Always Write

Peter Rogers – Writer

Category: comics

London Super Comic Con 2015

There was a time when UK conventions tended to all start with a B (I’m looking at you, Bristol and Birmingham), these days the location of the two most unmissable shows begin with an L (Leeds and London). Last Saturday I ventured up to the big smoke for London Super Comic Con and I’m very glad I did.

Just like last year I travelled up in the morning and headed back the same day, but I’m already planning to make sure I can experience the whole weekend in 2016. I got to the ExCel Exhibition Centre at about 11.30, following two hours on the train and forty five minutes on the tube.  For the first hour or so I must have only moved about twenty feet down the first aisle, as I tended to know lots of people who were either behind tables or walking the floor. It felt like Bristol conventions of old, everywhere I looked I saw familiar faces and old friends.

It’s a very different show from Thought Bubble, with a much more big two and US focus and it’s good to have two well run shows that cater to slightly different needs. The venue is big, the layout spacious, the air con a god send and the overall vibe very laid back and positive. The crowd is diverse, with lots of families attending and with a far more even gender split than at conventions of old. I had my first professional pass for this year’s show and that, coupled with so many people I knew being in attendance, meant I was the most relaxed and socially adept I’ve probably ever been at a show, certainly in the pre pub stages of proceedings anyway.

Where 2014 was about talking to publishers, I spoke to IDW, Boom and Titan about pitches at last year’s event, 2015 was all about friends, contacts and the social side. I got to catch up with some of the no (comic) code creators, like Marc Laming, Mike Collins, Ron Marz and Brett Uren , grabbed lunch and compared career notes with Martin Fisher, hung out with podcasting behemoths like Barry Nugent from Geek Syndicate,  Gavin and Dan from the Sidekickcast and the comic book cardboard crappy cosplayers Tim, Matt and John from the hat decides and QPAW!. I got to check in with my old Orang Utan Comics colleagues Ian Sharman, David Wynne and Holly Rose, talked shop with Cy Dethan and Nic Wilkinson and met up with some of my Comics Experience workshop buddies – Chris Hurst and Ryan O’ Sullivan. The only thing I didn’t really find time to do was to actually see any of the exhibitors to get sketches or pick up books, considering the stellar line up that’s a crying shame.

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Mark Millar turned up, which suggests any hope of Kapow! returning looks even more unlikely. Jonathan Ross had a table to promote his trade paperback collection for Revenge from Image Comics, with artist Ian Churchill, and Johnny Vegas turned up on the other side of the table seemingly buying every small press book in sight (expect to see him writing for 2000AD before the year is out).

Despite having to curtail my time at the pub, whisking myself away from The Fox by 9 to ensure I got the 10pm train back to Cardiff, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m already counting down the days to next year’s show.

The Prompt

I don’t really do spontaneous. I’m one of life’s planners, someone who likes to mull things over, let them percolate for a while before diving in.  So the idea of coming up with a story idea, writing it, getting it drawn, coloured and lettered in just over two weeks doesn’t really sound like my like my cup of tea. At least not on the surface.

The times when I do break my cycle of meticulous preparation the catalyst tends to be either inspiration or the process of collaboration, which is why The Prompt was such a fascinating concept. The idea came from a friend of mine, writer and letterer Nic J Shaw, a fellow member of the Comics Experience workshop. He challenged people to come up with a one-page story and encouraged creators to work together to get it done to a relatively tight deadline. I’ve always felt that limitations and restrictions help fuel creativity and the one-page limitation was one of the key things that whet my writing appetite. That and the thought of getting to work with a new artist for the first time. The other stipulation was that the story had to encompass the theme, the prompt itself “Coming Home”. 

I approached an artist. Someone I’d been wanting to work with for some time,  Alex Moore whose work I knew from her contributions to the Unseen Shadows universe.  Thankfully she said yes and once I knew she was on board I found inspiration by rummaging through her online portfolio to help generate some ideas. It didn’t take long to come up with something that I felt would suit Alex’s art style and that also answered the brief.

