Tag Archives: graphic novels

Hitting The Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It)

In all my nearly twenty years as a poet and writer, I’ve never believed in writer’s block.

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And this isn’t a piece expounding on how I suddenly found myself staring into the blank Microsoft Word document glowing back on my laptop, how my fingers froze, or how some unfelt before fear from the Great Beyond had turned on the faucet and I started sweating profusely.

No, I still don’t believe in writer’s block.

But it believes in me, and it almost hit me nonetheless. Hard.

As many of you probably know, since March of 2013, I’ve been writing a series of mystery novels under the auspices of “Hipster Noir” on the PATH train during my morning and evening commute to work. Three novels later, over 200,000 words, and one proposal to pitch them all to an agent or publisher, I’m still going strong with my fourth novel, The Curious Case of Tomorrow (Or, The Trouble with Time Travel).

But this fourth novel, which is a direct continuation of the third, the way Quantum of Solace is a continuation of Casino Royale, started making me second guess some things. I would still get on the PATH train from Grove Street in Jersey City to the World Trade Center stop on the other side of the Hudson, and my fingers would still go to work with my iPhone music library shuffling between Tom Waits and Gin Wigmore, with an occasional Lykke Li ballad or Pearl Jam anthem cutting in over the seven-minute or so ride.

This time, however, felt different.

I knew that I was really searching blindly for a spark. Now I can’t get too detailed here because I’d have to divulge what my fourth novel is all about, and I haven’t even published any of the first ones yet, but this was the first time over the course of almost thirty-six months that the writing was not yielding anything that I was getting truly excited about, the way the first three novels had done.

Nonetheless, I kept going. I kept writing every morning and evening, just like I’d done for nearly three years. The only difference was that instead of having my characters, story, and all its plot twists, McGuffins and organically sprout from within, I was actively searching for that spark, yet never thinking to admit that I may have finally found what no writer has ever actively searched for:

The Writer’s Block. And yes, I capitalize it like a proper noun ‘cause it deserves a proper level of respect. Anything that pushes us to become better writers does.

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The way I see it, we are the ones who create the Writer’s Block, by pouring out so much of who we are and what we are in our writing. At one point, we run out of things to write. But as Tom Waits sings, “you build it up, you wreck it down…” in a song appropriately titled “Hold On,” that’s exactly I did. I gave it form, shaped the shapeless into something that, in time, and once I found its weakness, I could hope to break right through.

Back to my Curious Case of Tomorrow. Amid my searching within not one, but two separate timelines that this new novel has split into; after figuring out that what I was writing this time around was no longer a mystery novel, but a science-fiction spaghetti western (if there’s even such a thing); when I finally surprised myself one day riding that iron horse through those morning and evening tunnels humming with the electricity of possibility, I knew I had finally blasted right through that ‘Block.

I had found my voice. Again.

Then I realized that it wasn’t the first time this ever happened, but it was the first time I became aware of it’s happening. And I dealt with it.

The Writer’s Block isn’t a stumbling block, it’s an uncarved block. It doesn’t necessarily have to stop your creativity. It’s not the blank page we stare blankly at, but the page that stares at us and pushes us to shut up our minds and write anything, which proves to be the most frightening thing for us writers –– to write without purpose. Without saying anything.

Writing for the sake of writing. Of calling ourselves writers.

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The Uncarved Block, or Pu, as Taoist abstract art.

But at least we’re writing, and in doing so, we’re showing that ‘Block whose boss.

Not enough of us do this. We hit the ‘Block and we wait for the right words. We complain about it on Facebook. We may go out with our friends to forget about that blank stare for a few hours. And each of these may actually work (or seem to work) to get you back on track.

But to find the right words, you’ve got to write down the words. It’s the Taoist principle of Pu –– the Uncarved Block. Though this particular tenet tells us we should let the world carve us into what it wants. From a writerly perspective, we simply need to start with a vague idea and the raw materials of what needs to be said and then hack out the words that don’t add to it. This way, all we’re left with are the ones that do work, and which will resonate and be remembered long after they’re read.

