News from my Fiverr Account!

It’s been a few months since I opened my Fiverr account. I am now getting a small but steady stream of work for my ghostwriting gig.

In the last month, I’ve gotten into negotiations with a guy who wants me to help produce a webcomic for his non-profit.

Another client is hiring me to write a series of comics for a merchandise-driven storyline.

One particularly ambitious gentleman has hired me to adapt his book into graphic novel format.

With luck, business with will continue to flow in. It seems like it will be a good idea to attend comic conventions and other such events, where I will hand out my business card and wait for leads to come in.

This is especially exciting for me, as it means I have essentially “broken in” to comics. That is to say, somebody is hiring me to write comics. It is my hope to direct my income from this gig to helping to produce my own comics.

Now that’s going to be pretty sweet.

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Thursday Round-Up

Now that I’ve gotten back to blogging, I have a lot of books that I’ve read that need to tell you all about!

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer gave great insight into how a Christian out to approach the arts. Written in the heady days of the 1970s, this very literate musing on the place of art in faithful endeavors was no doubt a catalyst in the Christian art movement, such as Christian rock music, church drama ministries, and unfortunately, Christian movies.

In sum, Schaeffer has many wise things to say, but the author of its introduction apparently thinks that the book’s chief lesson is that it’s okay for Christians to make rock music. While true, that is not the main point.

Related to this book were The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson and The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani, which both address through different avenues the problems associated with the church-growth movement and “seeker-sensitive” churches.

The Prodigal Church more specifically discusses the issue from Wilson’s perspective as a product of the seeker-sensitive church. His boots-on-the-ground approach is endearing, but he borrows many of his ideas from Jethani’s book.

The Divine Commodity is a much more intellectual approach to the matter, with Jethani eloquently considering the strategy of many modern churches, which often judge success by how full their pews are instead of by the spiritual health of their congregants. Both authors could learn much from Warren Cole Smith’s book, A Lover’s Quarrel With the Evangelical Church.

In terms of comics, I’ve read a beautiful hardback collection (Invincible: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1), a graphic novel (The Complete Maus), and a 1999 book containing interviews with some of the top comic book writers of the day (Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Vol. 1).

Invincible and Maus were absolute masterpieces, and I am glad to have acquired them for my personal library. Writers on Comics Scriptwriting was an enjoyable read, in spite of the interviewer’s fawning over his subjects. It was good to get into the heads of scribes such as Chuck Dixon and Jeph Loeb. I’ve already begun reading volume 2.

Finally, I recently read two business books, one horrible and the other fantastic, plus an eBook on statistics.

Network Like a Fox by Nancy Fox is a poor man’s McBook, which is saying something. It would be much easier to digest what advice it offers if the author had bothered to hire a decent proofreader. Its sloppy editing severely drains its credibility.

Ogilvy on Advertising, on the other hand, was out of this world. It was unlike any book related to business that I’d ever read. David Ogilvy was the man on advertising, or so my Uncle Bill, who worked in advertising, told me. An Englishman, his book is more literate and authoritative than any business book I’ve ever read.

His advice is practical and backed up by experience. The principles he espouses remain sound to this day. His is not the 1983 equivalent of a punch of stitched-together blog posts, but an actual book its own right.

Thinking Statistically by Uri Bram was a short, quick book which gives a hilarious and interesting look at statistical theory. It’s very accessible, and for the first time in my life, it made me think of math as fun.

It was also useful for helping me to understand exactly how statistics work, and how errors in methodology can fowl up survey results.

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The First Comic Book I Ever Read

It must have been ten years ago. My dad and I had stopped in a Half-Price Books while waiting for some work to be done on our car.

My ten or eleven-year-old self meandered among the shelves, bored out of my mind, when I came upon the comics section.

Peering over the boxes, I curiously thumbed through them. I finally selected two promising issues: Detective Comics #610 and Robin #2.

Of the two, I easily liked the latter the best.

Thus, I treasure Robin #2 by Chuck Dixon as the first comic book I ever read. Before, I’d only read those old Bionicle comics that LEGO put out.

I already had a superficial familiarity with superhero comics, thanks to chatter from friends and bit and pieces I’d seen here and there.

But this was my first introduction to Batman comics proper. It was my first taste of the comic book stories of yesteryear, and I found it absolutely thrilling.

