed Movie Confirmed: Michael Fassbender to star and co-produce
[Originally published July-2012 on BigShinyRobot.]
It was revealed this morning (via Variety) that Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Prometheus) will be starring in, and co-producing via his DMC Film, the now-confirmed Assassin’s Creed movie adaptation. The games’ production company, Ubisoft, will be at the helm, which makes this a very exciting announcement in a realm that has so far failed to impress. Video game movie adaptations are rarely, if ever, phenomenal, but theAC franchise is one of the biggest in Ubisoft’s roster, so you can bet they’re going to make sure the project is up to their creative standards. Ubisoft has proven their ability to create a fantastic, and highly cinematic product over and over with every installment of the Assassin’s Creed games, we can only hope their production savvy will transfer well to the film.
There are no details on where, or more importantly when, the AC movie will take place, but I wouldn’t necessarily put money on any of the settings we’ve already seen. It is by no means beyond the realm of possibility that Fassbender will step into the role of Altair, Ezio, or Connor—it’s probably quite likely—but the world and mythology of Assassin’s Creed spans most of human history. So the film really could take place anywhere, and anywhen.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here besides the excitement of seeing Fassbender take up the role of Assassin on the big screen, like Ubisoft launching their brand new Ubisoft Motion Pictures production company. As recently as last October, Ubisoft was in talks with Sony to create the AC picture, but they decided to found UMP and direct the production themselves to maintain creative control. Sony may still end up as the distributor, but at present it sounds like UMP and Fassbender’s production company DMC Film will be securely at the wheel for this one. The AC movie will be Ubisoft Motion Picture’s first big, big production, so it may be make-or-break for the fledgling venture. I’m rooting for them.
Dispatches from the Denver Comic Con: Day 3
[Posted here for archival purposes, this series of articles was originally posted during and just after the Denver Comic Con 2012.]
By day three folks had grown more comfortable, Artists Alley tables were getting sparse as people were running out of stock, and the volunteers were better informed and less overwhelmed. Things went pretty smoothly apart from the whole running-out-of-programs thing, but people got creative and took pictures of the programming schedules on their phones. No biggie.
Before going into specific panel responses, I’d like to thank all the people who helped put Denver Comic Con together, everyone from the most famous media personalities, to the local teachers and authors, from the huge comic names to the local illustrators in the artist alley, from the highest tier of administrators to the volunteers doing it for the love. Over twenty thousand people attended the first Denver Comic Con, and I can safely speak for every one of them when I say: Thank you, every one of you. We’re so glad to finally have our own comic and geek culture convention. Thank you.
Now for some panels!
How to Break In to Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror
Again, I was drawn to a panel about writing, but this one was more specifically tailored toward aspiring writers rather than a discussion of the state of a given genre. Guests included: panelist and moderator Mario Acevedo, President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America; Carrie Vaughan, “Kitty Norville” series; Betsy Dornbusche, editor at ElectricSpec; Peter Wacks, “Howl,” “Second Paradigm”; and Jason Heller, “Taft 2012,” and non-fiction editor at Clarkesworld. (Keep an eye out for in-depth panel report coming soon.)
Each panelist started by talking about their own respective entrances into the world of professional writing, and as usual none of them were quite the same. One thing stood out in every story though, each writer could trace their desire to write back to early childhood. Some of them stuck with it throughout their lives, some had to come back around to it, but each spoke about writing stories or poems at ages younger than ten. If you’re a writer, it would seem, it’s in you all along.
The topics covered included networking, query letters, agents, publishing, and of course what it takes mentally and in terms of disciple to be a successful writer. The conversation was definitely tailored toward those writers who have already begun (or about to start) submitting pieces for publication, and people who have already established themselves as aspiring writers, in their own minds if nothing else. It was a great, entertaining panel bursting with great information for up and coming writers.
At one point, Vaughn said with a chuckle, “I’m sorry but I’m going to ruin books and movies for all of you. You can no longer be a passive consumer of media. If you hate a book or a movie, figure out why. If you love a book or movie try to figure out why. Analyze everything and try to figure out how to do it right.”