They’ll also be the ones that will remind us why we started writing in the first place.

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A Tale of Two Cons, Part One: Comic-Con International, San Diego

Some of you may have realized that I haven’t written a new blog post in about two months. Believe me, it’s not that I’d forgotten or because I’ve given up the writer’s Way for the suit-and-tiestyle of startup life (there are no suits or ties where I work). I’ve become quite the jet-setter since joining the ranks of Indiegogo, so much of my time is spent at 30,000 feet or prepping for film festivals and other big events worldwide.

But enough excuses for not writing. This month, I’m giving  you “A Tale of Two Cons –– Comic-Con International and VidCon,” one out today, and its companion piece due out on August 21st. Two posts for the two months I missed about the two cons I’d attended. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

Last month, I attended the one and only San Diego Comic-Con for the first time ever, and what a marvelous experience it was. From DIY Iron Men meandering about the gray carpets to alien creatures stalking the children and posing for photo opps, Comic-Con is the premiere spot for all things comic book, movie, TV, and gaming, a veritable Geekopolis where it’s not only alright, but recommended that you unleash your innermost child and geek out. As a frequent attendee of New York’s Con, I have to say SDCC weighs in at a slightly higher class than NYCC ever could; while the latter fills up the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, the former spills out of the San Diego Convention Center and takes over the entire Gaslamp Quarter.

SDCC-2012-logo8 As an aspiring comic book/graphic novel author, the lessons I learned at SDCC about the comics industry, entertainment business, and beyond are also heavier. Last year, I had a hefty number of takeaways. [LINK to Broken Frontier article] This year, my conversations included S.M. Vidaurri (Archaia’s Iron, or The War After), Marcus To (Archaia’s upcoming Cyborg 009 –– apparently I’m a huge fan of Archaia Entertainment), J.T. Krull (Aspen Comics), and Jeff Smith (Bone and RASL) with brief eavesdroppings on conversations with legends like Len Wein and Jimmy Palmiotti, and some elbow rubs with Ed Catto, I was also representing Indiegogo at SDCC, so I got to speak with lots of folks who are interested in the “crowdspace,” like Jon Bogdanove, who had launched a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming graphic novel Strongman. If only I’d gotten to him earlier! However, if this Strongman: Volume One campaign doesn’t reach its goal, I hope to help Jon craft a “Stronger-man” campaign for Indiegogo.

I also had a great conversation with Steve Stern and Dan Cote, co-creators of the Zen: Intergalactic Ninja franchise from the late 1980s, who also have a pretty sweet side business in which they turn movie scripts into comic books. I’m thinking of working with these guys on my vampire/sci-fi/dramic (yeah, I just made that last word up) screenplay A Beautiful Unlife.

I remembered this from the old Nintendo 8-bit video game. Had no idea it was a comic, too.

I remembered this from the old Nintendo 8-bit video game. Had no idea it was a comic, too.

And there was also a high-octane panel I co-moderated with The Crowdfund Mafia’s CEO Michael Fultz featuring the campaign owners of some of Indiegogo’s top funded campaigns like Toby Turner, Sean Keegan, and Corey Vidal. Add on top of that lots of time hanging out with Lloyd Kaufman and the crazy-cool folks at Troma Entertainment and meeting tons of animated film folks thanks to Facebook friend-turned-real-life-friend Alexia Anastasio, I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience at SDCC.

But what good is a blog post without lessons? In a nutshell, here’s what I brought back from San Diego Comic-Con aside from a ton of new reading material:

There’s lots of talent out there, from illustrators to filmmakers. And in a world where everyone judges everything, that talent can sometimes go unacknowledged. Don’t get me wrong, I also realized there’s lots of stuff out there that probably shouldn’t have left the imagination. But the fact is it did, and it has audience because we live in a niche-driven world. Look at steampunk, which is picking up steam (couldn’t help it, sorry) more and more every year. In fact, I picked up the first two issues of Steam Wars, a ‘punked out version of Star Wars from the Antarctic Press booth.

