The Way of the Word

24. June 2011

RIP Gene Colan

Born September 21, 1926 in New York, died June 23, 2011 (aged 84), after a broken hip and complications from a liver disease.

Gene Colan studied art at the Art Students League of New York and began working in comics in 1944, drawing for Fiction House’s Wing Comics. He joined the US armed forces just in time for the end of the war, but spent time serving with the US occupation forces in the Philippines, where he rose to the rank of corporal and drew for the Manila Times. Upon his return in 1946, he produced a short story, took it to Timely Comics and was hired on the spot, where he worked as a staff artist until Timely laid off almost all their staff in 1948. Colan turned to freelancing, especially for the company that would become DC Comics.

Upon the beginning of the Silver Age in the 1960s, Colan quickly established himself as one of the greatest artists working in American comics. He worked on Sub-Mariner, Captain America, Iron Man and most notably Daredevil.

With Daredevil as his signature superhero work, he became something of a household name when he teamed up with writer Marv Wolfman on the horror series The Tomb of Dracula, a book that he had actively lobbied to be assigned to. His dark, moodily-brooding pencils that were complimented by the work of inker Tom Palmer were probably a greater factor in the book’s success than Marv Wolfman’s inspired writing.

In the 1980s, he had a falling out with Marvel Comics and instead worked more for DC Comics, on books like Batman, Night Force or Wonder Woman.

He quite literally kept working until the end.

Colan was a multiple awards winner, like the Shazam Award (1974), the Eagle Award (1977, 1979), the Sparky Award (2008) and the Sergio Award (2009). He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2005.

Back in the Silver Age, Colan had his very own style. It was a dark, shadowy and moody style. Personally, I always felt that he worked on some books where his style didn’t mesh (Captain America, for example), but on the right books (Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Night Force, Nathaniel Dusk) it was really breathtaking. Colan is one of those few American comic artists whose work actually looks better when it’s stipped of the coloring, as you can easily see if you look at Marvel’s Essential Tomb of Dracula collections. He was one of the first artists who could make me excited for a new comics series: the only reason why I eagerly anticipated the coming of DC’s Night Force back in 1982, or that Nathaniel Dusk noir miniseries (1984) by a writer I didn’t know, were because it had Colan art, and he wasn’t doing superheroes.

In that regard, yes, it was funny: I was very much a superhero reader at the time, but I always felt that Colan was wasted on superheroes. His style was wrong for it, it was too different, too unique.  It was, in a word, distinctive, and by all accounts he struggled against the pressure from his higher-ups in order to keep it distinctive, rather than to conform to a house style or some momentary fashion. That alone should earn him respect and accolades. Of course, it helps that he was one of the best comics artists ever. His visual storytelling skills, his moody, shadowy and atmospheric style set him apart from most of his peers, and seriously, anyone who wants to work as a comic book artist should look at his work and learn from it.

Will he be missed? By those who knew him, certainly. I haven’t had the privilege, but I’m told he was one of the nicest people in the business. By the rest of us, his readers? Well, we still have the comics he drew to re-read and appreciate, and to make us thankful for everything he had to give to us.

31. May 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

The manuscript had been at 188 pages. I deleted those chapters that involved Christopher Price, and was left with 96 pages. Which is about 1/3 of the originally intended total length.

Over the weekend, I contemplated what I had. I can replace Christopher Price’s part in this story. But… Being an outsider, he had to learn a lot of the background. Which means that I had him run around a lot during the first half, learning about Hoodoo, and introducing the reader as well. Now, I can have other characters do that, it’s not a problem. I’ll lose one of my favorite chapters — the one where the villain fools Price (and hopefully also the reader) into thinking that he’s the good guy of this story. I’m not sure how to salvage that moment. Okay, on the one hand, it was too expository anyway. But I liked trying to fool everyone, which is the part I want to keep.

In total, after looking through the chapters that survived the deletion, I realized that I have to write an almost completely new novel based on some of the ideas in the, let’s call it original work. I have to go back to outline and proceed from there. I also need to figure out how to do that while writing and drawing Made of Fail at the same time.

28. May 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

What, a NiP-post about the zombie novel? Didn’t I stop working on it some weeks ago?

Yes, I did. Sadly, though, the story isn’t letting go of me. Some time after I stopped working on it, I realized the biggest problem Revenge has had: Christopher Price.

Yes, my intended series character and the novel’s supposed main character was the biggest problem. He was forced into the story, didn’t fit in naturally. I had to contort the plot to make sure he would stay around long enough to play his part in the showdown. Because he had no reason to.