Near the end, Wacks reinforced the message that united the whole conversation and said, “The days of the Fortress of Solitude are gone, they days of the Lone Writer. You need to reach out and communicate in whatever way works for you.” This was a fantastic panel overall, and I learned a lot. I hope the DCC continues to emphasize education- and career-oriented panels alongside the classic entertaining, nerdy ones.
Eureka’s Colin Ferguson (Sheriff Carter)
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Eureka you’d instantly recognize Colin Ferguson as Jack Carter. He was personable, charming, and very funny. Hell, after seeing this panel I might even have a little hetero-celebrity-crush on the guy. The schedule had the room booked as a Walking Dead panel, but shooting ran long and both Lauren Cohan (Maggie) and Steven Yuen (Glenn) had to cancel their DCC appearances, so Ferguson filled in.
He had a ton of stories to share about his life as an actor, what it’s like to be on the set of Eureka, and what it’s like to share a studio lot with a ton of other sci-fi shows. Someone in the audience asked how many Jeeps had been destroyed on set, Ferguson said fourteen destroyed, thirteen on purpose. He explained, “You spend 16 hours on set in one day, and eventually you need to blow off some steam. So let’s say, hypothetically, you’re driving a Jeep really really fast downhill. And hey, it’s not your Jeep. Then let’s say there’s this corner, and you want to see how fast you can take that corner. Well, funny thing about tires, when they get hot they lose traction. Who knew? Can’t put a price on knowledge, I guess. [Laughs.]”
Another audience member asked about the scariest stunt he’d ever had to do on set. Ferguson admitted that he has a fear of heights, and one time he had to climb a really tall ladder in a scene. Apparently regular ladders don’t look good on film, so he was climbing a ladder with enormous rungs that he could barely get his hands around. He laughed and said, “They have, like, one six by four foot mat, and they say, ‘You know, if you fall, just aim for the mat.’ Oh, yeah, okay. But the funny thing is, it has nothing to do with my safety, it’s purely an insurance thing. You know when you see actors in costume, and someone is standing there holding an umbrella over them? Yeah, that’s for wardrobe, it has nothing to do with the actor.”
The best on-set story by far was about the episode where Carter had to walk through the streets of Eureka nude. “We’re not the kind of show that can shut down a whole city block. So I just had to walk across town naked, and basically wearing a sock. That’s a nice day, when you open up your costume closet and it’s basically a single sock on a hanger. Oh boy. … The worst part of the nude scene though, was like: Imagine if one day you go to work, with all the people you have to see every day, and your boss says, ‘Okay, so you need to walk around naked and you get to cover basically one part of yourself.’”
He gave some advice to young actors that’s worth repeating, “The journey for a younger actor is hard. You want to please the director, and all these other people you work with, but somewhere between pleasing them and pleasing yourself is integrity. Also, just be gentle on yourself, and be kind to yourself, because it’s tough out there, and everyone else is going to be hard enough on you.”
Cartoon Voices with Billy West, Tom Kane, and Mark Ryan
This panel was an absolute treat, and I’d been looking forward to it all weekend. Unfortunately the programming guide promised an event that didn’t actually happen. The guide said that the guys would be reading various things, like Shakespeare, in their character voices, but instead they just talked about how they got started in voice over and what their careers have been like. Even though I was let down a little, being a huge voice over nerd, I could listen to voice actors talk about their careers all day.
If you don’t know who Billy West is—first of all, shame on you—he’s best known for his unmistakable work on Ren and Stimpy, Doug, and more recently, Futurama where he plays Fry, Farnsworth, and Zoidberg. Tom Kane started doing voice work at 15, and now his voice is everywhere. Kane is best known for his work as Yoda on The Clone Wars, and Professor Utonium on The Powerpuff Girls. Mark Ryan is best known as Ironhide, Jetfire, and Bumblebee in various Transformers properties. Ryan is also famous for being the only man to get the word “bollocks” into Transformers.
This panel was absolutely hilarious, and how could it not be with Billy West on the mic. If you’ve ever heard him in an interview, you know what I’m talking about. It was such a treat to watch all the actors physically slip in and out of character every time they assumed one of their character voices.
West started talking about the creation of a cartoon. “They pay us to come and do some sort of alchemy, which is the essence of any cartoon. You’ve got all these artists and guys who wrote it that created it, then you’ve got a guy who’s gotta direct it, and they are all of one mind. Usually. So in you come and you wanna be of that one mind too, so you listen to everything they have to say.”