I got my copies of Steam Wars signed by creator Fred Perry.

I got my copies of Steam Wars signed by creator Fred Perry.

Almost everyone’s interested in crowdfunding, and although Kickstarter itself was not at SDCC, I did feel its tremors in the Force in the form of campaign cards and even a display of sculptures that’s currently raising funds for production. Even though the kompetition was MIA, the concept of crowdfunding was very much alive and athrive; everyone I spoke to wanted to know about Indiegogo. In fact, my friend Alexia, who’s a huge advocate of my work and my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, spent a good chunk of SDCC introducing me to all the talented animators she knew, like Bill Plympton, the subject of her very own documentary Adventures in Plmptoons!, which was partially crowdfunded on Indiegogo. And at a party she invited me to, those introductions lead to deeper discussions, and a consensus was met –– crowdfunding is the future, and it’s now.

Artist’s Alley’s a tough gig, and I don’t know how artists do it. Marcus To was telling me this was his first Comic-Con that he wasn’t chained to a table in the Alley, and because of it he was a lot less stressed; he didn’t have to worry about not being at the booth, since if you’re not at the booth, you’re not making money selling your art. One thing I did notice is that if you want to get noticed, you have to be proactive and engaging, and not expect your work or your names speak for themselves. Most of the artists in the alley were more like graffiti on the walls –– they didn’t assert themselves or try and bring people to their tables. Many of them even looked bored, like they didn’t want to be there. It’s a hard gig, sure, but as with anything, you’ve got to make an effort if you want to steal the show.

Taking over the digital comics space one publisher at a time.

Taking over the digital comics space one publisher at a time.

ComiXology paves the future of comics, and comic creators need to embrace it. I’m really writing this to convince myself of it. I’m not into digital comics; in fact, I bought at least five graphic novel trades that I have on my tablet as reviewer copies that I haven’t gotten to because, well, they’re not in physical form. But ever since reading –– no, experiencing –– Batman ’66 #1 and seeing the potential that digital comics can have, I’m a proponent of this for my own graphic work, though I’ll still remain a reader of hardcopy comics. One of the shoulders I brushed against, but exchanged no words with at Graphitti Designs’ Dead Dog Party, was that of one of ComiXology’s co-founders, who was standing across from Paul Guinan, no doubt deep in conversation about robots. I’ll remedy that this October at NYCC for sure.

There’s something about Troma that folks don’t understand, and it’s this: They do it right! Say what you will about the films themselves, but love ‘em or leave ‘em, Lloyd and the Troma Team get them made and distributed on much more than an indie scale, and they’ve been doing it for almost forty years. I was even fortunate enough to get Lloyd on the panel, and aside from a few “Llewd” comments about how folks tend to break into the industry (something about having strong lips and good knees, I believe), Lloyd brought up the most important thing about doing anything –– put your mind to it and do it.

That's the legendary Lloyd Kaufman, myself, and Megan Silver hanging out at the Troma booth.

That’s the legendary Lloyd Kaufman, myself, and Megan Silver hanging out at the Troma booth.

Every experience should enrich our lives, and all the time I spent at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con have added more Ka-Blam! to my power-packed drive to move forward with my own Siren’s Calling in the smartest way possible to ensure I get my next story out to audiences. And the same way SDCC piqued further my interest in comics culture, VidCon –– the premiere YouTube festival –– gave me a deeper appreciation for the world of online video. But more on that next week!

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Nine Tomorrows: Great Graphic Novels of the Not-So-Distant Future

Many years ago while perusing the shelves of the old Twelfth Street Books in Manhattan, I stumbled on an anthology of short science fiction stories by Isaac Asimov called Nine Tomorrows. I became instantly immersed in this strange collection of tales, a few of which left me spellbound for days after. Two of those stories that remain firmly implanted on my mind are “All the Troubles of the World” and “The Last Question,” which are both part of a larger series that revolves around a futuristic supercomputer known as the Multivac.

