Always Write

Peter Rogers – Writer

Bags of Action Episodes 16 and 17 – Red Heat and Last Action Hero

Looks like I completely neglected to share the November and December episodes of the podcast.

If you’re a fan of the “Austrian Oak”, Arnold Schwarzenegger you’ll want to catch up with these before we delve into Predator later this month.

Find out what Steve and I thought of East meets West actioner Red Heat.  

Then see what we both had to say about meta movie Last Action Hero.

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Favourite things in 2014

It’s the time of year where people do their “best of” lists, so I thought I’d join in. Crowning something as the best makes little sense to me though, as any choice will be completely subjective. So instead I’m purely stating what I enjoyed the most, my personal favourites.

TV Drama – The Newsroom.

Aaron Sorkin’s idealistic news drama peaked in its third and final season and was the show I enjoyed most this year. I’m definitely going to miss the ensemble cast now that it’s over, along with the well crafted dialogue. The show had plenty of detractors and even those who enjoyed it seem to find a number of flaws with it.  Personally I didn’t think it made too many missteps in any season and particularly not in this one. I’m going to have to watch The West Wing now to fill my Sorkin void.

Honourable mentions – True Detective was very, very nearly my pick. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey’s performances were both captivating and compelling. Cary Fukunaga’s direction and the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (who also worked on the excellent Australian film Animal Kingdom) were what made the show for me. The plagiarism allegations surrounding the writing took some of the sheen off the series for me, but I’m still looking forward to Season Two. Welsh detective series Hinterland, starring Richard Harrington was dark and brooding and has become a very successful export. Sticking with crime drama, Australian TV movie Jack Irish: Dead Point, the third about the titular hero, was very good. Guy Pearce being the lead certainly helps add some class to proceedings.  Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead returned strong and after some teething problems Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D became a must-see. We watched all of Breaking Bad this year, which would definitely have taken the honour if it had been broadcast in 2014. Before anyone tells me what I missed out, I’ve never seen Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire or Fargo.

TV FactualMy Life in Science Fiction.

Invasion of the Fans and Days of Fear and Wonder were the two episodes I watched, one focussed on sci-fi fandom, the other on the BFI’s Sci-Fi season of film programming. I’d have loved these BBC iPlayer shows, which featured the likes of Brian Blessed and Mark Kermode, regardless of who the hosts were. The fact they were my friends Dave and Barry from the Geek Syndicate podcast just made it all the sweeter.

Honourable mention – Sonic Highways was almost a very good show. I loved Dave Grohl’s Sound City film and this series had the potential to be just as good. The historical stuff about each city’s music scene was fascinating and was what kept me coming back for more. The studio elements were pretty light in comparison, lacking any real insight into the production process or the songwriting. The songs that ended each episode seemed to be full of very on the nose lyrics and even on the best ones, that really got in the way.  It did make me listen to more Kyuss and Willie Nelson though, so that’s no bad thing.

FilmCaptain America – The Winter Soldier.

This was pretty much exactly what I wanted from a Marvel movie, I just didn’t know it until I saw it. As much as I loved Iron Man 3 last year, there was something really special about this solo Avenger effort. Chris Evans really came into his own in the lead role, having been sidelined in the Avengers movie and Black Widow and The Falcon really helped develop the right dynamic. It felt the closest to the comics, it had Nick Fury being a much more rounded character, it had a 70s vibe complete with Robert Redford. It had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.

Honourable mentions –

Guardians of the Galaxy was within a raccoon’s whisker of being my favourite film of the year. I liked it enough to see it twice, I loved the pop culture feel, the epic space opera aspects, the retro soundtrack the humour and the characters. The fact this didn’t quite take my top spot shows just how strong the Marvel cinematic universe is right now.

Interstellar was also very close to being my favourite film of 2014. There was a lot I really, really liked about it, but some elements, which I won’t spoil, took the shine off of it. It’s an excellent film and very much my kind of thing, but lost a few points despite making me think and feel for almost three hours.

Paddington was a film I expected to hate. The trailer showed the visitor from darkest Peru cleaning his ears with a toothbrush and flooding a bathroom. Out of context it felt like a typical film adaptation that totally forget what the essence of its source material actually was. When Colin Firth walked off the project all the signs pointed to it being a failed project. Nothing could be further from the truth, it’s one of the best family films I’ve seen in many years, funny, poignant and totally in keeping with the character and world we know. The best anti-UKIP, but pro the real Great Britain story you could imagine.

AlbumOnce more round the sun by Mastodon.