That led to an interesting discussion of the changes the panelists have noticed in the industry, most notably the loss of a holistic creation process, and the edging out of voice talent from the creative process. They talked about how, on older projects, they would often work closely with writers to create their characters, they would do some ad-libbing in studio, and generally bring their own creative input to the projects. Kane said, “I hope we’ve not seen the end of that.” But apparently, that’s becoming rarer. More and more, the acting talent isn’t allowed to bring anything to the table. Kane continued, “I think that things have changed a bit, and I don’t know how we’re going to get back to that, … Accountants have gotten control of the business.”
West responded by saying, “It’s become the renaissance years for people with no talent. ‘What’s that, he can fart the national anthem? Sign him up!’ … On one side of the table you’ve got people that don’t know what it feels like to have an idea. They have thoughts. … Then on our side of the table you’ve got people who don’t know what it feels like to not have an idea. How does that ever come together? That’s the problem. That’s where committees come in and gangbang you while you’re just trying to bring some art to the picture.”
It was an entertaining and very informative panel. I hope they continue to bring in such talented voice talent in upcoming years.
Writing for Comics with the Pros
Pretty self-explanatory title, here. The panel was moderated by William Kuskin, Chair of the English Department at CU Boulder and instructor for the “Comics and Graphic Novels” studies class—and for any students out there, it’s a really great class. Panelists included: Jason Aaron, “Scalped,” “Wolverine,” “The Incredible Hulk”; Steven Seagle, “Like a Bird,” “X-Men,” “Sandman Mystery Theatre”; Ron Fourtier, “Green Hornet,” “Terminator,”; Matt Kindt, “Super Spy,” “3 Story,” “MIND MGMT”; and Elliot Serrano, “Army of Darkness.” (Keep an eye out for in-depth panel coverage soon.)
As is customary for these things, the panel started by sharing their stories about breaking into the comics industry. And once again, no two were alike, but there was a unifying message that all the creators brought forward, and this theme carried the momentum of the whole panel: “Do it. Just make something,” and, “If you want to be a writer, then be writing.” It’s both easy, and very hard. The panel seemed to agree with Aaron who said it best toward the end of the panel: “The hardest part of getting into comics is what you all should be doing right now. You should be doing the hardest work you’ll ever do as a writer, and it’s gonna suck for a while. You’re not gonna make much money for a while, but if you can get there, if you can get to the point where you can do this for a living, it’s awesome. It’s totally worth all the shit you’ve gotta go through to get to that point.”
A few were quick to point out and emphasize that “breaking in” to the industry, and “making a living” were two very different things. The always entertaining Steven Seagle put out a challenge for anyone out there who wants to write professionally, anyone who thinks they can make a living doing it.
The first part goes like this: For thirty days, write five days a week, at the exact same time every day for the exact same amount of time every day, which for the first part of the challenge will be fifteen minutes. “Your fingers need to be moving on a keyboard, or pushing a feather quill or pencil or whatever you’re doing—carving in tablets, whatever works for you—for the entire fifteen minutes.” No thinking about what you’re going to write, and no rewriting or editing. That means you have to do all your pre-writing and research and outlining ahead of time. “You’re going to treat it like a job, five days a week, you’re not going to miss it for any reason, you’re going to turn your phone off, you’re not going to check the internet. … And if somebody calls and says, ‘Hey let’s go to Seven-Eleven,’ you’re going to say, ‘No, I’m working.’ But you’re not going to say that, because you won’t have answered your phone.” He suggests, “If you get stuck, if you have block, then you’re going to switch and start writing something you already know, like the Wizard of Oz, from memory. Because you can’t remember the Wizard of Oz so it’ll still be writing.” If you succeed at this for a month, do another month at thirty minutes. Then another at an hour. “If you make it through three months of that, you probably can write. But if you don’t make it through the first week, where you missed a day or whatever, then maybe don’t think about writing.” He says that in twenty-eight years of giving this assignment, he’s only had two people successfully make it through the six-month block he prescribes.