Since I’ve been spending much of my time penning blogs, comic book reviews, and my own creative writing, I currently have no time to read actual books (Fitzgerald’s Beautiful and Damned and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises have been sitting in the same spot for a month). My reading list is thus comprised of comics and graphic novels, so I decided to put together this list of “Nine Tomorrows” –– my favorite graphic tales that tell of future days, time travel, and parallel universes.

9. Robin 3000 by Brian Preiss and P. Craig Russell

This two-issue prestige format book under DC Comics’ Elseworlds trademark, did not seem to do very well with audience despite its interesting sci-fi premise: 31st Century Thomas Wayne fights off a threatening alien race as the Boy Wonder after the Batman of his era is killed. Definitely worth a read if you can get your hands on some cheap copies (I wouldn’t spend more than $5 for the pair).

8. Mystery in Space by Jim Starlin and Shane Davis

Jim Starlin and Shane Davis put together a very exciting storyline in 2006 with Mystery in Space, starring Captain Comet (whom I also mention in my post “The Five Most Underrated DC Comics Superheroes Who Deserve Their Own Blockbuster“), who’s essentially a cross between Flash Gordon and Adam Strange. This is a near perfect book for anyone who enjoys a solid science fiction story that spans galaxies, though I could have done without The Weird stories that come with this trade paperback edition.)

7. RASL by Jeff Smith

I was introduced to this series by my good friend Ed, being that he knows I have a penchant for stories dealing with time travel and/or parallel universes, and after reading the first of two collections, I have only great things to say about Jeff Smith’s story about a world-jumping art thief who finds himself at the mercy of a killer who shares his ability for leaping from world to world. My kind of noir story for sure!

6. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley

Not much really needs to be said about Frank Miller’s classic Bat-story The Dark Knight Returns, in which an older Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl once more to battle back the mutants of Gotham City. This is the paradigm of great stories about the future, and a must read for any comic book fans.

5. Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Another exciting story of superheroes in future times, where Superman, Batman, and all the world’s greatest heroes engage in an all out super powers war. Beautifully panted by master illustrator Alex Ross, this story also pits many of our favorite superheroes against one another in a battle to save the world.

4. Batman & Dracula: Red Rain by Doug Moench and Kelly Jones

It’s Batman versus the King of the Undead in Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, which is a solid example of Elseworlds storytelling from Moench and Jones, with an ending that will blow your mind (and also bring into existence two terrible sequels –– Bloodstorm and Crimson Mist –– worth mentioning only because of the coolness of their titles and the fact that they all have something to do with the color red and rain.)

3. Revolver by Matt Kindt

I only recently discovered Matt Kindt through his most recent series Mind MGMT, and when I saw this at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, I just had to have it. From illustrations to Kindt’s story of a man who goes to sleep in one world and wakes up in another, Revolver is a subconscious journey through the wormhole of imagination, psychology, and human choice.

2. Metal Men by Duncan Rouleau

I’ve heard from a few people that this series wasn’t very good due to the simple fact that it’s dense and text-heavy, but as a writer myself, I wasn’t bothered by this retelling of the origin of Doctor Will Magnus and his band of merry Metal Men. Half the time, however, I was confused by some of the more chemistry-based elements of the story (the “How Stuff Works” aspects, if you will). But looking at it as the story of a man, his wicked, time traveling brother, and the woman they love, it is quite a ride through the wormholes of thought, keeping the camp-factor in tact while honoring the cosmological elements we’ve grown accustomed to questioning these days (thanks to Michio Kaku!)

1. Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson

There’s not much I can say about this story except that is the most awesome story DC has probably ever put out as part of its Elseworlds collection. The story of a Superman born and raised in the Soviet Union with an ending that to this day still twists the corners of my mind into the loop that it encompasses. Brilliant writing and brilliant artwork make for a brilliant capstone on a series dedicated to parallel worlds and alternate realities. This is a must have for every science fiction aficionado.