Over the years Mastodon have steadily become one of my favourite bands, hitting the sweet spot between the heavier and the more progressive sides to my musical tastes. Their latest album, though not quite as consistent as earlier offerings, still gives me exactly what my ears crave.

Honourable mentions –

Sonic Highways by Foo Fighters is a mixed bag, but I don’t know if the TV show is the reason for that. It has the usual Foos formula, but definitely feels like it’s lacking some bite. A bit like a soundtrack, you can’t help but see the episode each song is from when you listen to the album, which can get in the way. .5: The Gray Chapter by Slipknot came very close to taking top spot, I’m a definite fan of the light and shade that their work always encompasses and their albums are exceptionally well produced.  Royal Blood by Royal Blood is the British hipster version of Queens of the Stone Age and make an impressive noise for a two-pieceI’ve just found out that Seether, Black Label Society and Emigrate both had albums out in 2014 and it’s possible they could have wound their way in here.  If I was allowing compilations then Guardians of the Galaxy’s Awesome Mix Vol.1 would have taken top slot, as I’ve listened to that constantly since seeing the movie.

GigPearl Jam (Milton Keynes)

An odd category, as I only went to see two bands this year (I think). 2013 had two major highpoints, Brad in Birmingham and Alice in Chains, Ghost and Walking Papers in Newport, but this show was just as good as those two concerts. 35 songs in an open air setting, one a beautiful Summer’s evening, it was pretty close to perfection. Thanks to Eddie’s anti-war rant, it’s a show that will go down in the band’s long and illustrious history too.

Honourable mention – Breed 77 at The Globe in Cardiff was another good show and the fifth time I’ve seen the Gibraltan rockers playing in my adopted home town. I was expecting them to play 2004 album Cultura in its entirety, so was a little disappointed when that wasn’t the case. The fact second guitarist Pedro Caparros was injured and not part of the line-up was also a definite shame. They did announce they return to the studio in 2015, so fingers crossed for another album in the not too distant future.

ComicLazarus (Image Comics) 

Greg Rucka continues to write strong female characters and intelligent monthly books that never underestimate the audience. This team up with stellar artist Michael Lark has had me gripped all year and  it got me back into monthly comics after I’d moved pretty exclusively to trade paperbacks. Blending action with politics, drama with sci-fi, this is the kind of book I’d aspire to write. The letters page and back matter round off a pretty perfect package.

Honourable mentions – The other book I read monthly is Rocket Racoon, spearheaded by Skottie Young for Marvel. I’ll readily admit that I picked up the book because I liked the character in the movie so much. The book’s tone is refreshingly irreverent and really good fun, making it a good counter balance to the more serious stuff I enjoy. I was playing catch up with some other series this year and like everyone else I have been loving Saga, I’m only up to the third trade at the moment or that may very well have been my choice. Revival, Southern Bastards and Zero were other books I really enjoyed in trades in 2014. It was definitely a year where Image Comics dominated my reading.

PodcastAustin Film Festival’s On Story Podcast. 

This has been the podcast that has accompanied my warm ups at the gym. It features short and insightful interviews with screenwriters and directors from the Austin Film Festival. I discovered the show last year as Shane Black was on it. Since then I’ve learned something from every single episode that I can use to further my own storytelling and approach to the craft.

Honourable Mentions- Perennial favourites like iFanboy and Word Balloon continue to set a high standard in the world of comics podcasting. Oh Comics! from Panels and hosted by iFanboy’s own Paul Montgomery and Preeti Chhibber gives a slightly more high brow look at the world of sequential storytelling. To compete all things Montgomery, his Fuzzy Typewriter podcast proved to be a very interesting accompaniment to each episode of True Detective, I have the Rise of the Planet of the Apes episode sat waiting for me to see the film. I went back to Nerdist Writers Panel Comics Edition after a break, mainly thanks to the lure of Brian K Vaughan.  On the UK front Geek Syndicate, The Hat Decides ( which finally returned in December) and Comic Book Outsiders (which relaunched recently) were as consistent as ever.  I have had a good time putting out Bags of Action and Steve and I have pretty much kept to a monthly schedule this year. Listen out for Predator in January.

So that was what I liked in 2014. I’m still kicking myself for not watching Fargo, although I’m listening to the Emigrate album as I type this. Here’s to some more interesting stuff in 2015.

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.

 

Bags of Action Episode 15 – Best of the Best

In this month’s episode, Steve Aryan and I talk about 1989 martial arts movie Best of the Best, starring Eric Roberts, Phillip Rhee and James Earl Jones.  Will our opinions leave you as emotional as Alexander Grady?