When I realized that, I also realized how I could use other characters in the novel to do the things Christopher was supposed to do. I would have been content to leave it at that, except…

A few nights ago, I literally woke up realizing that there was one thing Christopher did that none of the other characters could do. Only one thing, but that was a very major problem.

It’s Christopher who finds the 50 fetish dolls and tells the Mama Loa about them, which gives her the information she needs to devise a way to stop the zombies.

That was it for that night. My mind just wouldn’t let go of that problem. The PI would have a reason to find the fetish dolls, but he wouldn’t have the opportunity or reason to seek out Mama Loa and tell her about them. The racist would have the opportunity to find the fetish dolls, but he definitely wouldn’t talk to Mama Loa. Instead, he’d destroy them. I was awake in bed for the rest of that right because I. Just. Couldn’t. Let. It. Go. The novel’s done, I’m not going to go back to it, I kept telling myself. My mind kept telling me to shut up, there’s this major plot problem to solve.

When the alarm rang, I had figured out how to fix that problem.

I don’t really want to start Revenge of the Walking Dead over again. I don’t want to waste another year of my life. Not to mention that I have a major timing problem: I only just relaunched Made of Fail. One of the reasons why I had stopped creating Made of Fail was because I couldn’t do both that and write a novel at the same time.

But the novel isn’t letting me go. It demands my attention. It seems that if I don’t get back to it, if I don’t finish it, I will go insane.

I need to figure out how to time things so that I can fix the novel (maybe, when I’ve done that, it will let go of me) and write/draw Made of Fail in parallel.

Update: I deleted all the chapters with Christopher Price, just to see where that got me. It turns out that it would cost me half the novel.

Which implies that I could keep about half of what I’ve already written and need to replace the other half. When that’s done, I’d be back where I am now — at a 2/3 finished novel.

16. March 2010

FailZombies

Yesterday evening, I decided to put the zombie novel aside and write some Made of Fail strips instead. Not draw them, I won’t do that until the zombie novel no longer takes up my evening. Just write the scripts.

Wait, I hear you shout, didn’t you just say a couple of days ago that you’re ashamed of Made of Fail?

Yes, I am. It is a totally amateurish and incompetently made humor strip. That didn’t stop me when I did it last year, did it?

Actually, last year, I created Made of Fail to make a point. I think I succeeded at that. I wouldn’t have to get back to it. But for several reasons that I don’t want to get into here, I want to.

Season 2 of Made of Fail might be different from last year’s. I am in a different mental, emotional and spiritual state than I was then, for one thing. I’m not sure if to which extent that will be reflected in the strips. It’s possible that the humor will be more mean-spirited and sarcastic than it was last year. I’ll have to find out. I’m also not sure yet which venue I’ll use to bring Season 2 online. Most likely, I will continue to present it through Webcomics Nation. There are alternatives, like Drunk Duck; I’m just not sure yet which I will choose. I’m also not sure yet if I will continue Made of Fail as an ongoing this time, or if I will make another 50 or so strips before calling another break.

Anyway. Once I have figured out how to reintroduce Made of Fail for its “second season,” I’ll try to finish the zombie novel.

My thanks to all who responded to my “what to call it” question. Revenge of the Walking Dead won by a landslide, so I’ll stick with that title.

13. March 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

Or is it?

Work is progressing slowly. More slowly than I would like. I have reason to be hopeful, however, that I can speed things up now.

Something happened last night, however, that made me rethink the title. So far, I had been happy with Die Rache der wandelnden Toten (The Revenge of the Walking Dead). It’s evocative and descriptive at the same time. In the chapter I wrote last night, though, I used the phrase Todesmarsch der Zombies (Deathmarch of the Zombies). It fits, because that’s exactly what is happening in the story right now: the zombies are marching through the city, killing and infecting every living thing they encounter.

I wrote that phrase, then I sat back and took notice.

That sounds cool, I thought. That would make a good title too. Maybe even better than the original title.

For any book, a good title is as important as a good cover design. Usually, books are racked with the spine outside, so the first thing that catches the potential reader’s attention is the title. It has to be the title that attracts the reader, makes him take the book off the shelf, look at the cover, then read the back cover text.

I like the original title because it has a real pulp appeal. Todesmarsch der Zombies is shorter, more dramatic. Yes, it’s also trashier. It’s more evocative of a B- or C-grade movie than the old pulps. And yes, the German original does roll off the tongue more easily than the literal English translation I provide.

Yet… That’s exactly why it might attract the attention of the casual browser.

Help me out here: which title do you think is better?

16. February 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

Back to the drawing board.