HONORABLE MENTION: Teen Titans, Volume 4: The Future is Now by Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Mike McKone, Ivan Reis, and Tom Grummett

And because I’m a huge Teen Titans fan, I just had to include this truly wonderful trade paperback collection of Teen Titans (volume three) #s 17 – 19, a story arc aptly titled “Titans Tomorrow” about a possible future where our beloved young heroes Superboy, Robin, Wonder Girl, Beast Boy, Kid Flash, and Raven blur the line between hero and villain and run the risk of becoming no better than those they try to protect the world against.

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What are some science fiction stories (graphic or otherwise) that explore time travel, parallel universes, and/or alternate realities that have impacted YOU and expanded your knowledge of the universe?

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A Writer’s Roots: My Super Powers and Secret Wars as a Wordslinger

“I can’t believe it’s been twenty-five years since I bought my first Super Powers figure!” said the salt-and-pepper haired hipster working the floor at St. Mark’s Comics while pointing out a few figures behind a glass case in the back room. We both took a well-deserved moment and stared off in awe, he at the issues of The Flash and American Vampire I was holding, and me at his Rebel Alliance T-shirt.

It was at that moment one of my earliest memories bolted across my mind: I must’ve been six or seven years old when my Uncle Chris took me to a toy store and bought me my very first Super Powers action figure. I was convinced that he picked one without a cape because he thought it might cost less or something (or perhaps I just never took the blue cloth cape out of the box due to the excitement of owning my first ever Batman figure.) And who would have thought that one figure would catapult me onto a life-long journey as a writer seeking out great stories of my own to tell?

The Super Powers Collection Batman action figure (with cape!)

Like every kid at that impressionable young age, I had a vivid imagination. I would outline very rudimentary tales using my action figures as characters. I wasn’t one of those smash ‘em up rug rats that only wanted to slam toys together in an epic battle between good and evil, the victor pecked with minor scratches, the loser missing an arm or leg. Not me. I was interested in the details in between the fisticuffs. I wanted to know why a mental melee was no match for a battle of brawn in order to set the bad guys straight.

Prior to owning my Batman and Superman Super Powers figures, I also owned a handful of Secret Wars figures, namely Spider-Man, Daredevil, Dr. Doom and Kang (why Kang I’ve no idea!) At the time, I didn’t know much about these costumed heroes except from what I’d seen on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. As for Batman, I’d only gotten a slight glimpse into the Caped Crusader’s backstory through the 1960’s series rerunning every morning. In fact, my very first comic book was Marvel Tales Starring Spider-Man #210, which cost 75¢. I remember I only had a quarter on me. Then a kind mother gave me the additional 50¢ to buy the comic. I was so grateful. I must’ve read it at least a hundred times, even after the cover had torn off; and I even read the cheesy Spider-Ham story that took up the last six pages of the comic. From that day on, I started saving up my quarters and dimes and bought more comics, enthralled by the stories. Eventually, I got the crazy notion that maybe I could tell stories in my own words, since it seemed natural enough, inbred in everyone, I thought at the time.

Secret Wars: Not a great series but a great collection.

Years later, when I’d moved onto collecting other action figure lines like Batman: The Animated Series (which initially got the St. Mark’s hipster and I trading stories) and X-Men, I would cook up stories long after my dad had gone to sleep at night. But instead of Bruce Wayne in the starring role as Batman, it was me, or rather John Enders––I used my brother and sister’s last name from their father because, as a kid of fourteen years old, you tend not to appreciate the hard to pronounce surnames like “Trigonis,” especially when you’re the “quiet kid” living in a primarily Spanish-speaking neighborhood.) Beneath the mask of my Batman Returns Catwoman figure was any girl at school whom I liked but was too shy to talk to. My Secret Wars Spidey was a friend of mine who’d moved away; but in my unwritten narratives he was only a brief flight away in my die-cast Batwing, and we would join forces and outwit the sinister middle school bullies who assumed supervillain emblems and hatched plots to take over the world. Y’see, back then, my action figures were pens, but there was no ink, only a story that would exist each night for a few hours as I played, then dissolve as soon as my eyes tired and I’d close away my alter egos to the Reebok shoebox where they slept while I was at school reading Dickens or Fitzgerald.