I wrestle with my creative decisions when writing fiction, agonise over my choices and beat myself up if things don’t go as well as I hoped. The very notion of The Prompt was completely liberating. This wasn’t the writer who can spend days reworking a single line of dialogue or panel description, this was the writer who used to write radio ad copy against the clock, the writer who’d write and draw multiple stories each day during long Summer school holidays.

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I originally envisaged Frontier being silent and presented as a nine panel grid, but as you can see neither of those things came to pass. This wasn’t me sticking to the plan, this was me bobbing and weaving, going with the flow and allowing the natural ebb of a new creative partnership to take shape. Like all of the artists I’ve worked with before, Alex’s approach to visual storytelling surpasses the images that were in my head when writing the script. The changes she made enhanced the storytelling and made the story better than it would have been otherwise. There were some similar stories from other people who were taking part in The Prompt, so I needed to work out what made our story different. In the end, by adding the President’s speech, it gave the story a bit more depth to go with the humour. It also stopped it being an unintentional homage to Escape from the Planet of the Apes. I’m extremely happy with what we’ve ended up with, it feels self contained without being slight, something I wasn’t sure I could achieve within a solitary page.

You can see the first few Prompt one-page stories on tumblr, where more will be posted in the coming weeks. This wasn’t a one off event and a new Prompt has already been posted for next month. March’s challenge ups the ante further, with a bit of a twist and some extra specifications to consider. At the time of writing this, 187 people are members of the closed group on Facebook. I have a feeling that The Prompt will become a fixture of the creative landscape and will give readers some interesting new stories to read and creators some valuable experience along the way. I’m certainly hoping to be part of it again.

WWBKVD?

The title of this post is a variation on WWJWD? That acronym, standing for ‘What would Joss Whedon do?’, is a pretty well established thing online, it’s in the Urban Dictionary after all.  I’m a big Whedon fan myself and both Firefly and Dollhouse are two of my favourite shows and I’m more than a little obsessed with Dr Horrible’s sing along blog too. With all three of those relatively short running shows I ended up actually missing the characters once the series ended.  (I’ve recently started watching Buffy on Netflix, about a gazillion years after the rest of the world). I also really like Whedon’s comic work and hold his Astonishing X-Men run in high regard, along with his Serenity books and his work on Runaways.

As much as I love Whedon’s work, his contribution to comics has largely been based on existing characters, either those he established expertly on television first, or in the case of his Marvel projects, ones that had already lived a life in the hands of another writer or writers. So when I want to look at a writer’s work for inspiration, because my writing is mainly creator owned comics, I don’t think of Whedon first. I think of the person who he followed on Runaways, another of my favourite writers, a certain Brian K Vaughan – (WWBKVD?). You see, unlike my exposure to Whedon’s TV and film work, I’ve only ever experienced Vaughan’s writing in the pages of a comic. I’ve never watched Lost (apart from the first episode) and I’ve only seen about five minutes of Under the Dome. 

I haven’t actually been reading Vaughan’s work for all that long.  Aside from one random issue of Swamp Thing and his entry in Writers on Comic Scriptwriting Vol.2, the first thing I read written by him was the excellent graphic novel Pride of Baghdad.

Pride of Baghdad is a graphic novel written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Niko Henrichon released by DC ComicsVertigo imprint on September 13, 2006.[1] The story is a fictionalized account of the true story of four African lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo after an American bombing in 2003. The book won the IGN award for best original graphic novel in 2006.[2]