Just imagine the world I had stepped into: Robin, a.k.a.  Tim Drake, staring down the business end of an overzealous cop’s shotgun.

The story goes on as Robin/Tim deftly escapes Shotgun Smith and makes a go at nailing some wacky gang called the “Speedboyz.”

But Tim also takes time to call his girlfriend to apologize for cancelling their date (while still dressed in his Robin costume).

He also talks on the phone with some guy named “Alfred” about another guy named “Jean-Paul” going crazy, and apparently this other dude named “Bruce” is involved somehow.

This stuff barely registered with me at the time, but I got the gist of it: Tim Drake is just a regular kid with regular problems living in a weird-butt world.

I loved it then and I love it today.

This day and age is the golden age of reprints. I didn’t buy comics when I was a kid, besides the two I just mentioned.

But now I can read any comic I want, including thousands of back issues made in the ’90s and early 2000s.

I just finished reading two fabulous trade paperbacks collecting Kelley Puckett’s run on Batgirl, when Cassandra Cain held that moniker. Best comics I’ve read in a while.

Now they’re releasing all sorts of old stuff in book collections.

Batgirl. RobinAzrael. The mega-series of Knightfall and No Man’s Land. All waiting for me to read.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

Image courtesy of dc.wikia.com

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The Overlord Tumblr.com Account is Live!

I have set up a Tumblr.com account for my in-development webcomic The Overlord.

As of today it is just a placeholder until I can complete enough scripts and hire an artist.

Until then, please give it a follow if you’re on Tumblr, so you can stay up-to-date about the latest developments!

(Also, Merry Christmas and a happy new year!)

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Thursday Roundup

Sorry for the irregularity of posts lately, but I’ve been distracted by other concerns.

I recently did a brief survey of the works of Gail Simone. I never paid much attention to her work before, but when I found out about her unused “Angel of the Bat” idea, I began to wonder why she was such a “fan favorite.”

After consulting a list of her best stories and doing some reading, I was left thinking that perhaps Simone is more of hit-or-miss writer similar to Judd Winick. Combined with her admittedly genuine love for the characters she writes, and she’s not exactly bad at her job.

I would wager that she’s earned her status as a “fan favorite” primarily due to being an outspoken feminist. That, I believe, appeals to a certain quarter of comic book fandom which I do not claim an overall familiarity with.

My Goodreads.com reviews for the three stories of hers that I read are here, here, and here. If any in the audience would like to suggest any further reading of Simone’s works, please comment below.

In other news, I’m making progress on a webcomic I’m working on. I’ve finished the second draft of what I hope will be the first chapter of an ongoing webcomic, titled “The Overlord.”

Now all I have to do is find an artist, an inker, and a letterer. I’ll have to start putting together a marketing plan to start promoting it. In terms of story, I’ll have to start mapping it out a little further, but I’ve got a lot in mind.

In addition, I’m getting feedback on my scripts in the workshop forums of Comics Experience. It’s been very encouraging, getting honest advice from fellow comics creators.

I even got a question answered by the one and only Chuck Dixon! Man, that was a dream. That month-subscription has easily been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

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Goodreads Review: Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1 by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first taste of Silver Age comics, I having only previously read as far back as the Bronze Age story “Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!” It’s definitely a change from modern comics, what with all the heroes speaking with perfect grammar and long-winded exposition accompanying every other panel.

But reading this made me remember that in the old days, comics were written for kids, plain and simple. I imagine how your average ten-year-old boy might get a kick out of seeing all these colorful heroes and villains cavort about on the pulpy magazine pages. I actually caught myself laughing at some of the cornball dialogue and over-the-top visuals.

But as I slogged through this phone book-thick digest, I realized that if a kid is going to read something, this is a pretty good thing to have them read. Us jaded adults might find it a tad dull, but a kid is going to see well-mannered heroes fighting wacky crooks while learning how to read in a fun way.

They’ll pick up all sorts of unique vocabulary words, such as “experimental” and “gladiator.” It will also turn on those little tykes’ imaginations, getting them to think outside-the-box and develop creativity. Plus, it will be just darn fun.

So if you’re thinking of a fun Christmas present for your kids, consider a bona fide comic book classic. Maybe they’ll even let you borrow it! If they watch any of the animated TV shows, such as “Young Justice”, they’ll get a good idea of where it all came from.