Eventually when I started high school and made friends, I advanced beyond the oral tradition of my Homeric ancestors and started writing down my stories. At first, they were based on video game characters like Trevor Belmont from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and King Arthur in Super Ghouls and Ghosts, but those short fictions further evolved in the form of Dungeon Master’s logs––yes, I was a Dungeons & Dragons kid rolling for initiative, a Bic in one hand, Funyuns in the other, and a Monstrous Compendium before me opened wide to some wicked beast I hoped would thwart my fellow dice-rolling rogues along their heroic journey. The bulk of these quests, chronicled in six or eight marble Mead notebooks, found their way into my first full-length play The Legend of Jonathan Gracco, Part One: Ordeal of Love, which I would revise years later as a college sophomore because of Shakespeare and make further revisions in an independent study in playwriting during my senior year.

The immortal cover for Konami's first Castlevania game.

Flash forward to now: Through all of these experiences with story in its various inceptions, I had built up the confidence necessary for this once timid tale-spinner to tell distinctive stories without borrowing from what’s already been told. I believe in the age-old creed: Write what you know. It’s got to come from my heart; that’s the only way I can churn out a tender parable like Cerise or a poem that touches someone thousands of miles away in a pub in London, or perform a spoken word piece that washes over an audience at an open mic. Nowadays, however, I find that stories are too thought out, too erudite. Book smarts is one thing––if you want to learn how to format a script, for instance, consult The Hollywood Standard or search online––but real writing comes from within, from the heart. A writer can’t be made paging his or her hours away in between the countless hardbacks out there about story structure and character arc. To learn how to write novels with literary merit, read Hemingway or Fitzgerald; to write bestsellers, read Dan Brown; to craft beautiful poetry, read beautiful poetry. And if you want to tell stories, all you have to do is pay attention––really pay attention––to the world around you and the world you’ve created within you. It’s all there, waiting.

The truth is that not everyone is a writer. But as storytellers, if we want to tell stories that are naturally compelling and original, we shouldn’t spend so much time with all those secondary “How To” manuals out there, but instead learn from the primaries. If you want to write a movie, read the script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Inception instead of immersing yourself in the dogma of Story or Screenplay. (Don’t get me wrong, though, those books, like vitamins, are great supplements; treated as gospel, however, they can often inhibit the natural flow of a writer, and at times even nullify a story if the writer becomes overly concerned about plot points and page counts.)

When I attended Brooklyn College for my MFA in poetry, none of my three professors ever assigned anything for us to read other than poetry, and all from one textbook, Poems for the Millennium, Volume I. We read the book cover to cover. My mind transmogrified, and I’m only using this sexy $25 word because there was something magical about it that made it more than just a transformation. Only then was I able to I write my entire master’s thesis on the red line from Times Square to Flatbush Avenue and back every Monday and Wednesday for two years.

A writer’s mind should remain closely connected to his or her heart, like a child’s. Everything in our childhood, all those stories in the backs of our minds, whether it’s the Nancy Drew mysteries that enthralled you as a little boy or girl or, as in the case of the St. Mark’s Comics clerk, the Sunday night premiere of Batman: The Animated Series which sparked something in us that made us want to follow a series to the end of the season, or made us want to write our own, is practice. Maybe, like me, you just played with your toys a little differently than other kids, plotting out intricate stories with your Star Wars figures or a twenty-sided die, stories which would never blacken the immortal white plane of a sheet of paper. And if there is something like that for us to tap into, then we must tap into it because story comes easy when you set the derrick in the right spot. Then all you’ll have to do is dig and your story will undoubtedly flow.

The classic Super Powers Collection comic advertisement.

From where do YOU draw your ideas and inspiration for the stories you create? Tell me an interesting tale in the Comments section; I’d love to read it!

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