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Bags of Action Episode 14 – Road House

It’s the final instalment of our Salute to Swayze season!

Find out what Steve Aryan and I thought of the 1989 movie Road House here. (You’ll also find our Next of Kin and Point Break episodes there too, for the full Swayze experience.

Guardians of the timely reminder

On Thursday night I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy again, and I enjoyed it just as much second time round.  It was big and fun, bold and humorous, but without losing its heart. It was reminiscent of the blockbuster movies of years gone by, rather than those of recent times. More than anything, I was stuck by the feeling that tonally this was the kind of thing I should be creating.  

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The biggest difference I found between the latest Marvel Studios film and other big-budget spectacle-driven Summer movies, was the way it drew the audience in. It didn’t purely rely on dazzling visuals to keep you interested, although it had those in abundance, instead it brought you close to the main cast early and had you caring about them within minutes.  Personally, if I don’t care what happens to the central characters in a story, don’t become emotionally invested in them, then there’s nothing you can do to make me really enjoy the other elements of a production. The second Transformers film left me cold enough that I haven’t bothered to see the third of fourth instalments yet, and the first two Expendables films were devoid of the charm associated with their aging casts’ most successful work. This was well and truly in my wheelhouse, mixing action and adventure with the wit and swagger of something like Get Shorty

Earlier in the week, when I found time to drag myself away from Awesome Mix Tape Vol.1,  I listened to the film’s writer/director James Gunn (Super, Slither) being interviewed on KCRW’s The Treatment.  One of the things he mentioned was how the film was about humanity rather than spectacle, and I’m in complete agreement there.   

Having enjoyed the film so much, I have started reading Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon comic. Two issues into the series and I’m hooked, thanks to the combination of character, humour and spectacle. Young’s writing is just as impressive as his always exceptional artwork, so it’s a must-read Marvel book. I now need to pick up the Star Lord book and current Guardians title, as well as going back and reading the Abnett and Lanning series that the film draws so much from too. Gunn’s movie hasn’t only given me more comics to read, it’s also made me think more about my own writing.

Back in the late 90s I was turned down for the MA in Screenwriting at Cardiff University. The main reason my application was declined was because my work was seen as too commercial and not personal enough.  As a result of this I tried to make my work, be it short stories, screenplays or my initial attempts at comics, far more intimate and as a result low-key. 

My first ever comic script Darwin was awful. Truly, truly awful. It was a talking heads piece between a limo driver and the highly-evolved chimpanzee sitting in the back. It didn’t read like a comic, it read like a clumsy stage play. I stupidly sent it to Andy Diggle for feedback, just as he was leaving the Tharg shaped 2000AD editorial. Unsurprisingly, he told me that not enough happened and reminded me that comics didn’t have the budgetary restrictions that movies did. He was underwhelmed that despite being able to show anything in the script, I’d opted for a car journey. It was a typical rookie mistake. 

Between viewings of GotG I took my daughter to a Comic Art Masterclass , run by Beano writer/artist and former Bristol Comic Festival organiser Kev F Sutherland. What he said in his interview with ITV Wales news reminded me why I started writing comics in the first place. 

Making a comic is a bit like making a movie, except you don’t need two hundred million dollars, you don’t need to cast Johnny Deep, you don’t need to blow things up! 

I’ve tried over the years to strike a balance between characters you care about and spectacle, trying to blend in some humour along the way too. All these things are evident in fantasy book The Interactives and space opera The Intergalactic Adventures of Zakk Ridley, which I co-wrote with Ian Sharman, but I know there is more I could be doing to get the balance right. 

I’m currently re-working Viva Las Venus, the first mini-series I ever completed. I’m taking some elements from the original script, along with aspects from two other space opera ideas that I’d done rough outlines for.  I’m also working on Pluto themed action story Forgotten Planet, as well as a number of other mini series ideas which tend to be fantastical or science fiction related.  What the movie version of Guardians of the Galaxy has reminded me is that you can go epic in scale, while still making people laugh and making them care about your characters. 

I’ll be keeping all of this front of mind as my work continues to progress. 

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.  

Bags of Action Episode 12 – Next of Kin

We planned to have one episode of the show out each month in 2014, but we didn’t quite manage it in May. So here is the slightly delayed Episode 12, where Steve Aryan and I discussed Next of Kin (1989), starring Patrick Swayze and Liam Neeson. If things go according to plan we’ll be back later in the month with out next episode.

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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.