From there, the conversation turned to genre, and Matt Kindt gave one of the best, simplest analogies for genre I’ve ever heard. He talks about writing mini-comics in college about things like art, and how much he hated his job, but he realized they weren’t fun for him. Then he decided to add a detective and make it this other thing, and found that he was having fun and getting excited about his stories again. “To me, genre is like this candy coating that you can put around a real story.”
The panelists gave a lot more insight into the craft and the specific minutia of writing for the comics medium. Especially in terms of collaboration and understanding graphic storytelling. But that will have to wait for the panel-specific article, keep an eye out for that.
This wraps up my day-by-day coverage, but there’s plenty more to share. Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far, and there’s definitely more to come.
Dispatches from the Denver Comic Con: Day 2
[Posted here for archival purposes, this series of articles was originally posted during and just after the Denver Comic Con 2012.]
Day 2 of the Denver Comic Con saw more crazy-long registration lines, more costumes, more awesome stuff for sale, more interesting educational panels, and more nerdy excitement. The convention had at least matched, probably outdid, the attendance numbers of the very first New York Comic Con. Hopefully this bodes well for the continued growth of the DCC. Day 2 brought more indications of serious logistical failings on the part of the DCC management, but luckily nothing approaching catastrophic. By the end of the weekend they had run out of printed programs, and had nearly run out of day-pass wristbands. Actual attendance at least tripled, and possibly quadrupled the expected numbers. Geeks from all over the midwest traveled in for the Con, I heard reports of people traveling from Wyoming and Texas to attend.
It’s probably safe to assume there will be a Denver Comic Con 2013 next year—assuming the world doesn’t end in December, of course—and that many of these logistical hiccups will be smoothed out by then. Read on for a brief take on a few panels I attended.
New Horror and Urban-Fantasy Literature
Being the artsy-fartsy creative-type nerd that I am, the genre writers panels grabbed my interest. The first was a panel on the future of Horror & Urban Fantasy Literature with a variety of authors for panelists including: Carrie Vaughan, “Kitty Norville” series; David Boop, “She Murdered Me With Science”; Betsy Dornbusch, editor at ElectricSpec; Stephen Graham Jones, horror author and creative writing professor; and Jeanne Stein, “Anna Strong” series. (Keep an eye out for a full panel report soon.)
The panelists discussed a range of topics. They started by mentioning some of their favorite authors and books in the genres. Next they discussed genre as a marketing tool, as an author’s toolbox, and spoke on the need for genre cross-pollination. Boop even claimed, “Genre is dead,” and we are “Living in the age of the Tag.” There was a hesitant consensus that a lot of innovation is first done in the world of short fiction. Jones phrased it well, saying, “If a short story fails, I’ve only wasted an afternoon and I can move on, but if a novel fails I’ve wasted months of my life.”
They had a lot of advice for aspiring writers, and spoke about what trends they see coming up in the worlds of horror and urban-fantasy. Most of them agreed that angels and demons seem to be the new up-and-coming theme, and Boop predicted that our current state of heightened political and economic awareness will probably find its way into upcoming fiction, and science-fiction in particular. Vaughn said she had seen a post online that most agents are no longer interested in urban-fantasy, or at least in what urban-fantasy has come to mean—read: modern romance with supernatural elements—and encouraged everyone in the room to spread their wings and try weird, new things.
Eisner Award Creators: Comics’ Best in One Room
Further compounding Denver Comic Con’s logistical issues, at the next panel I attended, called “Eisner Award Creators: Comics’ Best in One Room,” the four panelists were only told that they were taking part in the panel about an hour before it was supposed to happen. They had no time to prepare so it was a bit of a rudderless, meandering affair. Panelists included: Ben Templesmith, “30 Days of Night”; Matt Kindt, “Super Spy”; Peter Gross, “The Unwritten”; and Mike Baron, “Nexus.”
As it turned out, Mike Baron was the only panelist who had won an Eisner (in fact, he’s won two), but each of the others have been nominated for Eisners, and various other awards as well. They agreed that being nominated was a good feeling, it was like a stamp of quality. Or in the words of the ever-cheeky Templesmith, “I like being nominated, it means you’re not total crap, you know?” They discussed the actual Eisner awarding process for a while, including who gets to vote, and how the smaller publisher guys tend to be at a disadvantage because the bigger companies might be encouraging their employees to vote a certain way.