It was last year that I started to read more of his output, devouring the first seven Runaways trades, along with all of Y the Last Man.  This post was mainly prompted by his latest Image Comics series, as last week I re-read the first Saga trade, closely followed by the second one, which had me desperate to read more of the series.  (I’m well aware that I need to get reading the likes of The Private Eye and Ex Machina as soon as I can too).   All three of the books I’ve mentioned, Runaways, Y the Last Man and Saga have had the same impact on me as a reader and in turn a writer.  Each one made me question my ability, wondering if I’m wasting my time trying to get more comic work published when this level of work, work that’s right in my wheelhouse, is already out there. Once that feeling lifted they had the opposite effect, reminding me what I love about writing and for this medium in particular. One of the things I love about Vaughan is that his work is emotional, without ever feeling overplayed, twee or sentimental. His characters, no matter how elaborate or unconventional the premise or setting, are very real and completely three-dimensional.  Much like those Whedon creates, you want to spend more time with them and actively pine for them when they aren’t around. I still miss Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr.Allison Mann. He also has immaculate taste in collaborators, working with artists who are master storytellers and whose character designs and world building matches his vision. He’s the kind of writer I’d aspire to be like, even if he is actually younger, and far more talented, than I am. There are other writers whose work I enjoy just as much, for different reasons, but at this moment in time his work is resonating with me the most. His work inspires me to be a better writer.

 

I’m working hard on six different comic book titles at the moment, in a variety of genres, some with a co-writer, some with artists attached, others in their absolute infancy. When I go to write any of them now, I’ll be keeping this in mind. What would Brian K Vaughan do?  What should I be doing more of, to have this kind of impact on my own readership?

1) Establish your characters and their motivations as quickly as possible so that you make the reader care within the first few pages.

2) Make every single character count, no matter how small.

3) Give each scene an emotional punch, even if it’s just a small one. Make them leave the page feeling something – empathy, revulsion, shock, compassion.

4) Don’t show off in your dialogue. Your characters and plot are more important than trying to look clever. Choose the words that suit the character and scene, not your ego.

I might have to get these four points printed out and put on the wall of my writing room to help keep me on track, and as I dive into more of BKVD’s work, I’m sure I’ll come up with some more pointers too.

 

Exploring other universes

Alongside project managing a large anthology book and working on 7 creator owned projects, I also have 2 short stories on the go both working with other people’s characters. I really enjoy the challenge of exploring someone else’s universe, and it’s all good practice for any work for hire gigs I might pick up in the future too. 

I was approached to be part of Shit Flingers:Bestiary anthology by writer Jimmy Furlong, who created the Shit Flingers world with artist Andrew Hartmann. When you read the premise you’ll see why I jumped in with both feet.

For their part in a terrible crime a group of 15th Century French soldiers are forever cast out from the world of men when they are each cursed, transformed into a different species of ape, by a powerful witch.

As someone who has started up two ape based comic imprints, Orang Utan Comics and Dapper Chimp Press, getting to play in a simian based story world certainly piqued my interest.

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Shit Flingers Assembled! Art by Donovan Petersen, Colours by Michael Summers

I’ve written the first draft of my story, I have notes from Jimmy (a fellow writer on the British Comics Showcase project for Markosia) and I’m going to be rewriting next week. There’s a wealth or writing and artistic talent already on board to work on the book, and you can find out more and keep up to date with Shit Flingers on the Facebook page and tumblr.

The other short I’m working on is for Unseen Shadows, the universe created by Barry Nugent in his novel Fallen Heroes and its upcoming sequel Forgotten Warriors. This will be the third time I’ve gotten my hands on Barry’s characters, following one-shots about Napoleon Stone and Sir Oliver Cademus.  This time I’m turning my hand to Bob Kelsey.

Bob Kelsey is a reporter on the run from a centuries old cult he made the mistake of falling foul of. Unable to keep his reporter’s nose for a story out of other people’s business he now runs an underground blog investigating the weird, the strange and the downright surreal.

As well as appearing in Fallen Heroes, Bob’s adventures have been continuing in comic form. Cy Dethan and Valia Kapadai gave us the haunting one-shot The Immaculate Abortion of Dinah Leigh, which was followed by the Bob Kelsey Investigates web-comic.  I’m working on a short story for the web-comic alongside artist Ken Perry (who I met through the Comics Experience workshop).  The story is pretty much plotted out, and I’ve been making dialogue notes, with a view to getting the script done this week. Below is a page from Cy and Valia’s story to whet your appetite.