I have procrastinated for quite a few days now. Until I finally admitted yesterday that I simply don’t want to go back to finishing Revenge of the Walking Dead.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that the third act of the story bores me. If it bores even me, then what hope is there for the reader to enjoy. So I took a long hard look at my outline yesterday, and decided that I need to revise the third act on outline level.

The problem is that while I have spent the first act slowly building towards the rise of the walking dead, and the second act setting up what I have called my zombie apocalypse… there are simply too many problems with the third act:

– My zombies aren’t very scary.

– My protagonist is too passive.

– I veer too far away from the zombie aspect of the tale, and go too deep into the voodoo aspects.

The last thing is easily explained: when I did my research, I became increasingly fascinated by the scariness of voodoo and hoodoo. When I wrote the outline, that fascination crept into the story. Unfortunately, when I reached that point in the story, all that voodoo hoodoo didn’t really make for an exciting conclusion. Zombies are a physical menace, and spending the third act of the novel looking at a priestess doing magic doesn’t really fit into the story.

The other problem is that my zombies aren’t really scary. I based them on the voodoo research I did for the novel, filtered through my own ideas. So what I have here is an unstoppable army of 50 slow-moving zombies that kill their victims without spawning more zombies.

The question is, how can I make them scarier? I could make them move faster, which I don’t want to (I prefer the slow-moving kind, for various reasons). I could increase their numbers (which, for various reasons, is impossible), or I could make them infectious (which, as I have set things up, is equally impossible).

Off all of the above, the scariest (and easiest) solution to the problem would be to make the zombies infectious. Which would also resolve the problem of making the third act less esoteric. It does, however, raise the problem of how to defeat the zombie threat.

I actually have some ideas on that, I just need to figure out how to make them work.

Another problem is that I really need to kill one character who, in outline, was supposed to survive.  That character has a rollercoaster history: I initially created to kill him. When I outlined, he became somewhat sympathetic, so I let him life. When I wrote his scenes, I remembered why I had originally wanted to kill him.

So, basically, I need to rewrite the third act to

– make the zombies scarier

– reduce the voodoo esotericism

– make my protagonist more active

– and kill that one particular character.

Shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

11. February 2010

Decisions, Decisions

Last year, I created, wrote and even drew the webcomic Made of Fail. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, chek out those links to your right. Take your time. I’ll wait.

Done? Fine. Let’s continue, then.

After almost 50 strips, I quit. I wanted to write a novel. I’ve written novels before. Some of them were even published. I missed novel writing, plus I had this fun idea. But I couldn’t manage to continue Made of Fail and write a novel at the same time. Both are very much full-time pursuits. At least, considering that both are unpaid efforts, they are full-spare-time pursuits.

So I made up my mind. I stopped doing Made of Fail, but in such a way that I retained the option to get back to it some other time.

Some developments in the months since then made me decide that yes, there will definitely be more Made of Fail, probably starting in May. I want to finish the novel first, which I expect will require another month, then there’s something else I need to finish, then I’ll sit down again on Made of Fail Season 2.

One of the things about Made of Fail is that it’s based on real life. Every character in the strip is inspired by at least one person; some like Amy combine character traits of several real-world people. A lot of the situations I describe in the strip actually happened, if not excatly like this, then similarly. Or at the very least they comment/spoof/snark on something that really happened.

Yesterday, I considered changing my schedule. I’m currently in a bad place in regards to Revenge of the Walking Dead. And when I sat down yesterday to read the newspaper, I discovered two articles that were full of Fail. So much so that I was tempted to just drop the novel and get back to Made of Fail right away. I could hardly wait to spoof those two events.

But. I know me. If I drop the zombie novel, I’ll never get back to it. So I had to choose: relaunch Made of Fail with these absolutely incredible Fail stories right now, or follow the initial schedule?

I decided to sleep on it. The decision wasn’t really all that hard, when push came to shove. I’m going to stick to the original schedule. If the ideas from those two articles are really that strong, they’ll keep. They are general enough, not topical enough, that I need to do them right now or risk that nobody remembers the real-life events by the time I get around to it. I clipped and filed the two articles.

There was also the factor that I need some more time to decide where I will post the next Made of Fail strips. If I had jumped the gun, I would have had to decide right now, without the opportunity of considering/tryring out other options.

So, I’m afraid that Made of Fail Season 2 won’t launch before May, just as I had already decided. I’ll finish Revenge of the Walking Dead first. Watch this space for further developments.

4. February 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

I looked at my January numbers yesterday and found out that I only wrote a bit over 5 000 words in January.

That’s not a lot. At least not on the surface of things. Basically, I had hoped to do 5 000 words a week.

So what happened?

