On DOCTOR STRANGE

So, I saw DOCTOR STRANGE today. Some thoughts, Storify-ed from Twitter, and then more below.

 

There are other problems – using an Asian setting for the Sorcerer’s training location but only casting one Asian character with a notable speaking role is a problem. That one character (Benedict Wong as Wong) was awesome, and I was happy that they re-framed his character from Asian Manservant to Master Sorcerer/Guardian of the Library). Even with the Ancient One as Celtic, the Sorcerer’s base and other parts of the film still had vestiges of Orientalism, from the robes to some of the symbolism to parts of the music.

The three Sanctuaries are all places where English is a major if not default language (New York, London, and Hong Kong), which very firmly centers the film in a Western & Anglophone paradigm. Have the Sanctuaries moved, or did earlier Sorcerers Supreme build the New York Sanctuary with the assistance of the Iroquoian and Algonquian? It would have been cool, for me, to have even a note of “These three haven’t always been the three. They move when they need to, or when they’re destroyed.”

But I nitpick because I love. Because I want these works to be ever-better. I thought Doctor Strange was one of the strongest first-in-series films the MCU has delivered, up there with Iron Man, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy. I left the theater already wanting to see the film again (I saw it in 2D and have heard the Real 3D version is really worth it. Given the content of the film, I totally see why). I know that many people are tired of origin stories, and I can definitely understand that – I want supers movies to take more chances with storytelling structure and tale-types, but for me this film wasn’t just Strange’s origin, it was also the introduction to a whole new axis of the MCU, just as Thor introduced the Space Fantasy axis and Guardians of the Galaxy introduced the Space Opera axis. Using Strange’s origin to introduce that axis was narratively expedient, though I think Feige and company could have done that work via new-to-magic viewpoint character with Strange as the expert.

So, my general response is that I really liked the movie, and that the concerns I had going in were borne out and are the complaints I spell out above. I totally get why some people are giving the movie a hard pass. If the representation question isn’t a non-starter for you, and you generally enjoy Marvel movies, I think you’ll probably really like this one.

NerdCon: Stories Schedule

NerdCon: Stories

 

Hello, all!

I’m very excited to be a Featured Guest at NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis, MN this October 14-15th. NerdCon: Stories is a new convention (in its 2nd year) celebrating stories and the power of storytelling. I couldn’t imagine a convention more up my alley if I started it myself. I heard great things about the con from several friends, and was eager to be a part of NerdCon: Stories this year.

The schedule for the con is up for all to peruse.

And here’s where you can find me during the show:

 

Saturday, October 15th:

11:00 AM – Room 101A – How To Hand-Sell Your Book

Author and publishing professional Mike Underwood shares lessons from seven years of hand-selling books to readers, booksellers, and sales reps.  Learn how to put your work into a market context, showcase what makes it special, and connect with readers when selling at conventions, festivals, and more.

12:30 PM – Room 101 BCHI – Storytelling in Tabletop Games

Role-playing and other tabletop games are a fantastic catalyst for collaborative storytelling. Creating narrative frameworks and game rules that allow players to have enough control over both story and interaction can be a tricky business. How do game designers do this, and what makes a game truly great?

3:30 PM – Saturday Afternoon Variety Show

Hosted by Paul & Storm

Featuring:

  • A rapid-fire Q&A with Chris Rathjen, Eileen Cook, Joe DeGeorge, Jonathan Ying, Karen Hallion, Kevin MacLeod, Nalo Hopkinson, and Paolo Bacigalupi
  • A talk by Sara Benincasa
  • Daniel José Older and Nalo Hopkinson in conversation
  • Ms. Pacman vs the Patriarchy – a talk by Paul DeGeorge
  • A reading by Michael R. Underwood
  • A lip sync battle with Blue Delliquanti, John Scalzi, Paul Sabourin, Matt Young, Mikki Kendall, and Darin Ross
  • A talk by John Green

 

I’m very excited to reprise and further refine my How To Hand-Sell Your Book presentation, which I’ve given at the Nebula Conference and GenCon.  The other programming looks fabulous, as well. Other than this official programming, you can find me in the Expo Hall all weekend! I’m sharing a booth with fellow author Jay Swanson (check out his cool real-time fantasy blog Into The Nanten). And if all goes as planned, I will have paperback copies of the Genrenauts Season One Omnibus!

You can register for NerdCon: Stories here.

Hope to see you there!

What Star Wars Means To Me

I saw The Force Awakens again yesterday. And I loved it with every fiber of my being.