Keeping busy is definitely motivating, jumping between universes is the cherry on that particular cake.  

Lady Mary in colour

I said it would be worth waiting for, here is the coloured cover for The Lament of Lady Mary.

Find out more about artist Conor Boyle here, and about the Unseen Shadows universe here. A five page preview of the book will be live on the site soon.

 

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Lady Mary cover

My second entry to the Unseen Shadows universe, a one-shot entitled “The Lament of Lady Mary” is pretty much completed now. To whet your appetite, here’s an inked version of the cover courtesy of the book’s artist Conor Boyle. Very much looking forward to seeing the coloured version.

Metaverse hits Cardiff

This weekend is the second ever Cardiff Film and Comic Con, held once again in the building I will forever call Cardiff International Arena (sorry corporate sponsors).  Unfortunately, despite the show being on my doorstep, I’m no longer able to attend the event due to other commitments.  If you are heading along you’ll be able to pick up a new anthology  – Metaverse (edited by Terry Cooper and Simon Wilson), which features a story from yours truly.

METAVERSE is an anthology of graphic stories ranging in length from two to 14 pages. The themes are sci-fi and fantasy, and everything in between, with contributors from all over the world.  It’s launching at Cardiff Film and Comic Con on March 1st & 2nd.

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The story I contributed, “The Eve”,  was reverse engineered, working with pre-existing pages created by Jason Copland (Daredevil, Robocop, Kill all Monsters). I changed the order around and shaped them into my own take on the characters and narrative.  It was a real challenge working that way, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d be open to doing it again. It pushed me in creative directions I wasn’t expecting and really tested my mettle as a comic writer, I’m really happy with the end result.   “The Eve” was coloured by Darren Brown (Company of Killers, Ashfall) and letters by HdE (Serusis, Ursa Minor).

Metaverse features a raft of comics talent, including fellow members of Cardiff Comic Creators and some of my old workshop buddies from Comics Experience, so if you’re heading to Cardiff this weekend make sure you pick up, or alternatively look out for it coming soon to comic and book shops everywhere.

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One month into the year of doing

As we hit the New Year I decided that 2014 needed to be the year of doing, the year of getting more work out there, the year of less procrastination, less over-analysing, less self-criticism, more fun, more experimentation, more motivation, more self-belief, more collaborations and more work in print.  And less than a month into the year, so far so go.

I have a number of different projects on the go, a mixture of short stories for anthologies and mini series ideas, and I’ve been lucky enough to receive inked, coloured and lettered pages in my inbox every week this year. Here are some of the latest works in progress.

The Eve

An 11 page story, written in reverse from pre-existing and appearing in Metaverse anthology.  The Eve has pencils and inks by Jason Copland, colours by Darren Brown and letters by HdE.

Here’s Page One lettered.

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And coloured.

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The whole story is lettered, and 4 of the pages are coloured.

The Moon Eater

A 4 page story, pencils and inks by Ben Holliday, colours by Kirsty Swan and letters by Colin Bell.  This story will appear in the Haiyan Benefit Anthology book, aiding victims of the super-typhoon last November.  You can pre-order the book, and help the cause here.

Here’s a colour version of Page One.  The story is all coloured and about to be lettered.

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15-Minute Heroes

Cheuk Po has been very busy on this superhero reality show mini series, which we’ll be ready to pitch very soon. As well as the pitch pages we are very near to having all 24 pages of Issue 1 inked, with new pages arriving every week or so.

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Alongside these projects, the two books I’m co-writing with Steve Aryan are also gaining pace. Simone Guglielmini has been sending over concepts and layouts for The Promise, and Maysam Barza is working through pencilling, inking and colouring pages for Flux.