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Goodreads Review: Comics and Sequential Art

Comics and Sequential ArtComics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In what is probably the most academic text on comic books I have ever read, I was introduced to the works of Will Eisner in “Comics and Sequential Art.” I’d heard of Eisner before in passing, but had never given the man much thought. But after being twice recommended to read this book, I am now glad I finally did.

Simply looking at Eisner’s sample work from “The Spirit” and his other works featured in this book made me realize that he wasn’t just ahead of his time. Rather, comics have fallen backward. From what I’ve read in various comics from the 1980s to the early 2000s, Eisner’s influence on comics as a storytelling medium was strongly felt during this time period, but has slowly faded.

Chuck Dixon continues to lament to this day that the writing in American comics has weakened while the art has made leaps and bounds. Eisner, who wrote this book in 1984, foresaw this trend thirty years ago. He not only boiled down the raw principles of comics into a coherent whole, he noted that new technology will create both new challenges and new opportunities for comic book artists and writers.

In addition to that prognosis, he suggests that comic book writers and artists focus on crafting a good narrative in order to take advantage of a world where digital rendering and computers allow perfect coloring and shape-forming to be available to all, thus considerably leveling the playing field. I swear, this guy was a genius!

I now look forward to looking into his works with more detail, such as his graphic novel (a term he coined, I believe) “A Contract with God.” As someone who can’t draw to save my life, I would respectfully dissent from this great master’s judgement that the duties of artist and writer be vested in one person. However, I now know that such an arrangement was once the norm, not the exception. The more you know!

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Art Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)

In my previous post in this series, I discussed how popular culture and the arts have been in a state of stagnancy for a while now, but are slowly making a comeback. I will now expand on the subject of how we can encourage more and greater artistic innovation and growth.

In the internet age, it is easier than ever for artists and writers to market themselves, get their work out, find collaborators, and accumulate followings. But not many artists seem to be taking advantage of this state of affairs. Their lack of commercial success is not often a matter insufficient products, but of insufficient marketing.

As I stated in part one, I primarily buy old back issues (comic books, that is) that I know are good instead of those new, hot-off-the-presses books that, while good-looking, tends to lack substance. Again, if I have no reason to have confidence in the product’s quality, why should I buy it?

This is not to say that today’s entertainment lacks quality fare.

In comics, there is plenty of stuff both outside of the Big Two publishing houses (Marvel and DC) that’s both original and compelling, if not generally clean. I don’t always read stuff from independent publishers such as IDW and Image, but they and their publications do have significant followings.

Webcomics continue to provide quality content, such as Gannon Beck’s Space Corps and Scott Christian Sava’s The Dreamland Chronicles. Most of them are independent, creator-owned works, examples of true artist-entrepreneurs. We’ll return to this concept later.

In the realm of theatre, new musicals such as Hamilton and Newsies have taken young audiences by storm. I look forward to watching Hamilton myself one day, as it has come highly recommended from sources I know to be reliable. Any musical that gets people thinking about the lives of the Founding Fathers is definitely worth taking a look at.

Even in film, genuinely good movies are still being made, notwithstanding the sneers that certain popular adaptations continue to draw. The 2013 film 12 Years a Slave, for instance, is without a doubt the best new movie I’ve ever seen, though it was quite painful to watch due to the heartrendingly realistic portrayal of chattel slavery. I wouldn’t want to watch it again.

Going back a few more years, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception remains the most original film, sci-fi or not, to be produced in recent memory. It is definitely worthy of its robust box office and numerous accolades.

Inception is also one of a very short list of recent films which fall within the classifications of “good” and “popular.” I’m certain the two need not be (nor haven’t always been) mutually exclusive.

The point of all this is that new, innovative artistic talent exists. There are people out there who are creating fresh, original, entertaining stories. They just aren’t always visible to mainstream audiences.

This isn’t so much a failure of product as it is a failure of marketing. Plenty of artists have a good product, but don’t have the marketing savvy or inclination toward business to get their name out.

The central reason this problem exists, I think, is because many artists shudder at the mention of “money,” “business,” “marketing,” “sales,” and “profit.” This is absolutely not true for all artists, maybe not even most artists, particularly Millennials.