When an audience member asked if being nominated for an Eisner opened doors in the industry, Templesmith replied, “It means you can switch from the chicken-flavored Ramen to the beef-flavor.” Jokes aside, publishers love to plaster “Eisner Nominated/Winner” on the covers of everything. They all seemed to agree that everyone should be reading the graphic novel series “Prophet” which is a reinvention of an old 90’s character in name only. They also encouraged people to check out Scott Snyder’s “Batman” books.
They shared their origin stories in the comics industry, and just like every time someone asks the old, “How did you get into the industry?” question, everyone’s route was completely different. The overall message seemed to be: if you want to be making comics, start making comics. (This sentiment would echoed again in the “Writing for Comics with the Pros” panel on Day 3.)
An audience member asked about digital distribution and the panelists discussed the pros and cons. Baron was particularly insightful, “I’m torn about it. A comic book is a thing you hold in your hands. Comic people are often collectors as well as fans. It’s not just the story, they want to have that artifact in their collection. If they’re fine with having a file on their iPad, then power to them, but I imagine print comics will never go away. Both because of collectors, and because of the physicality of holding a comic book in your hands.”
In an interesting analysis, Kindt commented on a change in the writing of comics. Specifically the move away from writing for a satisfying, 24-page monthly. “Everyone seems to be writing for the trades now, and the old monthlies kind of feel like an outmoded form of storytelling. I’ve been trying to think about what a 24 page monthly can do that a graphic novel cant, and that’s hard. There’s a big difference between sitting down and reading 300 pages of a series compared to reading a little bit each month. I kind of wish comics were like that again, when I was a kid you’d pore over an issue for thirty days until the next one came out.” They all seemed wary of the motion comics thing, Gross said, “I think our art has evolved beyond cheap animation, that’s another thing altogether. But hopefully with the new, digital format we’ll bring in new readers.”
I Am Geek, Hear Me Roar
This was a panel on the role of gender in the increasingly gender-neutral nerd and geek cultures. Panelists included: Lisa Manglass, a Health Physicist and Environmental Consultant; Kylee Lane, found and CEO for Luxury Lane Soaps, a very successful company; Laura Keeney, a nerdy journalist; Melinda Catherine Gross, an actress, stunt woman, and fight choreographer; Kimie (no last name given), a teacher at a school for gifted students; and moderated by Tara Quick an owner of two businesses. Each panelists—with the exception of Kylee Lane—readily self identified as geeks, and spoke about their love of things from sci-fi to home car repair, science to comic books, and video games to horror movies. (Keep an eye out for a full panel report coming soon.)
Most of the conversation, including plenty of audience questions, revolved around the utility or obsolescence of the term “geek girl.” The argument regarded the needless addition of the word “girl” to a term that should, by all rights, be gender-neutral by now. “We don’t call you ‘geek guys’ but we do use the term ‘geek girls,’” said Quick. Lane obviously disapproved of its use, saying “As long as we keep saying this, we’re going to perpetuate it, and keep separating ourselves.” Some of the other panelists gave soft counters. Keeney replied, “I agree, but since it was odd for so many years for girls to be into these kinds of things, we had to learn that it was okay to be a geek and a girl. … I refer to myself as a geek girl at times because I’m proud of it. Both my femininity, and what I’m into.”
A female audience member commented on the strange duality of the geek girl issue. Especially how geek girls online are either treated horribly, or fetishized and fawned over. Because of these, she said that she calls herself a “geek” and refuses to add the “girl” on the end. A male audience member spoke up, giving a lighter take on the usefulness of the “geek girl” term, saying, “Growing up as a male nerd, we still get this sense that a lot of girls won’t be interested in us because girls aren’t into these kinds of things. So it’s nice to know that it’s not just me and my nerdy male friends and that there’s this larger world of geekdom complete with women.” Everyone laughed.
Some folks complained about the hyper-sexualization of women in comics, video games, and movies. It was refreshing to hear Lane reply, “Well, that goes both ways. Have you seen what Superman wears?” The conversation then turned to the fact that you don’t need to strip away people’s sexuality entirely in order to find gender equality.