2014, I’m loving it so far.

All change in the Metaverse

I haven’t quite gotten to the point of writing a “What I did in 2013” post just yet, nor I have put together a “What I’m aiming to achieve in 2014” post either. It’s possible I won’t do either, forgoing the public navel gazing to get more writing done. The name change and new look to the blog are both part of my push to get more written and more published this year, so I’m trying to start the year being true to my word.

Having said that, I did think that I’d take the opportunity to share a “one door closes and another one opens” story, something that’s all too typical of small press and indie comic creation.  I’ve probably mentioned the Metaverse anthology before, it’s the brainchild of Terry Cooper (Kangazang!) and Simon Wilson.  The book was originally planned for this year’s Cardiff International Comic and Animation Expo, but as that show is no longer going ahead, the book is slated for another convention in April.

The original script I submitted for Metaverse was “Versus”, a story with a somewhat convoluted history of its own. The first draft of that script was originally written for Lee Grice’s aborted Dinosaurs v Robots book, with Lee himself doing all the art. When that book didn’t proceed, I revisited the script as part of a challenge for Comics Experience workshop. The script was picked as the favourite submission that month, which gained me a very insightful critique and some excellent notes from Marvel editor Bill Rosemann.  The revised version, taking Bill’s notes into account, was then approved for Martin Conaghan’s Overload anthology, with artist Dave Stokes (Shepperton’s Waltz) attached on art duties.   Dave ended up being too busy,  Overload was postponed, so I submitted the script to Metaverse and brought in a new artist, Paul Ridgon (Transformers, Starship Troopers)who I was slated to work with previously some years ago. The story got the greenlight, and Paul was making good progress with the art, but unfortunately he ended up having to pull out, due to other commitments, meaning I was a little stuck.

Paul Ridgon's work from Versus

Paul Ridgon’s work from Versus

 

There wasn’t time for a new artist to get Versus ready for the deadline, so I needed to find a story which had already been pencilled and inked. I looked back through my old folders and found “The Eve“.  The Eve dates back as far as 2010, and has my words coupled with the exquisite art of Jason Copland (Kill all Monsters, Daredevil).   Jason originally posted the pages on his blog at the end of 2010, inviting writers to take his finished art and work it into a story, so the whole tale was effectively reverse engineered.  Jason liked my interpretation, and had previously given me permission to include The Eve in FTL, the anthology title from Orang Utan Comics.  That didn’t come to be, but now, a couple of years later, this story, which I was very happy with, is finally going to see the light of day. Along with that, Paul is going to return to Versus in the future, so we can either include it in a later edition of Metaverse or put it forward for another anthology (possibly through my own Dapper Chimp imprint), so it all worked out in the end. This is typical of self publishing and small press comics, you might end up going through a number of artist collaborators and also potential publishers, but if the work is good enough and you’re committed enough to keep going, you’ll eventually find an outlet and an audience.

Jason Copland’s work from The Eve

 

Y the Last Man

I don’t often write about things I’ve read, preferring to focus on things I’m writing instead, but on this occasion I decided to make a notable exception.  I recently finished reading Y the Last Man, the Vertigo series by Brian K Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra, quite a long time after most of the comic reading world had already completed it.  So why had I waited so long?

When the book came out initially the premise didn’t really pique my interest enough, I thought it was a good high concept (All the males in the world die, apart from one man and his monkey), but I wasn’t convinced it could sustain my interest in the long run. Then once the series gathered momentum, I started to get rather overawed by the hype, Y the Last Man went on to be a 5 time Eisner winner after all.