One thing is that there were some personal things that kept me from working for about two weeks. Well, not entirely from working, I still did the paid work. But they kept me from doing unpaid, spec writing. (Spec writing being the type of writing you do when you don’t know if anyone will buy the manuscript when you’re done.)

The other thing is that I actually wrote a lot more than those 5 000 words. I wrote two or three times that amount.

The way I work is that I revise constantly. I don’t just hack out the first draft and fix things in revision when the novel is done. I can’t make myself do that.  Earlier this week, I wrote the start of a chapter three times. I deleted it twice and started from scratch before I realized what was wrong. So I went back, deleted a longer passage in a previous chapter, rewrote it, then returned to the chapter I was actually working on and, lo and behold, now I got it to work.

By the time I returned to that chapter, I actually had fewer words than I had had before. The revision had actually shortened it.

When I called it a night, the manuscript was about 600 words longer than it was when I had started. But they were good, useable words, not just chaff that I would need to fix in revision. Those 600 words were the result of writing, deleting and revising a lot of other material. I think that in total, I wrote at least twice those 600 words.

When I finish the manuscript, it will technically be the first draft. But because I constantly tinker with it while I progress, it’s actually closer to being the fourth or fifth. When I’m done with this draft, I will print it out and revise it once more. I need to do that for continuity and cohesion. In one of my first efforts at writing a novel, I had a character whose age ran from the mid-40 to the mid-50s, depending on which chapter you were reading.  The final revision will see me fix a lot such continuity errors. I’ll also fix phrasings where I feel I have a better way to put it. Then there will be one more revision when I apply the printout revision to the manuscript, and then I’ll be ready to look for a publisher.

3. February 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

“Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me today?”

Sometimes things look good on paper, but they don’t work in practice.

Let’s take my idea on humanizing the zombie tragedy as an example. Revenge of the Walking Dead has 50 zombies. Not all of them are named. They don’t need to be. But I had the idea of taking 10 or so of them and writing one or two pages that introduce who they were in life. When I wrote the outline, I had also put in that there would be a couple of nights in-between the first and second zombie outbreak.

Neither worked.

By the time I introduced the fourth zombie, I got bored with introducing their backstories. They provided a human touch, but they didn’t advance the story. So I changed things a bit. I expanded their chapters, presenting the initial attacks of the second outbreak from the zombies’ perspectives. That worked better, but it quickly became old as well. So I decided to quit while I was ahead and get on with the story. Since the zombie-centric chapters both advance the story and make clear under what rules my zombies work, I decided to leave them in. But any more would have slowed everything down too much.

As the story progressed, I also discovered that I had to drop the “several nights later” idea. The timetable didn’t work. Things had developed in such a fashion that my characters would have drifted too far apart by then. Christopher Price, the protagonist, would have been long gone. The Hoodoo witch would have had time to prepare something to fight the apocalypse. And that would never do. I needed Christopher in Jaquard, and I needed Mama Loa at least a bit unprepared. The solution was obvious: I needed to step up the timetable. Instead of a few nights after the murder of Tom Gillette, the zombies rise the next day, and do their killing until that night. Instead of being stretched over a few days, the main story now takes place within 48 hours.

That turns out to have another advantage: the story moves faster. The characters are forced to react without being able to plan or prepare, and events move so fast that their plans get screwed up anyway. The shorter timetable makes the story more exciting.

21. January 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

I realized the problem I had with the ending to my novel, and what I need to do to fix it.

The ending as it was: my main character, Christopher Price, is possessed by the voodoo god of the dead, Baron Samedi, who uses Chris’s body to kick zombie ass.

That’s an overly simplified version. The actual story involves getting the god to realize that he has been duped, so BS gets a mad on at the socerer who created the zombies, etc.

In the outline, it’s a real kick-ass ending. But I’m sure you all see the problem right away.

In Hollywood, they call it “protect your star.”

The problem is that Chris, the main character of my entire series (Revenge of the Walking Dead is a sequel to a previous novel, Carnival of Lost Souls) is passive. Sure, he’s the one who is needed to serve as Baron Samedi’s horse, but in the end it’s Baron Samedi who does the ass-kicking. That won’t do.

So what I did yesterday, instead of tinkering with chapter 24 to fix the problem of the zombies being funny instead of menacing*, was figure out how to change the ending so that Chris plays a more active role in defeating the zombie master.

*The first half of chapter 24 was one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever written. Then I let it rest for a week for personal reasons. When I got back to it, I hit all the story beats I wanted to hit, which were supposed to explain how the zombies work in my story while at the same time moving the story forward. Sadly, I was in such a different mental place that, well, it didn’t quite work out as envisioned. So I now need to rewrite the second half of chapter 24.

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