Quick brought the question to the table: is there even a point in having a panel like this? Most seemed to agree that it was still a conversation worth having, but maybe we should be talking about the next step, rather than the current state of the culture.
What the panel was called:
Battlestar Galactica Universe w/ Aaron Douglas
What it actually was:
Aaron Douglas and Paul and Storm poke fun at Wil Wheaton.
You may have heard that Wil Wheaton cancelled his appearance at the DCC at the last minute. Aaron Douglas (Chief, Battlestar Galactica) was slated to fill in for the time slot originally assigned to Wheaton. There was some confusion and the panel started late, so it was a short one, but it started off hilarious and didn’t stop delivering until we were ushered back into the hall. Paul and Storm started with a Powerpoint slide show about Wil Wheaton’s life and most famous roles, but with Aaron Douglas’ adult face Photoshopped onto every picture of Weaton from “Stand by Me” to “Star Trek” to “The Big Bang Theory” to “Eureka.”
The banter between Douglas and the comedy duo was priceless, but unfortunately it wouldn’t do justice to repeat it in prose. You had to be there—and if you live in the area, you should have been there. Suffice it to say, Aaron Douglas is a hell of a funny guy, and charming to boot—albeit a little pandering. In one notable moment, Aaron Douglas asked everyone in the room to text an ASCII picture of a penis to Wil Wheaton.
Then Douglas told a series of hilarious stories from the set of Battlestar Galactica, including numerous impersonations of Edward James Olmos, which Douglas does quite well. The best story was about the boxing episode of Battlestar Galactica, which if you don’t remember, involved a variety of crew members boxing each other. Olmos’ Adama, and Douglas’ Chief duked it out in the episode as well, but it turns out things got surprisingly physical on set as well. After Douglas accidentally socked Olmos square in the face—which he claims was Olmos’ fault for leaning in when he should have juked, as per the choreographer’s instructions—Olmos stepped back and said, “So that’s what we’re gonna do, eh?” and proceeded to beat the hell out of Douglas, even when the camera was rolling. Douglas had no choice and started fighting back, and at one point in the scene, Chief has Adama up on the ropes and is going to town on his midsection. According to Douglas, he wasn’t holding back, “I’m not kidding. I wailed on that old man.”
Coming out of that panel, my cheeks hurt from laughing for thirty minutes straight. It was a great way to close out the day. Keep watching the feed, Day 3 coverage and in-depth panel reviews are just around the corner.
Dispatches from the Denver Comic Con: Day 1
[Posted here for archival purposes, this series of articles was originally posted during and just after the Denver Comic Con 2012.]
Oh, the smell of nerdy excitement, it’s unmistakable once you’ve known it. And the excited nerds were on parade in force last night. The inception of our very own midwest comic con is a pretty exciting moment for those of us who never had the time or money to go to any of the big, coastal comic cons. The lines for badge pickup were enormous, many of the costumes bordered on PG-13, and the creatives came down in droves to hawk their wares in the Artist Alley. There’s a lot of talent on display here, much of it for sale at prices ranging from reasonable to obscene.
I’ve been to cons in the past, but I’m a little ashamed to say this is my first Comic Con. So go ahead and tally me among the excited geeky horde.
The first evening of the DCC was pretty low-key. There were a handful of panels going on, but nothing too incredibly exciting. So it was mostly people looking around, checking out the exhibitors and artists, and showing off their costumes—keep an eye out for some cosplay pictures in the near future. There’s no people-watching quite like people-watching at a con, and DCC doesn’t disappoint. The combination of nerdy social ineptitude and the comfort level that comes from being around a ton of people who share your interests always makes for entertaining scenes.
As you might expect from a brand new con, the DCC suffers from some logistical issues. For instance, the panelists at a panel I went to this morning (Saturday) had no idea they were doing it until about an hour before hand. They had nothing prepared, and it was a bit of a meandering affair. The program guide is less than intuitive, and there is a serious lack of panel descriptions and programming explanations. Going to any given event was a little hit or miss.
Again, these hiccups are to be expected, and it’s probably safe to say that the next Denver Comic Con will be a lot more organized. Despite the few shortcomings, it’s a blast to be here. Keep an eye out for more coverage soon.