But for many older persons in the arts industry, the prevailing wisdom in their circles has been that if you manage to make money or achieve popularity through your art, then you’re a “sell-out.” One theatre guy I know apparently gets most of his funding through government grants while his audience dwindles.

In the minds of these artists, if something sells and is popular, then there is definitely something wrong with it. I took a drama class during my community college days, and this attitude was rampant, especially in the textbooks we were assigned.

The drama enthusiasts seemed open to new types of theatre that attracted young people, but paradoxically were opposed to any kind of commercial theatre. I’m not alone in noticing this attitude. As Lyn Gardner, a theatre critic for The Guardian pointed out in a 2009 article:

That squeamishness is daft; after all, way back in a golden age of new writing, the careers of Shakespeare, Marlowe and their contemporaries relied entirely on the entrepreneurial flair of theatre owners. Our greatest playwright was a commercial writer working for a commercial management.

But this chrometophobia is not found in all artists. What may in one case result from antipathy toward anything related to the word “profit” may in another case result from simple ignorance of basic marketing principles.

One of the biggest is, “You have to spend money to make money.” This could mean hiring a decent web-designer to make you a good-looking landing page. That alone would surely increase the amount of traffic that half of these webcomics get.

Plenty of artists know how to use Patreon and Indiegogo but most aren’t making it clear through their website design that people can actually donate. I didn’t know that Space Corps had a Patreon account until last month, and I’ve been reading it for the better part of a year!

I’m not saying this stuff is easy, it’s not. I am saying that more artists need to start thinking like entrepreneurs if they want to get a large following behind their work.

Like it or not, art is a business, and that’s perfectly okay. If people are willing to pay money for something, that’s generally a good indicator of quality. (Key word: generally.)

(Image credit: Vienna Opera Backstage, Austria” by Jorge Royan is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Art Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 1/2)

In this day and age, we are said to live in the Golden Age of Television. We’re watching more TV more often and more enthusiastically than ever before. On lunch break you’re more likely to chat with your coworker about the latest season of Orange is the New Black than the last thing you saw at the nearest movie theater.

Indeed, television is going through a renaissance, what with the dawn of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime which allow us to stream innumerable hours of TV, old and new, into our homes and onto our screens. These new platforms also allow for the production of original content which, appropriately enough, is refreshingly original.

But while TV is doing fine, can the same be said of other art forms? I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie in the theater that wasn’t an adaptation, let alone a good movie. Going to the movies is also quite pricey, so regularly going to see any movies in the theater other than the latest Marvel flick is not something I’m interested in.

Comics are a growing area of interest in terms of aesthetic quality. They have been for a long time. Indeed, new advances in technology have allowed fans of older issues like myself to catch up without accumulating a pile of back-issues. Comic book art (penciling) is better and more original than ever before.

However, that’s where the innovation ends. Chuck Dixon lamented on a Goodreads blog post that quality of writing has gone out the window, even as penciling continues to improve. I can’t say I disagree with Mr. Dixon, whose run on Robin is my primary area of interest at the moment. I am happily reading through his work on that title at present, which dates back to the mid-1990s. Thank goodness for Comixology.

There are plenty of good new novels to read, I’m sure. But the most popular ones seem to serve merely as fodder for distended, big-budget movie franchises, often of dubious quality. The books themselves are hit-or-miss, ranging from spectacularly good (The Book Thief) to hilariously awful (Twilight).

I’ve dabbled in the theatre, and have found the typical production put on by my local community theater to be wanting. The last play of theirs I went to see was an obscenely pretentious melodrama where every other line had the characters bursting into song.

A glance at the program told me that this was almost literally the case, with a brief, expletive-laden exchange between two characters being listed as one of the musical numbers, even though no actual song was sung in that instance. A college theatre class, and the plays we were instructed to watch and study, were all it took to solidify my suspicion that most modern theatre is a pompous exercise in pointless vulgarity.

However, I do love a good play, such as the production of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Carol that this same theatre put on last Christmas. I still remember an occasion where my father and I went to see Max McLean’s Screwtape downtown when it was on tour in Seattle a few years ago. I eagerly await the arrival of West Side Story and 1776 in the mail from Netflix.

So, we see that all art, from TV to comics to theatre, is having its ups and downs. But what is the common factor that could inaugurate a golden age not just for television, but for all art?

The answer is entrepreneurs and freer markets. We’ll talk more about that next time.

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