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So what changed? Why did I decide now was the time to dive into the highly regarded 60 issue series?  It all started  last October when, as part of the Comics Experience workshop 30 trades in 30 days challenge, I read 8 Runaways books in quick succession. I don’t think I’d enjoyed reading a Marvel series that much since Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester‘s Irredeemable Ant-Man. There were definite comparisons with Joss Whedon‘s Astonishing X-Men run in the tone and writing style, and I loved the way every single character in the story had layers, hidden depths and their own story arc.  It hit me straight away that this was the kind of writer whose work, which I’d criminally overlooked previously, was precisely in my sweet spot.  In many ways Runaways was the book that, if I’d been able to do a long run rather than a one-off mini series,  I would have wanted The Interactives to be.

Earlier this year, I picked up the first Saga trade and once again I was blown away.  Within just a few pages, much like the opening minutes of True Romance, I believed the main characters were perfect for each other and would do anything to keep each other safe.  It hit me that Vaughan had also written Pride of Baghdad, another book I really enjoyed, and one that packed as big an emotional punch as The Other Side by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart. It looked like everyone was right, Vaughan was one of the greats of the medium and it was about time I read his most lauded work.

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I read the first issue via Comixology, where it’s available for free, but was left feeling a little underwhelmed and unsure what all the fuss was about.  It wasn’t until a few months later, when I happened to stumble across the first trade in my local library, that I read more.  By the end of the volume I was hooked, I was fascinated by Yorick and his capuchin Ampersand and was intrigued by the social commentary that seemed to be driving the narrative. I put a call out on Facebook and twitter within minutes of putting it down and managed to borrow the rest of the series from a friend. I was soon completely consumed by the book, which became an important part of my daily routine and in just a few weeks I’d finished the whole series.  I’m still recovering, and I think I’ll feel that way for a while.

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I really liked the book from the outset, but once I got to the 5th trade I knew this was something very special. On the surface this book was a road movie or a quest, but underneath it was totally character rather than plot driven. By the halfway point in the series I started to feel the same way about Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Allison Mann as I did about real people. Sometimes I loved them, sometimes I hated them, I was angry with them, forgave them, saw unexpected sides of them, then saw them revert to type, understood why they frustrated each other and understood why they didn’t always get on.

So many characters, especially in the majority of Hollywood movies these days, seem to be increasingly one-dimensional, that is abundantly not the case here. Romeo’s sister Hero is a character who I never felt the same about twice, to the point where I was quite conflicted about her, swayed into understanding through her actions and her ultimate growth as a person. Then there’s the two Beths, Rose, Natalya and Alter, a diverse range of people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, their own motivations, their own journey, their own story. From the middle of the series onwards the book started to affect me in two very different ways. On one hand it inspired me to push myself even harder as a writer with this as the high bar to aim for, and on the other I almost felt like giving up as I knew I’d never reach these kind of stellar heights.

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Vaughan is the kind of writer I’d love to be, mixing humour and pop culture references, with flawed but decidedly human characters who all feel as important as one another. The idea behind Y the Last Man is very strong, the message and themes explored are fascinating, the story is always interesting and gripping, but it’s the characters that are truly mesmerising. I started to feel melancholy as soon as I started the 9th book, because I knew these people wouldn’t be around for much longer.  It might sound strange, but I’m really missing having the central cast in my life.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had this sensation, I read another Vertigo series, Preacher in a similar way and didn’t want to bid those characters farewell either.  The same can be said about the main cast of Firefly, which I watched in one sitting on a rare sick day and also Robert Neville when I finished the audiobook of I Am Legend.

Along with the impeccable characterisation, the book’s themes had an emotional impact on me too.  It made me think about life, death, mortality and morality, what it means to be human, what it means to be a man.  Sharing Yorick’s journey, watching him grow and change, learn from his mistakes, the people around him and those he meets along the way, was a journey for the reader too. I know there’s talk of a film, and for a fleeting moment I imagined an HBO series starring someone like Zac Efron, but this story really doesn’t need to be told anywhere else. I’m extremely grateful to have finally read this series of books,  I thought it was a truly exceptional story. Looks like catching up on Saga and Private Eye and reading Ex Machina are now very high on my priority list. If you haven’t read Y the Last Man I suggest you put that right immediately.

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