I am the person and writer I am in no small part due to Star Wars. I know I’m not alone in this. I’m not claiming to be singularly influenced in a deeper way than anyone else, yadda yadda. But here this is my story. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen Star Wars. Its structure and tone has left an indelible mark on me.

Continue reading

Superhero shows I want to see

So, if Twitter and online media reviews are any indications, Daredevil is a hit. (I’m really liking it, though I’m only 9 episodes in).

We’re already in the middle of a wave of superhero TV, much of which is far better than has been made in the past.

But what’s next? Supergirl is coming, as is DC’s All-Star Team-Up (or whatever the series with ATOM/Firestorm and co. will be called).

The big Q I have right now is what superhero TV shows will be greenlit on the back of Daredevil‘s success.

What I’m hoping is that we see more supers shows developed with high production values without always already having to be gritty and morally gray. Agents of SHIELD got stronger after a weak launch, but when comparing it to The Flash or Daredevil, it’s now weak sauce.

 

Here are some ideas that took basically no time to come up with:

Birds of Prey  (Pitch: Girls + crime-fighting) – Batgirl and Black Canary + 1-2 other 20-something women being young and fabulous and flawed and friends while fighting crime. You could basically work directly from the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr Batgirl run for the first season as your starting point (after adjusting the plot of Issue #37).

The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl (Pitch: No, seriously, this will work) – Here’s part one of Marvel’s play for tween/teen audiences. The new comics run is fun, whacky, and really kid-friendly. Do it as a cartoon if you need to. Avatar: the Last Airbender has proven that cartoons can have tonal range and work across demographic categories.

Ms. Marvel (Pitch: This book is huge, just make it) — This comic is a gigantic hit barely a year into its first run. Capitalize on this sensation while you’ve got it, Marvel. Take a stand by putting a Pakistani-American young woman front-and-center in the MCU. The success of shows like Jane The Virgin and Scandal prove that a woman of color in a lead can succeed in ratings. Though I get maybe wanting to wait with her to introduce Captain Marvel first in the MCU. Doesn’t mean you couldn’t do a 616 series instead of MCU, especially in cartoon form.

Silver Surfer (Pitch: It’s an American Dr. Who) – Take your cues from the current Slott/Allred run and have a ball. Made more difficult by the shiny silver-ness of the lead, but worth considering.

She-Hulk – (Pitch: It’s Ally McBeal for the 20-teens. OR It’s feminist superpowered Law + Order). Take your cues from the recent runs and go for a procedural show where the lead is both Law + Order by herself. Cast a statuesque actress or CG her up in post-production (the former is a smarter idea) and go for episodic plots – A plot is the legal case of the week, B-plot is a superhero plot. The next week, reverse it so the supers plot is the A-plot. And then use subplots in mini and maxi-arcs to give the whole show shape.

Wonder Woman (Pitch: The West Wing + Greek Gods). This has been tried for TV, but not in the way I think would work best. Let Wonder Woman be a Big Damn Hero and an international diplomatic figure. She’s a Big Deal. Draws inspiration from the Greg Rucka run on the character, maybe mix that in with the Greek God-tastic Azzarello run.

X-Men (Pitch: It’s a CW Show. With the X-Men). HOW IS THIS NOT ALREADY HAPPENING? CW is doing a lot of SFF, and an X-Men show focusing on younger heroes, a mix of existing and brand-new mutants, with some familiar faces on faculty, WOULD ROCK. To answer my own question, I imagine this hasn’t happened mostly because of Fox and Marvel’s strained relationship, but there’s money being left on the table here, folks. Looking at shows like The Flash, I think the tech is there to start putting more visually-impressive supers on TV. The look of many visually-distinct mutants can be achieved with good makeup.

 

What supers shows do you want to see, and how would you do it?

How We Can Save Borderlands

A while back, Borderlands Books announced that they would have to close up shop. This was met with much despair and many calls to investigate options to avoid closing.

Borderlands held a planning meeting earlier this month to consider options. Writer and Reviewer Sunil Patel took notes at the planning meeting, which I Storified here (N.B. these are not official meeting minutes).

And last night, the staff announced a proposed plan for how they would be able to stay open: yearly sponsorships at $100 each, offering special perks.

On Twitter last night, I saw a huge outpouring of support for Borderlands, and it looks like they’re well on their way to reaching the goal of 300 sponsorships to stay open through at least the end of 2015. I will be buying a sponsorship, for sure. And I would invite you, dear readers, to take a look at their website, look up the events they have hosted, the role they play in the SFF community, and to consider buying a sponsorship if it is within your means and your giving allowance.

Even though I’ve only physically been to Borderlands twice, I have felt the positive impact their presence has on the community. There are a very small number of specialist SF/F bookstores in the country, and Borderlands is one of the very best. It is my hope and sincere belief that the broader SF/F community can come together and give them the boost they need to continue to serve the San Francisco SF/F community, the city that is their home, and the genre writ large.

Side note – this post is not the place for discussion of the minimum wage regulations or Borderlands’ state reason for closing. That has been much-discussed elsewhere. This is about coming together to help the store.

Joys of Recent Reading (Comics)

As part of my move into comics writing, I’ve been reading tons of comics, largely assisted by a giant haul from NYCC.

Here’s a few comics I’ve read recently and enjoyed.

  • Birthright #1 (Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan) – Disappeared child story meets epic fantasy quest…with several twists.
  • Moon Knight Vol. 1 (Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire) – Batman-esque one-shots starring an Ellis-ified version of the classic Marvel hero.
  • Artful Daggers (Adam P. Knave, Sean E. Williams, Andrew Losq) – Set 50 years after the events of A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Anti-authoritarian action espionage.
  • Edge of Spider-Verse #2: Gwen Stacey Spider-Woman (Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez) – THE COOLEST ONE-SHOT where Gwen Stacey gets spider-powers instead of Peter Parker. I am WAY excited about this getting an ongoing comic.
  • Skullkickers Treasure Trove Vol. 1 (Jim Zub, Paul Stevens, Edwin Huang, Misty Coats) – Teenage D&D Sword & Sorcery adventures that starts over-the-top and then keeps going. With bonus shout-outs to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in the back matter.

NYCC After-action Part One

I have survived yet another New York Comic Con. The biggest ever, by current reporting.

This year, I had an extra mission, a driving interest behind my presence, thanks to my decision to get into comics writing.

Most years, I graze the fields of NYCC, drinking in the geekdom and following the tides of my interests.

This year, I spent a *lot* more time in Artists’ Alley, talking with creators, making acquaintances and friends. If I’m going to work in the comics community, I need to be a *part* of the comics community, and in a much greater way than I have been happily reading on my own and talking with people about it intermittently.

Which means that I came back from the con with my suitcase *completely full* of comics. And a few clothes, I guess. Mostly comics.

I had several really cool conversations with creators, and got to hang out a lot more with some folks I’d met at cons earlier in the year. It’s an odd thing to be operating in a new professional world, where I don’t recognize people by sight like I do in SF/F prose.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the swag I acquired during my trip. It…was a lot. My bank account took a not-insubstantial hit thanks to my love of Cool Stuff.

  • The Dare Detectives “The Snow-Pea Plot” (Ben Caldwell)
  • Monomyth #1 (Siike Donnelly, Eric Ninaltowski)
  • “Comics” a collection of work by students in the SVA Illustration Department and Cartooning Department.
  • Shadowman Vol. 1-5
  • Skull Kickers “Treasure Trove Vol. 1” (Jim Zub, Edwin Huang, Chris Stevens)
  • Sleepy Hollow #1 (Marguerite Bennett, Jorge Coelho, Noelle Stevenson)
  • Artful Daggers “Fifty Years Later” (Adam P. Knave, Sean E. Williams, Andrew Losq)

And…more where that came from. I may have gone a little overboard. I also bought some art, which I will show off in a separate post.

From Page to Panel, Part One

A couple of weeks back, I attended my first Baltimore Comic-Con. It clocked in at around 15,000 people, and unlike the bigger Comic-Cons (NYCC or PHXCC) that I’ve attended, Baltimore was still very much focused on comics.

After two days of panels, browsing, meeting creators, and loading my bags down with glorious comics goodness, I should have expected this to happen.

Sometime during the weekend, I was bitten by a radioactive comics bug. It re-awakened my often-deferred interest in writing for the form.

I grew up reading comics, taking the change from our recycling deposits down to the friendly local comic shop in Brooklyn to buy the latest issue of Spider-Man, Batman, or X-Men. I’ve tried my hand at writing comics scripts only a little bit, but often thought about what it’d take to move into that form.

Now, let me be clear that I have no intentions of leaving prose writing. That’s my home base, and I’m not likely to ever stop writing prose. But more and more, I see writers crossing formats, including several of my writing idols (Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Greg Rucka, among others).

Therefore, the last couple of weeks, I’ve been devouring comics, deepening my immersion in the form, investigating what’s going on at the top of the form with the works that are making waves and pushing at the edges of what the form can and is doing.

Here’s a representative sample of my research list:

  • Saga (Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples)
  • The Wicked + the Divine (Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie)
  • Batwoman (JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman)
  • Lumberjanes (Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooke Allen)
  • Gotham Central (Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark)
  • Rat Queens (Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch)
  • Ms. Marvel (G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
  • Velvet (Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting)
  • Lazarus (Greg Rucka and Michael Lark)
  • Global Frequency (Warren Ellis and various artists)
  • Chew (John Layman and Rob Guillory)
  • Atomic Robo (Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener)

I’ve also been diving into some craft books, and revisiting some others I’ve already read:

  • Words for Pictures – Brian Michael Bendis
  • Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels – Peter David
  • Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
  • Making Comics – Scott McCloud
  • Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

Lessons learned so far

Transcribe

One of the best things I did in trying to deepen my understanding of the differences between writing prose and writing for comics was to open my copy of Saga Vol. 1 and transcribe the finished comic back into a script, trying to capture the visuals, emotion, and to see how much text fit on the page.

Saga, Issue #1 page 1. From Image Comics. (C) Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

 

Script != Finished Page != Script

The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far coming to comics writing is that the finished product is drastically different from the working document that a comics writer will produce. When learning prose writing, you can look at a piece of fiction and see the final draft as the actual product. But in comics, there’s so much of a collaboration and melding of the styles and skills of several creators (sometimes as many as six: writer, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, editor, graphic designer) that a writer’s script is only one part of the equation. For me, that makes it harder to tease out where my part is, especially writing without having yet found any collaborators. I want to write some scripts and see how well my novelist chops translate before trying to make finished comics, and then start reaching out when I’m confident that I’ve learned the comics form well enough to start making professional works.

Basically, It’s Writer Multi-Classing

I’ve written seven novels (two of which are trunked, never to be seen again), and a long novella, as well as a couple dozen short stories. In D&D terms, I’m somewhere in the 3-5th level in terms of my Prose Writer class. But this, this is taking a new class – Comics Writer. There are different skills, different class abilities, and a whole power tree of collaboration powers for when you’re in a party with other comics creators. So while my overall Writer level combines my Prose Writer and Comics Writer levels (like a Wizard taking a level of a prestige class), my Comics Writer level is still 1 right now, so there’s a weird feeling of starting over, of going back to square one. I know a lot about storytelling, but the format, the medium is very different, and I’m having to learn to adjust to it, just like I adjusted from storytelling in RPGs to storytelling in prose.

Choosing Your Moment

Since the comics form is one where moments (panels) are compressed into a fluid narrative experience by the reader, one of the most important tasks for a creator is to chose your moments, to pick which snapshot in the action to depict in a panel, as well as how to space out your moments – several panels showing moments very close together, or jumping farther in time between panels. This is not unlike the task of scene selection in prose writing, or picking where to dramatize within a scene, but it’s very much its own thing in comics.

The Business End

I work in SF/F prose publishing. I’ve been learning about the trade publishing industry, and SF/F prose publishing in specific, for around a decade. It has certain processes, customs, and paths to publication.

Comics, unsurprisingly, is different. I’ve asked questions about submission and breaking in to creators and publisher staffers at the various comic-cons I’ve attended, and I’ve received incredibly divergent answers.

Here’s how to break in, as I’ve been told:

  • Self-publish your own works and the editors will find you.
  • Send everything you make to the editors you want to work with.
  • Pay an artist to do a whole graphic novel and then try to sell it to publishers.
  • Pitch editors with ideas and then they’ll ask for scripts. Then they’ll find you an artist.
  • Submit a complete 8-page comic.
  • Submit a full 22-page comic.
  • Self-publish for a while and then try to pitch a new project to publishers.
  • Look for comics anthology invites and start there.

As you might be able to tell, that’s a fair range. The fact that I have several novels out from traditional publishers changes the game for me somewhat, but it doesn’t give me one clear path to publication. In prose publishing, you can query agents, who then pitch to editors. There are other paths as well, but this is the ‘standard’ path. Comics doesn’t seem to have as clear a ‘standard’ path to publication. (Note that the standard path in prose publishing is often anything but easy. But it is the default, one that takes an unpublished debut work and then gets it sold to a publisher).

As you’ll note, this post says ‘Part One.’ I’ll keep talking about my experiences moving into comics writing, both to remember what the process was like, and to (hopefully) cast some light on the journey for other writers interested in moving into comics, either from a prose background or not.